Reductio ad Hitlerum, also argumentum ad Hitlerum, (Latin for “reduction to” and “argument to” and dog Latin for “Hitler” respectively) is a term coined by conservative philosopher Leo Strauss in 1951.
According to Strauss, the Reductio ad Hitlerum is an informal fallacy that consists of trying to refute an opponent’s view by comparing it to a view that would be held by Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party.
For any proposition P, the argument takes the form:
- Hitler believed P was true.
- Hitler was a horrible man who waged bloody war upon Europe and killed millions in concentration camps.
- P is false.
According to Strauss, Reductio ad Hitlerum is a form of ad hominem or ad misericordiam, a fallacy of irrelevance, and its name is a variation on reductio ad absurdum, in which a conclusion is suggested based solely on something’s or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning. The suggested rationale is one of guilt by association.
Reductio ad Hitlerum is no more than guilt by association, a form of association fallacy. The fallacy claims that a policy leads to—or is the same as—one advocated or implemented by Adolf Hitler or the Third Reich, and so “proves” that the original policy is undesirable.
For example: “Hitler loved animals, so animal protection is a fascist activity [because the things Hitler did were wrong, or because it could lead to results ideologically or morally aligned with Hitler].” Used broadly enough, ad Hitlerum can encompass more than one questionable cause fallacy type, by both inverting cause and effect and by linking an alleged cause to wholly unrelated consequences.
For example, Hitler was fond of dogs and children, but to argue that affection for dogs and children is wrong on this basis is not persuasive.
Various criminals, controversial religious and political figures, regimes, and atrocities other than those caused by Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust can be used for the same purposes. For example, a reductio ad Stalinum could assert that atheism is a dangerous philosophy because Stalin was an atheist for most of his life.
The fallacious nature of reductio ad Hitlerum is easily illustrated by identifying X as something that Adolf Hitler or his supporters did promote but which is not considered unethical, such as painting, enjoying classical music, or owning dogs.
Misapplication of the fallacy has also been criticised for rejecting reasonable comparisons. By invoking reductio ad Hitlerum, an opponent’s view is ridiculed even though the comparison may be relevant