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When your mother has grown older,
When her dear, faithful eyes
No longer see life as they once did,
When her feet, grown tired,
No longer want to carry her as she walks,
Then lend her your arm in support, escort her with happy pleasure—
the hour will come when, weeping, you must accompany her on her final walk.

And if she asks you something, then give her an answer.
And if she asks again, then speak!
And if she asks yet again, respond to her, not impatiently, but with gentle calm.

And if she cannot understand you properly, explain all to her happily.
The hour will come, the bitter hour, when her mouth asks for nothing more.

–”Be reminded”, Adolf Hitler


What was so bad about Smith’s Hitler remarks? He wasn’t praising Hitler, Smith maintained that Hitler was a vile man. Pretty much everyone agrees with this, it could be said to be a universal truth. When folks think of ‘bad people’, Hitler is up there near the top of the list. The essence of Smith’s remark was that Hitler was not intending to be a vile human being, but rather in his [Hitler’s] own contorted reasoning, he was doing what he thought was right.

I find Smith’s argument to be very reasonable. From what we know historically about Hitler and from even his own writings, it would certainly seem that Hitler’s actions were a result of his own interpretation of what was right. Therein lies the problem.

In contemporary thinking, relativity is very much accepted. We know physical relativity exists in the form of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and this has overflowed into philosophical thinking as well, resulting in the ideas of relativism. Particularly, the notion that if one thinks something is right, then it is right (i.e., there are no absolute truths). This is why ‘toleration’ is such a keyword because we often have differing interpretations and opinions on the exact definition of ‘right’.

However, most people in a given culture roughly have similar concept of ‘right’, usually based around the laws that govern them (don’t kill, don’t steal, etc.). So this notion of relativity seems pretty reasonable and tends to slip by unnoticed. Yet, when we try to apply it universally, inclusive of individuals like Hitler, we run into serious problems.

If because one thinks something is right, then, by relativism, it is right. Then we have, Hitler thought what he did was right, then, by relativism, what he did was right. Clearly, what Hitler did was not right, thus relativism is proved false by contradiction.

This is exactly why everyone flew off the handle at Smith. It wasn’t about Smith saying “Hitler was a good person”, it was that Smith said Hitler “set out to do what he thought was ‘good.’ “.