Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda

The outline below is based on Doob, Leonard W. (1950) ‘Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda,’ p. 419-442, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn, Oxford University Press. Doob was Policy Policy Coordinator of the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information during World War II, and then became Professor of Psychology at Yale University. Goebbels’ original document is (not entirely surprisingly) held at the Hoover Institute. It was translated in Lochner, Louis (Ed., trans.) (1948) ‘The Goebbels Diaries,’ Doubleday & Company, several extracts from it appear online.

Below we will set out the ‘principles’ and follow this with Hadley Cantril’s observations (Cantril was heavily involved in US war-time propaganda.  After this I will add some observations from others, and at some point return to some form of analysis.


1. Propagandists must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.

2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority:

a. It must issue all the propaganda directives.

b. It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.

c. It must oversee other agencies’ activities which have propaganda consequences.

3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action.

4. Propaganda must affect the enemy’s policy and action:

a. By suppressing propagandistically desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence.

b. By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions.

c. By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself.

d. By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference would discredit that activity.

5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign.

6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.

7. Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false.

8. The purpose, content, and effectiveness of enemy propaganda; the strength and effects of an expose; and the nature of current propaganda campaigns determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.

9. Credibility, intelligence, and the possible effects of communicating determine whether propaganda materials should be censored.

10. Material from enemy propaganda may be utilized in operations when it helps diminish that enemy’s prestige or lends support to the propagandist’s own objective.

11. Black rather than white propaganda must be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects.

12. Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige.

13. Propaganda must be carefully timed:

a. The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda.

b. A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment.

c. A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness.

14. Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans:

a. They must evoke desired responses which the audience previously possesses.

b. They must be capable of being easily learned.

c. They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations.

d. They must be boomerang-proof.

15. Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.

16. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level:

a. Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat.

b. Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than that concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and which cannot be reduced by people themselves.

17. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration:

a. Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated.

b. Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective.

18. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.

19. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.


Cantril, Hadley (1938) ‘Propaganda Analysis,’ p. 217-221, The English Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3, March, noted that:  “So far, in the twentieth century, propagandists have sold us everything from toothpaste to war.”  He also offered a list of certain principles of propaganda:

The first of these propaganda principles is to connect the idea or object you are propagandizing with some attitude, symbol, or emotion that people already know and feel strongly about. The propagandist must, then, know people. Herr Goebbels has one rule of propaganda, which is to see with the eyes of the masses.

He then adds:

The second principle is to build up a new attitude around your product or idea by using subtle, concealed suggestion.

Other methods for building up the public attitudes regarding someone’s pet idea: “…is to disguise propaganda as explanation,’ Cantril adds:

First, the great majority of the words in our language, or any other language, are freighted with emotion. Most of the time we do not react to the dictionary meaning of the word, but to a whole complex of feelingthat surrounds that word. Take, for example, the word “strawberry.” We know what a strawberry is, but we always think it is a”good” thing.

For Cantril a second reason why the propagandist is so successful is because most of us are unsure of ourselves:

…most of us are anxious to preserve our own position in life, to maintain our status, or to enhance our status, and we have, therefore, a tendency to accept thattype of propaganda that makes us feel superior to other individualsor makes us feel that our own status is better than the other fellow’s.

As some sort of preparation to help us guard against this he offers:

First, to understand the technique of the propagandist and the aims and goals he has in mind. Second, to understand our own biases, the forces in the environment thathave given us our particular status and our particular opinions and that have tended to make us reject other opinions which do notserve our own selfish interests. This means, essentially, that education is propaganda’s most deadly enemy and is the reason why the propagandists themselves are frightened when they see people being educated in the methods that the propagandists use, for education is critical, not one-sided.

If we turn now to other writers we can introduce the more familiar sociological concept of ‘attitudes,’ and much study had been done into how these are formed and influenced and take us more into psychological or social psychology areas.  What seems to have occurred in the post-war ‘Behavioral’ and ‘Functionalist’ turn was the fading away and repression of  the sociology of knowledge and the move by many US sociologists into government-funded study, where any questioning of the purposes of their work began to become problematic.  But back to propaganda and ‘attitudes.’


Brown, J. A. C. (1963)’Techniques of Persuasion,’ p. 39, Pelican, offers us a good point to start to examine attitudes.  Brown states that a ‘law of primacy’ is at work, whereby the earlier an experience the more potent its effect since it influences how later experiences will be interpreted.  Now one would think that if, at the age of five, I was exposed to complex theories about the nature of fundamental particles — all that complex stuff about quarks and leptons — it wouldn’t matter that much: but the concept is really based on long term exposure, and its defenders would probably argue that if, at a later age I attempted a serious understanding of the subject, it wouldn’t seem so strange.  Think of a child brought up in a home where the parents and older children can play the piano.  So here is Brown’s breakdown of this ‘law of primacy’, which forms the basis of our attitudes:

(1) In the child-rearing experience of the first five or six years of life from the parent-child relationship.

(2) by association between individuals or the formal and informal groups met with in later life.

(3) from unique and isolated experiences or similar experiences repeated throughout life.

Forming a background to this lies the society and its culture or way of life to which the individual belongs.  For Brown, it is this which the parents try to inculcate into the child in its early years, known as “mediated social-cultural influence, while the developments in later life are known as “direct social-cultural influence” usually involving social groups.  But lets back track a little bit and ask brown what his definition of an attitude is:

…an attitude is a concept used by the social psychologist in order to explain without complicated references to individual psychology, with which he is not primarily concerned, what happens between stimulus and response to produce the observed effect.

Criticisms could be made of that, but we can see how, if we wanted to design a survey to find out opinions, its design would have to get at these primary influences and the questions would become the stimulus to elicit the latent attitude.  But it is a bit complicated than that because of the many ‘non-response’ effects encountered by survey designers.  What if the person you’re asking all your detailed questions about doesn’t take it very seriously?


2 Responses to “Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda”

  1. […] Дуб проанализировал достаточно подробно принципы пропаганды Геббельса встатье 1950 г. Это почти два десятка принципов с очень […]

  2. Christina Marlowe Says:

    Thank you for the information.


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