“That’s what Goebbels did. That’s what Goebbels did. The truth didn’t matter.”
Glenn Beck, complaining about ABC News coverage of his Washington rally
Godwin’s Law, the theory that online arguments inevitably end up using Hitler rhetorically. A form of hyperbole, the trope of exaggeration.
Mike Godwin had his tongue in his cheek when he first invoked his law in 1989: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” No matter what the subject—gardening, fashion, even tea parties—Hitler will raise his evil analogous head.
Godwin, an attorney and expert on Internet law, added that mention of Hitler stops the conversation. But Beck and his fellow hysterics actually seem to reverse this corollary. They start with Hitler and go on from there. According to the Washington Post, Nazism had cropped up 202 times on Beck’s Fox News show by mid-July.
The Nazi references constitute a hyperbolic analogy, a way of tarring the enemy with a horrid comparison. Hyperbole and analogy are both tropes—non-literal language that says one thing while conveying an additional meaning.
Figaro loves tropes (see “The Four Most Dangerous Figures”). They make the rhetorical world go round. But when we take tropes literally, when citizens believe there’s a faint Hitler ’stache growing under the presidential schnozz, then we’ve got real propaganda going on.
Just what Goebbels did.
Thank you, Figarists, for your attempts to name the kind of anticipatory figure in which the employer of Nazi tactics first accuses others of the same tactics. (And, yes, anticipatory figures fall under the category of PROLEPSIS.)
The aptly named Farfignoggin came up with the winner: The Beckfire.