Thursday, February 16, 2006

When 'Nazi' is Legit

John Cole's right about this.

Godwin’s Law doesn't actually say that the first person in an argument to compare his opponent to the Nazis automatically loses. It simply says that the longer an Internet debate continues, the more likely that is to happen. But traditionally the "law" is evoked to bring the hammer down on partisan hyperbole. And thus being the first person to type the word "Nazi" has become, to some people, a fault resulting in an automatic forfeit.

Which is a mistake, because at times Hitler and his political career are important points of reference. Recently, the issue of murderous totalitarians coming to power through free elections has dominated the headlines. Hitler offers an instructive example of that. It's worth exploring that in some detail, and hashing out where it fits, and doesn't fit, in parallel to contemporary situations.

As, for instance, Christopher Hitchens does in his review of Robert Conquest's "The Dragons of Expectation":

Cautioning the reader against any naive enthusiasm for pure “democracy”, for example, he writes that “We will presumably not forget that Hitler came to power in 1933 by election, with mass and militant support”. The last clause there is beyond dispute, but we should certainly not forget that the Nazi vote had peaked by then, that Hitler was outpolled in 1933 by the combined Socialist and Communist vote, and that he was handed victory in the Reichstag by Hindenberg’s reactionary camarilla, legitimized for the occasion by the capitulation of those sensible “centrist” and Christian parties whose shame and disgrace is less well-remembered.