Another Perspective

Don’t Be Scared of Godwin’s So-Called Law

When political and other behavior is indeed Nazi like, there's no reason to deny it.

By 8.5.10

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The leftist, or at least mainly leftist, pseudo-intellectuals who infest certain portions of the Internet have become very fond recently of invoking something they call "Godwin's Law." This may be expressed more or less as follows: "Whoever first brings an analogy about Hitler or Nazism into an argument has lost that argument."

In fact, this invocation of Godwin's Law is rhetorical and intellectual junk, generally used in an attempt to intimidate and kill argument, and we would be a lot better off without it: try, if you're an Australian Federalist, to point out that one of Hitler's first acts on coming to power was to abolish the old German states and replace them with centrally-controlled regions under Nazi Party Gauleiters to make the national imposition of a Police State both possible and easy. "Godwin's Law!" is the giggling reply.

Try mentioning to a euthanasia advocate that the Nazi extermination program started off as an exercise in medical euthanasia. And as for suggesting that Jews and Israel are in danger of a second holocaust if Muslim extremists have their way, just wait for: "Godwin's Law!" "Godwin's law!" repeated with a kind of witless assumption of superiority reminiscent of school playground chants.

It goes without saying that Nazi analogies can be, and are, frequently misused, often in a disgustingly dishonest way: "Climate-change denialism" is obviously intended by those who use it to be linked to Holocaust denialism, and the term Holocaust itself has been used tediously often to link Australian policies toward Aborigines with Auschwitz, but this does not alter the fact that there are occasions when such analogies are appropriate.

Obviously, with the growth of Jew-hatred we are seeing around the world today, references to Nazism are often not only impossible to avoid but are really the only appropriate ones, by way of either illustration or warning. Though I said above it is, for some reason, mainly leftists who invoke Godwin's Law, there is also a ratbag anti-Semitic right, fortunately not very common in this country now, to whom Nazi analogies are also applicable.

However, there have been several instances recently of British universities refusing to admit Jewish students or to publish papers by Jews, citing as the reason opposition to Israel's policies. A British judge has prohibited British Jews from sitting on a jury, in Malmö, Sweden, a surge in anti-Semitism has led Jewish residents, who arrived there as refugees before the war, to abandon the city and in Odense, Denmark, superintendent Olav Nielsen announced last year that he would no longer admit Jewish children to the local school. Other statistics show an increase in anti-Jewish hate-crimes all over Europe. How is one to talk of this kind of thing without Nazi analogies coming into it?

I think, also, that we are going to hear a lot more soon about a voluntary euthanasia program for the old in the not-too-distant future. A law signed some years ago commenced: "Full responsibility to enlarge the powers of certain specified doctors in such a way that they can grant those who are by all human standards incurably ill a merciful death after the most critical assessment possible of their medical condition" -- and I would be breaking Godwin's Law if I mentioned who signed it.

Personally, I don't intend to be intimidated by chants of "Godwin's Law" or any other infantile slogan, used to smother debate in a way reminiscent of something from George Orwell or, if you'll excuse me saying so, a Nuremberg Rally. I have come up against echoes of Nazi thought-patterns and arguments many times and not only am I not going to be bullied into keeping silent about this, I believe every civilized person has a positive duty to speak up about it whenever appropriate. The same goes for Stalinist communism and the predictable parrot-cries of "McCarthyism!" or, more commonly in Australia today, "Reds under the beds!" They are simply forms of intellectual bullying. At best, they can smother the serious discussion of issues, at worst they can be used to conceal and/or justify genuinely murderous and totalitarian thought.

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.