Mike Godwin is an American attorney and author who formulated “Godwin’s Law” in 1990 when he made the following assertion:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
Note: In probability theory, an event is said to never happen when its probability is 0, and to always happen when its probability is 1.
Godwin’s Law, also known as “Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies,” is applicable to threaded online discussions in forums, chat rooms, and on blogs. The term has earned a place in the OED:
Godwin’s Law: noun. A facetious aphorism maintaining that as an online debate increases in length, it becomes inevitable that someone will eventually compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.
Although coined to describe an Internet phenomenon, the term is being applied to the use of “the Nazi card” in other contexts, as in this account of Ted Cruz’s filibuster to delay a vote on the Affordable Care Act:
In the course of the afternoon we…got some Nazi analogies, just proving that Godwin’s Law holds for filibusters as for online discussion.
and in this blog:
And it’s not only online discussions that prove Godwin’s Law, I remember sitting at lunch with a construction crew when one of the carpenters brought up my work in the pro-life movement: “Yep, tea-baggers are always telling people how to live, just like the Nazis.” —Clashdaily
A complaint by many forum users is that the so-called law is stifling discussion. One commenter invokes a Nazi analogy and another crows, “You said Hitler, so I win!” At that point, the discussion ends.
The term has spawned a verb, “to Godwin,” as in, “You Godwined this discussion!”
The invocation of Godwin’s Law has come to be seen as a way to end an online discussion. Here are some complaints voiced by forum users:
It seems like Godwin’s law is becoming a real problem for any sort of discussion on the internet. Whenever Hitler, Nazis, or the Holocaust are brought up in a discussion, the discussion is then over and the poster who mentioned the subject is derided. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was just people injecting these things into seemingly unrelated topics, but people invoke Godwin’s law even when the Hitler/Nazi/Holocaust mention is relevant to the topic at hand. –forum user
Before I get started I’m aware that originally “Godwin’s Law” didn’t carry the now common meaning of “You said Hitler, So I Win!” that so many people seem to think it means. –forum user
Nazism is a cultural meme that encapsulates not just the notion of political authoritarianism, but of the worst possible human behavior towards other human beings.
Note: In a theory of mental content called memetics, a meme is analogous to a gene in the theory of evolution. A meme represents a unit of culture (idea, belief, pattern of behavior) that travels from mind to mind.
Perhaps Nazi analogies are best reserved for discussions of the dehumanization and inhumane treatment of large numbers of human beings. If the intention is to compare one form of authoritarianism to another, without the connotation of racism or genocide, perhaps one of the following word choices would meet the need:
fascism: any form of right-wing authoritarianism.
totalitarianism: Totalitarian theory and practice; the advocacy of totalitarian government. Also loosely, authoritarianism
dictatorship: A system of government by the absolute rule of a single individual;
despotism: The rule of a despot; despotic government; the exercise of absolute authority.
autocracy: (A system of) government by one person with absolute power; a state, society, etc. governed in this way.