Historical Analogies

By: Vincent Larocque

This weeks readings focus on drawing comparison and similarities between the past and utilizing them in a modern context that can either highlight similarities in an argument or be utilized in a manner that can be deemed as unfit or a ‘stretch’ and only used as buzzwords to incite a visceral reaction.

In Samuel Moyn’s “Trouble with Comparisons” he discusses that comparisons can be a useful tool in discussions about events that draw upon similarities but can also be dangerous in reducing the seriousness of the events being used in such comparisons. Not only this but using comparisons with only vaguely similar contexts is seen as banal as he states in when the Nazi regime is used in comparing political activities “So what? Of course, Nazi Germany was similar in some respects to other examples, but that is true of everything in the world” (Moyan, 2020) and does not in the long run help victims and offers no productive difference in reducing the power that they can hold. Similarly, Peter Gordon in “Why Historical Analogy Matters” looks at the fallout that occurs when using analogies, specifically in this case the holocaust, with other events that draw upon some similarities and that evoking comparisons reduces the severity of the event itself and are ‘sloppy analogies’ that are ‘grossly simplified’. Interestingly, terms such as ‘fascist’ and others like ‘concentration camps’ that have been wholly synonymous with the Nazi regime has historical connotations with other events predating Nazi Germany and as such. These terms can be hijacked and used politically to further an agenda and may not always have true moral objectives this making it a dangerous territory to venture into without proper context or thought on the matter. Likewise, in Victoria de Grazia’s piece “What we don’t understand about Fascism” discusses the over use of the term “Fascism’ which can further denote the true intensity that National Socialism brought upon those subjected to it, “Americans may think we know this history, but we have oversimplified its complexity” (de Grazia, 2020)

With these texts in mind I find that using terms in historical comparisons important but all depending on the situation and should not be used lightly. While certain current events can mimic historical events, all instances in politics can be comparable in some way or another to less than pleasant historic events. Using terms can diminish the actual meaning and further water down the original occurrence to which the term originates from. However, when used correctly in the right as it can help and bring to light important factors that could possibly redirect the trajectory of actions being perpetrated in some instances by drawing on the public eye to the causes these comparisons are used for.

Works Cited/ Bibliography

de Grazia, Victoria. “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism.” Zocalo Public Square, 13 Aug. 2020, zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review, 7 Jan. 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review, 19 May 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

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