Technically, Godwin’s Law is the assertion that all Internet argument eventually arrives at mention of Hitler and the Nazis. But popularly, Godwin’s Law is invoked to claim that when the reference does occur, discussion is over, and that the person who brought up the Nazi comparison has effectively conceded the argument.
So I’m going to start right out by admitting that the term in English, “Big Lie”, comes directly from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, where he used the equivalent German wording, Große Lüge, to describe his theory that “Jews” and “Marxists” were pursuing an audacious campaign of disinformation to blame Erich Ludendorff for Germany’s military defeat in the First World War. Joseph Goebbels later used the same words about the “stupid, thick-headed” lying techniques of the British government.
Now, there’s a coincidence. But the essence of the “Big Lie” idea today is that people will believe a big lie more easily than a small one, and that if you repeat the lie often enough then most people will eventually believe it anyway.
The current British government has had at least two Big Lies on the go, and it’s surprising how successful they’ve been. The first is our well-known friend Tina, There Is No Alternative. Tina was popular with Margaret Thatcher (and Hitler, for all I know) and is now the lie which is intended to prevent discussion of the cuts in public services and so on. It’s clear that Tina, factually, logically must be a lie, since there definitely always are alternatives. But Tina is catchier than “we think that this is the correct set of decisions”, which would be the honest claim.
The other Big Lie is “it was all the previous government’s fault”. Well, maybe in a sense it was, because wealth-friendly New Labour preferred to loosen legal constraints and regulation of banks and financiers rather than tighten it. But the real culprits were the bankers who inflated and burst the bubble in the world’s economy by believing something which was mathematically impossible: that clever schemes for aggregating and sharing debt could entirely eliminate the risk, and that therefore, it was acceptable to lend Duane and Bobby-Sue two hundred thousand dollars even if they had no income.
So let’s be clear. It was the bankers’ fault. They were incompetent, and went so disastrously into the red that the last government decided to inject huge sums of money to keep their institutions from collapse, which would have created economic chaos. Note that I’m not inviting Tina into this discussion. There were alternatives, such as the ones the Conservative Party, then in opposition, suggested. (“Do nothing” was one I remember.) But though I was never a fan of Gordon Brown or his government, I could see that their measures were broadly the same as those of the governments of other large countries, although Britain, probably with a larger financial sector, had more bailing out to fund.
As evidence against the bankers, and in favour of the last government, I can point out that 85% (or a mere £850 billion) of the current deficit was money spent bailing out financial institutions.
I’ve no doubt that rescuing the banking institutions has left the country’s finances in a mess, but in spite of what Cameron, Osborne and Tina have to say, their solution is not the only alternative. Economists are divided, with some agreeing with the government’s plans and some predicting that their schemes will actively make things worse. But the Tory cuts aren’t really based on economic theory anyway. They’re the result of political dogma and deep-seated personal prejudice, coupled with the opportunism to take advantage of a situation where Big Lies have helped elect a government not entirely sympathetic to the well-being of the majority of voters.
During the Second World War, the US Office of Strategic Services had their psychologists prepare a profile of Adolf Hitler. It includes the following summary:
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
I will repect Godwin’s Law and not draw the obvious comparisons.