Reductio ad Hitlerum (//; Latin for "reduction to Hitler"), also known as playing the Nazi card, is an attempt to invalidate someone else's position on the basis that the same view was held by Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party. One example would be that since Hitler was against smoking, this implies that someone who is against smoking is a Nazi.
Coined by Leo Strauss in 1953, reductio ad Hitlerum borrows its name from the term used in logic called reductio ad absurdum ("reduction to the absurd"). According to Strauss, reductio ad Hitlerum is a form of ad hominem, ad misericordiam, or a fallacy of irrelevance. The suggested rationale is one of guilt by association. It is a tactic often used to derail arguments because such comparisons tend to distract and anger the opponent.
Reductio ad Hitlerum is a form of association fallacy. The argument -- a policy leads to—or is the same as—one advocated or implemented by Adolf Hitler or the Third Reich and so "proves" the original policy is undesirable.
Another instance of reductio ad Hitlerum is asking a question of the form "You know who else...?" with the deliberate intent of impugning a certain idea or action by implying Hitler held that idea or performed such an action.
The phrase reductio ad Hitlerum is first known to have been used in an article written by University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss for Measure: A Critical Journal in spring 1951, although it was made famous in a book by the same author published in 1953 Natural Right and History, Chapter II:
In following this movement towards its end we shall inevitably reach a point beyond which the scene is darkened by the shadow of Hitler. Unfortunately, it does not go without saying that in our examination we must avoid the fallacy that in the last decades has frequently been used as a substitute for the reductio ad absurdum: the reductio ad Hitlerum. A view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.
The phrase was derived from the logical argument called reductio ad absurdum. The argumentum variant takes its form from the names of many classic fallacies such as argumentum ad hominem. The ad Nazium variant may be further humorously derived from argumentum ad nauseam.
Limits to classification as a fallacy
Historian Daniel Goldhagen, who had written about the Holocaust, argues that not all comparisons to Hitler and Nazism are logical fallacies since if they all were, there would be nothing to learn from the events that led to the Holocaust. He argues in his book Hitler's Willing Executioners that many people who were complicit or active participants in the Holocaust and subsequently in fascist and neo-Nazi movements have manipulated the historical narrative to escape blame or to deny aspects of the Holocaust. Claims that allegations of antisemitism are reductio ad Hitlerum have also been employed by David Irving, a British Holocaust denier. The claim of reductio ad Hitlerum has in recent years been employed widely online to shut down criticism of antisemitic and fascistic statements and defense of the use of reductio ad Hitlerum to silence criticism has also been employed more widely in social media by companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Allegations of reductio ad Hitlerum is also employed as a technique with which to make general claims about political opponents as making absurd allegations, whether or not they have actually made those allegations in truth. In 2000, Thomas Fleming claimed that reductio ad Hitlerum was being used by his opponents against his values:
Leo Strauss called it the reductio ad Hitlerum. If Hitler liked neoclassical art, that means that classicism in every form is Nazi; if Hitler wanted to strengthen the German family, that makes the traditional family (and its defenders) Nazi; if Hitler spoke of the "nation" or the "folk", then any invocation of nationality, ethnicity, or even folkishness is Nazi [...].
Although named for and formalized around Hitler, the logical fallacy existed prior to the Second World War. There were other individuals from history who were used as stand-ins for pure evil. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, the Pharaoh of the Book of Exodus was commonly seen as the most villainous person in history. In the years prior to the American Civil War, abolitionists referred to slaveholders as modern-day Pharaohs. After VE Day, Pharaoh continued to appear in the speeches of social reformers like Martin Luther King Jr. Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate were also commonly held up as pure evil. However, there was no universal Hitler-like person and different regions and times used different stand-ins. In the years after the American Revolution, King George III was often vilified in the United States. Andrew Jackson was also called King Andrew the First. During the American Civil War, some Confederates called Lincoln a "modern Pharaoh".
In 1991, Michael André Bernstein alleged reductio ad Hitlerum over a full-page advertisement placed in The New York Times by the Lubavitch community following the Crown Heights riot under the heading "This Year Kristallnacht Took Place on August 19th Right Here in Crown Heights". Henry Schwarzschild, who had witnessed Kristallnacht, wrote to The New York Times that "however ugly were the anti-Semitic slogans and the assaultive behavior of people in the streets [during the Crown Heights riots] [...] one thing that clearly did not take place was a Kristallnacht".
That Nazism and contemporary liberalism both promote healthy living is as meaningless a finding as that bloody marys and martinis may both be made with gin. Repeatedly, Goldberg fails to recognize a reductio ad absurdum. [...] In no case does Goldberg uncover anything more ominous than a coincidence.
- "Godwin's Law, or Playing the Nazi Card". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
- "Playing the Nazi Card". FAIR. 1 March 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
- "Natural Right and History". University of Oklahoma. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
- Schneider, N. K; Glantz, S. A (1 October 2008). ""Nicotine Nazis strike again": a brief analysis of the use of Nazi rhetoric in attacking tobacco control advocacy". Tobacco Control. 17 (5): 291–296. doi:10.1136/tc.2007.024653. PMC 2736555. PMID 18818222.
- Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965 , p. 42.
- Curtis, Gary N. (2004). "Logical Fallacy: The Hitler Card". Fallacy Files. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- Curtis, Gary N. (2004). "Logical Fallacy: Guilt by Association". Fallacy Files. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
- "You know who else ___? Origin? - catchphrase meme". Ask MetaFilter. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
- Gabriel H. Teninbaum, Reduction ad Hitlerum: Trumping the Judicial Nazi Card. Michigan State Law Review, Vol. 2009, p. 541-578, 2009
- Hutchins, Robert Maynard (1951). Measure: A Critical Journal. H. Regnery Company. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
- Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen 1997
- "Eichmann was Outrageously Stupid". Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations. November 9, 1964.
- Broomfield, Matt (7 May 2017). "Undercover at a secret 'neo-Nazi' meeting with Holocaust denier David Irving". Independent. Independent News. Retrieved 22 Nov 2019.
- Thomas Fleming, editor, Chronicles (Rockford, Illinois), May 2000, p. 11.
- Brian Palmer (October 4, 2011). "Before Hitler, Who Was the Stand-In for Pure Evil?". Slate. Retrieved November 27, 2014.
- "Foregone Conclusions". Escholarship.org. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
The Lubavitcher community itself, in the form of the 'Crown Heights Emergency Fund,' placed a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on September 20, 1991, under the heading 'This Year Kristallnacht Took Place on August 19th Right Here in Crown Heights.' Their version of Leo Strauss's reductio ad Hitlerum was rightly perceived by those who had been in Germany on Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) as an outrageous comparison.
- Austin Bramwell (January 28, 2008). "Goldberg's Trivial Pursuit". The American Conservative. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- "Is it ever OK to call someone a Nazi?". BBC News. 14 July 2010.
- Toying with Hitler and History – slideshow by Der Spiegel
- Mike Huckabee's reductio ad Hitlerum, Lincoln Mitchell, April 7 2013
- Harris, Adam J. L.; Hsu, Anne S.; Madsen, Jens K. (11 June 2012). "Because Hitler did it! Quantitative tests of Bayesian argumentation using ad hominem" (PDF). Thinking & Reasoning. London, UK: Psychology Press. 18 (3): 311–343. doi:10.1080/13546783.2012.670753. S2CID 15921519. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
- Scalambrino, Frank (2018). "Reductio ad Hitlerum". Bad Arguments. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 212–214. doi:10.1002/9781119165811.ch44. ISBN 9781119165811.