Rhetoric Gone Wrong: 75 People and a Cat Who've Been Compared to Hitler
To conclude the "home-school trilogy" I started at the Idea Grove blog, I want to follow up on lessons I've learned from America's best days and Europe's storied history to share some thoughts I have on the most notorious figure in modern world history -- Adolf Hitler -- and how he achieved and has maintained that level of historical resonance, even 75 years after his death.
Hitler did monstrous things unparallelled in human history. But our world has had no shortage of monsters.
Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Leopold II of Belgium killed 10 million people -- and you've probably never heard of him, perhaps largely because his victims were Black Africans.
The Use and Abuse of Hitler's Name in Online Discussions
One reason why Hitler remains a fixture on the History Channel -- and in our online discourse -- relates to the first public relations art: rhetoric. The original PR practitioners were rhetoricians. The sophists of ancient Greece were thinker-philosophers who taught noblemen seeking public office the art of persuasion through rhetoric.
From the beginning, rhetoric (which simply means the art of persuasive speaking or writing) has been viewed with suspicion. The sophists were mercilessly criticized by Socrates, and the result is the word "sophistry," meaning the use of fallacious arguments to deceive.
The nature of Hitler's rise and fall uniquely lends itself to sophistry, as is evident in all manner of public discourse today. And sophistry breaks down trust online.
As attorney Mike Godwin asserted in what became known as "Godwin's Law": "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches."
When Hitler Comparisons Lose Their Meaning
I've been tracking Hitler comparisons online off and on in the media for the past decade. Following are just a small portion of the folks who've been compared to Hitler by various commentators, along with relevant links. There's something about seeing the full list at once that demonstrates just how ridiculous the use of Hitler as a rhetorical tool has become.
Have you found one to add to the list? Share it in comments.
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Scott is founder and CEO of Idea Grove, one of the most forward-looking public relations agencies in the United States. Idea Grove focuses on helping technology companies reach media and buyers, with clients ranging from venture-backed startups to Fortune 100 companies.