Reductio ad Stalinem

by Dave Schuler on March 11, 2014

You know, I’m reading a lot of claims that this or that person is crazy these days. People who make that claim might want to reflect on the poor pedigree that such claims, leveled at political opponents, have.

The “reductio ad Hitlerum“, the attempt to refute an opponent’s view by attributing your opponent’s views to the Nazis, is probably one of the most commonly deployed fallacies in blogospheric comment threads and have leached into opinion pieces more generally. It seems to me that a reductio ad Stalinem, an attempt at discrediting your opponent’s views by pointing out that Stalin believed the same thing, is an as-yet inadequately exploited source of new fallacies.

It’s a lot easier to think of those with whom you disagree as crazy, evil, Nazis, racist or whatever than it is to assume they’re as well-intentioned as you, presumably, are and just make different assumptionsm are aware of different facts, or draw different conclusions than you do.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 10:13 am

You know who would make this kind of argument? Hitler.

I’ve mentioned a few times I’m reading the third book in The Third Reich Trilogy. I mention it partly in recognition that I’ve got a little bit of Hitler on the brain these days, but in any event, there has probably not been anybody as successful as territorial annexation in the age of nation-states as Hitler. He did it well and used different methods depending on the circumstance.

... March 11, 2014 at 10:18 am

These last few years have convinced me that assuming people you don’t know intimately are well-intentioned is the stupidest thing a person can do. They may or may not be out to get you, but you can be certain they don’t give a damn about you or yours if it means any kind of advantage for themselves.

... March 11, 2014 at 10:21 am

PD, what do you mean by annexation? Depending on what you mean, I think both Napoleon and Bismarck have better claims to the title. Not to mention folks like Jefferson, Polk, Lincoln and Seward.

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 10:43 am

Elipses, I am thinking of conquering territory in the age of nationalism. At one time, foreign territory could be obtained by right of combat or marriage, but by the 18th century, national identity made this difficult. Hitler navigated the system with brutality and by supporting nationalist agendas consistent with his goals. (I thought about mentioning Napoleon, but he might be early. Jefferson bought land. Lincoln and Bismarck fought wars of unification, and Polk strikes me as a colonialist)

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 10:52 am

I meant 19th century.

Dave Schuler March 11, 2014 at 10:57 am

By that standard, PD, the Brits have got to be the heavyweight champions. Compare a map of the British Empire in 1815 with another in 1920.

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 11:04 am

Mainly, Hitler has advise for Putin, whereas I’m not sure others do. If you take the pro-Russian sections of Ukraine, you leave a hostile rump. Partitioning radicalizes the people. You can work this to your advantage by indirectly encouraging formation of an ultra-right Ukrainian rump state. So long as you take the valuable pieces of Ukraine, a radical rump state will not be able to garner broad support in the area or in the international community. If you have a referendum, make sure you win the referendum. If there is any possibility of loss, you need the area covered with the army and secret police to make sure there is no possibility of loss.

... March 11, 2014 at 11:05 am

I thought of the Brita too, but I don’t know how much can be attributed to any one person, which is what PD IS after, I think.

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 11:16 am

I may be making an artificial distinction btw/ colonial enterprises and conquest of nation-states, but I do see a difference between using a military advantage to set up trade concessions in undeveloped areas of the world organized as tribes, and navigating the nation-states of Europe.

Dave Schuler March 11, 2014 at 11:19 am

I don’t see the distinction. The British East India Company overwhelmed the states of India, a developed, organized part of the world, by force of arms. Much of Africa was taken by force of arms.

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 11:52 am

I am emphasizing the importance of nation-states, which are uniquely able to marshal military power and the support of their population, either offensively or defensively. India was not a nation-state, and I doubt that description applied to any of Africa.

steve March 11, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I try, sometimes fail, to assume that those with whom I disagree are well intended, just wrong. Or maybe I am wrong. I think that you are correct that we are seeing more references to Stalin since folks get laughed at sometimes when they use the overused Hitler comparison. I am not sure this tactic is actually increasing in overall usage. Comparisons to perceived historical failures has always been common. When not comparing directly to specific people, comparisons are stretched to meet past historical events. It is always 1938 for Republicans. It is always Jim Crow time for some Democrats.


TastyBits March 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I think one problem is that most people are so historically ignorant that they have few references to use. We have specifically remembered these individuals and their brutality, but with no other historical references, there is little for comparison.

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Let me put it another way. Since WWII, how many times has a country invaded and annexed territory from another country?

I can think of three: China invading Tibet; Israel invading its neighbors in 1967; and Iraq invading Kuwait.

Its not very common, so its not unsurprising people go back to the Axis powers in WWII.

... March 11, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Argentina in the Falklands. But yeah, it’s pretty rare since WWII.

Iraq tried, in 1980. Weren’t they initially trying to claim some of the land around the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates?

On another note, labor force participation by people in their 20s is as low as it has been since they started tracking that specifically back in the early 1980s. It’s fallen every year since 2007, though 2007 and 2008 were very close.

And participation rates for people in the 20-24 age range have hit levels not seen since 1971, back when women were still moving their way into the labor force in numbers. That keeps falling too.

