Hitler’s Rhetoric [in progress]

By Ryan Skinnell

Hitler’s Rhetoric examines the rhetorical practices and resources that Adolf Hitler used to persuade millions of Germans and non-Germans to support, or at least acquiesce to, Nazism. Historians and rhetoricians alike recognize Hitler as “one of the great orators of history, perhaps the greatest in the twentieth century” and “an ideal example of the evil power of evil rhetoric.” Hitler was a powerful speaker and innovator, pioneering mass media tactics that are still in wide use. He roused and radicalized fanatical supporters through his speeches throughout the first decade and a half of his career.

Beyond his personal persuasive power, Hitler and the Nazis also built a sprawling network of rhetorical resources, including a correspondence school for aspiring speakers, a party speakers’ bureau, and a series of media resources (i.e., newspapers, journals, and rhetoric handbooks) for teaching persuasive speech. This network allowed Hitler to recruit fanatics and spread his message throughout Germany. Hitler and the Nazis were thoroughly rhetorical actors, and not by accident. Unfortunately, understanding Hitler’s rhetorical success remains vitally important in the 21st century because he remains a rhetorical lodestar three-quarters of a century after his death. Hitler’s rhetoric—both his rhetorical strategies and versions of his rhetorical network—are pervasive in contemporary cultures around the world. Accordingly, understanding Hitler’s rhetoric is necessary for anyone who would recognize and resist imitators and like-minded innovators.

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