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What is Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon992178 — On Aug 19, 2015

I do not mind that I am to die, but that as long as I live I learn. Today I learned Mike Godwin's law. I did not know of the existence of that law. But I like Mike's surname: GOD WIN. I agree with this sentence. I do not know if it is correct, but I know that when you are a monk and a Nazi soldier asks you to go downhill with your hands up and when you stumble and you are about to fall and instinctively you lower your hands and the next thing is to be shot by a Nazi gun, already being unarmed, what do you call that? I call it fear of the young man with the gun. The name of the monk was Agathaggelos. I hope I am not mistaken with the accuracy of the name. This event happened in a tiny village called Dobraina, in Viotia Greece, and I heard it from my late father in law Vaggelis, who was a child when Germans arrived to their village.

The monk used to live in Our Lady's men's monastery, called Panagia Makariotissa. It is in the mountains and the Nazis believed that the monks were hiding and feeding Greek soldiers. And no, I do not feel any anger. That happened in the past. But our task is to know and remember our history or else we are about to have it repeated once more, God forbid.

I greet you from Greece. My name is Helen, 47 years old and a mom of an only son of 18 years old, also called Vaggelis by his grandfather's name who loved him dearly. Thank you for your space you are giving me to write down my thoughts. Keep up the good work.

By anon930505 — On Feb 05, 2014

How in the world does it prove Mike doesn't read history?

By anon354830 — On Nov 11, 2013

It just goes to show you that Mike Godwin doesn't read history.

By Drico — On Sep 22, 2013

I have read "Mein Kampf" and it gave me some insight into his way of thinking.

By anon290222 — On Sep 08, 2012

This law is stupid! All it does is generalize and stereotype just like Hitler did!

By kasen — On Jul 01, 2009

I'm sad to say that I've been guilty of this once or twice - usually when I'm very passionate about a serious issue. That said, as I've gotten older and more willing to hear conflicting opinions, I don't default to such extremes anymore.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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