Why Study Hitler's Persuasive Method?
Adolf Hitler is considered to be perhaps the most villainous man of the twentieth century. His vile and ruthless deeds are common knowledge. In fact, the name Hitler has now become synonymous with evil. What many often forget, however, is that Hitler was not only a coldblooded tyrant but that also a brilliant persuader of men. He personally oversaw the deaths of millions of people, including the near extermination of the Jewish race while maintaining the full support of the German people.
The entire German population was certainly not as heartless and cruel as Hitler was, so it stands to reason that Hitler must have been a masterful propagandist in order to persuade the Germans that his policies were necessary and just. However, one must remember that Hitler was not born the cruel, vicious tyrant that he became. His life was governed by both his choices and his life experiences, so it is important to examine these along with his persuasive method to gain a comprehensive understanding of why he used his gift of persuasion in the way that he did.
Hitler's Formative Years
Adolf Hitler was born into a middle class family in April of 1889. His father, who died in 1903, was an Austrian customs official whom young Adolf quickly learned to fear. His mother, whom he loved very much, died four years later in 1907. Adolf dropped out of high school and moved to Vienna, hoping to become an artist. He was twice rejected by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, so he lived off of his father’s pension and spent his early twenties working as a freelance painter of postcards and advertisements (“Adolf Hitler,” pars. 3-4). Vienna at this time was very nationalistic, and it was here that Hitler came into contact with the Christian Socialist Party, which espoused anti-Semitic ideas and favored the lower-middle class. He agreed with these ideas and began to thoroughly despise Jews and by extension Marxism, which he believed to be a Jewish concept. Although he had previously been classified as physically unfit for military service by the Austrian government, once war had been declared in 1914 he immediately volunteered for the German army. He was injured during the war and received the prestigious Iron Cross, First Class in recognition of his bravery (Craig et al. 967).
Following the war, Hitler joined the German Worker’s Party, later to be renamed the Nazi party, and was soon put in charge of the party’s propaganda. He had found his niche. It was in the German Worker’s Party that Hitler met Ernst Röhm, who helped him quickly rise in the party ranks and later became one of Hitler’s top advisors. Party leaders felt threatened by Hitler’s ambition and bold propaganda. Nevertheless, in July 1921 Hitler was made party leader and began to hold weekly meetings, during which he gave speeches that were eventually attended by thousands of people, including several men who would eventually become infamous Nazi leaders.
Two years later, Hitler was involved in an unsuccessful rebellion against the government and was jailed for nine months (“Adolf Hitler,” pars. 5-8). It was during this imprisonment that Hitler wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), his autobiography and statement of political philosophy. This book was very influential in spreading his idea of the master race, and by 1939, 5,200,000 copies had been sold (“Mein Kampf, paras. 1-3). After he was released from prison, Hitler reestablished himself in the Nazi party and eventually ran for president in 1932. Although he lost, he received over thirty-five percent of the votes and was appointed to the chancellorship in 1933. Hitler quickly gained more power; following the death of the president the following year, he assumed the presidency in addition to the chancellorship, giving him absolute power. Thus, Hitler became a dictator. (“Adolf Hitler,” pars. 8-17).
Hitler the Dictator
As dictator, Hitler began systematically taking away civil rights and removing his opposition. He primarily made general policies that he left to his subordinates to carry out. In order to be sure that none of them would attempt a coup against him, he gave them overlapping spheres of power and authority so that they would fight amongst themselves and so that none of them would ever gain enough power to usurp him. Having left the detailed domestic policy to his advisors, Hitler focused principally on foreign policy. He used his incredible skill for being able to intuit the mood of others and the ability to use those observations to manipulate people for his own benefit. He was able to negotiate the annexation of the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia into Germany without firing a single shot.
Hitler's Persuasive Method
At this point in his career, Hitler began to unleash his propaganda upon all of Germany. He had previously used his persuasiveness to further himself in the Nazi Party and to gain supporters, but it was not until he was dictator that that his persuasive style was fully manifested. Adolf Hitler’s persuasive method was built upon the foundation of treating the German people as a group, rather than as individuals. He explained this technique in the following statement:
The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered. (“Adolf Hitler: quote on propaganda”)
Hitler and the Nazi Party treated the German people as if they were one entity, because individuals are rational, think for themselves, and are concerned about their own well-being; whereas groups are unintelligent and easily persuaded. Sigmund Freud stated that groups tend to have the characteristics of “weakness of intellectual ability,…lack of emotional restraint,...incapacity for moderation and delay, [and] the inclination to exceed every limit in the expression of emotion.” Freud went on to say that groups “show an unmistakable picture of a regression of mental activity to an earlier stage such as…children” (qtd. in Bosamajian 69). Hitler used this understanding of groups to strategically manipulate the German people.
Hitler and the Nazis recognized that if the German people had a group mentality they would be much more receptive to Nazi ideology and propaganda. To reinforce this mindset in the German people, or Volk, the Nazis held events that required mass participation and did not invite individuality, such as “parades, mass meetings, semi-religious rituals, [and] festivals” (Boasmajian 70). Anyone who did not openly participate or share the emotion of the rest of the crowd was easily identified and dealt with by either the crowd itself or by security personnel. One did not even have to be resistant or cause a disturbance to be viewed as subversive; indifference alone was enough to infuriate the crowd (Bosamajian 69-70).
Freud said that a crowd demands “strength or even violence” of its leaders: “It wants to be ruled and oppressed and to fear its master” (70). Hitler and the Nazis fulfilled this psychological need by infusing the Volk with the idea that the Nazi Party was strong and powerful, and thus, to the feeble mind of the crowd, trustworthy. This was accomplished through a myriad of ways, some obvious and others subtle. One of the most overt ways that Hitler conveyed a sense of strength and power was through his speeches, during which he would yell and wave his arms violently. The Nazis displayed strength through demonstrations of military might. During the frequent military parades, the army would march with its distinctive goose-step walk. The Heil salute made famous by the Nazis added to their powerful image, as did Hitler’s title, Der Führer, which meant “the leader.” Some of the more subtle ways that strength was portrayed include the excessive use of common Nazi symbols such as the eagle, the swastika, and trigger words such as “sword”, “fire”, and “blood” (Bosamajian 70).
Hitler’s inordinate use of trigger words helped him to maintain the support and attention of his audiences and allowed them to get exceedingly excited about his speeches. These words added to Hitler’s tactics of persuasion by creating word association. When referring to Germany, he used words that conveyed strength. When speaking about enemy nations or about Jews and Marxists, he used words that alluded to weakness, his favorite of which was pacifist; he used this term to refer to anything and everything that he disagreed with. To Hitler, pacifism was the ultimate sign of weakness (Bosamajian 71).
Another technique Hitler employed in his speeches was the “either-or” fallacy. By creating a false dilemma in the mind of his audience, he was able to convince them that although something was unethical, it was the only option. The shallow nature of the group was not able to comprehend that a statement such as “either the German people annihilate the Jews or the Jews will enslave them” is not logically true. According to Bosamajian, “either-or” dilemmas “appealed to the crowd mentality…because of the definiteness and strength in the ‘either-or’ presentation. There is no compromise…[or] weakness in ‘either-or’....‘Either-or’ [is] power and strength” (73-4). These arguments created a sense of urgency in the audience; they were a call to action.
The final tactic Hitler used to persuade the Volk through his speeches was convincing his audience that the rest of the world thought of Germany as inferior, second-class citizens. This angered the crowd, who had been comprehensively indoctrinated to believe that they were the master race. Hitler offered up as evidence the Treaty of Versailles, which he believed treated the Germans as subhuman. The average German must have thought, “How dare those pacifist cowards call us, the perfect Aryan race, second class or inferior?” He would have doubtlessly been enraged. Hitler furthermore blamed Germany’s relegation to second-class status on the Jews, who he claimed both caused Germany to lose World War I and stole wealth that rightfully belonged to those of German descent. The irrational nature of the crowd caused the Germans to be very accepting of this idea and to defer blame to those it felt possessed something of which they were undeserving (Bosamajian 74-6).
