Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Unfair argumentation methods V: Intermezzo on Hitler und Mein Kampf

with 12 comments

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. 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).

  4. 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.

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Written by michaeleriksson

June 22, 2010 at 7:17 am

12 Responses

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  1. Thank you for your input on my post! I have posted a comment back on it in hopes we can keep this conversation going… may I ask, in addition, what is your spiritual / religious background (if any)?

    wearelittlespinozas

    June 22, 2010 at 11:49 pm

  2. More information on my religious background and opinions can be found on my general “about me” page: http://www.aswedeingermany.de/11WhoAmI.html

    michaeleriksson

    June 24, 2010 at 3:19 am

  3. I’ve also read Mein Kampf … Your account of Hitler’s “theory” of propaganda is a good read!

    I suppose that all extreme politics will harbour such views of propaganda – of course without admitting it.

    Extreme politics we can find in moderate and quite reasonable parties, too – in some situations, in part of their policies. I’ve experienced that in my own political activities since 1971. (SPD, later Die Grünen)

    It seems to be inherent to the character of politics: — On one side there are plenty of incompetent voters – on the other side there is an intense political will to succeed to achieve your goal. Politics is strategic action, so any ethical consideration is secondary. IF you can succeed through systematic deception – well, you will apply methods of systematic deception. You will!

    I suppose that is part of the nature of politics.

    There are two limits to deception in politics:
    — One is the competence of those to whom you talk. The more they understand reality, the less chance propaganda has.
    — The second is the character of your political aim. If part of it is true understanding of real interests, propaganda in itself turns detrimental, xounter-productive.

    So, if we, you and me, want to reduce propaganda, we have to check our political aims (thus reducing OUR OWN propaganda production) – but most of all we have to find ways to get people more competent in understanding politics and reality.

    The latter is kind of utopian. I don’t see a way.

    InitiativGruppe

    June 30, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    • Well said. I have some reservations concerning “political aims”, however: I do not necessarily see a connection between political aims and propaganda, because the one is the end and the other the means. There will often be an effect between them, but it is quite possible to have moderate aims and opinions and use extreme methods or, conversely, have extreme aims and opinions and use moderate methods.

      As an aside, referring to your comment on my other post: From what I have seen around the Swedish party Sverigedemokraterna (cf. the previous entry), I have a growing impression that the right is more inclined to judge people by their methods, while the left looks more at opinions. Say that the one feels that throwing eggs at an opponent is wrong, but that everyone is entitled to his own opinion; while the other feels that if the opponent has a “too wrong” opinion, then he is evil and egg throwing is acceptable. (Of course, this is currently based on a too specific sample for a general conclusion.)

      michaeleriksson

      July 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

  4. Intreresting! The quote you gave from Mein Kampf is used not only by those that say that SD and the nazis are the same, but also by Sverigedemokraterna! Just look at how they in their propaganda mix together the fundamentalists with the normal muslims and the secular once and claim that “islam” is the problem and the threat!

    jerlerup

    July 12, 2010 at 6:31 am

  5. I am sorry. The method implied by the quote, I mean, not the quote in itself.

    jerlerup

    July 12, 2010 at 6:32 am

  6. “3. 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”

    I like your blog very much, just thought I’d comment on this piece here. I think you’ll find that this is indeed well-used in political rhetoric. Nobody can repeatedly affirm the idea of an axis of evil and at the same time mention criticism of the concept. American politicians have been very good at ignoring counter-arguments and denying “allegations”, which is what the opposition is reduced to by constantly being ignored, their words are no longer factual, they turn into allegations in the vulgar mind by the mere denying of the ruling party. It’s really an efficient technique, if you just lie consistently people will believe you.

    Let’s take Israel as an example. Lots of Americans think that the muslims are the bad guys and the jews are the good guys in the Middle-East. This is because everybody says so all the time, nobody ever says the opposite. No matter what happens in Israel, it’s always ultimately because of the palestinians. In Sweden, we have a broad spectrum of opinions on the matter ranging from one extreme to the other and that’s because we get to hear these opinions from both sides expressed in the media, whereas most Americans have never even heard the palestinians’ arguments.

    More examples, take any cult and you see the same thing, just ignore all arguments against you and they WILL go away. It’s amazing that it works that way, but it does. People need to hear counter-arguments at length to be able to comprehend and accept them, so if you don’t allow them the follow-up tutorials on a particular matter, it’ll just fade from memory, lumped together with “all other nonsense” or “all other hatin’ on us” and without any counter-arguments it’s a walk in the park to proclaim your own beliefs as the truth. And I say cult, but I mean religion.

    More examples… watergate? Well, I know one really good example, apart from Nazi Germany, and that is North Korea. Kim Jong-Il has said that his father Kim Il-Sung was God, that in South Korea, people eat garbage to survive and lots of fun stuff, and it would be impossible to keep up these lies before 70-80 million people or however many North Koreans there are, if he didn’t consistently deny anything that opposed his own words. Every admittance would be a seed of doubt in the population, a growing mistrust, coupled with mistrust about things that were actually not lies and an eventual overthrowing of the son of God, as it were.

    enleuk

    July 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    • Thank you for your long reply.

      To a large part you are right: I had my mind on Swedish “centre court” politics at the time and (with the recent exception of blanket condemnations of Sverigedemokraterna) here a complete black-and-white is very rare; however, when we move to other contexts the situation can be radically different—including Swedish political discussions outside of the centre court and North-Korean official propaganda.

      I feel, however, that you are a bit off concerning the Israelis and the Palestinians. Above all, it is hardly true that a fair treatment is given in Sweden. On the contrary, there is a very strong anti-Israel bias in Swedish media and on the Swedish left. Effectively, a sizeable part of news reporting is based on the preconception that Israel is evil, and events are interpreted to fit this preconception. (Cf. e.g. my recent discussion of Ships to Gaza.) In the US, in contrast, the historically strong pro-Israel stance appears to be slowly weakening—and there are many individual citizens who are anti-Israel.

      “People need to hear counter-arguments at length[…]”:

      Indeed, one thing that annoys me severely is that even those politically active (who more or less have a duty to be well informed) tend to base their opinions about their opponents on their own “party propaganda” rather than what the opponents themselves say. My advice to anyone is to read and understand as many and as varied opinions on different topics as possible—not (necessarily) agree with, but read and understand. Generally, there is a hardly a political party or military combatant which does not consider it self “the good guys”; and if one abstracts far enough, the opinions of idealists in all camps tend to be very similar. (Say a wish to make the world a better place, but with different opinions of what that entails; or fighting injustice, but with a different exposure in kind and quantity to various injustices. I have an article on this in mind, but it may take quite some time before I have a deep enough understanding.)

      michaeleriksson

      July 18, 2010 at 4:24 am

      • Strong anti-Israel bias in Swedish media, maybe, but not only. We have a broad spectrum in the media and that’s why we have a broad spectrum of opinions in the general public as well. Compared to the US Sweden is anti-Israel, but that’s not a useful comparison since they are pro-Israel (again, only by comparison) and, on topic, lots of people in the states have never heard anything bad about Israel ever, it simply doesn’t get reported in most media.

        Slightly off topic, media is interesting, I’m a journalist myself and it’s often said that media is leftist in the US, but this is just a repeated mantra that’s not actually true. When it comes to voting, the journalists are about 50/50 democrats/republicans, but the leadership, producers, editors, management and ownership of the media is mostly right-wing and I can assure you that it’s the profile of a newspaper or tv channel that determines the content of media and not the individual journalists themselves, and the profile is determined by the market, so media is based on profit. Not really on topic, but it’s good to know whenever people start talking about media without actually understanding how it works.

        I think that’d be a good post. If you listen to debates between Reinfeldt and Sahlin they agree on pretty much everything, they only differ in tiny, ridiculously unimportant details, and they’re supposed to be opposites. There’s nothing opposite at all, the right-wing in Sweden is more to the left than the left in some other countries. And it’s all relative, but there’s nobody near anarcho-communism anywhere in the world at the moment, in fact all countries are state-capitalist, without a single exception. So, it’s not wrong to say that all politicians are exactly identical and it’s not wrong to say they all have the same goal in mind (people are simple-minded) and only differ in the details and of course, it’s an interesting psychological phenomenon that everybody wants to be the good guys and maintain this illusion by fighting over details instead of realizing they both want the same thing and try to come to joint conclusion on how to do it without their pride preventing them to see alternatives to their ideologically based beliefs.

        enleuk

        July 18, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      • Briefly revisiting the pro-/anti-Israel issue: It is not as simple as comparing the stance of different countries, but there are also objective biases in reporting. For those interested in such issues I would recommend Wikipedias internal guidelines, in particular on NPOV.

        That US media should be leftist is not something I have heard myself (but I am obviously at a disadvantage here)—what I have heard is a lot of criticism against Fox for being “Tea-party central”. However, it is interesting that you point to issues like ownership, because the situation is very different in Sweden: Notably, very many higher-level newspeople (including editors-in-chief) have leftist sympathies; Aftonbladet (the leading evening paper) used to be majority-owned by the unions, which still wield considerable influence; and most papers depend on “presstöd” (governmental support money) for their profits, possibly even survival.

        As an aside: The opinions of journalists themselves can still have a considerable impact, even if the overall policy of the paper goes in another direction—e.g. through writing that makes too-subtle-to-cause-intervention errors wrt NPOV (cf. the above link).

        michaeleriksson

        July 21, 2010 at 4:18 am

  7. […] a comment » Earlier today, I answered a comment with a reference to Wikipedia’s NPOV guidelinew. As subsequently struck me, a generalized version […]


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