I want to be a hero! — Joseph Goebbels
A revolutionary must be able to do everything! — Joseph Goebbels
Propaganda was the genius of National Socialism. Not only did it owe to propaganda its most important successes; propaganda was also its one and only original contribution to the conditions for its rise and was always more than a mere instrument of power: propaganda was part of its essence. What National Socialism meant is far less easily grasped from the contradictory and nebulous conglomerate of its philosophy than from the nature of its propagandist stage management. Carrying it to an extreme, one might say that National Socialism was propaganda masquerading as ideology, that is to say, a will to power which formed its ideological theorems according to the maximum psychological advantage to be derived at any given moment, and drew its postulates from the moods and impulses of the masses, in the sensing of which it was abnormally gifted. In view of its capacity for mediumistic communication with the 'mind' of the masses, it seemed not to require any real idea, such as had served to gather and hold together every other mass movement in history. Resentments, feelings of protest of the day and the hour, as well as that mechanical attachment which arises from the mere activation of social forces, replaced the integrative effect of an idea, in conjunction with a gift of handling crowds that made use of every technique of psychological manipulation. The majority of the ideological elements absorbed into National Socialism were nothing but material, assessed at varying degrees of effectiveness, for a ceaseless pyrotechnical display of propagandist agitation. Flags, Sieg Heils, fanfares, marching columns banners and domes of searchlights — the whole arsenal of stimulants, developed with inventive ingenuity, for exciting public ecstasy was ultimately intended to bring about the individual's self-annulment, a permanent state of mindlessness, with the aim of rendering first the party adherents and later a whole nation totally amenable to the leaders' claim to power. The relative status of ideology and propaganda is shown more clearly than anywhere in that phraseology employed by numerous contemporaries that referred to National Socialism as 'experience', a term that tacitly outlawed any cognitive or critical approach. In fact this ideology was literally indisputable and evaded all objective analysis by retreating into the unimpeachable realms of pseudo-religious feelings, where the Fuhrer reigned in solitary metaphysical monumentality. To be sure, this flight into the irrational, into regions where politics became a matter of faith, of Weltanschauun, answered a vehement need of the disoriented masses; nevertheless, there was a purposeful Machiavellian guidance behind the direction and forms it took, so that on closer inspection the apparently elemental demand proves to be the planned and repeatedly re-awakened irrationalism to which the modern totalitarian social religions owe their support and their existence.
Joseph Goebbels was the brain behind this manipulation of minds, 'the only really interesting man in the Third Reich besides Hitler'. (1) One of the most astonishingly gifted propagandists of modern times, he stood head and shoulders above the bizarre mediocrity of the rest of the regime's top-ranking functionaries. He was one of the few real powers in the movement's leadership, not merely a figurehead drawn into the light of history 'in the wake of the victorious cause'. These two, Hitler and Goebbels, complemented each other in an almost unique manner. For Hitler's sombre,complex-determined visions, his initiative, ecstatic relationship with the masses, Goebbels found the techniques of persuasion, the rationalizations, the slogans, myths and images. It was from Goebbels that der Führer, the term by which Hitler appeared as redeemer, demiurge and blessed saviour, received its visionary content. He astutely turned the initially irresolute Adolf Hitler into der Führer and set him on the pillar of religious veneration. With strenuous Byzantinism, consciously mingling the sacred with the profane, he spread around Hitler that messianic aura which so appealed to the emotions of a deeply shaken nation. The cult of the Fuhrer, whose true creator and organizer he was, not only exploited the need for faith and security, as well as the German's latent urge to self-abandonment in the face of a world stripped of its gods, but also gave the rising NSDAP the solid backbone of a hierarchical structure. The evidence of this cult is overwhelming. In Der Angriff, the paper he founded as Gauleiter of Berlin, Goebbels wrote, with a significant imitation [in the original] of biblical cadences and alliterations:
Works of talent are the result of diligence, persistence, and gifts. Genius is self-creative by grace alone. The deepest force of the truly great man is rooted in instinct. Very often he cannot even say why everything is as it is. He contents himself with saying: it is so. And it is so. What diligence and knowledge and school-learning cannot solve, God announces through the mouths of those whom he has chosen. Genius in all fields of human endeavour means — to have been called. When Hitler speaks, all resistance breaks down before the magical effect of his words. One can only be his friend or his enemy. He divides the hot from the cold. But lukewarmness he spits out of his mouth. Many can know, even more can organize, but he alone in all Germany today can construct the political values of the future out of fateful knowledge through the power of the word. Many are called, but few are chosen. We are all unshakeably convinced that he is their spokesman and guide. Therefore we believe in him. Over his inspiring human figure we see the grace of destiny at work in this man and cling with all our hopes to his ideal and are thereby bound to that creative force which carries him and all of us forwards. (2)
Elsewhere Goebbels described his feelings for the Fuhrer as 'holy and untouchable'. He stated after a speech by Hitlerthat he had spoken 'profoundly and mystically, almost like a gospel', and affirmed in a protestation of loyalty:
'An hour may come when the mob rages around you and roars, "Crucify him!" Then we shall stand as firm as iron and shout and sing "Hosanna!"' (3)
in one of his regular birthday addresses on the eve of 20th April, Goebbels declared, 'When the Fuhrer speaks it is like a divine service (4) while in his early journal, whenever he conjures up the image of Hitler, we find passages in the most unbearably sentimental style, reminiscent of an adolescent's diary:
We drive to Hitler. He is having his meal. He jumps to his feet, there he is. Shakes my hand. Like an old friend. And those big blue eyes. Like stars. He is glad to see me. I am in heaven. That man has got everything to be a king. A born tribune. The coming dictator.
Hitler is there. Great joy. He greets me like an old friend. And looks after me. How I love him! What a fellow! Then he speaks. How small I am ! He gives me his photograph. With a greeting to the Rhineland. Heil Hitler! I want Hitler to be my friend. His photograph is on my desk.(5)
Hitler's position in the mass party that was being formed was enormously reinforced by and received a positively metaphysical endorsement from such idolatry. The cult developed around his personality destroyed those beginnings of internal democracy which had characterized the party in its old form, and fostered its centralist, authoritarian structure. Hitler now finally became the exclusive central will,
'to whom were directed the party's members' desire for self-surrender, service and subordination, their weariness with responsibility, who alone knew how to pick up this desire and translate it into the redeeming political act'.(6)
He rewarded his 'faithful, unshakeable shield bearer', as he once called Goebbels,(7) by exceptional advancement at the beginning of his career and by giving him the distinction of being the partner and organizer of his private social life. Later a perceptible reserve entered their relationship. In so far as it was not due to purely tactical considerations — the wish to undermine the Minister of Propaganda's patently excessive self-confidence by the well-tried method of the cold shoulder — this reserve may have sprung from Hitler's distrust of the practised adroitness with which Goebbels always managed to adapt himself to circumstances.
In fact, these over-emotional declarations are by no means to be taken as honest statements of Goebbels's feelings; the exaggeratedly demonstrative accent alone is enough to make them profoundly dubious. All too often Goebbels 'met his Damascus', and his various conversations were never dependent upon an inner voice but upon an opportunist eye for the bigger battalions. 'I am an apostate', he once confessed.(8) It was first and most consistently to himself that he applied that conviction of man's total guidability which later enabled him to organize whatever was asked of him: cheering and riots, pogroms, trust in the Fuhrer, and the will to resist. The only clear brain within the party Old Guard, he was at the same time the least independent, and lacking in any personal core.
I am only an instrument, / on which the old god
Sings his song. / I am only a waiting vessel,
Into which Nature pours the new wine / with a smile,
he wrote as a student.(9) Destitute of any inner conviction himself, he merely knew how to place the convictions of others decoratively and effectively on display. He once admiringly confessed that the reason why Hitler was so dangerous was that he believed what he said. (10) He himself, on the other hand, was never in his life able to believe what he said and concealed this shortcoming — which he fully understood to be a weakness behind a front of cynicism. The soft, sentimental interior side of his nature, which yearned for dull but cosy certainties, was overlaid by a sober scepticism, and nothing that his longing for faith could construct stood up to the probing of his inquisitorial intelligence. The occasional cry of jubilation of the early days, 'I believe again', or the formula credo ergo sum expressed all too clearly the hunger of the rationalist for a share in the heightened emotions and the self-forgetfulness of others, and significantly what the object of his hunger for faith might be was a matter of complete indifference to him.
'What matters is not so much what we believe; only that we believe.' (11)
That the son of a strictly Catholic working-class family from Rheydt in the Rhineland (12) should have found his ostensible certitude of faith, after years of agonizing indecision, in the National Socialist movement is a stroke of historical irony. Highly gifted, he was subjected from an early age to a tormenting feeling of physical inadequacy; he had a weak constitution and a crippled foot. When he appeared in Geneva in 1933 as representative of the Reich, a caricature in a Swiss newspaper showed a crippled little man with black hair. Under it was written:
'Who is that? Oh, that's the representative of the tall, healthy, fair-haired, and blue-eyed Nordic race!'(13)
This joke throws light on some of the difficulties Goebbels found himself up against in the midst of the old followers of Hitler, especially the rough SA. As a man with a physical deformity and an intellectual, he was something of a provocation to a party that regarded, not intellectual ability, but muscular strength and racial heritage, fair hair and long legs, as qualifications for genuine membership. The designation 'our little doctor', which quickly established itself, shows the sort of contemptuous esteem in which Goebbels was always held by his well-built, feeble-brained fellow fighters of the early days. In spite of their admiration for his demagogic brilliance, they were always suspicious of him. To their coarse slow-wittedness his rationality, his coldness always appeared strange and even 'un-German', and for a long time he was looked upon as a 'pupil of the Jesuits and a half Frenchman'.(14) It was almost as a challenge to the human type demanded and moulded by the movement when he wrote:
'We are not content with opinions. We seek to confirm and deepen these opinions. We want clarity, clarity. Faith moves mountains, but knowledge alone moves them to the right place. In knowledge we seek clarity and the definition of our feelings.' (15)
Sentences such as this mark his intellectual distance from the type of mind predominant in the NSDAP, who, as Goebbels once said,
'has in his heart that which he does not have in his head, and, which is the main thing, has it in his fists. (16)
Undoubtedly Goebbels suffered from not being like everyone else. Above all, at the beginning of his rise to power, as Gauleiter of Berlin — when he depended upon the absolute loyalty of an SA detachment whose criteria of merit were an uncritical activism, an athletic taste for violence and the dullest 'normality' — he found his authority repeatedly subjected to irritating curbs. (17) Like Mirabeau (and equally in vain) he may at times have asked God to bestow upon him that mediocrity from whose simple raptures he felt himself excluded. This was the source of his hatred of the intellect, which was a form of self-hatred, his longing to degrade himself, to submerge himself in the ranks of the masses, which ran curiously parallel with his ambition and his tormenting need to distinguish himself. He was incessantly tortured by the fear of being regarded as a 'bourgeois intellectual' and hence disqualified. His shrill anti-bourgeois complex (18) sprang from this problem, as did his painfully exaggerated attitude of loyalty to the person of Adolf Hitler: it always seemed as though he were offering blind devotion to make up for his lack of all those characteristics of the racial elite which nature had denied him. Because his intellectualism and his physical deformity combined to make him particularly vulnerable among his rivals for power, he developed into an uninhibited opportunist with an exceptional nose for the power relationships in his circle. In the internal conflicts of direction within the party Goebbels, by virtue of his temperament and his intellectual consistency, often found himself on the ideological wing, yet he always managed to switch in good time to the side of the majority. (19)
Tactical moves merely camouflaged the dichotomy, however, and with all his aptitude for self-deception he could not in the long run refrain from calling himself to account, even if more or less involuntarily.
'Everything within me revolts against the intellect,' he wrote early on. And then, betraying the real cause of all his tensions and awkwardness: 'My foot troubles me badly. I am conscious of it all the time, and that spoils my pleasure when I meet people.' (20)
He also tried continually to offset the bitter consciousness of his deformity. His hunger for status and prestige and the strained style of his early literary efforts, based on the language of military commands, bear witness to this. He liked to see himself as hard and manly, but it was the forced hardness of a sensitive young man — who once made a pilgrimage to lay a bunch of wild flowers on the grave of the poet Annette von Droste-Hulshoff. Only in unguarded romantic moods, as for instance in his helplessly sentimental poems, did he allow himself to depart a little from his stern ideals. His whole literary and propaganda output displays three curiously contrasting layers: alongside the stylistic and intellectual succinctness of his day-to-day political contributions is the foolishly strained pose of the fighter and finally the stammering bombast of his private jottings. 'In them/dwells a poet and a soldier', he makes the girl Hertha Holk say in his juvenile work Michael, (21) after he himself had been graded 'fit for non-combatant duties only' and had just seen his first literary works fail. The very name of the hero, Michael, to whom he gave many autobiographical features, suggests the way his self-identification was pointing: a figure of light, radiant, tall, unconquerable. He too is the son of a peasant, who strides over 'steaming clods' and feels the blood of his forefathers rising 'slow and healthy' within him.
'I don my helmet, draw my sword and declaim Liliencron. Sometimes I am overcome by a sort of spasm. To be a soldier! To stand sentinel! One ought always to be a soldier,' wrote Michael-Goebbels. (22)
The fraudulent claim to having fought at the front which he made in his book, as in his later speeches when he used the phrase 'We who were shot up in the World War', was intended to suggest that his crippled foot was the result of a war wound. The deception seems to have been successful for an astonishingly long time. (23)
No doubt the same feeling of physical inferiority also provided the essential impulse behind his erotic activity. Both the wide range of his various affairs, as revealed by those parts of his private diary that have been found, and the tone of these confessions very clearly betray the desire to appear 'a hell of a fellow', even if only in his own eyes.
'Alma sends me a postcard from Bad Harzburg,' he notes in his diary. 'The first sign of life since that night. Alma, the teaser and charmer. I quite like this girl. First letter from Else from Switzerland.' (14th August 1925.) 'Little Else, when shall I see you again? Alma, you lithe, lovely flower! Anka, I shall never forget you.' (15th August 1925.) And a little later: 'Yesterday Hagen together with Else. Celebrated my birthday together. She gave me a nice coloured cardigan. A sweet night. She is a good darling. Sometimes I hurt her bitterly. What a budding, bursting night of love. I am loved! Why complain.' (28th October 1925.) But a few days later his mood changes: 'Over me and women there hangs a curse. Woe to those who love you. What an agonizing thought. One is ready to despair.' (10th November 1925.) And finally he comes to the conclusion: 'Such is life: many blossoms, many thorns, and — a dark grave.' (18th July 1926.) In any such case: 'Marriage would be torment. Eros raises his voice!' (29th July 1926.) (24)
Such outpourings by a man who after all was twenty-eight years old contrast with countless affirmations of an excessive self-confidence, which at all times turns abruptly into self-pity or, through a trivial demonization of his own ego, threatens a plunge into the void. Then he writes, for example:
I am reading Gmelin's Temudchin (the Lord of the Earth). Every woman rouses my blood. I run hither and thither like a hungry wolf. And yet I am shy as a child. Often I can hardly understand myself. I ought to get married and become a philistine! And then hang myself after a week! (25)
The Lord of the Earth, the feelings of a wolf, satiety and a profound insecurity. In so far as it was not sheer necessity, such impulses undoubtedly helped to persuade this academic, whose professional career had so far been a failure, to enter the NSDAP at the end of 1924. To reassure his worried parents he worked for a short time in a bank, after completing his studies, and then took a job as caller on the stock exchange, before finally, as secretary to a nationalist politician, he came into contact with the National Socialists. As a collaborator of Gregor Strasser he belonged first to the social-revolutionary North German wing of the party which, in its 'proletarian' anti-capitalist tendencies, differed markedly from the 'Fascist' South German wing. In Goebbels it found one of its most consistent spokesmen. 'I am the most radical. Of the new type. Man as revolutionary,' he noted, almost ecstatically, in his 'diary of those years,(26) and in his 'Letters to Contemporaries' he passionately dissociated himself from the bourgeois half-heartedness of the politicians of the German National People's Party.
'Tools of destruction they will call us,' he wrote in that characteristic tone of self-regarding revolutionary fervour. 'Children of revolt, we call ourselves with a poignant tremor. We have been through revolution, through revolt to the very end. We are out for the radical revaluation of all values'; people would 'take fright at the radicalism of our demands'.(27)
Even at that time he announced, 'In the last analysis better go down with Bolshevism than live in eternal capitalist servitude', and thought it 'horrible that we and the Communists bash in each other's heads'.(28) In an open letter to 'My Friend of the Left' he listed a whole catalogue of convictions and attitudes in common, among them fundamental agreement on the need for social solutions, common enmity towards the bourgeoisie and the 'lying system', as well as the fight 'for freedom' waged 'honestly and resolutely' by both sides, so that ultimately the only division remained the tactical question of the most appropriate means.
'You and I,' Goebbels finished his letter, 'we are fighting one another although we are not really enemies. By so doing we are splitting our strength, and we shall never reach our goal. Perhaps the last extremity will bring us together. Perhaps!' (29)
These questions raised by the socialist wing of the movement brought Goebbels into violent conflict, above all, with the so-called 'Munich group', the 'Munich big shots', as he called them. (30) During this controversy, at a party congress in Hanover early in 1926, he made the famous demand
'that the petty bourgeois Adolf Hitler shall be expelled from the National Socialist Party'.(31)
But three weeks later, at a meeting called by the 'South Germans' in Bamberg, when he compared the external trappings, the prosperity and the great domestic power around Hitler with the material poverty of the Strasser group, he began for the first time to waver. True, he found Hitler's talk on Bolshevism, foreign policy, redemption of the rights and holdings of the princes and private property 'terrible' and spoke of 'one of the greatest disappointments of my life'; but when Hitler publicly embraced him shortly after a speech, Goebbels called him in gratitude 'a genius' and noted emotionally in his diary: 'Adolf Hitler, I love you'.(32) Six months earlier he had asked himself who this man really was, 'Christ or St John? ' Now, notably under the influence of a generous invitation to Munich and Berchtesgaden, his last doubts vanished, while simultaneously his ambition recognized the outlines of the role he might play. If Hitler was really 'Christ', then he wanted to be the one to take the part of the prophet; for
'the greater and more towering I make God, the greater and more towering I am myself'.(33)
In this sense it really was apt when he wrote that the days in Munich with Hitler had shown him his 'direction and path': the organizer of the Fuhrer myth had found his mission. During his stay, he wrote in his diary:
The chief talks about race problems. It is impossible to reproduce what he said. It must be experienced. He is a genius. The natural, creative instrument of a fate determined by God. I am deeply moved. He is like a child: kind, good, merciful. Like a cat: cunning, clever, agile. Like a lion: roaring and gigantic. A fellow, a man. He talks about the state.-In the afternoon about winning over the state and the political revolution. It sounds like prophecy. Up in the skies a white cloud takes on the shape of the swastika. There is a blinking light that cannot be a star. A sign of fate? (34)
From this point on he submitted himself, his whole existence, to his attachment to the person of the 'Fuhrer', consciously eliminating all inhibitions springing from intellect, free will and self-respect. Since this submission was an act less of faith than of insight, it stood firm through all vicissitudes to the end. 'He who forsakes the Fuhrer withers away,' he would say. (35) Three months later in the autumn of 1926 Hitler rewarded him for this change of front by making him a Gauleiter 'with special mandatory powers' at the head of the small, conflict-riven party organization in Berlin. The hectic, noisy atmosphere of the city particularly suited Goebbels's quick, street-urchin nature. Very early on he had realized that 'history is made in the street', that 'the street is the political characteristic of this age'.(36) Now, by following this maxim to the limit, he rose within a few months to be the city's most feared demagogue. First of all, in order to get himself talked about, he and a tough body-guard organized beer-hall battles, street brawls, and shooting affrays; one chapter in which he described this period carries the title 'Bloody Rise'. Shortly before this he had written:
'Beware, you dogs. When the Devil is loose in me you will not curb him again.' (37)
His practice of stirring up fights was the logical application of a new, completely Machiavellian principle of propaganda. The blood which the party's rise cost among its own members was regarded, not as an inevitable sacrifice in the struggle for a political conviction, but as a deliberate means of furthering a political agitation which had recognized that blood always makes the best headlines. As he stated in a speech of this period:
That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result, however intelligent it is, for it is not propaganda's task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success. Therefore no one can say your propaganda is too rough, too mean; these are not criteria by which it may be characterised. It ought not to be decent, nor ought it to be gentle or soft or humble; it ought to lead to success. If someone says to me, 'Your propaganda is not at a well-bred level', there is no point in my talking to him at all. Never mind whether propaganda is at a well-bred level; what matters is that it achieves its purpose. (38)
With the aid of these maxims directed exclusively towards success, Goebbels made considerable breaches in the massive front of so-called 'Red Berlin'. In the foreword to a collection of the essays which he had published during this period in his newspaper Der Angrif he speaks with astonishment of the 'incredible freedom' he was allowed by the Republican authorities; and this volume is indeed one of the most damning pieces of evidence of their lack of the will to assert themselves, their infinite helplessness in the face of their sworn enemy.