The Legacy of Hitler's Persuasion
Hitler and his use of persuasion have had an inestimable impact on the world. His persuasive and inspirational abilities catapulted him from the lowly status of a high school dropout to the most feared man in the world, a dictator who used his persuasiveness to unite and inspire a nation to wreak havoc on the rest of Europe. Many historians regard Hitler as the man solely responsible for starting World War II (“Adolf Hitler,” par. 38), which changed Europe forever and will never be forgotten. Hitler’s policies, though quickly repealed after he committed suicide and Nazi Germany was defeated, had far-reaching effects. Families were torn apart, entire nations were laid to waste, and an entire race was nearly exterminated. As a result of the “scientific” horrors performed on Jews during Hitler’s administration, many countries, including the United States, realized how inhumane the idea of eugenics was, and immediately aborted all efforts to create an advanced or super-race. Sadly, some of Hitler’s ideas are still alive today; there are various neo-Nazi sects scattered throughout the world that cling to a version of Hitler’s racist beliefs.
Adolf Hitler was an extraordinary orator and persuader of men; the fact that no matter how vile his policies became he retained the support of German popular opinion bears witness to this. He used this gift not to benefit society, but rather to deceive and destroy millions of lives. Hitler’s name will forever remain in the annals of history, but it is not categorized as he had believed it would be. He is not remembered as the man to cleanse the master race from all impurities, nor is he remembered as the patriarch of a new empire. He is instead remembered as a merciless tyrant who murdered millions based only upon their race, political views, or sexuality. He is remembered as the man who inspired millions to march willingly to their deaths in defense of this vile cause, and he will forever be remembered as the coward who committed suicide rather than do the same.
"Adolf Hitler." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
"Adolf Hitler: quote on propaganda." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
Bosmajian, Haig A. "Nazi Persuasion And the Crowd Mentality." Western Speech 29.2 (1965): 68-78. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 25 Jan. 2011.
Craig, Albert, William Graham, Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank Turner. The Heritage of World Civilizations. 8th ed. Vol 2. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2009. Print. 2 vols.
"Mein Kampf." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 27 Jan. 2011.
Yikes on August 13, 2020:
This seems pretty relevant to today’s time. People shaming and policing people without masks. Not allowed to go anywhere unless you conform to the masses. Looks like our politicians have taken a play out of Hitlers play book. Interesting that it isn’t even 100 year after hitlers reign that this is going on. If we don’t learn from history it is bound to repeat itself.
Mackenzie on November 19, 2018:
What things did Hitler do with his persuasion?
Proud X-Dem Awake! on October 25, 2018:
This is an absolute parallel to what has been happening around the globe the last 20 plus years. They say if you are slow and methodical in your change the ignorant will think it is their idea. This is what we are seeing in today's youth who think that "Socialism" is a good idea. That group thought and not individual is intelligent. That storming conferences and stopping free speech because the "feel" it is hate speech, it is fascist, when in fact their behavior defines fascism! Beating people to a bloody pulp and stealing their property because you don't agree with them. This is fascism! If you don't agree with me you are a racist, a bigot, a fascist, a homophobe, a ......... you name it! Beat them down verbally, beat them down physically!
These are all tactics used by the Nazi's to get gain power to get anyone who disagreed with them to submit! This is what these Democrat Leftist Socialist Neo-Nazi's are doing now. You do not see this volatile behavior from the right!
Proud X-Dem Awake!
Lee on July 04, 2018:
Wow this article just described what the news is doing and how some politicians are getting children to try and influence politicians and their decisions. They also are having mobs go around and harass and intimidate people. Very scary you can see where we are headed. They threaten and harass those who chose to have their own opinion or who choose to think for themselves. You can see what is coming.
guardian41 on June 30, 2018:
Good article, thanks. I found some parallels with current politics, particularly that Hitler was unfit to govern. His lack of experience was overcome with bluster and bravado. I was not surprised that the tactics needed to achieve dictatorship were still in use..
Right One on May 18, 2018:
I read the comments of the triggered Lefists and laugh. You read into part of a story of a man who manipulated children to manipulate adults and fail to see that the Democrat party is doing this to your youth as you sit on your pedestals! Hitlers youth and ANTIFA are one in the same and they were both Leftists Socialist parties. First indoctrinate the children and then go after the parents and the guns. Maybe you should buy a book about WWII and read more about Hitler and learn more about history before you speak out of turn. SMH
One Word on February 27, 2018:
People often ask how the German people could have elected such a monster to power such as Hitler.
To answer that question is to ask another question.
How did Trump get elected?
Barack Obama on January 18, 2018:
This is uh....... good.
