Big lie

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The great masses of the people… will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.
—Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth.
GOP lead strategist Frank Luntz in a 2002 Bush administration memo[1]

The big lie is the name of a propaganda technique and a form of argument by assertion originally coined by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, but originally explained by Plato in The Republic (at least in the European tradition), and is where an arguer states and repeats a known falsehood and treats it as though it were self-evidently true in the hopes of swaying the course of argument in a direction that takes the big lie for granted, rather than viewing it with skepticism.

As a general rule, the most effective big lies are outrageous enough to be unbelievable, yet appeal strongly to the biases and prejudices of its listeners and are stated in as bland and matter-of-fact terms as possible. It is sometimes even more effective to string together several big lies in a series of talking points. The power of the big lie comes from the fact that those opposed to it will simply ignore it, as the lie is so ridiculous that they are led to believe that nobody in their right mind would ever fall for it; this allows normalization of the lie to gradually increase until it's too late to easily stop it.

The source for the expression comes from this passage in Chapter 10 of Mein Kampf:

But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes.

From time immemorial. however, the Jews have known better than any others how falsehood and calumny can be exploited. Is not their very existence founded on one great lie, namely, that they are a religious community, whereas in reality they are a race? And what a race! One of the greatest thinkers that mankind has produced has branded the Jews for all time with a statement which is profoundly and exactly true. He (Schopenhauer) called the Jew "The Great Master of Lies". Those who do not realize the truth of that statement, or do not wish to believe it, will never be able to lend a hand in helping Truth to prevail.

Other examples in the wild[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. To be fair, this is probably the critics failing to understand figurative language.