“Propaganda under a Dictatorship”          

from Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (1958)

           “At his trial after the Second World War, Hitler’s Minister for Armaments, Albert Speer, delivered a long speech in which, with remarkable acuteness, he described the Nazi tyranny and analysed its methods.  ‘Hitler’s dictatorship’, he said, ‘differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history.  It was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made complete use of all technical means for the domination of its own country.  Through technical devices like the radio and the loud-speaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought.  It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man…Earlier dictators needed highly qualified assistants even at the lowest level – men who could think and act independently.  The totalitarian system in the period of modern technical development can dispense with such men;  thanks to modern methods of communication, it is possible to mechanize the lower leadership.  As a result of this there has arisen the new type of the uncritical recipient of orders.’

          In the Brave New World of my prophetic fable technology had advanced far beyond the point it reached in Hitler’s day;  consequently the recipients of orders were far less critical than their Nazi counterparts, far more obedient to the order-giving elite.  Moreover they had been genetically standardized and post-natally conditioned to perform their subordinate functions, and could therefore be depended upon to behave almost as predictably as machines.  As we shall see in a later chapter, this conditioning of the ‘the lower leadership’ is already going on in the Communist dictatorships.  The Chinese and the Russians are not relying merely on the indirect effects of advancing technology;  they are working directly on the psycho-physical organisms of their lower leaders, subjecting minds and bodies to a system of ruthless and, from all accounts, highly effective conditioning.  ‘Many a man,’’ said Speer, ‘has been haunted by the nightmare that one day nations might be dominated by technical means.  That nightmare was almost realized in Hitler’s totalitarian system.’  Almost, but not quite. The Nazis did not have the time – and perhaps did not have the intelligence and the necessary knowledge – to brainwash and condition their lower leadership.  This, is may be, is one of the reasons why they failed.

          Since Hitler’s day the armoury of technical devices at the disposal of the would-be dictator has been considerably enlarged.  As well as the radio, the loud-speaker, the moving picture camera and the rotary press, the contemporary propagandist can make use of television to broadcast the image as well as the voice of his client, and can record both image and voice on spools of magnetic tape.  Thanks to technological progress, Big Brother can now be almost as omnipresent as God.  Nor is it only on the technical front that the hand of the would-be dictator has been strengthened.  Since Hitler’s day a great deal of work has been carried out in those fields of applied psychology and neurology which are the special province of the propagandist, the indoctrinator and the brainwasher.  In the past these specialists in the art of changing people’s minds were empiricists.  By a method of trial and error they had worked out a number of techniques and procedures, which they used very effectively without, however, knowing precisely why they were effective.  Today the art of mind-control is in process of becoming a science.  The practitioners of this science know what they are doing and why.  They are guided in their work by theories and hypotheses solidly established on a massive foundation of experimental evidence.  Thanks to the new insights and the new techniques made possible by these insights, the nightmare that was ‘all but realized in Hitler’s totalitarian system’ may soon be completely realizable.

          But before we discuss these new insights and techniques let us take a closer look at the nightmare that so nearly came true in Nazi Germany.  What were the methods used by Hitler and Goebbels for ‘depriving eighty million people of independent thought and subjecting them to the will of one man’?   and what was the theory of human nature upon which those terrifyingly successful methods were based?  These questions can be answered, for the most part, in Hitler’s own words.  And what remarkably clear and astute words they are!  When he writes about such vast abstractions as Race History and Providence, Hitler is strictly unreadable.  But when he writes about the German masses and the methods he used for dominating and directing them, his style changes. Nonsense gives place to sense, bombast to a hard-boiled and cynical lucidity.  In his philosophical lucubrations Hitler was either cloudily day-dreaming or reproducing other people’s half-baked notions.  In his comments on crowds and propaganda he was writing of things he knew by first-hand experience.  In the words of his ablest biographer, Mr. Alan Bullock, “Hitler was the greatest demagogue in history.  Those who add, “only a demagogue”, fail to appreciate the nature of political power in an age of mass politics.  As he himself said, “To be a leader means to be able fo move the masses.”’ Hitler’s aim was first to move the masses and then, having pried them loose from their traditional loyalties and moralities, to impose upon them (with the hypnotized consent of the majority) a new authoritarian order of his own devising. ‘Hitler’, wrote Hermann Rauschning in 1939, ‘has a deep respect for the Catholic Church and the Jesuit Order;  not because of their Christian doctrine, but because of the ‘machinery’ they have elaborated and controlled, their hierarchical system, their extremely clever tactics, their knowledge of human nature and their wise use of human weakness in ruling over believers.’  Ecclesiasticism without Christianity, the discipline of a monastic rule, not for God’s sake or in order to achieve personal salvation, but for the sake of the State and for the greater glory and power of the demagogue turned Leader – this was the goal towards which the systematic moving of the masses was to lead.

