Joseph Goebbels

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A lunatic Chaplin imitator
and his greatest fans

Icon nazi.svg
First as tragedy
Then as farce
Whatever happens, mark what I say. From now on Germany is in the hands of an Austrian who is a congenital liar [Hitler], a former officer who is a pervert [Röhm], and a clubfoot [Goebbels]. And I tell you the last is the worst of them all. This is Satan in human form.
—Gregor Strasser in 1932.[1]
Mr. Lang, we decide who is Aryan and who is not.
—Goebbels telling film director Fritz Lang that he could be made an honorary Aryan despite his Jewish background. (Lang left for Paris that very night.)[2]

Paul Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945) was Nazi Germany's highly effective minister of propaganda.

Goebbels was happy to suppress his own view of National Socialism (that it should emphasise socialism) in favour of Hitler's more right-wing ideas, and pledged eternal loyalty to the Führer in 1926. He honoured his oath, standing by his lord and master until the latter's suicide after which he took his own life. Indeed, he appears to have indulged in propaganda for the sake of the party, rather than to impart his own personal beliefs: "It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success." He was, however, extremely good at his job. "He drove his listeners into ecstasy, making them stand up, sing songs, raise their arms, repeat oaths; and he did it, not through the passionate inspiration of the moment, but as the result of sober psychological calculation."[3]

After the defeat at Stalingrad, Hitler withdrew from public appearances, leaving Goebbels as the public face of Nazism. He seemed to take delight in allied destruction of famous German buildings, as the news could be used in subsequent speeches. Interestingly, this echoes Mao Zedong's dictum that "to be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing, but a good thing."[4] However, in April 1945, with the Red Army close to the Führerbunker,[note 1] Goebbels decided that to be attacked by the enemy was a bad thing after all: he poisoned his six children, then shot his wife and (finally) himself.

Goebbels' legacy as a devious, manipulative master propagandist is surpassed only by the heinous crimes he stood for. Despite this, several of his methods have become part and parcel of motivational and disinformation efforts. His 19 "Principles of propaganda" (see below), a blueprint for an effective propaganda campaign, can be seen echoed, more or less visibly, in almost any opinion-forming work you care to name.

Goebbels' Principles of Propaganda[edit]

  1. The propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.
  2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority.
    1. It must issue all the propaganda directives.
    2. It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.
    3. It must oversee other agencies' activities which have propaganda consequences.
  3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action.
  4. Propaganda must affect the enemy's policy and action.
    1. By suppressing propagandistically-desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence.
    2. By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions.
    3. By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself.
    4. By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference would discredit that activity.
  5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign.
  6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.
  7. Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false.
  8. The purpose, content, and effectiveness of enemy propaganda; the strength and effects of an expose; and the nature of current propaganda campaigns determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.
  9. Credibility, intelligence, and the possible effects of communicating determine whether propaganda materials should be censored.
  10. Material from enemy propaganda may be utilized in operations when it helps diminish that enemy's prestige or lends support to the propagandist's own objective.
  11. Black rather than white propaganda may be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects.
  12. Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige.
  13. Propaganda must be carefully timed.
    1. The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda.
    2. A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment.
    3. A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness.
  14. Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.
    1. They must evoke desired 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.
  15. Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.
  16. 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 concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and which cannot be reduced by people themselves.
  17. 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.
  18. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
  19. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.

His novel[edit]

Michael - Ein deutsches Schicksal in Tagebuchblaettern (Michael: A German Destiny in Diary Form), a novel written by Goebbels, was published in 1929. The plot deals with a young man returning to Weimar Germany after World War I and leaving college because his studies hold little meaning for him. He helps to rebuild Germany with a romantic desire to die for his cause (which, at the end of the novel, he does in a coal mine accident). Publisher's Weekly described the (now out of print) 1987 English translation as a "poorly written 'novel' in diary form", "a compilation of vicious Nazi doctrine", and "filled with vituperations against Jews, intellectuals, liberals, utopias and Leninism."


  1. Staying there instead of hiding out in Bavaria was Goebbels' idea, incidentally


  1. Quoted in Hitler: The Missing Years, p. 190 by Ernst Hanfstaengl and John Toland (1994).
  2. Conversation with Fritz Lang, William Friedkin, 1975.
  3. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, 92