Richard Nixon as Adolf Hitler

The Hitler Card


Taxonomy: Logical Fallacy > Informal Fallacy > Red Herring > Guilt by Association > The Hitler Card < Weak Analogy < Informal Fallacy < Logical Fallacy


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.4



In almost every heated debate, one side or the other—often both—plays the "Hitler card", that is, criticizes their opponent's position or the opponents themselves by associating them in some way with Adolf Hitler or the Nazis. This move is so common that it led Mike Godwin to develop the well-known "Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies": "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.5"

There are two related logical fallacies that fall under the term "the Hitler card", depending on whether it is an idea or a person or group that is linked to the Nazis:

  1. Ideas: Criticizing or rejecting an idea simply because Adolf Hitler or the Nazis espoused it. This is what Leo Strauss appears to have meant by the "reductio ad Hitlerum"3.
    Adolf Hitler accepted idea I.
    Therefore, I must be wrong.
    The Nazis accepted idea I.
    Therefore, I must be wrong.
    Hitler was in favor of euthanasia.
    Therefore, euthanasia is wrong.
    The Nazis favored eugenics.
    Therefore, eugenics is wrong.
    Hitler was a vegetarian.
    Therefore, vegetarianism is wrong.
    The Nazis were conservationists.
    Therefore, conservationism is wrong.
  2. People: Criticizing or rejecting persons or groups simply because they accept some idea associated with Hitler and the Nazis, or because of some superficial similarities. Often politicians or political groups are attacked in this way. When directed at a person, it is a form of the abusive ad hominem, since few want to be associated with Nazism or Hitler.
    Adolf Hitler accepted idea I.
    Person P accepts I.
    Therefore, P is as bad as Hitler.
    The Nazis accepted idea I.
    Group G accepts I.
    Therefore, G is a bunch of Nazis.
    [T]he ideas of ecologists about invasive species—alien species as they are often called—sound…similar to anti-immigration rhetoric. Green themes like scarcity and purity and invasion and protection all have right-wing echoes. Hitler's ideas about environmentalism came out of purity, after all.5



  1. This phrase seems to have been first used with a different meaning, namely, for an argument against ethical relativism that uses Nazism as a counter-example. See, for instance: Piers Benn, Ethics (1998), pp. 16-17. In the years since, it has come to be used as an alias for the Hitler Card fallacy, though I think this use should be resisted.
  2. I don't know where I picked up the phrase "playing the Hitler/Nazi card" for the fallacy that seems to have been first identified by Leo Strauss under the rubric "reductio ad Hitlerum"―see the next two notes. Unfortunately, I know of no books on the subject of logical fallacies or dictionaries of philosophy that mention it, despite the fact that it is an extremely common political fallacy.
  3. See the Quote for the source of this alias.
  4. Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (1976), pp. 42-43.
  5. Mike Godwin, "Meme, Counter-meme", Wired, Issue 2.10, 10/1994. Thanks to Joanna Roberts for reminding me about Godwin's Law.
  6. Interview of Betsy Hartmann by Fred Pearce, "The Greening of Hate", New Scientist, 2/20/2003. Thanks to Michael Koplow for submitting this example.
  7. Charles Lane, "The Paradoxes of a Death Penalty Stance", Washington Post, 6/4/2005.