The Dangers and Advantages of Comparison

In The Trouble with Comparisons, Moyn acknowledges the need for comparison between states and political systems but emphasizes the need for the careful and meticulous distinction between pertinent similarities and differences.  In my opinion, the most valuable element of the article is when Moyn points out how “without acknowledging differences, comparison is partisan”.  This one quote summarizes how easily political parties, factions, and individuals can subjectively manipulate comparisons to further their own agenda, one of the problems facing political systems in 2020.  While I agree with Maier and Nolte that comparisons between Nazi Germany and the US and other modern authoritarian states are thrown around far too frequently by people that fail to understand the specifics of the terms, the actions of the American populace, particularly those who zealously support Trump are cause for concern.  While these comparisons are disingenuous and overused, and while Republican leaders are spurned by different motivations and ideologies, the conduct of Trump supporters and other populist movements in countries like the US and Brazil and do eerily resemble the conduct of individuals in early and mid-20th century authoritarian countries. 

While Moyn’s article was concerned with the dangers of comparisons between political systems, specifically fascism and authoritarianism, Gordon’s article relates to the comparison of historical events, past and present.  Of all Gordon’s points, the one I found most insightful was the discussion of the special historical status the Holocaust has inherited as the “timeless signifier of absolute evil.”  One can acknowledge the horrors of other 20th century genocides such as those in Rwanda, Cambodia and Armenia as Gordon does while still recognizing the historical importance of the Holocaust.  In conclusion, while I agree with Moyn’s conclusion that comparisons between political systems and governments have become partisan and over relied on, I lean more towards Gordon’s argument, in that the fact that fascism can and is being used as a modern style of authoritarianism means that comparing it to contemporary political failings is necessary.

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/

One Reply to “The Dangers and Advantages of Comparison”

  1. I really enjoyed your post William, and I find I tend to agree with you – while careless use of historical analogy is dangerous, and we see all to often analogy weaponized and politicized for personal use, analogy certainly serves a function in detecting critical and potentially dangerous similarities. After all, the authors themselves note that Holocaust education exists to ensure an event of that nature never occurs again. In order to effectively carry out that mandate, I think some element of comparison is necessary.

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