Apparently, former Massachusetts Governor (and current Libertarian Party VP contender) William Weld said last week that Donald Trump’s plan to deport 11 million immigrants in less than a year reminded him of Kristallnacht. That pronouncement, which I completely missed even though I follow the news pretty obsessively, was enough to provoke some personal injury lawyer in Pennsylvania to pen this hyperventilating column on CNN about the danger of comparing things to Hitler-era Germany.
This reminds me of the old saw my friend and former regular RedState front pager Thomas Crown used to say: “Even those who learn from history are surrounded by those who are doomed to repeat it.” I submit that the real danger of Hitler analogies is not that we keep making them, but rather that discourse nannies and the Internet fainting brigade somehow pervert Godwin’s Law (which is meant as an observational joke) into an edict that nothing should be compared to Nazi-era Germany except.. Nazi-era Germany.
In other words: the real danger is not in comparing things to Hitler, but rather in a society that stops comparing things to Hitler because doing so is considered impolite in some way.
What’s even worse (and sillier) is that you can’t even refer to Hitler without people getting the vapors these days. Last week my friend (and the former boss around here) Erick Erickson wrote a post that didn’t even compare anyone to Hitler, it merely made the point that some Republicans would support Hitler if he ran against Hillary Clinton. Again, the point of the post was not to compare anyone or anything to Hitler, but just to make the point that if you imagine the worst person possible in history (Hitler), some Republicans would still support him over Hillary. And numerous conservatives who agreed with every word he wrote still tsk tsk’ed at the impropriety of speaking the name “Hitler.”
Here is a news flash: Hitler is a real person, and Nazi Germany is a real thing that happened. The point of comparing things to Hitler is to warn people when society is turning in the direction of totalitarianism (especially race- and class-based totalitarianism) in order to prevent it from happening again. Hitler comparisons are necessary and healthy for a society that values freedom and equality, and serve as a valuable reminder for what can happen when things go off the rails.
Now, are some Hitler comparisons inapt? Do some of them have nothing at all to do with how the Nazis came to power, or why they were objectionable at all? Of course. And to the extent that a particular Hitler/Nazi comparison is invalid, it should be engaged as such.
But I reject the utter silliness of people who immediately guffaw that if someone isn’t killing millions of Jews at a time then you can’t compare them to Hitler. Hitler himself did not just arrive on the scene as a benevolent war hero one day, then turn up and instantaneously start mass murdering Jews and taking over countries the next. There was a procession of events that made his rise to power possible and which signaled – long before things got as bad as they did – that society was heading in an authoritarian and troubling direction.
So is it out of bounds to point out that Hitler also grabbed guns from the populace when gun grabbing measures are discussed? Or is it out of bounds to point out that Hitler in the 1930s required religious leaders to register with the government? Is it somehow impolite to the people who were the eventual victims of Hitlers madness? Absolutely not – rather it is an acknowledgement that such evil must never be allowed to flourish again and must be extinguished in its incipient stages.
Sure, some people go way too far with the Hitler analogies and pull out Hitler at the drop of a hat. Where those analogies are invalid and involve giant leaps of logic, they should be refuted.
This principle of sound reasoning has somehow been perverted in this generation of intellectual laziness into a principle that anyone who offers any comparison to Hitler, no matter how correct or valid, has committed a major faux pas – and that no one should ever offer a warning that another Hitler is on the rise until people are actually in the act of marching into the gas chambers.
This mode of thinking is nothing less than willful blindness and engaging in it will make another holocaust more likely, not less likely.