Hitler's Rhetorical Theory
Department of Communication & Rhetorical Studies Idaho State University
Describing Adolf Hitler requires strong language. Hitler’s historical impact was enormous. British historian Ian Kershaw declares, “the 12 years of Hitler’s rule permanently changed Germany, Europe, and the world.”1 Joachim Fest writes in his biography of Hitler, “historyrecords no phenomenon like him. No one else produced such incredible accelerations in the pace of history.”2 At the end of the century and the millennium Arts and Entertainment and Biography asked 360 scholars, journalists, and political figures to rank “the most influential people in the past 1000 years.” Hitler ranked sixteenth – the highest of any political world leader. His great contemporariestrailed far behind: Churchill 52nd, FDR 60th, and Stalin 79th.3 Evil Incarnate Hitler was evil incarnate. For Hitler a fitting epitaph would be: “Because Adolf Hitler lived, 50 million people died.” British historian and biographer of Hitler, Alan Bullock asks rhetorically, “If Hitler isn’t evil who is?”4 In a “Person of the Century Essay” Time writes, “Hitler redefined the meaning of evil forever.”5R. J. Rummel, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii, in the Encyclopedia of Genocide, ranks Hitler behind only Stalin and Mao as the greatest killer of civilians in history: Stalin 43 million, Mao 38 million, Hitler 21 million.6 Indispensable Hitler was indispensable. He built the Nazi party from seven members in 1919 to the largest political party in Germany in 1932. Through freeelections from 1928 in fewer than four years the Nazis gained a plurality of seats in the Reichstag. Writes historian Robert Waite, “Hitler was Nazidom. Seldom in the history of western civilization has so much depended on one man’s personality. He created his own political theory and a government that could not exist without him.”7 Fest explains that Hitler virtually “created everything out ofhimself and was himself everything at once.”8 Declares German historian Friedrich Meinecke, Hitler “is one of the great examples of the singular and incalculable power of personality in historical life.”9 Great Orator Hitler was a great public speaker. His claim in 1939 was probably correct, “I am conscious that I have no equal in the art of swaying the masses.” Hitler scholars seem unanimous inrecognizing his speaking skill. Writes Klaus Fisher, “Without his remarkable gift of persuasion, Hitler would never have reached such heights of power.”10 CBS correspondent William Shirer, who heard Hitler often, declares, “Hitler has a magic power to sway millions with his voice.”11 British scholar of the Nazi era H. Trevor Roper explains, “Hitler, at the beginning, had only his voice...that was hisonly instrument of power. His only asset was his demagogic power over the masses, his voice.”12 Kershaw concedes, “his rhetorical talent was, of course, recognized even by his political enemies.”13
Relevant Rhetoric Vol. 1 2010 Hitler's Rhetorical Theory
Hitler understood the indispensable role rhetoric played in his quest for power. While brooding in a minimum security cell in Landsbergin 1924 for leading a failed coup de’tat -- the “beer hall putsch” -- Hitler told a friend, “When I resume work it will be necessary to pursue a new policy. Instead of working to achieve power through an armed coup, we shall have to hold our noses and enter the Reichstag against the Catholic and Marxist deputies. Sooner or later we shall have a majority, and after that -- Germany!”14 He wouldgain power through the ballot box. Consummate Campaigner Campaigning across Germany in free parliamentary elections against candidates from six established parties, Hitler led the Nazis from 12 seats in the 647 seat German Parliament in 1928 (800,000 votes) to 107 seats (6.4 million votes) in 1930. According to German historian Eberhard Jäckel, “This was the greatest increase ever gained by a party...
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