Thursday, April 12, 2012

An Outline of the Problem

Some years ago I (Randall Bytwerk) got an e-mail from someone trying to track down the Goebbels quotation at the top of the page.  Since I’ve read a great detail of material by Goebbels, it did not sound right.  After considerable effort I could find no source for the quotation, even though at the time tens of thousands of web pages cited it.

I talked with my colleague Quentin Schultze and we decided there was something interesting going on.  We’ve now been following the spread of the quotation for three years and will soon publish the article mentioned in the previous post.  We’ve decided to keep up on the interesting spread of a fabricated quotation on this blog.

Here’s the situation as discussed on my German Propaganda Archive:

“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 is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Last I checked (December 2011), this shows up on 500,000 web pages and twenty published books (most of which are vanity press productions, evidence for the value of publishers who still believe in editors). It is attributed to Joseph Goebbels. No one ever gives a citation to the source. A fair number of web citations are to “Joseph M. Goebbels.” That wasn't his middle initial. One book credits it to “Joseph Goebbel.”
There are several hundred pages in German that cite the statement, but none give a source, and one site (perhaps the earliest) notes that is “retranslated from English.”

Goebbels wouldn’t have said that in public. He always maintained that propaganda had to be truthful. That doesn't mean he didn’t lie, but it would be a pretty poor propagandist who publicly proclaimed that he was going to lie. I know of no evidence that he actually said it. I haven’t read everything Goebbels wrote, but I have been through a lot of it.
Goebbels actually accused others of using the technique. In a 1941 article titled “ Churchill’s Lie Factory,” he wrote:
“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.”
He accuses the English of the “big lie,” and suggests that, were he to use such a technique, he would not publicly announce it.

The quotation usually seems to be used by those on the political left and right, who find it helpful in to associating those they don't like with the Nazis.

What has happened since then?  That is the subject of future posts.


  1. so did Goebbels say it or not?

  2. Have you had any luck with finding the source? Is there proof that he did or did not or only speculation?

  3. It is impossible to prove a negative. However, it is not speculation. No one has provided a source. The first citations are dubious. Is is therefore extraordinarily unlikely that Goebbels said it.

  4. Thanks so much for your investigating this "quote". I have used the pseudo quote in the past.

    I don't want to use a false quote in order to refute those who lie.


    PS I just corrected someone who used it on Huffington and gave your site as a great resource.

  5. So did I, in the comments for:

  6. The first citations we can find are two Internet sources in 2002. Neither gives a source. They took it from somewhere else. We contacted one of the people who cited it. He had no idea where he got it from. So who said it? I wish we knew. It just wasn’t Goebbels.