Journal Article

Mass Politics and the Techniques of Leadership: The Promise and Perils of Propaganda in Weimar Germany

Corey Ross

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 24, issue 2, pages 184-211
Published in print April 2006 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online April 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Mass Politics and the Techniques of Leadership: The Promise and Perils of Propaganda in Weimar Germany

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This paper traces the development of ideas about ‘professional’ and ‘scientific’ publicity during the Weimar era, and their gradual absorption by mainstream politicians and officials from the late 1920s onwards. The unprecedented wartime efforts to influence domestic morale and the scandalous revelations of misinformation afterwards greatly increased popular awareness of the ability of élites to manipulate public opinion, and generated intense interest in the problems of communicating with mass publics. Nowhere was this fascination greater than in Germany, where many attributed their defeat primarily to superior enemy propaganda. The result was a wide-ranging postwar discourse about the power of this modern ‘weapon’ and its unavoidability as a part of modern political and commercial life. Far from learning the so-called ‘lessons of the war’, government self-representation efforts were steadily criticized by journalists and advertisers as both quantitatively and qualitatively inadequate. Whereas most republicans regarded ‘propaganda’ as mendacious and unstatesmanlike, many of the radical parties’ publicity efforts clearly reflected the basic tenets of the concurrent propaganda discourse, in particular the emphasis on emotional appeal and ritualistic symbols. During the crisis of the early 1930s, amidst the visible success of the Nazis’ advertising-inspired campaigning, the spread of this discourse across the political spectrum helped to hollow out democratic conceptualizations of leadership and public opinion from the very centre of Weimar political life.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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