Hitler sent carefully selected Nazi Party members to enroll in courses in public speaking at schools organized by his political opponents (Communists, Social Democrats, etc.). “Thanks to this,” he said later, “we obtained a good insight into the arguments which would be used by those sent to heckle at our meetings, and we were thus in a position to silence them the moment they opened their mouths.”
And learned a thing or two that they could then use in their political events. Hitler was not above visiting meetings organized by his political opponents himself to study their public speaking techniques (which he almost always found significantly inferior to his).
His critical judgment was that the speakers delivered their speeches “in the style of a witty newspaper article or of a scientific treatise, avoided all strong words, and here and there threw in some feeble professional joke.”
Hitler, in contrast, was a daring and original speaker who spoke with a primitive force and unabashed emotion that set him apart from intellectuals who appealed to reason. Underlying his rhetorical theory was the Ciceronian maxim that man is moved more by passion than by reason.
When most people think of an Adolf Hitler speech, they think of him ranting and raving, screaming, and shaking his fist. While it is true that he did sometimes go into a fury, he could be quite calm and always very convincing. And very inspirational and uplifting.
His speeches injected his audience with a very powerful “spiritual and emotional antidepressant” – which was exactly what the deeply and overwhelmingly depressed nation needed and wanted.
Hitler’s speeches were designed to “arouse and mobilize” emotions – mostly primitive ones such as fear and hatred, but also a deep and passionate Love. Love for their German Fatherland. A very natural objective for a genuine national-sociopath.
David Hume – Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian and economist – once noted:
“Great oratory entails unleashing restraints (“letting go”) in front of an audience. The speaker taps into something deep and true inside him, and lets it explode.”
This is a natural explanation of the very rare phenomenon of a genuinely great oratory. There is, however, another explanation – a supernatural one. According to the latter theory (it is, of course, a theory), the genuinely great orator (such as Adolf Hitler) taps into something huge, deep, true and powerful not inside, but outside him (it was always a “he”).
In other words, orator in question connects to an extremely powerful external source of spiritual energies (i.e. God) becoming a conductor of the latter (a medium of sorts).
These energies endow the orator with genuinely miraculous and supernatural powers of inspiring, manipulating and even “programming” (brainwashing) audiences even of enormous size. And made him far more emotionally and spiritually powerful than any of his competitors (i.e. other politicians).
Making his voice mesmeric, overwhelmingly powerful and even magically spellbinding and his whole presence as deeply “hypnotic” (that’s exactly how listeners perceived Hitler’s voice and presence). Which was extremely important because the only real contact the overwhelming majority of people have had with Hitler was through his voice.
He carefully made “all of the above” the key components of his image as a superhumanly powerful orator. To maintain and safeguard this vital image, Hitler expressly forbade any of his normal conversations from being recorded ever. Only one recording was done on the sly without Hitler knowing that his conversation was being recorded.
On a more earthly plane (i.e. in German language) Hitler drew on an additional kind of rhetorical power which —- in a way is perhaps a little bit specific to German – allies highly abstract concepts with political and physical violence in a most powerful way. And Hitler was easily a genius at that, absolutely no doubt about it.
He had additional competitive advantages, of course. At that time most (if not just about all) “professional” politicians read their speeches off paper. Hitler memorize his.
Most “professional” politicians had a very monotonous way of speaking which produced zero or even negative emotional effect on their audience. Hitler understood how to use his voice for the most powerful impact possible. It would rise and fall dramatically, pause for effect, and could even sound tender and nostalgic.
Most speakers “just stood there” during their speeches using little or no gestures.
Another thing that made his speeches so new and exciting was gestures. This was not the way with Hitler. Hitler had a very active and dramatic physical presence. He clenched his fists up into the air. He chopped at the space in front of him. He slammed his hands down on the podium in front of him.
Hence it was not surprising that every speech took a heavy physical toll on him. He once confessed:
“Whenever I have to make a speech of great importance I am always soaking wet at the end, and I find I have lost four or six pounds in weight. And in Bavaria, where, in addition to my usual mineral water, local custom insists that I drink two or three bottles of beer, I lose as much as eight pounds.”
But it was worth it. It was what made superstars out of many entertainers. And out of Hitler – his physical dynamism had the same effect. Those who didn’t go to non-Nazi meetings and other political events because they had no desire to listen to boring dusty old politicians give boring dusty speeches, gladly went to watch and listen to the “young rock star of German politics” (most party leaders were in their 50s and 60s).
Due to being able to tap into a powerful internal or external energy source, Adolf Hitler was simply far more passionate and dramatic (and thus much more emotionally attractive) that just about any of the other politicians from that era. You could feel that by watching Hitler. This was not a man who just “talks the talk”.
A genuine (and very powerful) national-sociopath, Hitler was a fiery preacher of a passionate love for the Fatherland and no less passionate (and murderous) hatred for its real or perceived enemies (he was excellent at identifying scapegoats for all German problems that seemed just right for his audience).
Here was a man whose entire life seemed to be consumed by what he is talking about (which was actually true). Whether or not you agreed with everything he said, it was obvious that here was someone who was prepared to give everything for Germany. And for audiences that were fed up with the political impotence and constant bickering of the Weimar Republic, a “man of action” was exactly what they wanted.
Hitler developed and very skillfully fed (with help from Joseph Goebbels and other Grand Masters of political propaganda) his “personality cult” that bordered on religious worship of a demi-God,
However, in reality his adherents worshipped not him, but a “greater force” that he was subservient to Hitler’s love and passion for Germany was obvious. It still is now when you watch him.
True, it was a love of a national-sociopath (and thus was heavily poisoned with hatred for real or perceived enemies), but it still was a sincere, deep, passionate and genuine patriotic love.
Love which established another spiritual and emotional channel – this time “bottom up”. Making it possible for the Germans to direct their love for their fatherland “through” Hitler, who presented himself as just a “humble servant”.
He was an “agent” of Germany. A “drummer” at the front of a new movement. So people could worship him, but not feel like they were feeding the ego of a single person. They were channeling their patriotic love of the Fatherland through Hitler.
So when you put it all together … the delivery of his speeches, the content of his speeches, and the emotional conviction of the man himself, combined with the fact that his audience was hungry to hear exactly what he was feeding them and you have a “perfect storm” of sorts.
It’s important to understand that Hitler’s passion resonated so much more with his audience because he was a personification of the philosophy (ideology) he represented.
Nazism was all about action, energy, passion, force and willpower. In his speeches and the way he came across, he demonstrated these ideas and helped sell them to the masses.
His abrupt and sharp gestures were an expression of forceful action as the highest value. His extreme passion provided drama, excitement and theatre, and offered the promise of this sort of strong emotion for everyone.
Allied with his relative youth as a politician and the new technologies of radio and moving images in the service of politics making him seem even more novel and modern, this could (and did) become genuinely intoxicating.
Hitler’s speeches, and Nazi propaganda in general, worked to accustom people to becoming caught up in emotion and to act rather than to think. Thinking was left to their Führer.
For more than eight years it worked – and worked very well (for members and adherents of the Nazi Party it worked even longer – for two decades). But when things got sufficiently complicated, it predictably stopped working.
Worse, it began to pull Germany towards defeat in the Second World War, demise of the Nazi Führerstaat, colossal loss of life, enormous destruction of the country’s infrastructure and finally to the suicide of their Führer.