Delaying the start of work means lower lifetime earnings, later family formation and a decrease in the lifetime earnings of those folks. This ain’t no fucking recovery, and those that tell me it is are lying to me as surely as the NYTs lied about what Stalin was doing in the 1930s. There is no reason to suspect them of anything but bad intentions, and that includes Obama and his sycophantic cheerleaders here.

Dave Schuler March 11, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Since WWII, how many times has a country invaded and annexed territory from another country?

You rapidly get into technicalities and definitions. Take one of your examples. According to the Chinese, they weren’t invading another country and annexing territory they were reclaiming territory that had been taken from them. Hitler might have made a similar argument.

In that light, wasn’t the Vietnam War an example of one country (North Vietnam) invading another (South Vietnam) and annexing territory? Operation Polo in which India annexed Hyderabad? How about the Sino-Indian War of 1962? What about the Nigerian Civil War (AKA the Biafran War)?

Dave Schuler March 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm

There have quite literally been dozens of border disputes between countries in which territory has been ceded to one side or another.

michael reynolds March 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Hitler started conquering land in 1938 and by 1942 – four years later – was losing land. Hitler was a lousy conqueror who made endless mistakes and was only successful because his opponents were at first even dumber than he was. At least Stalin learned a little from his mistakes, Hitler never did. Which I suppose is why Stalin died peacefully in his bed while Hitler shot himself in the head in the midst of his ruined capital.

And his failures as a conqueror come despite the fact that he had the benefit of Napoleon’s experience, Roman experiences, etc… He wasn’t even the first guy to think, “Let’s amble on over to Moscow.” All of Hitler’s early successes rest far too much on luck and on the poor quality of his opposite numbers. Had Stalin not purged his officer corps and directed the early battles himself (disastrously) Hitler would have been stomped before he got 100 miles out of Poland.

We’re assuming clever intent when what happened was closer to a craps player on a hot streak. He got lucky, not smart. And then his luck ran out – as luck will – and what mattered then were the house odds. The house odds are not going to be with you when you have a population of 80 million trying to simultaneously bring down the USSR, the British Empire and the United States.

michael reynolds March 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm

As for the broader topic, I don’t think any Jew has the luxury of imagining that humanity is rational or decent. People once given permission to behave like swine almost invariably do. This country, and this time in history, are anomalous. The history of homo sapiens is a history of brutality, greed, cruelty and madness with just enough decency here and there to cast the horrors in stark relief.

Ask yourself this: given a chance to do so without repercussions, with just the push of a button, how many Americans would choose to simply disappear all black people? I’ll bet you a good quarter minimum would do it. (And corresponding numbers among African-Americans re whites.) How many people would move from their modest two-bedroom into the much fancier home of a neighbor dispossessed by the secret police? Half at least.

We may be smart or we may just be lucky, but life in the USA circa 2014 is miles away from the usual human condition.

PD Shaw March 11, 2014 at 3:27 pm

@Dave, none of the examples I gave are analogous to the current situation, nor are yours, which is why I prefer Sudetenland, though apparently one cannot point this out without implying genocide.

Russia recognizes Ukraine as a sovereign state, which includes the Crimea, which is something the modern China never did for Tibet. Israel started a war in self-defense and obtained territory which it has shown (for the most part) a willingness to concede land for peace. Iraq was thrown out of Kuwait. Annexation of the Crimea, through plebiscite, recognizes that the acquisition is more than a border dispute. I would not characterize Ukraine as a civil war yet.

(On further thought, if Russia is using the threat of annexation to obtain political concessions from Ukraine, the Israel example might not be bad.)

Dave Schuler March 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Russia recognizes Ukraine as a sovereign state, which includes the Crimea

I think I’d articulate that a little differently. I think I’d say

Russia recognizes Ukraine as a sovereign state*, which includes the Crimea

* Under certain conditions

That’s the source of my disagreement with Steven Taylor in this comment thread at OTB. I think he’s taking as facts things that are assumptions and not taking as facts things that actually are.

The problem with the Ukraine situation is one inherent in the construct of the Westphalian state. An assumption of the construct is that all states are equal. In practice that’s not the case. The reality of the Ukraine is that it’s an ethnic carve-out that doesn’t actually have a lengthy history of separation from Russia and the Russians are reluctant to accept its complete sovereignty.

TastyBits March 11, 2014 at 5:07 pm

@michael reynolds

… how many Americans would choose to simply disappear all black people? …

ah, rich white liberal nirvana

You could get rid of the gates to your community. You could fire your racist police doing your dirty work. You and your liberal friends could move back into the inner cities.

It is amazing how rich white liberals have so much insight into the racist mind.

Michael Reynolds March 11, 2014 at 6:30 pm


You’ve really got the class envy bad, don’t you?

TastyBits March 11, 2014 at 7:26 pm

@Michael Reynolds

You are racialist trash, and I have no desire to be amongst you or your kind. You all do nothing but talk shit, and then, you avoid any contact with actual black people. I have nothing against living amongst or associating with black folks.

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