The Big Lie

The term the big lie originated with Adolf Hitler. It refers to a preposterous falsehood spread by people who are in power, or who want to be. The theory behind it is that most people, who might tell a small lie, would never expect anyone to believe a real whopper. Because they themselves are incapable of calling black white, they begin to imagine that the big lie must contain an element of truth.

In his book Mein Kampf (1925), Hitler described the nature and effects on the public of an outrageous lie frequently repeated:

…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

Hitler’s rules of political conduct and media coverage, as described in the psychological profile compiled by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, bear reading today.

  • 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

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