          Let us see what Hitler thought of the masses he moved and how he did the moving.  The first principle from which he started was a value judgment:  the masses are utterly contemptible.  They are incapable of abstract thinking and uninterested in any fact outside the circle of their immediate experience.  Their behavior is determined, not by knowledge or reason, but by feelings and unconscious drives.  It is in these drives and feelings that ‘the roots of their positive as well as their negative attitudes are implanted.’  To be successful a propagandist must learn how to manipulate these instincts and emotions.  ‘The driving force which has brought about the most tremendous revolutions on this earth has never been a body of scientific teaching which has gained power over the masses, but always a devotion which has inspired them and often a kind of hysteria which as urged them into action.  Whoever wishes to win over the masses must know the key that will open the door of their hearts.’ – In post-Freudian jargon, of their unconscious.

          Hitler made his strongest appeal to those members of the lower middle classes who had been ruined by the inflation of 1923, and then ruined all over again by the depression of 1929 and the following years.  ‘The masses’ of whom he speaks were these bewildered, frustrated and chronically anxious millions.  To make them more mass-like, more homogeneously sub-human, he assembled them by the thousands and the tens of thousands, in vast halls and arenas, where individuals could lost their personal identity, even their elementary humanity and be merged with the crowd.  A man or woman makes direct contact with society in two ways:  as a member of some familial, professional, or religious group, or as a member of a crowd.  Groups are capable of being as moral and intelligent as the individuals who form them;  a crowd is chaotic, has no purpose of its own, and is capable of anything except intelligent action and realistic thinking.  Assembled in a crowd, people lose their powers of reasoning and their capacity for moral choice.  Their suggestibility is increased to the point where they cease to have any judgment or will of their own.  They become very excitable, they lose all sense of individual or collective responsibility, they are subject to sudden accesses of rage, enthusiasm and panic.  In a word, a man in a crowd behaves as though he had swallowed a large dose of some powerful intoxicant.  He is a victim of what I have called ‘herd-poisoning’.  Like alcohol, herd-poison is an active, extraverted drug.  The crowd-intoxicated individual escapes from responsibility, intelligence and morality into a kind of frantic, animal mindlessness.

          During his long career as an agitator, Hitler had studied the effects of herd-poison and had learned how to exploit them for his own purposes.  He had discovered that the orator can appeal to those ‘hidden forces’, which motivate men’s actions much more effectively than can the writer.  Reading is a private, not a collective activity.  The writer speaks only to individuals, sitting by themselves in a state of normal sobriety.  The orator speaks to masses of individuals, already well-primed with herd-poison.  They are at his mercy and, if he knows his business, he can do with them what he likes.  As an orator, Hitler knew his business supremely well.  He was able, in his own words, ‘to follow the lead of the great of the great mass in such a way that from the living emotion of his hearers the apt word which he needed would be suggested to him and in its turn this would go straight to the heart of his hearers.’  Otto Strasser called him ‘a loud-speaker, proclaiming the most secret desires, the least admissible instincts, the sufferings and personal revolts of a whole nation.’  Twenty years before Madison Avenue embarked upon ‘motivational research’, Hitler was systematically exploring and exploiting the secret fears and hopes, the cravings, anxieties and frustrations of the German masses.  It is by manipulating ‘hidden forces’ that the advertising experts induce us to buy their wares-a toothpaste, a brand of cigarettes, a political candidate.  And it was by appealing to the same hidden forces – and to others too dangerous for Madison Avenue to meddle with – that Hitler induced the German masses to buy themselves a Fuehreer, an insane philosophy and the Second World War.

          Unlike the masses, intellectuals have a taste for rationality and an interest in facts.  Their critical habit of mind makes them resistant to the kind of propaganda that works so well on the majority.  Among the masses ‘instinct is supreme, and from instinct comes faith...While the healthy common folk instinctively close their ranks to form a community of the people’ (under a Leader, it goes without saying) ‘intellectuals run this way and that, like hens in a poultry yard.  With them one cannot make history;  they cannot be used as elements composing a community.’  Intellectuals are the kind of people who demand evidence and are shocked by logical inconsistencies and fallacies.  They regard oversimplification as the original sin of the mind and have no use for the slogans, the unqualified assertions and sweeping generalizations which are the propagandist’s stock in trade.  ‘All effective propaganda,’ Hitler wrote, ‘must be confined to a few bare necessities and then must be expressed in a few stereotyped formulas.’  These stereotyped formulas must be constantly repeated for ‘only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea upon the memory of a crowd.’  Philosophy teaches us to feel uncertain about the things that seem to us self-evident.  Propaganda, on the other hand, teaches us to accept as self-evident matters about which it would be reasonable to suspend our judgment or to feel doubt.  The aim of the demagogue is to create social coherence under his own leadership.  But, as Bertrand Russell has pointed out, ‘systems of dogma without empirical foundations, such as scholasticism, Marxism and fascism, have the advantage of producing a great deal of social coherence among their disciples.’  The demagogic propagandist must therefore be consistently dogmatic. All his statements are made without qualification.  There are no greys in his picture of the world;  everything is either diabolically black or celestially white.  In Hitler’s words, the propagandist should adopt ‘a systematically one-sided attitude towards every problem that has to be dealt with.’  He must never admit that he might be wrong or that people with a different point of view might be even partially right.  Opponents should not be argued with;  they should be attacked, shouted down, or, if they become too much of a nuisance, liquidated.  The morally squeamish intellectual may be shocked by this kind of thing.  But the masses are always convinced that ‘right is on the side of the active agressor.’

          Such, then, was Hitler’s opinion of humanity in the mass.  It was a very low opinion.  Was it also an incorrect opinion?  The tree is known by its fruits, and a theory of human nature which inspired the kind of techniques that proved so horribly effective must contain at least an element of truth.  Virtue and intelligence belong to human beings as individuals freely associating with other individuals in small groups.  So do sin and stupidity.  But the subhuman mindlessness to which the demagogue makes his appeal, the moral imbecility on which he relies when he goads his victims into action, are characteristics not of men and women as individuals, but of men and women in masses.  Mindlessness and moral idiocy are not characteristically human attributes;  they are symptoms of herd-poisoning.  In all the world’s higher religions, salvation and enlightenment are for individuals.  The kingdom of heaven is within the mind of a person, not within the collective mindlessness of a crowd.  Christ promised to be present where two or three are gathered together.  He did not say anything about being present where thousands are intoxicating one another with herd-poison.  Under the Nazis, enormous number of people were compelled to spend an enormous amount of time marching in serried ranks from point A to point B and back again to point A.  ‘This keeping of the whole population on the march seemed to be a senseless waste of time and energy.  Only much later,’ adds Hermann Rauschning, ‘was there revealed in it subtle intention based on a well-judged adjustment of ends and means.  Marching diverts men’s thoughts.  Marching kills thought.  Marching makes an end of individuality.  Marching is the indispensable magic stroke performed in order to accustom the people to a mechanical, quasi-ritualistic activity until it becomes second nature.’

          From his point of view and at the level where he had chosen to do his dreadful work, Hitler was perfectly correct in his estimate of human nature.  To those of us who look at men and women as individuals rather than as members of crowds, or of regimented collectives, he seems hideously wrong.  In an age of accelerating overpopulation, of accelerating over-organization and ever more efficient means of mass communication, how can we preserve the integrity and re-assert the value of the human individual?  This is a question that can still be asked and perhaps effectively answered.  A generation from now it may be too late to find an answer and perhaps impossible, in the stifling collective climate of that future time, even to ask the question.”