"People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy."
- G.K. Chesterton
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. ~ Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propagandaI saw this quote as the heading of an editorial a while back... and since we also have it in our quote rotation here at thinklings, it got me thinking, "Did Goebbels really say that? And if so,what did he mean?"
So here's what I found out from some internet research. It is listed at a quote website although I don't know if you can even trust websites anymore. It bugs me to run into quotes without a reference to when it was said or where it was written. (Though I've been guilty of just listing the author without saying where I found it myself.) I wish that everyone would say where and when a quote came from. In this day and age where anyone can say anything on the internet or in an email, it is all the more important. I'm a real stickler for authenticity and I try never to attribute a quote to someone unless I can personally verify it.
And so the quotes website I link to above may be just proliferating a myth. I never found an actual citation for this quote. I did however learn from wikiquote, if that can be trusted, that a similar quote is often misattributed.
MisattributedThe "Big Lie" idea was not Goebbels revealing some secret of Nazi propaganda. (At least not willingly.) His point in context was that it is the British who are lying. Oh the irony, that this quote has been repeated so often and attributed to Goebbels that it doesn't seem to be questioned anymore.
* But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success. -o Actually from "War Propaganda", in volume 1, chapter 6 of Mein Kampf (1925), by Adolf Hitler.
* (multiple alternatives) If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. // If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. // If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. // If you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes truth. // If you repeat a lie many times, people are bound to start believing it.
o no reliable source; probably misquotations of the Big Lie idea
The following is an authentic Goebbels quote. Or at least I think it is, becomes it comes from wikiquote and the actual original source is cited.
That is of course rather painful for those involved. One should not as a rule reveal one's secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.
* "Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik" ("Churchill's Lie Factory"), 12 January 1941, Die Zeit ohne Beispiel (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., 1941), pp. 364-369
* This and similar lines in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf about what he claimed to be a strategem of Jewish lies using "the principle & which is quite true in 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," are often misquoted or paraphrased as: "The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed."
Here's my conclusion: It looks like Goebbels never said what is attributed to him at the top of this post, or the more common, "If you tell a lie often enough (or big enough) it will be believed."
And if he did say that or something like it, I don't think he meant it as it appears - Like the inside secret confession of a Nazi propagandist...though that implication makes it rather delicious for the modern day propagandist...er opinion writer. Drawing a conclusion from the actually verifiable quotes and speeches of Goebbels, if he did say anything like this, he most likely meant it as a criticism of what his enemies were doing. (i.e. claiming that Jews and the Allies were the liars.) He was not admitting that he was a purveyor of lies. (Although you and I know he was an evil liar, that's probably not what he meant.)
Here's a pretty good selection of Goebbels speeches and articles.
So doubting that he said it in the first place, and believing that if he did, he was actually criticizing Jews or the English, I will never use that quote again. That's my take.
If there's one thing I hate more than a made-up or misattributed quote, it's a quote taken out of context. Imagine how shocked I was when I learned that when Mark Twain said, "It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that trouble me, it's the ones that I do understand." He meant something entirely different than how many pastors and books had quoted it to me. I had heard it quoted as meaning that rather than Christians spending too much time on the difficult passages, we should spend more time dealing with the parts we do understand. i.e. we should spend more time obeying, and less time worrying about who the sons of God were that married the daughters of men.
So in researching the quote for something I was working on to make sure it was authentic, I found out that Twain was actually criticizing the Bible! When he said that the parts he understood troubled him, he was talking about God commanding the Israelites to slaughter men, women and children. He was explaining why he didn't believe the Bible was the word of God, and criticizing how awful it was.
So how about you? Can you shed light on the authenticity and meaning of the Goebbels quote?
Is there another quote that people use all the time that is wrong, misattributed or out of context?