Defining Terms: Historical Analogies

Sydney Linholm

This week’s articles provide a detailed and informative account of fascism and populism in today’s contemporary society. Something that resonated from these articles is Gordon and Moyn’s separate accounts of comparisons being made between fascism and Trumpism, and how both of these authors’ ideas intersect. In his article, Moyn criticizes the comparison of fascism with Trumpism by saying that comparison can lead not only to insight, but also blindness, and this is comparable with Gordon’s statement that the first thing to note with historical analogies is that they commit us to a basic view that the two phenomena in question belong to the same world. An example that Gordon gives of this is AOC’s comparison of the detention centres at the southern U.S. border with concentration camps. While comparing these types of phenomena holds some kind of benefit in that it can allow us to be better educated on the moral relevance of seemingly fascist actions, it can also erase some of the meaning that the phenomena holds, as Moyn was saying in his article. This is an important distinction to be aware of because while comparing events such as the Holocaust and Trump’s detention camps can be beneficial in understanding the moral severity of the situation and putting it into perspective, some might argue that this might be insulting to the memory of the Holocaust because it happened on a much grander scale, as Liz Cheney was quoted as saying in the Gordon article. Essentially, historical analogies for today’s contemporary issues can be beneficial in the understanding of the moral relevance of the situation, but can also miss the mark in the understanding of the historical phenomenon being used in the comparison, which is what makes them such a tricky subject.

References:

Gordon, P. (2020, June 25). Why Historical Analogy Matters. Retrieved January 18, 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 18, 2021, from https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

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