Skip to content

The Big Lie

August 22, 2009

The Big Lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf for a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.

//

Use of the expression by Hitler

The source of Big Lie technique, from Chapter 10 of Mein Kampf:

But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.
All this was inspired by 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; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

—Adolf Hitler , Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X[1]

In the chapter from Mein Kampf quoted above, Hitler accused “the Jews” of what he claimed was their use of the Big Lie.

Use of the expression by Goebbels

Later, Joseph Goebbels put forth a slightly different theory which has come to be more commonly associated with the expression big lie. Goebbels wrote the following paragraph in an article dated 12 January 1941, 16 years after Hitler’s first use of the phrase big lie, entitled “Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik”, translated “From Churchill‘s Lie Factory”. It was published in Die Zeit ohne Beispiel.

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.

Used in Hitler’s psychological profile

The phrase was also used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler’s psychological profile:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four refers to the Big Lie theory on several occasions. For example:

  • “The key-word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts”.
  • “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed…”.

The 1994 song “Living with the Big Lie” from Marillion‘s album “Brave” references the use of government and media-driven propaganda to disillusion the general population and to make them sympathetic to the government’s ultimate goal.

Frank Zappa continually refers to “the Big Lie” in his book, The Real Frank Zappa Book. He uses it to describe organized religion, government, and the music industry.

Richard Belzer defines The Big Lie in his book UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Believe as “If you tell a lie that’s big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap.”

The plot of Watchmen applies the philosophy of Hitler’s quote to the conspiracy in the story.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: