Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Image by Bernd Schwabe, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

At least when I was in grade school, we learned the very basics of how the Third Reich came to pow­er in the ear­ly 1930s. Para­mil­i­tary gangs ter­ror­iz­ing the oppo­si­tion, the incom­pe­tence and oppor­tunism of Ger­man con­ser­v­a­tives, the Reich­stag Fire. And we learned about the crit­i­cal impor­tance of pro­pa­gan­da, the delib­er­ate mis­in­form­ing of the pub­lic in order to sway opin­ions en masse and achieve pop­u­lar sup­port (or at least the appear­ance of it). While Min­is­ter of Pro­pa­gan­da Joseph Goebbels purged Jew­ish and left­ist artists and writ­ers, he built a mas­sive media infra­struc­ture that played, writes PBS, “prob­a­bly the most impor­tant role in cre­at­ing an atmos­phere in Ger­many that made it pos­si­ble for the Nazis to com­mit ter­ri­ble atroc­i­ties against Jews, homo­sex­u­als, and oth­er minori­ties.”

How did the minor­i­ty par­ty of Hitler and Goebbels take over and break the will of the Ger­man peo­ple so thor­ough­ly that they would allow and par­tic­i­pate in mass mur­der? Post-war schol­ars of total­i­tar­i­an­ism like Theodor Adorno and Han­nah Arendt asked that ques­tion over and over, for sev­er­al decades after­ward. Their ear­li­est stud­ies on the sub­ject looked at two sides of the equa­tion. Adorno con­tributed to a mas­sive vol­ume of social psy­chol­o­gy called The Author­i­tar­i­an Per­son­al­i­ty, which stud­ied indi­vid­u­als pre­dis­posed to the appeals of total­i­tar­i­an­ism. He invent­ed what he called the F‑Scale (“F” for “fas­cism”), one of sev­er­al mea­sures he used to the­o­rize the Author­i­tar­i­an Per­son­al­i­ty Type.

Arendt, on the oth­er hand, looked close­ly at the regimes of Hitler and Stal­in and their func­tionar­ies, at the ide­ol­o­gy of sci­en­tif­ic racism, and at the mech­a­nism of pro­pa­gan­da in fos­ter­ing “a curi­ous­ly vary­ing mix­ture of gulli­bil­i­ty and cyn­i­cism with which each mem­ber… is expect­ed to react to the chang­ing lying state­ments of the lead­ers.” So she wrote in her 1951 Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism, going on to elab­o­rate that this “mix­ture of gulli­bil­i­ty and cyn­i­cism… is preva­lent in all ranks of total­i­tar­i­an move­ments”:

In an ever-chang­ing, incom­pre­hen­si­ble world the mass­es had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe every­thing and noth­ing, think that every­thing was pos­si­ble and noth­ing was true… The total­i­tar­i­an mass lead­ers based their pro­pa­gan­da on the cor­rect psy­cho­log­i­cal assump­tion that, under such con­di­tions, one could make peo­ple believe the most fan­tas­tic state­ments one day, and trust that if the next day they were giv­en irrefutable proof of their false­hood, they would take refuge in cyn­i­cism; instead of desert­ing the lead­ers who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the state­ment was a lie and would admire the lead­ers for their supe­ri­or tac­ti­cal clev­er­ness.

Why the con­stant, often bla­tant lying? For one thing, it func­tioned as a means of ful­ly dom­i­nat­ing sub­or­di­nates, who would have to cast aside all their integri­ty to repeat out­ra­geous false­hoods and would then be bound to the leader by shame and com­plic­i­ty. “The great ana­lysts of truth and lan­guage in pol­i­tics”—writes McGill Uni­ver­si­ty polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor Jacob T. Levy—includ­ing “George Orwell, Han­nah Arendt, Vaclav Havel—can help us rec­og­nize this kind of lie for what it is.… Say­ing some­thing obvi­ous­ly untrue, and mak­ing your sub­or­di­nates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a par­tic­u­lar­ly star­tling dis­play of pow­er over them. It’s some­thing that was endem­ic to total­i­tar­i­an­ism.”

Arendt and oth­ers rec­og­nized, writes Levy, that “being made to repeat an obvi­ous lie makes it clear that you’re pow­er­less.” She also rec­og­nized the func­tion of an avalanche of lies to ren­der a pop­u­lace pow­er­less to resist, the phe­nom­e­non we now refer to as “gaslight­ing”:

The result of a con­sis­tent and total sub­sti­tu­tion of lies for fac­tu­al truth is not that the lie will now be accept­ed as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bear­ings in the real world—and the cat­e­go­ry of truth ver­sus false­hood is among the men­tal means to this end—is being destroyed.

The epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ground thus pulled out from under them, most would depend on what­ev­er the leader said, no mat­ter its rela­tion to truth. “The essen­tial con­vic­tion shared by all ranks,” Arendt con­clud­ed, “from fel­low trav­el­er to leader, is that pol­i­tics is a game of cheat­ing and that the ‘first com­mand­ment’ of the move­ment: ‘The Fuehrer is always right,’ is as nec­es­sary for the pur­pos­es of world pol­i­tics, i.e., world-wide cheat­ing, as the rules of mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline are for the pur­pos­es of war.”

“We too,” writes Jef­frey Isaacs at The Wash­ing­ton Post, “live in dark times”—an allu­sion to anoth­er of Arendt’s sober­ing analy­ses—“even if they are dif­fer­ent and per­haps less dark.” Arendt wrote Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism from research and obser­va­tions gath­ered dur­ing the 1940s, a very spe­cif­ic his­tor­i­cal peri­od. Nonethe­less the book, Isaacs remarks, “rais­es a set of fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about how tyran­ny can arise and the dan­ger­ous forms of inhu­man­i­ty to which it can lead.” Arendt’s analy­sis of pro­pa­gan­da and the func­tion of lies seems par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant at this moment. The kinds of bla­tant lies she wrote of might become so com­mon­place as to become banal. We might begin to think they are an irrel­e­vant sideshow. This, she sug­gests, would be a mis­take.

via Michiko Kaku­tani

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Han­nah Arendt’s Orig­i­nal Arti­cles on “the Banal­i­ty of Evil” in the New York­er Archive

Enter the Han­nah Arendt Archives & Dis­cov­er Rare Audio Lec­tures, Man­u­scripts, Mar­gin­a­lia, Let­ters, Post­cards & More

Han­nah Arendt Dis­cuss­es Phi­los­o­phy, Pol­i­tics & Eich­mann in Rare 1964 TV Inter­view

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Randy says:

    “the ide­ol­o­gy of sci­en­tif­ic racism”

    This line caught my atten­tion, because it reflects pre­cise­ly what is going on, on uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es today, regard­ing things like “tox­ic mas­culin­i­ty” and “the patri­archy”.

    It’s why it’s OK to hit men. It’s why it’s OK to cut men. It’s why it’s OK to force men into war. It’s why it’s OK to lock men up. It’s why it’s OK to ignore male sui­cide.

    It’s amaz­ing that we recent­ly had a march whose miss­ing reflects many of the issues fac­ing men more than any­one else today, and not a word was said about how these impact men. It was all about women, even though the group most vul­ner­a­ble to these prob­lems is not women.

    These peo­ple hap­pi­ly pat each oth­er on the back for fight­ing for “equal­i­ty”. But they only care for a sin­gle group, the group least at risk.

    That is the banal­i­ty of evil.

  • Randy says:

    Typo: “miss­ing” should be “mis­sion”. But “miss­ing” is as good a word for it.

  • Sandy says:

    I under­stand why we have peo­ple call­ing Trump Hitler etc.
    Just by read­ing these arti­cles and accept­ing what they say, not because they are accu­rate, but because they are in the acad­e­mia. It is the per­fect snooty rooty cazooty snobazooty.
    This kind of phi­los­o­phy, as in this arti­cle, has appeal to the schol­ar snobs of the world.

  • C Baker says:

    Randy, your com­ment isn’t even a lit­tle on top­ic.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Sandy, this is an edu­ca­tion­al web­site, so I’m curi­ous about why you’re here if you don’t val­ue schol­ar­ship.

  • Russell Scott Day says:

    The USA has been first in many things. The Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­i­ca was Stal­in­ist before Stal­in got around to rob­bing banks.

  • Rich says:

    Lab Guy, did­n’t you notice that Arendt looked at Stal­in and Hitler? I sup­pose you did­n’t get that far in the arti­cle. How­ev­er, your impli­ca­tion that Oba­ma some­how rep­re­sents a total­i­tar­i­an left is laugh­able. If you can’t under­stand what you read, maybe it’s best left not to com­ment.

  • Snowball says:

    Sandy is part of the US ver­sion of the Red Guards of Chi­na dur­ing the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion. Smash the intel­lec­tu­als! They self-destruc­t­ed because they had noth­ing to lose against the 1%, the schol­ar class and those with access to oppor­tu­ni­ties. Thou­sands died, and Chi­na has spent the past cen­tu­ry try­ing to recov­er. If you go to Chi­na, most of the art, build­ings, inno­v­a­tive ideas come from out­side of Chi­na (until recent­ly.)

    That is where you pathet­ic and self-defeat­ing anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism gets you.

  • Max says:

    This is a great expla­na­tion for the left­’s con­tin­u­ing attempts to lead with emo­tion rather than facts. And the min­ions that fol­low are quick to act on that emo­tion due to their sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty. For it is far eas­i­er to answer the call of feel­ings than to work at a valid argu­ment — if there is one.

  • Johnny White says:

    Sandy, it’s nev­er too late. Wake up. Save your­self. trump may not be Hitler, but trump is tox­ic. Yer doing what trump needs to do, or suffer–eek– crit­i­cism. Which is to take a crit­i­cism of his own behav­ior and pin it on his “ene­mies”. Come out like the “vic­tim”.

  • Esem says:

    Looks to me like this “Sandy” is doing exact­ly what the arti­cle talked about, dimin­ish­ing infor­ma­tion. Using sil­ly made up words to dimin­ish the pos­si­bil­i­ty fur­ther. Not sure if she believes this, or if she is act­ing out sar­casm with that remark.

  • E says:

    The com­ments sec­tion on this arti­cle is so iron­ic I might throw up.

  • Dave says:

    Randy is putting forth just the kind of gaslight­ing the arti­cle refers to. The facts defy his state­ments. After a win­ning cam­paign of misog­y­ny and racism, it’s astound­ing how he can make the claim he makes.

  • Ed Crist says:

    Humans have a long his­to­ry of for­get­ting most of his­to­ry. Over and over total­i­tar­i­an­ism has thrived because oth­er­wise good peo­ple yearn for safe­ty and com­fort promised by charis­mat­ic fig­ures. Add to that, when ‘alter­na­tive facts’ get in the way of their com­fort and secu­ri­ty, they are at least shunned and at worse the intel­lec­tu­al is per­se­cut­ed and often times killed (ref­er­ence above to Chi­na and also Cam­bo­dia and Rus­sia) . I am not opti­mistic that our species will ever purge itself of the need and desire of despots. Per­haps I’m wrong.

  • Emma says:

    I think Randy/Sandy are the same per­son, mis­tak­ing the Inter­net for Red­dit.

  • McGillFluffyLeaves says:

    It’s impor­tant to not over­an­a­lyze human nature — it can always be boiled down into sim­ple uni­ver­sal laws.
    Peo­ple move.
    They act.
    Their acts have con­se­quences.
    When peo­ple act togeth­er, the con­se­quences of their actions mul­ti­ply expo­nen­tial­ly.
    If you want peo­ple to act togeth­er effi­cient­ly, you find a tar­get — in 1930s Ger­many, the easy one was the Jews.
    If you want peo­ple to act togeth­er just­ly — that is, not harm­ing oth­ers, and hav­ing oblig­a­tions aimed in that direc­tion — you find a way to stop peo­ple from mov­ing, and have them do some yoga. That would­n’t last very long.
    If you want to max­i­mize “no harm” and have a pro­duc­tive soci­ety, peo­ple need to be taught to look after them­selves enough to not care about hurt­ing anoth­er, and look­ing after them­selves hooks up with increas­ing com­fort lev­els if we live in a soci­ety con­cerned with wealth.

  • McGillandLeaves says:

    It’s impor­tant to not over­think human nature and boil it down to sim­ple, uni­ver­sal laws.
    Peo­ple move.
    Peo­ple act.
    Their actions have con­se­quences.
    When peo­ple act togeth­er, the con­se­quences of their actions mul­ti­ply expo­nen­tial­ly.
    If you want peo­ple to act togeth­er most effi­cient­ly, you need to find a tar­get, Jews being per­fect in 1930s Ger­many.
    If you want peo­ple to live in a just soci­ety, peo­ple have to stop mov­ing and act­ing, and do yoga. That would­n’t last long.
    But if you want to max­i­mize jus­tice with­out stop­ping our nat­ur­al desires to move and act, and while increas­ing com­fort lev­els, peo­ple have to care about them­selves first enough to not both­er with hurt­ing oth­er peo­ple, and tying that to the dol­lar rein­forces that “self love” while increas­ing over­all com­fort.

  • Evan Hadkins says:

    Great arti­cle. It gets gaslight­ing slight­ly wrong though.

  • Diane Ramsey says:

    While every­one is debat­ing how this hap­pened and who to blame, we’re for­get­ting the basics: Trump is a nar­cis­sis­tic sociopath; a con­man, a liar, an instinc­tive fas­cist. He has­n’t read any his­to­ry or schol­ar­ly arti­cles. He’s a nat­ur­al populist/fascist which his sup­port­ers mis­take for being “authen­tic”. If they thought for even a minute about the string of lies com­ing out of his mouth, they would­n’t have vot­ed for him. But what good con men do is make you stop think­ing. “They” are all liars. “Lis­ten only to me”. “Only I can save you”. Repeat end­less­ly. It’s down­right hyp­not­ic! That’s what we’re deal­ing with. We don’t real­ly need a debate on what the GDP is in any par­tic­u­lar year!

  • charlotte says:

    I real­ly appre­ci­ate this kind of re-ori­en­ta­tion after one fright­en­ing week of the Trump pres­i­den­cy. My code name for him is El Feo — the ugly one — because his actu­al name means to one-up some­one — it’s almost too iron­ic to be true. The male ego won — the white suprema­cist won — the casu­al fas­cist won. Now we have to defend fac­tu­al­i­ty, and that’s psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dif­fi­cult. It means you have to con­stant­ly go back to what you know is true and ques­tion what will become the norm. The lessons of his­to­ry don’t lie, how­ev­er. After 9–11 the Patri­ot Act allowed the con­sti­tu­tion to be enforced arbi­trar­i­ly. For over 15 years the gas light­ing has been at that lev­el, too (yes, even under Oba­ma!) Maybe the con­sti­tu­tion does­n’t real­ly say there’s a sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, maybe we are not all cre­at­ed equal, maybe cli­mate change is a hoax, etc. Blame it on lib­er­als and the media. But his­tor­i­cal evi­dence and arti­facts don’t lie: look at how degrad­ed and dis­gust­ing Nazi cul­ture was. Women were giv­en a heavy, ugly iron cross for mak­ing babies who would become can­non fod­der, an insult added to their injury but which was con­sid­ered an hon­or. Just look at the aes­thet­ics when the lies become too much: El Feo’s ugli­ness pro­ject­ed every­where — his ver­sion of great­ness. Look at the aes­thet­ic of the Ital­ian move­ment of Fas­cism, replac­ing the beau­ti­ful art and cul­ture with ugly mon­u­ments to mil­i­tarism — mon­u­ments that they lat­er took down and are ashamed of. Look at Ger­many’s ugly mon­u­ments — the death camps. Look at El Feo’s pro­ject­ed dis­com­fort with him­self and tact­less gaudy demeanor. It’s no won­der so many US cit­i­zens have a kind of col­lec­tive PTSD right now. Once cop­ing is estab­lished, how­ev­er, we’ll be back, and stronger than before.

  • Jonas Planck says:

    There’s just one small yet enor­mous prob­lem with this analy­sis:

    The peo­ple oppress­ing men ARE men. Which means that in order to “free” the oppressed men, you have to oppress men in order to do it. And by an extra­or­di­nary coin­ci­dence, the very same men that you’re going to have to oppress just hap­pen to be the ones who own all the media and use it to com­plain inces­sant­ly about how “oppressed” they are, which makes you the bad guy. So good luck with that, I hope you man­age to suc­cess­ful­ly stop the oppres­sion of men by oppress­ing men. That would be one hell of a trick if you ever menage to pull it off. But since the most like­ly out­come is that you’ll end up oppress­ing every­body else, we’ll just have to pre­tend that your impos­si­ble goal has already been achieved and insist that the cur­rent sta­tus quo is the best you’re ever going to do.

  • Paul Humphries says:

    @Lab Guy — why do you think Russ­ian hack­ing is non­sense?

  • Mike Flores says:

    Inter­est­ing but flawed arti­cle.

    The first prob­lem is it pre­sumes “pro­pa­gan­da” means lying. Pro­pa­gan­da just means, per­sua­sion. It is part of psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare. The best pro­pa­gan­da is the truth.

    When I hear, and I hear it a lot these days, Trump is far worse than Hitler I just think “bad pro­pa­gan­da”. Any­one who looks up Hitler on the inter­net will quick­ly dis­cov­er there is no com­par­i­son. No pri­vate para­mil­i­tary group, no forced ster­il­iza­tion of ene­mies, etc. Now if some­one says, Trump is in over his head and does­n’t know what he’s doing, that too is pro­pa­gan­da but it is far more effec­tive. It is very hard to argue against that. It has enough truth to make it hard to argue against.

    Why was the Ger­man mil­i­tary not sta­tioned around the death camps?
    There was no pro­pa­gan­da that could hide what was being done.

    Word would get back to fam­i­lies in Ger­many. No pro­pa­gan­da could cov­er that up. Word did trick­le back to Ger­mans from guards, but the guards were most­ly ex com­mu­nists who had joined the SA and then were fold­ed into the SS. As com­mu­nists they had read Marx and Engels on the neces­si­ty of wip­ing out the Slav­ic race and to kill prac­tic­ing Jews. Marx and Engels wrote this mate­r­i­al for years, for exam­ple say­ing all Slav­ic peo­ple should be killed to make way for the Ger­man work­er. They had these beliefs before they became nazis.

    Ger­man soci­ety already had laws aimed against Jews. Before Hitler went into pow­er Jews could­n’t own guns for exam­ple.

    Pro­pa­gan­da did not cre­ate that. Reli­gion did. Jews were blamed by the Catholic Church for killing a God. So this was taught peo­ple as chil­dren long before Hitler came to pow­er. It was taught to Hitler too.

    Hitler by the way, was both Catholic and a fol­low­er of Hegel. He con­demned Com­mu­nists because they did­n’t do what Marx want­ed, he promised from day one to do it.

    My point is, Hitler’s pro­pa­gan­da did not cre­ate the mind­set. Marx and Engels pro­mot­ed the idea. The mind­set was already there.

    FDR was­n’t raised in Ger­many was he? Yet he refused to meet with Jesse Owens, the Project M files have been revealed so we know he believed in eugen­ics and the infe­ri­or­i­ty of Jews. He was­n’t any­where near nazi pro­pa­gan­da. Yet how does one explain his lack of inter­est in bomb­ing the gas cham­bers at the unguard­ed death camps?

    So, if pro­pa­gan­da did­n’t cause the mur­ders, what did? How would we stop a Hitler?

    To stop Hitler you would have to assas­si­nate Woodrow Wil­son- and his wife! Let me explain. Do you know any his­to­ri­an who does­n’t say the Treaty of Ver­sailles caused the eco­nom­ic col­lapse of Ger­many? Woodrow had strokes and was in var­i­ous forms of incom­pe­tence which his wife, Edith our first female Pres­i­dent, hid from every­one. The idea of a nation that lost pay­ing for what all the nations spent on the war is a “momism”. You broke the win­dow, you pay for it. Had Edith told advis­ers what Woodrow was going through I doubt that would have been includ­ed.

    What would have hap­pened if we had not entered the war?

    Had Ger­many won World War 1, there would be an Irish Repub­lic. No treaty so no eco­nom­ic col­lapse. No col­lapse no rise of the left in Ger­many. Fran­co would not have been put in place by the British. No World War 2 so no 70 mil­lion dead. If only we had lost World War 1.… an irony of his­to­ry.

    Pro­pa­gan­da does not cre­ate his­to­ry. Say­ing it does, is bad pro­pa­gan­da.

  • dentss says:

    That’s the real pur­pose of it all …it to dis­tract every­one from the real crimes of the left .…

  • Thom McCann says:

    Be afraid.

    Be very much afraid.

    Dan­ger­ous prece­dents have been set by the likes of Roo­sevelt (Relo­ca­tion of Japan­ese-Amer­i­cans), Nixon (“pre­ven­ta­tive deten­tion of pro­test­ers) with Bush, Oba­ma (bypass­ing con­gress), Christie (Wash­ing­ton Bridge scan­dal), etc. for a future dic­ta­tor to work with­in the laws of the U.S.

    Inad­ver­tent­ly Pres­i­dent Oba­ma may not be aware of what he did in the U.S. gov­ern­ment with his many exec­u­tive actions inde­pen­dent of con­gress.

    On Feb­ru­ary 21, 1934, Ger­man State Sec­re­tary, Wern­er Wil­likens, and Min­istry of Food said, “Every­one who has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to observe it knows that the Führer can hard­ly dic­tate from above every­thing he intends to real­ize soon­er or lat­er. On the con­trary, up till now every­one with a post in the new Ger­many has worked best when he has, so to speak, worked towards the Führer…”

    Ian Ker­shaw in his book “Work­ing towards the Führer” sug­gests a strange kind of polit­i­cal struc­ture.

    Not one in which those in pow­er issue orders but one in which those at the low­er end of the hier­ar­chy ini­ti­ate poli­cies them­selves with­in what they take to be the spir­it of the regime and car­ry on imple­ment­ing them until cor­rect­ed.

    He famous­ly joked in a col­lege com­mence­ment address in 2009 at at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty that he could use the IRS to tar­get polit­i­cal ene­mies but of course he nev­er would.

    It appears that peo­ple at the Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice did­n’t think he was jok­ing. He also said that Lati­nos should vote and not just say (in Obama’s words), “We’re going to pun­ish our ene­mies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are impor­tant to us.”

    These “ene­mies” he spoke of are oth­er Amer­i­can cit­i­zens.

    Jörg Muth explained in For­eign Pol­i­cy Mag­a­zine: “Inter­est­ing­ly, the lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of Amer­i­can [war] observers who were reg­u­lar­ly send to the old con­ti­nent dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry nev­er noticed Auf­tragstak­tik, a com­mand con­cept in which even the most junior offi­cers [and NCOs] were required to make far reach­ing deci­sions.”

    Not a sin­gle writ­ten doc­u­ment signed by Hitler has ever been found autho­riz­ing the SS mur­der­ers to wipe out Unter­men­schen or to killing for­eign slave work­ers or Jews in con­cen­tra­tion death camps or by starv­ing them or work­ing them to death.

    In Eng­land too, Hen­ry II said, ‘Who will rid me of this tur­bu­lent priest?’ and the barons rushed to Can­ter­bury to mur­der Thomas Beck­et. No direct order was giv­en, but the courtiers sensed what would please their king.

    Pres­i­dent Har­ry S Tru­man in 1961 said; “I nev­er would have agreed to the for­mu­la­tion of the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency back in ’47, if I had known it would become the Amer­i­can Gestapo.”

    To get a fright­en­ing idea of an ordi­nary cit­i­zen caught in the web of cor­rupt offi­cials and men in the NSA watch the film (also on the web) “Ene­my of The State” with Gene Hack­man and Will Smith.

    The ques­tion is “Quis cus­todi­et ipsos cus­todes?” (Who will guard the guards?”).

  • Barbara Murphy-Bridge says:

    Inter­est­ing you assume ‘Sandy’ is female. Any par­tic­u­lar rea­son ? Just curi­ous.

  • Peielio says:

    ” but the guards were most­ly ex com­mu­nists who had joined the SA and then were fold­ed into the SS.”

    You have no idea you are talk­ing about, huh?
    Show me evi­dences they (“kapos”) “were most­ly” comu­nists.
    I see what you are try­ing to do: spread­ing the meme “comu­nist = nazist” is an old and naïve trick. I know peo­ple like you and it will not gonna hap­pen.
    Buy a book, kid, and try to learn some­thing instead.

  • Rich says:

    There is noth­ing at all inac­cu­rate about this arti­cle, aca­d­e­m­ic or not. It’s known his­to­ry.

  • Rich says:

    Now do Don­ald Trump.

  • Everett says:

    I bet only one side gets the irony, the cor­rect side and the oth­er side-trig­gered.

  • Jacqueline Alexander says:

    Recent­ly I have become very inter­est­ed in the civ­il war era. I do not see the rela­tion­ship between Stal­in and that por­tion of the Unit­ed States (the confederacy),who made a bid for their free­dom from the oppres­sion of the gov­ern­ment of the north­ern states and Lin­coln dur­ing the late 1800’s. What­ev­er the moti­vat­ing fac­tors make no mis­take it was a bid for south­ern free­dom.
    The pro­pa­gan­da of this era slants all aspects of the real­i­ty of what the truth of the civ­il war. What is the true goal of all the anti south­ern­er- pro afro/American pro­pa­gan­da of today? I have worked in an atmos­phere, where it was explained to me that afroamer­i­cans are taught no per­son of white ori­gins should get a job that a per­son of col­or can get.
    So what are the real mod­ern day issues cloud­ing what was the efforts of one part of Amer­i­ca fight­ing for their free­dom in the 1800s?
    Today The pop­u­la­tion of afro Amer­i­cans is 12%. What was it in the 1800’s. What ratio­nal mind could accept that thou­sands of peoole were killed over one issue involv­ing a very small por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion. A part of the pop­u­la­tion which in fact fought with oth­er south­ern­ers against Abra­ham Lin­coln and the union?

