Saturday, August 17, 2013

The rise of the Hitler myth and Goebbels' principles of propaganda

I came across some interesting articles on how the myth of Hitler was sustained and the principles on which Goebbels based his propaganda. Both would be of professional interest to people in marketing.

To citizens they present a useful template against which to judge what is emanating from the local media, especially after a call from the Chief of Defence Staff to the media to protect the image of the army.

For almost a decade after 1933, Hitler enjoyed a remarkable degree of popularity among the great majority of the German people. However dramatic and spectacular his political career, concentration on Hitler's character and personality – in some respects bizarre, in others downright mediocre and wholly unpleasant – can nevertheless do little to explain the magnetism of his popular appeal. Nor can his extraordinary impact on the German people in these years be accounted for satisfactorily by seeing in Hitler's personal Weltanschauung (notably in his obsessions with the 'Jewish Question' and with Lebensraum) a mirror image of the motivation of Nazism's mass following. Recent research has done much to qualify such assumptions, suggesting too that even deep into the period of the dictatorship itself Hitler's own ideological fixations had more of a symbolic than concrete meaning for most Nazi supporters. (emphasis mine).

What seems necessary, therefore, is an examination not of Hitler's personality, but of his popular image – how the German people saw their leader: the 'Hitler Myth'.(Sourced from here)
 According to the article, the principles in building the myth were:

1. Built on herioc notions of leadership, a Superman of sorts. The man who did what no other leader did before.
2.  A 'peoples leader' who embodying strength and vitality would crush internal enemies and win greatness and empire for a people 'without a living space'.
3. The extreme glorification of military values promoted the extension and partial transformation of 'heroic' leadership images.
4. After the end of the old political order, ideal leadership was envisaged as being embodied in a man from the people whose qualities would reflect struggle, conflict and the values of the trenches. Hard, ruthless, resolute, uncompromising, and radical, he would destroy the old privilege and class-ridden society and bring about a new beginning, uniting the people in an ethnically pure and socially harmonious 'national community'.
5. He embodied the triumph of true Germanic virtues – courage, manliness, integrity, loyalty, devotion to the cause – over the effete decadence, corruption, and effeminate weakness of Weimar society.
6. Portrayed the struggle of the 'little man' against society's 'big battalions', and mortal struggle against Germany's powerful internal and external enemies to assure the nation's future. (Emphasis mine)

How many bells does that list ring? Read the article in full.

Goebbels' principles of propaganda were:

  • Avoid abstract ideas - appeal to the emotions.
  • Constantly repeat just a few ideas. Use stereotyped phrases.
  • Give only one side of the argument.
  • Continuously criticize your opponents.
  • Pick out one special "enemy" for special vilification. 
Of the more detailed list the following are particularly relevant:

Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.
    1. They must evoke responses which the audience previously possesses.
    2. They must be capable of being easily learned.
    3. They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations.
    4. They must be boomerang-proof.
  1. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.
    1. Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat.
    2. Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than that concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and cannot be reduced by people themselves.
  2. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration.
    1. Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated.
    2. Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective.
  3. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
  4. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.
 Now who's been a Good Boy and spent many an hour pouring over and now practising the output of Papa Goebbels? Hmm hmm, telleth the Truth and shameth the Devil.

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