As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
In 1990, Mike Godwin made the above observation. To date, it has held up, as people today seem to like comparisons to Hitler just as much as they did in 1990. In addition, there’s a corollary to Godwin’s law which states that if you are the one to make that comparison, or to pull a Godwin, then you are the one who is wrong.
How dare you compare me to a Nazi!
Godwin initially proposed his ‘law’ in attempt to discourage frivolous comparisons to Nazi crimes. Calling someone Hitler because he takes a different stance on an issue than you do is, in fact, quite puerile and equating modern trends in politics with the Nazi takeover or with the Shoah, is nearly always hyperbolic and does a great disservice to the people who actually suffered under the Nazi regime.
However, and this is something which often annoys me when people invoke Godwin’s law, there are times where comparisons with Hitler or the Nazis are apt. Any deliberate massacre or genocide, of course, brings the Nazis to mind immediately. The Shoah was arguably the worst atrocity of the previous century, but that doesn’t mean that other atrocities couldn’t be nearly as bad or comparable.
But even leaving aside mass exterminations, the faults of the Third Reich, consist of more than just the Shoah, and even that is more complicated than its extreme horribleness. As such, there is room for comparisons that don’t necessarily accuse someone of being the moral equivalent of a Nazi.
For example, the Third Reich is a very good example of an authoritarian regime and of how unquestioning obedience can be misused. To claim that one has placed an inordinate amount of trust in authority, and to use the Third Reich as an example of how that can be a bad thing, is not the same as equating any particular authority with the Third Reich. The same can be said of any attitude which contributed to the horrors of the Nazi regime, even if its current manifestation isn’t quite as morally grave as that of Nazism.
So, when someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler, and someone then inevitable invokes Godwin’s Law as a sort of QED, people need to stop and ascertain whether that comparison is actually apt. It might very well be.