'Put pressure on your adversary with ice-cold determination,' he says, describing his own demagogic tactics. 'Probe him, search out his weak spot; deliberately and calculatingly sharpen the spear, hurl it with careful aim where the enemy is naked and vulnerable, and then perhaps say with a friendly smile, Sorry, neighbour, but I can't help it! This is the dish of revenge that is enjoyed cold.' (39)
There are countless examples of his method of fighting. For months on end he concentrated his attacks on the Berlin Police President Bernhard Weiss, whom he continually referred to as 'Isodore Weiss'. When the courts forbade him to use this name he simply attacked the 'Isodore System'. He called Police President Karl Zorgiebel the 'publicity goy in the Police Praesidium'; the Reich Chancellor Hermann Muller, who had formerly been in the earthenware industry, a 'traveller in water closets'; Philipp Scheidemann a 'salon simpleton' — all without ever being seriously called to account. When a friend criticized him for his malicious attacks on Bernhard Weiss, who had been a gallant officer and was a man of integrity, he explained cynically that he wasn't in the least interested in Weiss, only in the propaganda effect. 'For our agitation we use whatever is effective.' (40) Through middlemen he circulated scandalous rumours against Carl Severing and was delighted when the democratic press 'fell into the trap'. During the campaign against the Young Reparations Plan he openly admitted that he had never read what he was so passionately attacking. 'Propaganda has absolutely nothing to do with truth! ' In one article he called the Reichstag a 'stinking dungheap' and blatantly stated that the parliamentary mandate merely served to allow the NSDAP 'to equip itself with democracy's own weapons from the democratic arsenal'.(41) With the same frankness he described the purpose of an election as 'to send a sabotage group into the exalted house', and finally, during the legislative period of 1928, he wrote:
'I am not a member of the Reichstag. I am an IdI. An IdF. An Inhaber der Immunität [possessor of immunity], an Inhaber der Freifahrtkarte [holder of a free-travel ticket]. What do we care about the Reichstag? We have been elected against the Reichstag, and we shall use our mandate in the spirit of those who gave it to us.' He concluded, 'Now you are surprised, eh? But don't think we're already at an end. This is only the overture. You will have a lot more fun with us. Just let the play begin!'(42)
A classic example of his mastery of propaganda comes in an article of 31st May 1931 entitled 'The Marshal President':
The presidency of the man to whom we here turn our attention was a deadly tragi-comedy; it was based on a fundamental lack of character and an inability, cloaked in a dignified gravity, to see things as they really were. It is indeed painful to have to register the existence of a man merely because he was President of the Republic, a man whose grotesque insignificance raises in us the astonished question: How was it possible for this nincompoop to become Commander of the Imperial Army and President of the Republic? (43)
Only at this point did the article reveal that the man referred to was not, as everyone was bound to think and meant to think, the Reich President von Hindenburg, but the French President MacMahon. When Brüning refused a challenge to a public debate, Goebbels had one of the Chancellor's speeches recorded and refuted it paragraph by paragraph in the Sportpalast, to the accompaniment of yells from his followers. One of his admirers aptly called him the
'Marat of Red Berlin, a nightmare and goblin of history' who wanders 'around the house of this system like a crow around a carcass. A ratcatcher. A conqueror of souls.' (44)
With the coming of the world economic crisis the masses flocked to him, and he showed extraordinary skill in mobilizing their fears. As early as 1926 he declared in his pamphlet Die Zweite Revolution (The Second Revolution):
'We shall achieve everything if we set hunger, despair, and sacrifice on the march for our goals. It is my will that we light the beacons in our nation till they form a single great fire of Nationalist and Socialist despair.'
