Tuesday, January 03, 2017

6. The Art of Propaganda

The next chapter of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. is titled, "The Death of Money." The first six chapters were:
1. It is History 101 that it is easiest to bring about change when there is a crisis. The Romans gave away their republic in a time of civil war. FDR was able to create social security and other government programs in the wake of the Great Depression. The most devilish of leaders know that one way to get people to accept change is to manufacture a crisis. Of course if the people find out you have manufactured a crisis (or come to think that you have), you're toast.

Hitler did not invent the financial crisis of Germany in the early 1920s. People would get paid in millions of marks and rush to the lines at the grocery store to buy basics as soon as possible because the value of their currency might go down in half while they were standing in line.
Heiden actually seems to place a bit of the blame on a man named Hugo Stinnes, a mammoth industrialist who used his access to foreign money to buy up massive amounts of German property and industry. He would borrow a certain amount to buy, which then because of inflation became almost nothing to pay back.

Stinnes feared a Bolshevik revolution so much, he effected more or less the same thing--a government take over of the economy. As Heiden says, "socialism was the aim of the workers as well as the capitalists" (128). In Germany, money was dead.

Hitler surely would not have risen to power had it not been so. The economic misery into which Germany was descending was an opportunity for his agenda of a single, powerful German state.

2. Hitler was thus able to rise to power because he was able to bring together the "disinherited" of both the right and the left together (146). The spirit of his movement grew from the "uprooted" of right and left. He also knew that good-for-nothings are sometimes the best fighters. Hitler "led the uprooted proletarians and the uprooted intellectuals together" (147).

3. But the most interesting part of the chapter to me were the reflections Heiden had on Hitler as a successful propagandist. I will merely quote some of his statements from 1944:
  • "Insults aroused the enthusiasm of the masses" (134).
  • Hitler quote: "The German people is... a people passing little by little into decay" (135).
  • "He could deal in endless contradictions without becoming entangled, because he was able to put power into every contradiction" (135). Heiden gives two quotes from Hitler two days apart: "The spirit of resistance must be kindled from above" and "Salvation must come from below."
  • Hitler quote: "We are suffering from overeducation... But the bookworms are enemies of action... We have a class of people who are intellectually high, but they are poor in energy" (136).
  • Hitler would say hateful things off the cuff, which they would then edit in their later versions of them (138).
  • *** Propaganda is not the art of instilling an opinion in the masses. "It is the art of receiving an opinion from the masses" (139).
This is by far the most striking idea in this chapter. It is the idea that Hitler would say any number of different contradictory things, listening for an echo from the masses. His great skill was to be able to sense which statements resonated. He could sense the inner vibration of the things he said.
  • "It is the art of the great propagandist to detect this murmur and translate it into intelligible utterance and convincing action" (141).
  • "He did not have a plan and act accordingly; he acted, and out of his actions a plan arose."
  • "Rather than a means of directing the mass mind, propaganda is a technique for riding with the masses. It is not a machine to make wind, but a sail to catch the wind."

1 comment:

David Drury said...

I remember this chapter too--great content you reminded me of