Unfair argumentation methods V: Intermezzo on Hitler und Mein Kampf
With the debate around Sverigedemokraterna, I decided to finally read Hitler’s Mein Kampfw, in order to better judge the sometime claim that SD is a Nazi-organisation. (I have also found it useful make an effort to read books that are or have been influential, even if their intrinsic value seems dubious.)
About one third through, I have found many statements that are pertinent to this article series, most notably in Chapter 6, “Kriegspropaganda” (“War propaganda”), showing Hitler’s conclusions about propaganda with an eye on the German left and the respective British and German efforts during WWI. These conclusions not only go some way to explain the success of unfair reasoning (and, possibly, its popularity on the left), but also many of Hitler’s and NSDAP’s own later actions. (And what else may be said about Hitler, his success in the area of propaganda was immense and indisputable.)
I would advise all who have strong opinions about people from different groups (be they determined by race, class, sex, opinion, …) to read this chapter very closely—and ask themselves whether they are pawns blindly following manipulators using these strategies. (Online editions can be found following the Wikipedia link. Check your local copyright situation before use.)
A few core issues:
Propaganda is to be directed at the masses, who are sufficiently easily fooled and led by it. In contrast, those who are of higher intelligence should be met with a different approach based on actual reasoning and facts.
While this is something which we can observe in everyday life (politics, commercials, whatnot), few politicians today would dare say it. Mona Sahlinw, the leader of the Swedish social-democrats, is an excellent example of this—in fact, she may take it too far, literally talking to adults as if they were little children, including tone of voice, and taking dumbing-down to an extreme where there is more-or-less no content left.
There is much to be gained in portraying the enemy as a dangerous and evil monster.
This is a common technique in propaganda, which can be readily observed in a wide variety of contexts. Consider e.g. Swedish leftist propaganda, Bush’s “Axis of Evil” (which has some justification, but that is beside the point in this context), the Arabic/Islamic “ Great American Satan”, or, indeed, the Nazis on Jews).
Propaganda should be one-sided and not concede any good points in the enemies positions.
While Hitler makes a decent case for this item, it is not necessarily one that I recognize as being systematically used—or as necessarily being effective outside of “preaching to the choir” contexts. (Then again, I may well be over-estimating the masses—which I have a long history of doing.) However, in Sweden many such examples can be found, e.g. in the attacks on Sverigedemokraterna (cf. the previous post).
Propaganda must be limited in content and constantly repeat this content.
This is certainly something that the advertising industry has taken to heart. Similarly, if we look at the political messages displayed to the masses during election campaigns, they tend to focus on just a few core issues.
Another highly pertinent theme:
Daher muß eine Vielzahl von innerlich verschiedenen Gegnern immer zusammengefaßt werden, so daß in der Einsicht der Masse der eigenen Anhänger der Kampf nur gegen einen Feind allein geführt wird. Dies stärkt den Glauben an das eigene Recht und steigert die Erbitterung gegen den Angreifer auf dasselbe.
(For this reason, a multitude of internally different opponents must always be joined together, so that the fight is only against one enemy in the understanding of the mass of own supporters. This will strengthen the faith in ones own right [righteousness?] and increase the exasperation against those who attack it.)
Here we have many of the problems I discuss in a nutshell: Anyone who criticizes immigration policy is a racist, anyone defending Sverigedemokraterna’s right to fair debate is, himself, one of them, those who want lower taxes for ideological reasons, or to stimulate the economy, are grouped with the (likely, very small) group of those who want to get rich on the cost of the poor, etc. (Similarly, it is not uncommon that right-wing USanians group all leftists into the communist category.) That this is taken to the extreme that Hitler recommends is unusual, but at least the gender-feminists tend to do so, with their ever present “Patriarchy”.
Hitler himself is a very notable user, e.g. by reducing Marxism and Social-Democracy to parts of a larger Jewish machinery—effectively making sure that there is just one enemy (the Jews), not several (Jews and Marxists/Social-Democrats). (Incidentally, this raises some question as to whether Hitler’s stated views on the Jews were honest, or whether he largely used them as a near-ideal scape-goat and main enemy.)
In case this post is read by some of the people I write about in this article series, I see myself forced to add: Reading a work by Hitler does not make me a Nazi—neither does the fact that I have read the Communist Manifesto make me a communist, that I have read the Bible make me a Christian, or that I have read the US constitution make me a USanian. For that matter: The fact that you have read this entry does not make you me.