Now he openly welcomed the collapse, (45) and did all he could to add fuel to the fires of despair.
'To unleash volcanic passions, outbreaks of rage, to set masses of people on the march, to organize hatred and despair with ice-cold calculation':
this was how he saw his self-imposed task. (46) And he succeeded. With diabolical flair, continually thinking up new tricks, he drove his listeners into ecstasy, made them stand up, sing songs, raise their arms, repeat oaths — and he did it, not through the passionate inspiration of the moment, but as the result of sober psychological calculation at the desk. Once he had got the reaction he wanted he stood there, small but erect, generally with one hand on his hip, above the tumult, coolly assessing the effect of his stage management. In truth, the 'little doctor' with the tormenting feeling of physical inadequacy was capable of bending the masses to his will and making them available for any purpose; he could, as he boasted, play upon the national psyche 'as on a piano'.(47) Out of Horst Wessel, the SA leader who was shot by a rival, at least partly for reasons of jealousy, in a fight over a whore, he created the movement's martyr; after a meeting-hall battle in the Pharus rooms in North Berlin he created the heroic type of the 'Unknown SA Man'; with a kind of underworld pride he made the name 'Chief Bandit of Berlin', applied to him by hostile agitators, his honorary title; he invented slogans, hymns and myths, and made capital out of every defeat. Tireless, tenacious, stubborn: propaganda has absolutely nothing to do with truth! Its success rested rather, as he provocatively confessed, on an appeal to the 'most primitive mass instincts'.(48) He played a decisive part in the NSDAP's election successes wrung from the honest routine propaganda of the democratic parties. Immediately after 30th January 1933 he boasted that
'his propaganda had not only operated directly by winning over millions of supporters; equally important was its effect in paralysing opponents. Many had become so tired, so fearful, so inwardly despairing as a result of his onslaughts that in the end they regarded Hitler's Chancellorship as fated.'(49)
His reward came in the middle of March 1933 when Hitler openly broke the coalition agreement to bestow upon him the long-planned Ministry for National Enlightenment and Propaganda. On taking office Goebbels cheerfully announced that
'the government intends no longer to leave the people to their own devices'. It was the task of the new ministry 'to establish political coordination between people and government'.(50)
Skilfully riding the crest of a wave of consent made up of countless misunderstandings and blindnesses, he achieved this coordination in an amazingly short time and maintained it through all the phases of the regime right up to the end. Certainly the terrorist threat in the background effectively helped, but then the very essence of totalitarian government always lies in the combination of propaganda and terrorism. It is these two together that alone make possible that thoroughgoing psychological and social organization of man which reduces the scope of individual freedom to the point of immobility. But we must not overestimate the part played by compulsion, and even such a critical observer, not subject to terrorist intimidation, as the American journalist William L. Shirer, has confessed that this propaganda
'made a certain impression on one's mind and often misled it'.(51)
From the way the role of Goebbels in the further history of the Third Reich, after his promising beginning, at first continuously fell in importance and then, towards the end of the war, suddenly and significantly rose again, we can clearly see to what extent he — and with him National Socialism — had made his way to power by mobilizing moods of protest and resentment; indeed, it shows the extent to which the totalitarian propagandist needs an enemy. So long as the young minister's energies were absorbed in building a flawless apparatus of propaganda and surveillance and the fight against internal political resistance still furnished the required material for the psychological manipulation of the masses, the problem remained concealed. Then, however, it emerged all the more distinctly, especially as resort to the creation of outside enemies was barred for a long time while the government strove to win recognition for itself.
In consequence Goebbels was pushed into the background, at first almost imperceptibly. His writings at this time also remain curiously dull and empty. He may have realized this, since he did not publish them in a collected edition, as he did his writings during the period of struggle and later during the war years. Explaining his waning influence at that time, he once stated that he often looked back with longing to the years before the seizure of power, when there was something to attack.(52) Only when inner and outer political consolidation had progressed far enough for the control hitherto exercised to be abandoned did Goebbels find in the increasingly unrestrained practice of anti-Semitism by the state new possibilities into which he threw himself with all the zeal of an ambitious man worried by a constant diminution of his power. Thus the man who in earlier years had frequently mocked the primitive anti-Semitism of nationalist politicians now became one of the most relentless Jew-baiters. Unquestionably, personal motives also played a part; possibly his hatred of the Jews was an externalized form of self-hatred. A man who conformed so little to the National Socialist image of the elite and whose fellow pupils are said at one time to have called him 'the Rabbi' (53) may have had his reason, in the struggles for power at Hitler's court, for offering keen anti-Semitism as a counterweight to his failure to conform to a type: ideological rectitude to counterbalance typological deviation. His attitude may also have had something to do with the fact that shortly before the onset of the great wave of anti-Semitism in 1938 he had risked his own prestige and that of the party by a passionate love affair, and was obsessed by the urge to rehabilitate himself. But whatever his real motives, it is fairly certain that Goebbels himself did not take the race theory seriously; one of his colleagues reported that during his twelve-year period in office Goebbels never once 'so much as mentioned it' inside the Ministry. (54) The opportunist and tactical motives behind his anti-Semitism are also evident from the fact that the measures he took to purify German culture of foreign influences were directed predominantly against the representatives of a spirit far nearer his own inclinations than the oppressive National Socialist approach to art, which he himself now propagated. Lastly, everything seems to indicate that in Goebbels's anti Semitism, over and above individual motives, we must see an example of that dialectic common to all totalitarian propaganda: the need for a barbarically exaggerated image of the opponent. This helps to harness the aggressions within a society while attaching the latent positive energies to emotional idealizations of its own leader figures. Only in this way could propaganda regain that vehemence which had once brought it such success, even if there was always an obvious element of strained artificiality about the demonized figure of the Jew as presented by Goebbels with ever more breathless efforts. All his attempts to paint the universal enemy as a wirepuller at work from Moscow to Wall Street were shattered by the reality of the frightened and harassed human beings wearing the yellow star, who for a time wandered the streets of German cities before suddenly vanishing forever.