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on August 15, 2017:
Further to what I wrote earlier, the idiocy of Far Right and Nazi ideology has raised its head again in the USA. That DT belatedly stamped on their antics after the recent demo reflects badly on him. That the Holocaust Deniers still exist - and flourish - in the Bible Belt doesn't say much for them, or maybe they don't know the Old Testament they use in Church is an almost verbatim translation from the Hebrew.
A combined alliance of nations and partisan movements defeated Hitler (more accurately Schickelgruber, Hitler was his mother's maiden name) in 1945, with his wretched underlings. Why revere a failure when there are so many historical figures who didn't let their own personal outlook colour their successes?
Maybe folk in the mid-west need to get to the coast more often, to get some ozone air into their systems. That might clear them up a bit (come to think of it, Hitler and a lot of his contemporaries came from landlocked Austria or Bavaria, including the failed chicken farmer, Himmler).
bobby on June 14, 2017:
Any examples of these trigger words he used t manipulate Germans?
Martin on April 22, 2017:
He was telling the truth
Ed Schofield from Nova Scotia, Canada on February 09, 2017:
Another part of persuasion used from the very beginning was the politically inspired violence - shootings at meetings of the opposition, murder of judges who sentenced Nazis, disappearances of journalists or editors, intimidation and beatings of teachers, street marches with pistols in their pockets. Silencing the opposition made it easier for them. These tactics are used today to keep undesirables in office, and effectively defeat democracy.
Roger on February 08, 2017:
Actually, Hitler never oversaw personally nothing related to the ways Jews were being muredered. He never wanted to know anything related. He just wanted solutions no matter what.
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on January 11, 2017:
Anti-Semitism was - still is in places - endemic in Central and Eastern Europe from Germany and Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Croatia, Poland, Slovakia, the Ukraine and parts of Russia. The Germans blamed losing WWI on the Jews, and Hitler used this hatred (shared also by Kaiser Wilhelm, who had several other mental issues) to fan support for his policies. He didn't personally oversee activities on the 'Jewish Problem', that was left to Himmler, Heydrich and the various 'Gauleiters' (regional governors), although he did take part in the Wannsee Conference in Berlin that decided on the 'Final Solution' in 1942 before Heydrich was assassinated near Prague.
With a clever shyster or defence lawyer he might have got off at Nuremberg with insanity, as he rarely signed any documents that authorised the programme, unlike Himmler who was 'in it up to his ears'. It is still not certain he did die in the bunker, as the remains found in the Reichs Chancellery Gardens were disputed. What was there was taken to Moscow for analysis.
真実くん on November 21, 2016:
The Jewish population actually increased during the 30's and 40's. There were no gas chambers in the work camps and there aren't any today. I challenge anyone to go to Auschwitz and scrutinize these claims. There is no evidence systematic killings. Yes, Jews were oppressed during Hitler's regime. Hitler targeted the Jews because of their influence on society. Sexual degeneracy, the corruption of art and usury were visible and hated by the general population. Hitler did not need convince anyone. He was just adamant at discussing it publicly. You should realize the concept of 'antisemitism' was not a taboo back then. Yeah, he had a great charisma, but he also turned Germany into an economical miracle. There's no denying it, but people don't take notice of that because they are continually fed shoah propaganda. Why do you think the 'Holocaust' needs state laws to enforce its validity? Germany is still paying reparations to what they supposedly did and it seems like every Jew had a relative in Auschwitz. Isn't that weird?
Anne Horsey on November 06, 2016:
A wonderful article.
Bob on October 07, 2016:
AMAZING! I used so much of this information! I like how it includes everything about Hitler's past. I now know how people can say Hitler is a hero.
Hitlerhimself on August 22, 2016:
I believe Hitler was a wonderful influential spiritual individual. Amen Hoorah!
Yong Kuan Leong from Singapore on August 18, 2016:
Wonderful hub! Definitely one of the most informative and disturbing hubs too! I remember the first time I watched a footage of Hitler, a B/W jumpy one, and I thought, Oh Gosh, I can feel the magnetism from this man, despite knowing what a monster he was. Those assertive gestures, that switching between hysteria and cold determination, he could be very hypnotic.
