Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies, sometimes also known as Godwin's Law, is a theory put forward by Mike Godwin in 1990. Godwin noticed that long-threaded discussions on the Internet tended to turn into mud slinging competitions by the end. The longer a thread got, the more likely it was that a Nazi comparison would be dragged into the discussion. Godwin's Rule states that: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”
There are several implications to Godwin's Rule. Many online discussions involve intense personal beliefs and values, which sometimes clash quite dramatically. As the discussion continues, it tends to become less rational, especially after most of the valid arguments from both sides have been presented. On a hot button issue with no “right” answer, opponents may start to exchange insults because they become angry and frustrated.
Comparing someone, or an action, with the Nazis is a serious charge. The German Nationalsozialismus party dominated Germany from the 1920s through the 1940s. In 1921, Adolf Hitler was elected leader of the Nazi Party. Throughout most of the world, Hitler and the Nazis are equated with ultimate evil, due to their actions in the Second World War, which included the roundup of millions of Jewish people, homosexuals, gypsies, and other “undesirables” in the name of ethnic purity. The Nazis are associated with dictatorship, totalitarianism, and rigid order.
There are situations in which bringing up the Nazi party or Hitler is entirely legitimate. Any discussion of modern German history, for example, should include a discussion of the Nazis. Conversations about dictatorships and genocide are also situations in which a Nazi analogy is valid. However, when Nazis are brought up because a conversation is not going well, it suggests that the other side may have won the argument. Furthermore, it weakens valid comparisons.
Often, an example of Godwin's Rule accompanies hyperbole. The idea is to invalidate the opposition by comparing it to the Nazi Party. However, this can backfire, and usually does. Unless the comparison is valid, the person who brought up Nazis or Hitler is considered to be the loser. In a rational discussion or debate on or off the Internet, resorting to a Nazi comparison is generally a strong indicator that you have run out of material to discuss or support your claims.
Many Internet communities have taken Godwin's Rule to mean that when Nazis enter a conversation, the discussion is over. In some cases, someone may invoke Godwin's Rule to end a conversation before it gets worse. However, sometimes a discussion should continue, even though Godwin's Rule has been illustrated by a Nazi reference. Individual members of the discussion decide whether or not a conversation will be carried or ended with an instance of Godwin's Rule.