Invoke the Nazis and you’ve lost the argument

Lord Carey's reference to the Third Reich in the context of gay marriage was a fabulous example of Godwin's law

Share
Related Topics

There’s an internet law, now more than 20 years old, known as Godwin’s Law of Nazi analogies. “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.” The law perhaps ought to be introduced into everyday life. The phenomenon of the absurd, exaggerated comparison, made, apparently, in all seriousness, got a fabulous example this week.

Lord Carey, speaking at a fringe meeting of the Tory conference, said that the name-calling of those opposed to same-sex marriage was reminiscent of the early days of the Third Reich. He said: “Remember the Jews in Nazi Germany. What started against them was when they were called names. And that was the first stage towards that totalitarian state.”

It’s a marvellous idea. If you think that the choice of who you want to marry ought to be your own decision, and not the decision of the leader of some religion you don’t believe in, then, obviously, in Lord Carey’s eyes there is absolutely nothing to distinguish you from Baldur von Schirach.

Even the Tory fringe might have been expected to greet this ludicrous claim with howls of laughter. For the rest of us, it is entirely possible to observe that Lord Carey, for instance, is a pillock, wazzock and berk of the first order without showing the faintest signs of wanting to smash his windows or shepherd his children into a gas chamber.

Churchy people seem rather prone to these comparisons. The great lawyer F E Smith was an intelligent and amusing man. He was the one who, when the judge said, “I confess I am none the wiser, Mr Smith”, replied: “But very much better informed.” When a Bill was introduced in 1913 to disestablish the Anglican Church in Wales, however, Smith said that it was “a Bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe”.

In response, G K Chesterton, in one of the funniest poems in the language, wondered whether Russians and Bretons were truly shocked in places “where Establishment means nothing/ And they never heard of Wales/Do they read it all in Hansard --/With a crib to read it with… Chuck it, Smith!”

The favoured point of comparison, for decades, is with the Nazis. An amusing web designer launched an add-on to remove every mention of Justin Bieber from your personal settings of the internet, if you so choose. A fan wrote a letter from Sweden. “What you’re doing is going back to World War II all over again. Hitler wanting to erase Jews from society – you want to erase Justin Bieber...” The American radio presenter Glenn Beck once compared the National Endowment for the Arts to Goebbels. The strategy was termed by the philosopher Leo Strauss, as long ago as 1951, the Reductio ad Hitlerum.

Quite a lot of us have loosely referred to an officious minor bureaucrat or attendant as the Recycling Nazi or (in a car park) a Little Hitler. But George Carey gave every sign of believing what he said. Does he really think so? Does he honestly think that Ben Summerskill of Stonewall resembles Goering in any way? Does Angela Eagle remind him of Eva Braun?

Are Old Compton Street and Vauxhall on a Friday night reminiscent of an assembly of Gauleiters? Does he think that a sinister collection of A-gays are at this very moment assembling in a lakeside villa to agree methods of putting evangelical Christians to death?

Really? Honestly and truthfully? Or are gay people and Nazis actually quite different from each other? The consequence of Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies is that, the second the comparison is made, the argument is deemed to have been lost. The moment that a former Archbishop of Canterbury stood up and said that anyone opposing the anti-gay marriage movement was a Nazi in the making, the argument was over.

No stupidity like  corporate stupidity

Solenne San Jose, from Pessac in France, decided to close down her mobile account with Bouygues Telecom. The company agreed, and sent her a bill. When she opened it, the bill was for €11,721,000,000,000,000.

Anyone can make a mistake, but what followed was a glorious sequence of corporate stupidity. At first, she was told that there was nothing they could do to amend the computer-generated statement and later offered to set up instalments to pay off the bill – it would work out, in fact, at €2.25bn a week for the next 1,000 years, a repayment plan that might cause even Greece to worry. Only after some days did Mme San Jose get them to accept that it would not be possible to run up a bill of 11 quadrillion euros in a lifetime of mobile telephone calls, even at the customary extortionate rates.

Obviously, sooner or later a glaring cock-up like this is going to be put right by even the most obtuse of utilities. But in a week when the energy utilities here decided to put their prices up yet again – British Gas by 6 per cent, the Scottish SSE by 9 per cent – it is interesting to note the immediate and resolute resistance to suggestions of illegitimate overcharging. Asked for 11 quadrillion euros, we would probably persist with our objections. A couple of hundred pounds – I think our utilities might well successful browbeat us into submission.

I once found that British Gas had been overestimating my usage by a few points every quarter, and after three years had accrued hundreds of pounds of my money. It eventually returned it, but without apology or the payment of interest for this unauthorised loan. I suppose I should be grateful it was only two noughts, not 12.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator - Financial Services

£32000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Administrator

£8000 - £10800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Supply Chain Administrator is ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The epic mug battle is only the latest in a cheap set of campaign gimmicks set to define this election

Nash Riggins
 

Daily catch-up: the endless and beginningless election campaign goes up and down

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor