Analogies to, and within, History – is this wrong?

Written by Emma Bronsema

There has been a debate among scholars as to whether using analogies is ahistorical or essential. More specifically, is it right to compare present day atrocities to events such as the holocaust, or the politics and characteristics of Trump to fascist Italy and Hitler Germany. 

Comparison is beneficial and, at times, crucial to getting the public interested and involved in current events that need addressing. Analogies help to understand the situation and look at how similar issues have been dealt with in the past. But it has to be done right. One cannot only focus on the commonalities, but rather the differences as well. No matter what it pertains to, what happened then and what is happening currently, is not the same. Solely focusing on comparison has a strong potential to result in bad decisions being made. These decisions become based off of the analogy rather than in response to the current climate and context of the event. This is where actions are driven by fear created by the comparison. It is also important to note that comparisons are often political. These analogies are often made through a particular lens with an agenda behind it. It is vitally important to go beyond the comparison. Good analogies must not only focus on the commonalities but also work in tandem with differences.

Using analogies to compare current day events to historical ones, or even comparing events within history to each other, can be beneficial and is even important when studying history and understanding what is going on in our world today. But contrasts need to happen to, in order to fully grasp the big picture and not become blinded by the thought of only one specific outcome of history repeating itself.

References:

Gordon, P. (2020, June 25). Why Historical Analogy Matters. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, S. (2020, June 24). The Trouble with Comparisons. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

One Reply to “Analogies to, and within, History – is this wrong?”

  1. I like your point regarding the need for a proper compare-and-contrast when using historical analogies. Too often society cherry-picks historical events to support their point without truly addressing the root of the issue. Historical analogies can highlight how or why events occur, but focusing only on the similarities does not necessarily change the outcome for the present and may result in poor decisions, as you stated in your blog. Contrasting events can also indicate progress (or lack of progress), but I find that society tends to use comparisons as an indicator of the severity of an event. Comparisons can often lead to “clickbait” style news, which leads to more harm than good. It would be interesting to see how often political figures and the media refer to the Trump era as a “Never Again” moment without truly addressing how Trump was elected in the first place. -Jackie

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