How much Goebbels's propaganda owed to the friend-enemy stereotype is also shown by a comment of Hitler's, which he proudly noted in his diary in 1943, to the effect that he
'is one of the few who today know how to make something useful out of the war'.
The important thing about this first word of praise from Hitler for a long time is that it coincided with the turning-point in the war, for up to that time Goebbels, for all his efforts, had not succeeded in winning back the ground he had lost. Even towards the end of 1939 his rival Rosenberg had noted with satisfaction a statement by Hitler that for the duration of the war the Propaganda Minister must be kept as far as possible in the background. (55) With the first crises and set-backs, on the other hand, when propaganda abandoned the unprofitable tone of confidence in victory in favour of a growing bitterness, and switched from contempt for the enemy to hatred, Goebbels made his long-prepared comeback. He showed once again his old impudent adroitness, his cynical art of sowing confusion, and with an enemy to hate he also regained that great rhetorical fervour which had once won him the reputation of being the party's best speaker, superior even to Hitler. (56)
This was proved not only by his articles in the periodical Das Reich, in which he adopted the principle of at least one surprising concession to truth each time, but also by the inventiveness with which he wore down the enemy's nerve by broadcasts over the front lines, by mobilizing fear of an imaginary fifth column, and other means. He invented new terms, such as 'Coventrization', and later, according to the state of the war, the formula of the 'advantage of the inner line'. He deftly usurped the enemy's V-sign as a symbol of Germany's own confidence in victory, discouraged undesirable behaviour by the creation of easily understood characters like the 'coal grabber' or that threatening black shadowman who announced from every wall that the enemy was listening. Finally, faced with the growing hopelessness of the military situation, he invented the 'secret weapon'. The astonishing effect of his ideas once more confirmed Hitler's assertion
'that by the clever and continuous use of propaganda a people can even be made to mistake heaven for hell, and vice versa, the most miserable life for Paradise'.(57)
Preoccupied as he was with propaganda, it was, as one of his colleagues confirmed, 'almost a happy day' for him when famous buildings were destroyed in an air raid, because at such times he put into his appeals that ecstatic hatred which aroused the fanaticism of the tiring workers and spurred them to fresh efforts. He strove for hours after the Stalingrad disaster to get Hitler's permission to stage a spectacular requiem, which finally took place in vast and sombre splendour. He achieved one of his greatest triumphs as a speaker when shortly afterwards he put his famous ten 'evocative questions' to an invited audience in the Sportpalast, raising them to a consciousness of being representative of the nation, and 'in a turmoil of wild emotion', as he wrote afterwards, won agreement to total war. Every sentence, every effect, every heightening of the emotional temperature in this speech, down to the electrifying final phrase, 'Now, nation, arise — storm, break loose!' had been carefully calculated days in advance. Even before he set out for this gathering he had confidently predicted:
'Today there will be a demonstration that will make the thirtieth of January rally look like a mother's meeting.(58)
But he took every care not to allow himself to be carried away, to see to it that he remained the organizer, never the victim, of his own propaganda effects, even if he did not always succeed in this, and occasionally found himself caught in the grip of his own demagogy. When later, faced with the enemy's approaching front, he played on the spectre of the 'Asiatic hordes' with all the means at his disposal, he at the same time called Soviet propaganda 'the best horse in the stable' and toyed with the idea of a separate pact with the East: (59) a Machiavellian through and through, he desired power in exactly the same degree as he despised its objects.
