Definitions

Big Lie

Big Lie

The Big Lie is a propaganda technique. It was defined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf as a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously".

Use of the expression by Hitler

It is often erroneously claimed or implied Hitler had advocated the use of the Big Lie as a viable propaganda technique. However, Hitler, when writing of the Big Lie in Mein Kampf, was in fact criticizing "the Jews" for their perceived use of the Big Lie. The source of Big Lie technique, from Chapter 10 of Mein Kampf:

Use of the expression by Goebbels

Later, Joseph Goebbels put forth a slightly different theory which has come to be more commonly associated with the expression big lie. Goebbels wrote the following paragraph in an article dated 12 January 1941, 16 years after Hitler's first use of the phrase big lie, entitled "Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik", translated "From Churchill's Lie Factory". It was published in Die Zeit ohne Beispiel.
That is of course rather painful for those involved. One should not as a rule reveal one's secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.

Used in Hitler's psychological profile

The phrase was also used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler's psychological profile:
His primary rules were: 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.

The Big Lie in popular culture

George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four refers to the Big Lie theory on several occasions. For example:

  • “The key-word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts”.
  • “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed...”.

The 1994 song "Living with the Big Lie" from Marillion's album "Brave" references the use of government and media-driven propaganda to disillusion the general population and to make them sympathetic to the government's ultimate goal.

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