If the media and cyberspace are anything to go by, everybody seems to be a Nazi these days: proponents of border security, advocates for religious liberties, critics of religious extremism, practicing Christians and regular-old Americans who would otherwise mind their own business.
In this free society, you are constitutionally protected in your right to call people whatever name you like, even a Nazi.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself about to use the label as a colloquialism for a violent or oppressive leveraging of certain physical qualities against a person or group, I offer three steps to take before making that claim.
First, make sure the person or group you call a Nazi is actually a Nazi.
Nazism represents the evilest incarnation of a political ideology, but it is also unique. A product of highly particular historical contexts and influences, Nazism distinguishes itself from mere bigotry or discrimination. The most well-known instance of Nazism is the believed superiority of the Aryan race to all others, particularly Jewish people, and the asserted right to purge these “undesirables” from society.
Additionally, these Nazis opposed key Christian principles, including the Ten Commandments and murder as a mortal sin, under the assumption that the teachings of Christ were “tainted by Jews.” Equally disturbing markers include opposition to capitalism, which they saw as a threat to national unity, and the related belief that individual rights, including life, liberty and property, held no place in their society, which was obligated to serve the “common good” of the national community.
I can’t speak for everyone, but most citizens I know who generally respect the Founders and the Constitution would become visibly sick at the thought of endorsing genocide, despising Christianity, hating capitalism and trampling on civil liberties in America.
Wrong is wrong and ought to be debated, but we would be fools to conflate all its forms with Hitler’s brainchild. Otherwise, the approximately 27 million Soviet troops killed defending totalitarian communism, or those racist and chauvinist members of the American and British militaries fighting in the name of democracy, could hold this empirically false label.
Second, remember to consider the purpose of using the label.
Before you call someone a Nazi or claim a certain behavior resembles Nazism, ask yourself: What is my intention in saying this? Am I hoping to enlighten, educate or persuade someone to realize the problematic qualities of their position? Do I want to hear what he has to say? Am I respecting his personhood and his right to an opinion? Has he given me personal cause to feel so strongly that I would use this word, or am I attempting to silence debate by shaming the other side with an insult so grave, it deprives him of all moral standing? Do I truly believe this person lacks even a modicum of conscience, such that he would cheer the systematic murder of six million innocents, attempts at world domination and the brainwashing of a subjugated society?
If your intention is more so to insult another person and shut them up, then please resist the urge to use the word Nazi.
Third, ask open-ended questions and discuss actions, not people.
Nazism’s chief purpose was to strip Jewish people of their rights, humanity and existence on Earth, and the fact that it nearly succeeded gives the suffering of the victims a unique place in human history few crimes could rival.
Comparing a relatively trivial point of disagreement with that calamity ultimately signals disrespect and exploits the Jewish genocide in a quest for the moral high ground. In any plausible scenario, this immediately kills your credibility in the discourse and incites entirely avoidable hostility.
To avoid such an outcome, one might be better off approaching contentious words or deeds with questions, especially non-confrontational, open-ended ones, such as: “I noticed you said/did XYZ. What did you mean by that? (Reply occurs). Interesting. And what appeals to you about that?” In this scenario, provided both sides are open to civil discourse, you are likely to obtain a more accurate picture of what someone believes and the rationale behind it, without invoking condescending assessments of a person’s character, intelligence or morality.
As a result, dissecting the logic and explaining its shortcomings becomes an impersonal, civil and enlightening process.
Contact contributor Michael Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.