10

One of the most famous so-called quotation attributed to Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels is:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.

This is cited by many, many sources. However, the site False Nazi Quotations argues that this is a false attribution. Who is correct? Did Goebbels ever actually say this?

  • 1
    I've heard that quote attributed to many people. It's quite likely they all used a version of it, at some point. – jwenting Dec 16 '14 at 12:59
  • 9
    The title and the body appear to be asking completely different questions. Please fix this. – T.E.D. Dec 16 '14 at 13:53
  • 1
    Both question and body are actually questioning the same passage. Not sure why the OP wouldn't include the full quote. I've inserted it, though the OP's own source already provided a good answer. – Semaphore Dec 17 '14 at 7:03
  • 3
    There's no ambiguity. There's no evidence Goebbels ever said any such thing. Someone made it up (probably attributing to Goebbels for the sake of an argument). Because it is catchy, it spread like wildfire, like many other misattributed quotes. – Semaphore Dec 17 '14 at 7:53
  • 2
    Who knows? It's some random anonymous person. Though, I'd speculate it's probably a case of reductio ad Hitlerum, i.e. associating something they're arguing against with the Nazis. – Semaphore Dec 17 '14 at 8:15
10

Plausible Quotations and Reverse Credibility in Online Vernacular Communities by Quentin Schultze and Randall Bytwerk (professors in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College) traces the origin and spread of this misattributed quotation. Quoting:

The above quotation appears on a rapidly growing number of Internet pages. In 2002, it was on about a dozen pages; by mid-2008, it was 14,000. In mid-October 2009, the total was 47,900; on April 1, 2011, it reached 333,000. By December 1, 2011, the total surpassed 500,000. If one allows for partial quotations or minor variations, the figures are even higher. Forty thousand pages attribute it to "Joseph M. Goebbels." "M" was not his middle initial.

As best as we can determine, Goebbels never said it. Proving a negative is impossible, but we have read a wide range of Goebbels's writings and speeches without finding the quotation. (1) No one who cites it online or in available printed sources--including academic works--provides a source. The quotation also appears on over 400 Internet sites in German, sometimes with the note "retranslated from English," and sometimes with the wrong middle initial. (2) No German Internet page or book that we can find provides a source.

The authors provide more information at http://truthisthegreatestenemyofthestate.blogspot.co.uk/.

  • 1
    The professors wrongly make it sound like Goebbels was only recently associated with this quoted. The 1939 book "The Mad Dog of Europe" reads: "What was it Goebbels had said?: 'Repeat a lie often enough and loud enough and it will be accepted as the truth' " books.google.com/… – DavePhD May 17 '17 at 11:07
  • @DavePhD Interesting (and a strange omission, I agree). That part of the quote may have been inspired by the große Lüge propaganda technique described by Hitler in Mein Kampf. The focus of the article appears to be the bolded part (about truth becoming the enemy of the State), which does appear to be a modern creation. – Uri Zarfaty May 18 '17 at 13:11
  • 1
    I think that when the supposed quote started to appear on the internet, the first sentence wasn't part of it. Like this 11 March 2002 version: propagandamatrix.com/pentagon_file.html (internet archive version: web.archive.org/web/20020502173741/http://…) also wnd.com/2002/03/13087 It seems like Geoff Metcalf was one of the first to distribute the second sentence. – DavePhD May 18 '17 at 20:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy