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Reductio ad Hitlerum

reductio ad hitlerum

(also known as: argumentum ad Hitlerum, playing the Nazi card, Hitler card)

Description: The attempt to make an argument analogous with Hitler or the Nazi party.  Hitler is probably the most universally despised figure in history, so any connection to Hitler, or his beliefs, can (erroneously) cause others to view the argument in a similar light.  However, this fallacy is becoming more well known as is the fact that it is most often a desperate attempt to render the truth claim of the argument invalid out of lack of a good counter argument.

Logical Forms:

Person 1 suggests that Y is true.

Hitler liked Y.

Therefore, Y is false.

 

Person 1 suggests that Y is true.

Person 1’s rhetoric sounds a bit like Hitler’s.

Therefore, Y is false.

Example #1:

Peter Gibbons: It's NOT wrong. INITECH is wrong. INITECH is an evil corporation, all right? Chochkies is wrong. Doesn't it bother you that you have to get up in the morning and you have to put on a bunch of pieces of flair?

Joanna: Yeah, but I'm not about to go in and start taking money from the register.

Peter Gibbons: Well, maybe you should. You know, the Nazis had pieces of flair that they made the Jews wear.

Joanna: What?

Explanation: The above was from the classic masterpiece film, Office Space.  Out of desperation, Peter plays the "Nazi card" in order to make the idea of being made to wear flair more appalling.  This somewhat jarring statement misdirects the argument, and the focus is taken off Joanna’s last response, which was quite good.

Example #2:

The God of the Old Testament was big into religious cleansing.  Hitler was big into ethnic cleansing.  Therefore, God is like Hitler.

Explanation: It wouldn't even matter if God had a swastika tattooed to his forehead.  The moment one compares anyone to Hitler, they have shown that they are desperate.

Exception: Sometimes it might be worth risking the fallacy to prevent disaster.

Mr. President, I can appreciate your desire to make some changes in the White House, but that new hand gesture you are proposing we use to show our allegiance to you is way too much like the one Hitler used.  On a similar note, that Charlie Chaplin mustache doesn’t work on you.

References:

Strauss, L. (1953). Natural Right and History. University of Chicago Press.


Registered User Comments

Fake Name
Sunday, July 29, 2018 - 08:55:39 PM
This doesn't even deserve to be regarded as a unique fallacy. There are many, many instances in which it would be completely fair and appropriate to draw comparisons to Hitler, and references to this so-called "fallacy" are just an attempt at a blanket dismissal of all of them.

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Fake Name
Sunday, July 29, 2018 - 09:44:20 PM
Just look at "Example #2". There is nothing remotely fallacious about this argument; it is perfectly sound. The only fallacy I see is in the "explanation", where it is asserted without evidence (argument by assertion) that any comparison to Hitler shows "desperation" (psychogenetic fallacy).

As for the first example, Peter Gibbons can be said to be committing both the "association fallacy" (flair must be bad because Nazis used it) and the "red herring" fallacy (bringing up the Nazi comparison to avoid justifying theft). Neither of these fallacies relied specifically on the Nazi reference in order to be fallacious. They are just other fallacies that happen to contain a reference to Nazis.

Comparisons to Hitler are certainly capable of being invalid, but they are not automatically invalid. If someone makes a comparison to something rather innocuous that Hitler did (like drink water, enjoy watching Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, etc.) and strongly implies or outright asserts that anyone who drinks water or watches Disney movies is as evil as Hitler, that is fallacious because those behaviors have nothing to do with why Hitler is widely regarded as evil. But examples like the 2nd example you listed here relate directly not only to Hitler but to the reasons why Hitler is despised - i.e. the things he did that almost everyone agrees were bad. The implied argument in example #2 is this:

P1. Bringing about the slaughter of untold millions because one doesn't like their culture/ethnicity/religion/etc., as Hitler did, is evil.
P2. The Hebrew God of the Old Testament, like Hitler, brought about the slaughter of untold millions because he didn't like their culture/ethnicity/religion/etc.
C. The Hebrew God of the Old Testament, like Hitler, is evil.

Unless the comparison to Hitler can be reasonably refuted (as either irrelevant, insignificant or inaccurate), it is illogical for a person to hate one and love the other. This inconsistency is not tolerable and it can't be wiped away simply by mocking any reference to Hitler as an act of desperation.

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Fake Name
Sunday, July 29, 2018 - 10:37:22 PM
It is worth noting that in the example I used above, from a purely logical standpoint, the reference to Hitler is unecessary. The point of referring to Hitler is to call out the alleged inconsistency in the opponent's worldview, putting them in the uncomfortable position of having to (a) defend Hitler (b) condemn God (or who/whatever is being compared to Hitler) or (c) provide a convincing refutation of the premise that they are similar.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, July 30, 2018 - 05:46:47 AM
The fact that there are exceptions to the fallacy doesn't mean it doesn't qualify as a fallacy. Virtually every fallacy listed on this site has exceptions.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, July 30, 2018 - 06:00:57 AM
@Fake Name:

You have a good point about the soundness of the second example. Perhaps I should use an example that is more of a weak analogy.

There are many fallacies that are specific instances of other fallacies. This is one of them. Just because a fallacy also fits under a more general fallacy, does not mean that it shouldn't be a fallacy. The more specific we can be as to why something is fallacious, the better. This is why the distinction helps.

In the case of this fallacy, there is something more than reasoning going on: it has become the "go to" position for people who can't come up with a better argument (i.e., just compare to Hitler and declare victory). You can tell a Christian Apologist in a debate the God is like Hitler and offer a perfectly sound reason as to why, but it will generally be perceived as a poor attempt at an argument regardless. Of course, this doesn't make the reasoning bad or the argument fallacious, but strategically, it is almost always a bad move.

I appreciate the comments, and have this sectioned marked for a few revisions to incorporate these new thoughts.

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Fake Name
Monday, July 30, 2018 - 12:38:00 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:

Thanks for the reply. I think the best way to avoid being accused of this fallacy is to make it perfectly clear what your underlying argument is, i.e. asking your opponent to explain how they can disapprove of Hitler and also disapprove of whatever is being compared to Hitler. What is the difference between the two? If you just bluntly declare, "X is like Hitler, and therefore unquestionably evil," rather than leaving the question open-ended and waiting for a response, you will appear desperate and unreasonable. If you ask a fair question and your opponent refuses to answer, they will be the one who appears unreasonable.

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David Blomstrom
Friday, May 11, 2018 - 08:07:31 AM
There's an interesting corollary with Godwin's law -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

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Richard Tufts
Monday, July 24, 2017 - 05:13:34 PM
Wasn't this fallacy once known as something to the tune of "argumentum ad Napoleum"?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Tuesday, July 25, 2017 - 06:14:12 AM
If you are being serious, I never heard of that before. If you are joking, good one! :) It does make sense that the basis of this fallacy preexisted Hitler... and Napoleon for that matter. Heck, people have been committing the "Ad Satanum" for millennia!

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Richard Tufts
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 - 02:58:27 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Actually, no. I'm not joking. I heard from Professor Michael Drout of Wheaton College that it was, apparently, "Argumentum ad Napoleum" before Hitler.

Pretty much the whole "Oh yeah? Know who liked (x)? THIS GUY WHO IS BAD. Therefore the thing you're arguing in favour of is bad." fallacy.

At least, that is how Professor Drout broke it down in his lesson. It was a series on rhetoric, and one of the classes was dedicated to Logical Fallacies.

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Joe Walker
Saturday, January 21, 2017 - 03:27:35 PM
Using Hitler to show subjective moral values is using this fallacy (?) - example, the Nuremberg trials invoked objective moral values in order to prosecute his staff because if they were only following orders from their individual state (Germany) - (if only subjective moral values exist) then they should not be held accountable (that was their argument), of course we used objective moral values to prove their guilt and won. Or could this be an exception.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, January 21, 2017 - 03:36:32 PM
This would only show that Hitler was a less valid source of morality than another source. No objectivity needed in this case.

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