Abusing an analogy

Abusing an analogy

As we pause to remember the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the two-day pogrom regarded as the opening salvo in the near extermination of Europe’s Jews, can we at least agree to resist the political misuse of Nazi analogies? 

Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson is a repeat offender in this regard, frequently invoking the specter of Nazism to inveigh against political correctness, the IRS, government “intimidation,” and federal safety net programs. In October he suggested that Hitler would have been less likely to accomplish his goals if European Jews had had freer access to guns.

Carson defends these analogies by saying that Nazism arose because people were “afraid to say what they actually believe.” That is debatable. But where he most abuses the analogy is in drawing a straight line between policies with which he disagrees and the inevitable rise of a genocidal police state. If Carson believes that, it doesn’t speak well for his sense of historic proportion. And if he doesn’t believe that, he should stop saying so. 

Israel’s prime minister recently invoked Hitler in a different context, but one that also risked blurring the historical record. In ridiculing the repellent Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that it was al-Husseini who gave Hitler the idea for the Final Solution. True, al-Husseni was an admirer of the Nazis, and his virulent strain of Jew-hatred remains relevant among followers to this day. But critics noted that Netanyahu’s sloppy account of a meeting between the Führer and the Mufti could be seen as absolving Hitler, or give comfort to Shoa deniers, who thrive on doubt. Netanyahu later apologized for his remarks, saying they had been misunderstood. 

It is often tempting to ascribe to our enemies and opponents the very worst qualities of human nature and historical possibility. But the circumstances that created Nazism, and the results of its evil grip on Europe, were unique. We should always be alert to the possibility of genocide and radical statism, but not at the expense of the historical record. If everything is Nazism, or potentially so, then nothing is.

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