When Do You Disbelieve a "Change of Heart"?
By Bryan Caplan
When a Nazi announces that he’s had a change of heart, I just don’t believe him. Take the infamous David Duke. In his youth, he wore a swastika. Now he has a book that’s subtitled a “path to racial understanding.” But even if the book were a model of tolerance (and it’s not), I would still believe Duke to be a Nazi.
On the other hand, though, when Communists in Western countries announced a switch to social democracy, I usually believe them. Not always. But when a guy pulls down his posters of Lenin, it’s a lot more credible to me than when a guy pulls down his posters of Hitler.
Now this isn’t because Lenin is less philosophically noxious than Hitler. They’re both creators of ludicrous systems of totalitarian hate. So why am I more likely to disbelieve a Nazi’s mea culpa?
My answer: This is a matter of psychology, not philosophy. In most Western countries, people look upon Communists with bemused disdain; Nazis, in contrast, they view with horrified disgust. Since the stigma against Communists is far weaker, the Communists manage to attract some vaguely normal adherents… or at least they used to. In contrast, the stigma against Nazis is so intense that you have to be virtually psychopathic to join. Once you send that signal, it’s almost impossible to trust anything you say – even if you claim that you’re no longer a Nazi.