Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now why would they want that?

I asked for silly Reason articles, and here's a doozy:

Hands Off Hitler! It's time to repeal Godwin's Law by David Weigel.

Now, Godwin's Law has several interpretations:
(1) If a discussion goes on long enough, EVENTUALLY a Hitler/Nazi analogy will be made.
(2) An observation that when a Hitler/Nazi analogy is invoked, meaningful argument is over.

Since the invention and popularization of Godwin's Law, libertarians feel hobbled when they want to lump all their opponents with Nazis and Hitler. The propaganda and hyperbole don't work when they can be so easily ridiculed with a pithy invocation of the words "Godwin's Law".

Now, Weigel assembles a well-documented pseudo-intellectual argument for "repeal" of Godwin's Law, exploring special cases, history, and persecution when this victimless crime is committed. Why pseudo-intellectual? Well, how can you respond to howlers such as "Thus, despite all efforts at regulation, the market has repeatedly decided in favor of the N[azi]-bomb." What regulation? What market? If anything, you'd expect a libertarian to claim this is an example that should be in Ellickson's book "Order Without Law". Here we have a social institution that has developed without government and without markets. Without markets? Libertarian heresy! There must be a way to purchase the institution!

Evidently Weigel misses the corollary to freedom of speech that others are free to laugh at you for whatever reason. Knowing that others will punish you with derision must make him feel unfree. Poor baby. If only propaganda was easy, and you could always simply tarbrush your opponents without anybody understanding how they were being manipulated!

"We'll be better off rolling back Godwin's Law and admitting the all-purpose usefulness of Nazi analogies. It's exactly what the Germans wouldn't want." Ah, and here we have the ultimate justification. Stick it to the Germans! Wow, what a lot of intellectual traction THAT argument has!

I think Reason Magazine should be more properly named Prejudice Magazine. The article-writing process is rather obvious: start with the conclusion and bend facts, history, and argument until your point is "supported". A dark ages scholastic approach. About the only nice thing I can say about Weigel is that he's far from the only one at Reason who writes this way.


Glen said...

In other words, you still don't have an example of a featured main article analogous to all those scaremongering Time cover stories. Instead, you have a brief topical opinion piece from 2005 pointing out - correctly - that Godwin's Law gets invoked inconsistently. A piece which ends with a joke you didn't get.

The "market" in question is the intellectual market - aka the marketplace of ideas - and Godwin's Law is the "regulation" being discussed.

Starman1976 said...

Godwin's Law:
(1) If a discussion goes on long enough, EVENTUALLY a Hitler/Nazi analogy will be made.

(Of course, it's one of the only anologies that pretty much almost everyone will understand. Why avoid it?)

(2) An observation that when a Hitler/Nazi analogy is invoked, meaningful argument is over.

(I disagree with that. I've been in several discussions where after the Hitler/Nazi analogy has been encountered, and countered, a meaningful discussion has continued.)

With that said, I'm a bit amused over the tendency of Libertarians (but also of Conservatives and Communists) to subscribe to conspiracy theories about why their attempts to apply their ideologies fail and isn't especially appreciated by the common people.

How about facing reality? If a scientist repeatedly do an experiment and fail everytime, he abandons his hypothesis. I wish political ideologists and economical theorists would have the humility to do the same.

classicliberal said...

I think your reaction to this is misguided, Mike. I don't think Godwin's Law needs to be "repealed." I would favor amending it a little, though. It developed and became so popular because Nazi analogies became both extraordinarily overused, and, in most cases, misused. That's why the ADL gripes about the issue--they think this sort of thing tends to cheapen the real horror of Nazism.

I'm a longtime vet of internet debates. What I'd prefer to see, and what I've always argued for, is a more responsible use of Nazi analogies. It used to be one of my hobbies to go around the internet and correct the misinformation underlying the most common uses of these analogies. I wrote long, detailed pieces on the subject, and tried to make the exercise educational. This wasn't for the benefit of those misusing the analogies--most of them were simply beyond help--but for those more normal readers who may have been misled by them. This takes time and knowledge, but I found it much more useful than simply invoking Godwin's Law, as though that, alone, dealt with the matter.

Rational discourse isn't always over when Nazism is invoked. Though that's admittedly far more often the case than not, the practice of automatically bringing dialogue to a close upon such an invocation does the opposite of what the ADL fears--it puts the horrors of Nazism on an unreachable pedestal by suggesting the fascists were so awful that nothing can compare to them. That's not just a dangerous proposition, it's demonstrably false.

--j. of j. & Jenn

Mike Huben said...

My reaction to "this" what? I have no reaction to Godwin's Law: I am reacting to an idiotic discussion of it.

Godwin's Law is a pretty good heuristic. That means that while it is usually accurate, there are exceptions. Those exceptions can be recognized with the knowledge you suggest.