The psychological reason why so many fall for the ‘Big Lie’

R&I NV — Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels coined the term “Big Lie.” According to the supposed quote, Goebbels said that if you tell “a lie big enough” and regularly repeat it, “people will eventually come to believe it.” That said, Adolf Hitler actually did use the phrase “big lie” — but not to describe his own propaganda strategy. In a darkly ironic case of psychological projection, he came up with the expression to defame the Jewish community.

“In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility,” Hitler wrote in “Mein Kampf,” his 1925 autobiographical manifesto. He observed that most people are only comfortable telling small lies, and imagined others would be as uncomfortable as themselves perpetuating big ones. “It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously,” Hitler explained. “Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”

Indeed, like many abusers before him, Hitler rationalized his own depraved behavior by falsely accusing his victims of doing the same thing. The story of World War II is, in many ways, a tale of a Big Lie run amok. Germany felt humiliated after its loss in World War I, and the nationalistic pride which had fueled that conflict still burned in the hearts of millions.

This tactic, of a leader hypnotizing vast swathes of the public through the perpetuation of a grandiose falsehood, is a phenomenon that extends well beyond World War II and Adolf Hitler. Recently, the term has been recycled to refer to the falsity that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” in some indeterminate way, a lie that is repeated ad infinitum by Trump and a slew of his supporters at all levels from yard-sign wielding footsoldier all the way up to his closest legal counsel.


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