In fact, Goebbels's career can be explained only on the basis of a deeply rooted contempt for humanity. Again and again the revealing expression 'man the beast' (Canaille Mensch) occurs in his private jottings, (60) a favourite formula to express his humiliated personality. Opponents, friends, supporters and finally the whole nation never meant more to him than raw material for achieving successful effects and bolstering his self-exaltation and power. The tirades of hate and the festive Sportpalast — they all came from him and in purpose and execution were nothing but cynically admitted gimmicks. He could speak to the hearts of millions although not one word came from his own heart; he manipulated souls and ideas and himself: it was all one. As the coldest and most unscrupulous calculator among the top leadership, he was entirely free from that 'burden of conscience' the removal of which from the whole nation Hitler had announced as his historic mission. (61) What urged him on throughout his life was the hatred felt by the weak, crippled and deformed which found satisfaction only when he could drive 'with ice-cold calculation' the healthy, those who were not crippled, through all the stages of delusion, intoxication and exhaustion. He seemed always anxiously trying to prove to the world that intelligent deformity was superior to dull-witted normality. In a report on apolitical discussion he noted, 'I dominated'. All his life he sought this consciousness of power. And if his physical weakness was the source of so many sufferings and tensions, it was certainly also one of the essential factors in his rise. He once recalled with amusement the statement of his old form master after his valedictory address that although he was gifted he was not cut out to be an orator, (62) which only proves the point that a shortcoming may be the cause not only of great failure but also of great achievement.
Just as he himself only used other people, so he allowed himself right up to the end to be used without demur, without a thought of revolt. During the last phase of the war, he not only regained and actually heightened his power and prestige but also to a great extent recovered his personal position of trust with Hitler, so that there was no feeling of having been slighted which might have prompted him to follow an independent line. True, he showed a certain tendency to think for himself after realizing that Hitler was beginning to lose his earlier intuitive certainty; but the attachment retained its strength, and up to the last he extolled 'the height of good fortune that allowed me to be his contemporary'.(63) Even out of the ruins of the shattered Reich Chancellery he brought up again insanely and against his better knowledge the myth which he had once created that 'together with this man you can conquer the world'.(64) The attempt had failed. But true to his principle that the propagandist must never contradict himself he continued — with Russian tanks already in the suburbs of Berlin — to call Hitler the only man who could point the way to a new and flourishing Europe. (65) If the German people never shouted over Adolf Hitler the dreaded 'Crucify him! ' it was largely due to Goebbels. But he himself, when all was manifestly lost, stood among the smoking debris and shouted 'Hosanna!' as he had once predicted, the paradoxical picture of an opportunist who at the last proved to be the most loyal follower. But what looked like loyalty was merely the realization of his own lack of substance, which all his life, despite all his gifts, forced him into the role of substitute. He liked to hear himself referred to as the movement's Talleyrand, but he was certainly not that. 'I never pursued a policy of my own,' (66) he repeatedly asserted. Very true!
Unhesitatingly he accepted Hitler's end as his own. Unlike the former comrades in arms who ignominiously fled — Ley, Ribbentrop, Streicher — but also without the naive self-deception of Goring or Himmler, he had no illusions as to how intensely they had provoked the world.
'As for us,' he wrote in Das Reich of 14 November 1943, 'we have burnt our bridges. We cannot go back, but neither do we want to go back. We are forced to extremes and therefore resolved to proceed to extremes.' And later: 'We shall go down in history as the greatest statesmen of all time, or as the greatest criminals.'
He was level-headed enough to accept responsibility for the final verdict. For this reason he pressed Hitler, who as always was shrinking from important decisions, to await the end in the Reich Chancellery and add the crowning apotheosis to the artificially constructed myth. His last concern, to which he devoted himself with alert and tenacious resolution, was with a practised hand to make the end itself a spectacle of breathtaking grandeur. His remarks in his farewell conversation with Hans Fritzsche, in which, following Hitler's example, he ascribed the collapse to the failure of the German people, and at the same time the way he strove to intensify the process of destruction, were like a final seal set upon his contempt for humanity. 'When we depart, let the earth tremble!' were the last words with which, on 21st April 1945, he dismissed his associates. (67) What he seemed to fear more than anything else was a death devoid of dramatic effects; to the end, he was what he had always been: the propagandist for himself. Whatever he thought or did was always based solely on this one agonising wish for self-exultation, and this same object was served by the murder of his children, on the evening of 1st May 1945. They were the last victims of an egomania extending beyond the grave. However, this deed too failed to make him the figure of tragic destiny he had hoped to become; it merely gave his end a touch of repulsive irony. A few hours later he died, together with his wife, in the gardens of the Reich Chancellery.
'The essence of propaganda', he once remarked, 'consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never again escape from it'.(68)
By this standard, he undoubtedly failed; for the idea of National Socialism has been forgotten, or is at most only a memory. However, on closer inspection this maxim of propaganda proves to be itself no more than propaganda; in reality, totalitarian propaganda does not count on exercising a permanent influence. It bears witness to its own knowledge of the futility of its efforts in the capricious abruptness with which it alters watchwords and 'granite principles', demands damning judgements or oaths of loyalty, hails the deadly enemy of yesterday as the faithful ally of today, brands the friend a traitor, revokes, annuls, rewrites its history, and obtains from the people protestations of faith in each of its erratic changes of course, wiping out at each switch all previous truths and oaths of loyalty. There can be little doubt that Goebbels was occasionally aware of this, and his early words 'But scratch our names in history, that we shall do,' (69) now sound like an anticipatory reply. Certainly he succeeded in this aim. It was probably a matter of indifference to him whether he figured in history as a criminal or a statesman, but how wretched is his fame compared with what it cost.
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