  • Dord says:

    What you described isn’t racism, and it does­n’t hap­pen in the terms you’re describ­ing. It’s real­ly telling about your­self that you try to tweak real­i­ty, and dis­guise a minor social issue as the raise the fas­cism (your last line).
    Per­fect exam­ple of gas-light­ing, thx.

  • H8dogma says:

    It’s appar­ent this arti­cle has awok­en many Her­itage Foun­da­tion and Cato Insti­tute trolls. The less schol­ar­ly type, act­ed out well by the per­pe­tra­tors .

  • David Davies says:

    “…how the Third Reich came to pow­er in the ear­ly 1930s. Para­mil­i­tary gangs ter­ror­iz­ing the oppo­si­tion, the incom­pe­tence and oppor­tunism of Ger­man con­ser­v­a­tives…”

    They would be the tem­plates for AntiFa and the ‘Nev­er Trump’ wing of the Repub­li­can Par­ty.

    Easy to see that it is the Left ‘Pro­gres­sives’ who are the threat to indi­vid­ual free­dom. Only those com­plete­ly blind­ed by their indoc­tri­na­tion fail to see it.

    Viva Trump!

  • Peggy says:

    The quote is incor­rect and mean­ing­less — “No one has the right to obey.” A source says the name Kant is miss­ing from the end, but I can’t vouch for that.

  • Greg says:

    Name ten lies he told…

  • Fábio de Oliveira Ribeiro says:

    This enlight­ened woman has a lot to tell us. Her work is becom­ing essen­tial to under­stand what is hap­pen­ing in the US, Europe and Brazil. In recent years I have read and reread all #Han­na­hArendt books.

  • Rick says:

    Wow, he con­ser­v­a­tive and Russ­ian trolls are out in force in the com­ments sec­tion of this arti­cle, try­ing to twist even this warn­ing to fit their nar­ra­tive, or to sim­ply obfus­cate. They are doing exact­ly what the arti­cle dis­cuss­es.

  • Gibson Fenderstrat says:

    Don’t you mean “Heil” Trump?

  • Tom says:

    “The pow­er of the few requires the fol­ly of many” — Diet­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer

  • Dsekou says:

    Mike Flo­res did with his­to­ry what the arti­cle observed that total­i­tar­i­an groups do rewrite it to the point past absur­di­ty..

  • John Stewart says:

    See also Alex Com­fort’s 1950 study ‘Author­i­ty and delin­quen­cy’

  • Tormod says:

    You’re not big on irony at Open Cul­ture, hmmm!
    Only last week you post­ed the most ridicu­lous exam­ple of pro­pa­gan­da I have seen for many years. Allow me to remind you.
    It was a piece con­cern­ing the Russ­ian forces rais­ing a flag. The essence was that the pic­ture had been staged and for pro­pa­gan­da pur­pos­es. No men­tion was made of a sim­i­lar inci­dent involv­ing US forces. If you’re going to pub­lish arti­cles about pro­pa­gan­da, try cit­ing your­selves as will­ing par­tic­i­pants.

  • Gregory Wonderwheel says:

    To under­stand pro­pa­gan­da, I go to the mas­ter, Adolf Hitler. Hitler said he learned about pro­pa­gan­da from the West­ern busi­ness adver­tis­ing tech­niques who were the OG mas­ters of pro­pa­gan­da. In dis­cussing the effi­ca­cy of soap ads, he says, “What, for exam­ple, would we say about a poster that was sup­posed to adver­tise a new soap and that described oth­er soaps as ‘good’?
    We would only shake our heads.
    Exact­ly the same applies to polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing.”
    Some of the tips for effec­tive pro­pa­gan­da that Hitler states read like a play­book of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, which is why their pro­pa­gan­da works bet­ter than the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s pro­pa­gan­da.
    Hitler’s tips for effec­tive pro­pa­gan­da from Vol­ume 1, Chap­ter 6 of the book Mein Kampf:
    ~ take a one-sided atti­tude toward every ques­tion;
    ~ don’t make half state­ments that might give rise to doubts;
    ~ don’t weigh and pon­der the rights of dif­fer­ent peo­ple, but exclu­sive­ly empha­size the one view which you have set out to argue for;
    ~ don’t make an objec­tive study of the truth, as it may favor the oppo­si­tion by its fair­ness, there­fore only serve your own view, always and unflinch­ing­ly;
    ~ load every bit of blame on the shoul­ders of the oppo­si­tion, even if this does not cor­re­spond to the true facts;
    ~ repeat only the sim­plest ideas and repeat them thou­sands of times so that in the end you must always say the same thing.
    ~ an audi­ence can only com­pre­hend a slo­gan and the slo­gan must be pre­sent­ed from dif­fer­ent angles, but the end of all remarks must always and immutably be the slo­gan itself.
    ~ lim­it your pre­sen­ta­tion to a few points, devised exclu­sive­ly for the gen­er­al audi­ence and car­ried on with inde­fati­ga­ble per­sis­tence.
    ~ even the most out­landish claims will even­tu­al­ly be believed through the con­ti­nu­ity and sus­tained uni­for­mi­ty of their appli­ca­tion.

  • Gregory Wonderwheel says:

    Free­dom to own oth­er peo­ple as slaves is not sim­ply “a bid for south­ern free­dom.” This argu­ment of “south­ern free­dom” is one of the most absurd com­ments I have come across recent­ly. The con­fed­er­ate rebel­lion and insur­rec­tion was jus­ti­fied as the Chris­t­ian right to own peo­ple as slaves. Did­n’t work then and does­n’t work now.

  • Gregory Wonderwheel says:

    Whil­helm Reich point­ed out that total­i­tar­i­an­ism came in many col­ors: Black fas­cism of Italy, Brown fas­cism of Ger­many, Red fas­cism of the USSR, and the Red, White and Blue fas­cism of the USA.

  • Jeff Thomas says:

    Sandy com­ment above is so on point to how intel­lec­tu­al argu­ments are now frowned upon in my coun­try the UK dur­ing the brex­it Ref­er­en­dum Michael Gove a promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive min­is­ter react­ed to aca­d­e­m­ic rea­son­ing against ris­ing nation­al­ism and the brex­it vote ” dont believe experts ” so aca­d­e­m­ic debate was shut down. I felt this was a good cri­tique but Sandy’s response sound­ed like a trump sup­port­er scream­ing fake news

  • Elizabeth says:

    Agree. But these prob­lems you sug­gest are inflict­ed on men are done so by oth­er men. Stop pick­ing on women because of their strug­gle. Fight against the sys­tem. Fight against patri­archy. That’s where your prob­lems lie.

  • Mike says:

    A) ‘Sandy’ is more often a wom­an’s name, just like ‘Babara.’

    B) The lan­guage sound­ed like my idea of a woman.
    “It is the per­fect snooty rooty cazooty snobazooty.”

    ..and I def­i­nite­ly could be wrong. But, I’d bet a small sum that I’m not.

  • Mike says:

    …gaslight­ing, BIG time.

    Tell me, do you vote for Trump and watch a lot of Fox News?

  • Sabine says:

    You exager­ate. Tox­ic mas­culin­i­ty is a real­i­ty, it does not mean all men are tox­ic, but patri­archy is.

  • john says:

    u are clue­less and total­ly missed the point of the arti­cle so you are part of the prob­lem

  • Martin Greaves says:

    Thom McCann says no doc­u­ments have been dis­cov­ered that were signed by Hitler to request the mur­der of Jews. This ignores the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem all dic­ta­tors face. Their posi­tion is achieved most­ly through the pro­mo­tion of their absolute pow­er uti­liz­ing the “strong man” image. In oth­er words; I’m in charge and noth­ing is done with­out my express autho­riza­tion or with­out recourse to the extreme ide­ol­o­gy I for­mu­lat­ed and rep­re­sent. I am the king of all I sur­vey, supreme ruler of all my domin­ions. To pro­mote such an image where you are absolute ruler, prac­ti­cal­ly a deity, you there­fore have to accept respon­si­bil­i­ty for any action car­ried out by your min­ions, no excus­es, you’re the guy in charge. Let’s call it “The Buck Stops Here” prin­ci­ple. Such as Hitler can­not pro­claim them­selves as the soul of the Ger­man peo­ple but then say these bad peo­ple act­ed of their own accord, it was noth­ing to do with me. Noth­ing gets done with­out your explic­it say-so, bud­dy, you’re the big I Am around here. Besides, are you seri­ous­ly sug­gest­ing the Ger­man war machine spent bil­lions of marks and used mas­sive mil­i­tary and civ­il resources to car­ry out the Final Solu­tion and old Adolf did­n’t have a clue it was hap­pen­ing? Pull the oth­er one, as we say in Eng­land, it’s got bells on it.

  • Alexis says:

    you should read the entire chap­ter by Han­nah Arendt that this arti­cle is part­ly based on. It’s chap­ter 11 in her book, Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism and speaks all about what pro­pa­gan­da, how it works and why it was nec­es­sary for the Nazis to use it.

  • ROBERTO says:

    Hay pop­ulis­mos de derecha y de izquier­da. A veces viran de D a I y de I a D. en los extremos se tocan al pun­to de ser todos fascis­tas de man­era muy evi­dente. El comu­nis­mo marx­ista, san­gri­en­to, obso­le­to, odi­a­do y fra­casa­do, vira hacia los pop­ulis­mos. Cam­bia para obten­er el poder con las urnas, extin­gui­da la vía rev­olu­cionar­ia pero con el total­i­taris­mo a flor de piel, implíc­i­to en su “rela­to”. El uso sis­temáti­co de la men­ti­ra en un sen­ti­do goebbe­liano, las chi­canas de trinchera, los pan­fle­tos que inten­tan cam­biar a la his­to­ria seria y ver­dadera por el rela­to de turno, las nomen­klat­uras repug­nan­te­mente enrique­ci­das y los líderes glo­ri­fi­ca­dos como “por­ta­dores del pen­samien­to y la ver­dad úni­cos” en el tradi­cional cul­to a la per­son­al­i­dad. En Argenti­na fueron pio­neros con el golpe de esta­do del coro­nel pedó­fi­lo Perón en el año 43 y que se inspiró ‑muy evi­den­te­mente para todo el mun­do- en Mus­soli­ni, su admi­ra­do tira­no, cosa que ráp­i­da­mente imitó y des­fal­có ráp­i­da­mente al Ban­co Cen­tral, reple­to de lin­gotes de oro trans­for­man­do eso en dádi­vas, regal­i­tos, espe­ji­tos y cuen­tas de col­ores y a la postre algunos pocos ben­efi­cios y mejo­ras reales para la clase obr­era, aunque nun­ca com­bat­ió al cap­i­tal y si pro­te­gió a los nazis durante y después de la gran guer­ra. El per­o­nis­mo pop­ulista ya sea en el poder, ya sea como opos­i­tor siem­pre creó una gri­eta y deter­minó ene­mi­gos (y no opos­i­tores) Gen­eró sus pro­pios opuestos con la triple A y con los montoneros/erp que asesinaron a miles de per­sonas con total impunidad has­ta el día de hoy. Su ide­ología en tan­to pop­ulista de nom­bre solo es cor­rup­ción, delin­cuen­cia y en esen­cia una caren­cia de moral, éti­ca y val­ores: esa es la ver­dadera gri­eta, La real­i­dad en su quin­taes­en­cia es que no les impor­ta el pueblo para nada, manip­u­lan a las masas, gen­er­an su pro­pio rebaño y ver­dadera­mente des­pre­cian usan al “pueblo pobre y a los más frágiles y nece­si­ta­dos” a quienes dicen pro­te­ger y pro­mover y les tiran unos planes y sub­sidios a los que nun­ca hicieron nada de nada por gen­era­ciones (sal­vo robar y drog­a­rse) y ya son mil­lones. Con el últi­mo gob­ier­no (el actu­al) de C. Fer­nan­dez y su del­e­ga­do en la pres­i­den­cia A. Fer­nan­dez, están destruyen­do a la clase media, expul­san empre­sas y evi­tan que lleguen los inver­sores de afuera. El total­i­taris­mo y el fas­cis­mo sub­y­ace en todas sus acciones y dis­cur­sos. El Podemos de los españoles es algo así como una copia y el norte es la nar­co-tiranía de Maduro en Venezuela. Todo mon­i­tore­a­do por Cuba y ayu­da­do por Rusia, Chi­na e Irán. Odi­an al cap­i­tal­is­mo (aunque se aprovechan de él por com­ple­to (exil­i­a­dos pero no en Cuba sino en Usa o París), odi­an Occi­dente, a la clase media y a los medios peri­odís­ti­cos inde­pen­di­entes y lib­er­tar­ios que dicen la ver­dad de sus delezn­ables acciones. Se sien­ten pro­gres pero solo tienen un barniz y nue­va­mente usan a la “pro­gresía”. Fem­i­nistas por ide­ología no miran ¡hipócritas y men­tirosas! lo que pasa en el mun­do. Capaces sin que se les caiga la cara de vergüen­za, de inau­gu­rar con gran despliegue mil­i­tante, ¡una canil­la! ¡dos veces!…un hos­pi­tal ¡tres veces! y aún no está en fun­cionamien­to y ensu­cian edi­fi­cios, calles, etc con el nom­bre de sus líderes asesinos , cor­rup­tos y delin­cuentes.

  • Keith says:

    God, I so hope this post goes through, it prob­a­bly won’t, but Im’­ma try any­way. If you look into the his­to­ry books of last cen­tu­ry, you find some­thing none of y’all see, that the over whelm­ing major­i­ty of the 250 mil­lion human beings slaugh­tered by their own gov­ern­ments were so slaugh­tered at the hands of intel­lec­tu­als and their hench­men. Hitler, intel­lec­tu­al, Mao, intel­lec­tu­al, Marx, intel­lec­tu­al, Stallin, intel­lec­tu­al, Lenin, intel­lec­tu­al, the list goes on and on and on, filled with mon­ster after mon­ster of peo­ple that have assured the human species that they would cre­ate heav­en, but then cre­ate hell. Then after cre­at­ing hell, go through great lengths to con­vince you that you are in heav­en.
    Well, it’s 22 years into this cen­tu­ry now, and the total­i­tar­i­an beast is rear­ing it’s ugly head again, only this time it’s not some iso­lat­ed coun­try, it’s all of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion. Bil­lions of peo­ple, try­ing their best to make it from one day to the next with­out major mal­func­tion. I’m pre­dict­ing before the star­va­tion phase begins, at least 50 mil­lion humans are going to die, set­ting the tone for the 21st cen­tu­ry. And all because most of you are so enchant­ed by intel­lec­tu­al sor­cery, you can’t tell the dif­fer­ence between wis­dom and high mind­ed rhetoric. And before you seek to protest too much, I’d like to ask you, what are your pro­nouns?
    I will give you this, what most of you say about Trump is pret­ty close to true, he is a mon­ster. But he’s the mon­ster try­ing to slay the mon­sters under our bed and hid­ing in our clos­et, in the light of day instead of in the dark places, where most mon­sters fear to tread. To think that he’s real­ly any dif­fer­ent then any of the mon­sters you love? Well, that’s just rich. In fact, if there is any dif­fer­ences at all, is that he’s rub­ber and he’s glue, every thing you say bounces of of him and sticks to you. (long pause for effect) Neen­er neen­er…
    Wake the hell up, the pow­ers that be have us divid­ed by cre­at­ing an arti­fi­cial super major­i­ty, one that once they are done sub­du­ing the true major­i­ty, they can sys­tem­i­cal­ly, part by part, sub­due the rest of you, made evi­dent by the rel­a­tive ease in which the left ends up eat­ing itself. Who shall be next, will it be the Gays, maybe the blacks? How about the indige­nous?

  • JoeJack says:

    Before you com­ment on some­one, you should become informed about them. Post­ing blath­er is easy, but dig­ging for facts is not.

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