Might I also share what I learned from a researcher when I went on one of those Berlin walks. According to him, Hilter's message was further reinforced by the illusion that he strengthened Germany. Germany in the 30s was suffering badly from repatriations for WWI and the Great Depression. The Nazis created the illusion of economic growth through arms manufacturing. At the same time, WWI never reached the German homeland in 1918. In other words, the Germans never felt the real horror of war. Because of these, Hilter's militaristic message actually gained a romantic sort of draw, on top of seemingly fulfilling all promises. Many Germans fell prey to it.
McKenna Meyers on April 24, 2015:
Fascinating! I will think of these strategies Hitler used whenI listen to others who try to lead and persuade -- politicians, religious leaders, etc.
Jeb Stuart Bensing from Phoenix, Arizona on December 10, 2014:
Your take on Hitler is top notch in my book. This is the second time I have viewed this insightful perspective on History. Regardless of all the other villains who have walked this earth, Hitler has created an everlasting stain on our interwoven tapestry of history. You have created an impressive work of art.
Nick from Gilbert Arizona on November 19, 2014:
I would just comment your article is not totally accurate . Many today including organizd groups view Hitler as a hero. Leaders emulate his tactics of ethnic cleansing across the world. He was also not the only leader to be persuasive Joseph Stalin had he not been an ally would have gone down in history as a greater villain and no leader has done more evil and remains revered to this day as Mao is in China.
Hitler runs a poor number three to his colleagues perhaps where he is unique is he wrote a book saying what he was going to do ahead of having any real power and the world was constantly surprised yet he did not stray from what he had written.
Japan carries a good deal of the burden for they began WWII and their duplicity and Stalin's greed contributed much to pushing Hitler onward .
Sara on September 12, 2014:
If I were to cite this how would I do it?
Bendizzy on September 09, 2014:
May we have another essay but this time on Churchill?
Adam from Overland Park, Kansas on August 11, 2014:
I am dumbfounded when people try to justify Hitler's actions on solely being intelligent. Anyone can be intelligent, it's how you use the intelligence that makes you a fool or wise. Obviously, Hitler was fool because he committed a flaw in letting his subordinates infight so he could stay in power. For the short while it worked, but when he was losing the war they turned on Hitler. A house cannot stand when it fights against itself.
Jeb Stuart Bensing from Phoenix, Arizona on July 04, 2014:
Wow! This article is very insightful and well written. You did such a great job, it was like reading an article from the History Channel. I am speechless.
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on June 09, 2014:
Interesting topic. And useful because Hitler's techniques did not die with him - they remain on full display in today's political arena.
A Little TRUTH on August 23, 2013:
Your passion for history is awesome! If we could just collectively pay more attention to it, we could stop repeating the same mistakes - but most people have very little interest. I used to be that way myself. It’s great that you’re shedding light on it.
Indeed, to know Hitler is to know how to foil the next one that comes along. I think his constant and repetitive use of simple slogans and pictures was his most powerful instrument of persuasion.
I suspect that you might enjoy the book “The Synchronicity Key” by David Wilcock. It's an enlightening study of the repeating patterns of History.
Josh Wilmoth (author) from North Carolina on April 16, 2013:
Thanks for reading! Levertis, I too am struck by the horrific acts that Adolf Hitler committed. Movies that humanize Hitler, such as the German film Downfall, are even more frightening because they make you realize that Hitler was a human being and in some ways was not unlike any normal person you might meet on the street. It's hard to believe that someone who in some ways seems rather ordinary could be capable of such atrocities.
Panagiotis Tsarouchakis from Greece on April 15, 2013:
Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on April 15, 2013:
Welcome to HubPages, Josh. Enjoy!
Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on April 15, 2013:
I am speechless. Even though I have read much about Hitler, I find myself at a loss of words each time I read about him. I refuse to hate him because hatred is burdensome and soon proves to be a waste of time. He certainly destroyed a lot of lives, the dead and the living, but the world has survived him. I hope the world never knows such a person again. When I think about the many pictures I have seen of starving, oppressed people at concentration camps, I can only assume that Hitler was mentally ill. I do not understand why the world stood mesmerized as if it did not know what to do while millions of innocent adults and children perished at the hands of a tyrant and all of his accomplices. Often there are complexities that ordinary citizens do not understand.
Many years ago, after reading THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, I understood what it was like for a child to suffer persecution during that time, although Anne's situation was probably not the worse among the children. Her father was the only survivor while the rest of the family perished at a concentration camp.
Your hub is informative and quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.