Adolph Hitler’s Charisma

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It is hard for most of us to imagine Hitler as charismatic because, after all, he is the archetypical villain right? A psychotic madman who coerced a country and manipulated a culture into hate and murder couldn’t possibly have charisma, could he?

Emma Mason wrote this, regarding the charisma of Hitler in October 2012 for the BBC’s History Magazine.

“Stop for a moment and imagine Adolf Hitler. Picture him in your mind. Who do you see? I imagine you see a figure not unlike the portrayal of Hitler in the film Downfall (2004). A shouting, aggressive, unhinged character because Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in Downfall, shook and screamed so much that one key scene from the movie has become an internet phenomenon. It’s been remade with comical subtitles on a host of subjects being set to Ganz’s incredible ranting.

But while it’s true that in his last days Hitler was at times scarcely rational, it’s not representative of the whole history. Because this image plays into a deep desire I think most of us secretly possess. We want Hitler to have been a lunatic from start to finish. We want Hitler to be mad because it makes the monstrous crimes he committed – particularly during the Second World War – easy to explain.

The Story We Tell

It’s simple. We can tell ourselves comfortably, Hitler was a madman who somehow hypnotized millions of ordinary Germans to do things against their better judgment. However, he wasn’t a madman, and he hypnotized no one.

Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January 1933 due to democratic means. A large number of the German elite – sharp, clever people – decided to back him. Why would they support a lunatic? And the way Hitler conducted himself between 1930 and 1933 demonstrated that he was an astute – but wholly unscrupulous – politician. His calculations about where power really lay in Germany and how to best manipulate the emotions of ordinary Germans were extremely sophisticated.

In addition, Hitler generated enormous – and genuine – support. His views very often matched those of huge numbers of the German population. That’s something incomprehensible if we take at face value the portrayal of Hitler as a screaming nightmare.”

The fact is, monsters aren’t elected. People vote for the best parts of their candidates, or the good, likable characteristics that the candidate has chosen to showcase. It is only after the election that the monster shows up.

What people elect is, charisma.

The Germans who elected Hitler were not all murderous thugs who reflected the horrible parts of The Fuhrer. Some, as Emma Mason pointed out, were sharp, clever people. They supported the vision, certainty and hope that Hitler portrayed. That portrayal endeared him to a large portion of the German people. Vision, certainty, and endearment were keys to his influence. The following are segments of a few speeches he made, translated into English. Each segment is an example of his vision, certainty and endearment.

Vision

On January 30th, 1937 Hitler made this promise to the German people.

“In the carrying out of the Four Years Plan lies our first task. It will call for gigantic efforts but eventually it will turn out a great blessing for our people. Its purpose is to strengthen our national economic system in all its branches. The execution of it is guaranteed. All those great works which have been started apart from this plan will be continued. Their purpose is to promote the health of the nation and make life more pleasant.”

Hitler continued.

“Building extensions will be systematically carried out in some of our large cities. They will act as an externalization of the spirit that actuates this great epoch of our national revival. In the forefront of these plans stands that of remodeling and enlarging Berlin and thus making it the real and true metropolis of the German Reich. Therefore I have today appointed, just as I did for the great scheme of national road construction, a general architectural supervisor for Berlin, who is responsible for the reconstruction and extension of the metropolis. Out of the chaos which resulted from the former building schemes in Berlin he will bring order. And that order will be based on such spacious plans as will be worthy of the National Socialist Movement and also of the German metropolis.”

Rhetoric

The image of Berlin as a “real and true metropolis” allows his audience to paint any picture of a perfect city in their head. Hitler didn’t show them a drawing of the city, he also didn’t lay out the numbers or the plan for the city. He let his audience paint the picture and when you cast the vision you would never argue with yourself. Hitler knew that if he allowed his listeners to envision their ideals when he spoke, they would attach that ideal to him.

Another way of saying this is, “The broad masses of a population are more amiable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force,” which is a quote from Hitler.

But why?

Why is casting a vision so powerful in the art of charisma?

Comedy

Zakary L. Tormala, Jayson S. Jia from Stanford and Michael Norton from the Harvard Business School may have the answer.

The trio published a study on potential vs. accomplishments in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2012. In the study they completed 8 experiments designed to test whether people preferred accomplishments or potential. Consequently the study found that people support, followed and engage with potential at a much higher rate than with accomplishments.

In other words people trust what you say you are going to do, more than what you have done! It’s a key to charisma.

How Creatives Get Paid 11 Days FasterHere is an example.

In one experiment the group ran Facebook ads for an up-and-coming comedian named Kevin Shea. The ad had four variations of a tag line on the page. The tag lines were;

  1. “Critics say he has become the next big thing.” (achievement)Hitlers Charisma
  2. “Critics say he could become the next big thing.” (potential)
  3. “Everyone is talking about Kevin Shea.” (achievement)
  4. “By this time next year, everyone could be talking about Kevin Shea.” (potential)

If people clicked on the ad they were offered the opportunity to click on a link labeled “become a fan.” The results overwhelmingly proved that people preferred the potential ads much more than the achievement ads. On average, potential frames produced 3.27 times the click-rate and 5.33 times the fan-rate of achievement frames.

The group also conducted 7 other experiments with similar results. As a  result they discovered that people, on average, like potential even more than proof. Consequently that is why charismatic leaders must have a knack for casting great visions.

Certainty

Hitler had a knack for certainty. It fueled his charisma and in his speech declaring war on the United States of America he said this.

“Deputies! Men of the German Reichstag!

Ever since my peace proposal of July 1940 was rejected, we have clearly realized this struggle must be fought through to the end. We National Socialists are not at all surprised that the Anglo-American, Jewish and capitalist world is united together with Bolshevism. In our country we have always found them in the same community. Alone we successfully fought against them here in Germany, and after 14 years of struggle for power we were finally able to annihilate our enemies.

Our opponents should not deceive themselves. In the two thousand years of recorded German history, our people have never been more determined and united than today. The Lord of the universe has been so generous to us in recent years that we bow in gratitude. We bow before a Providence that has permitted us to be members of such a great nation. We thank Him, that along with those in earlier and coming generations of the German nation, our deeds of honor may also be recorded in the eternal book of German history!”

Four Parts of Certainty

Zakary L. Tormala from the above study and Derek D. Rucker explain the four levers of certainty in an article called How Certainty Transforms Persuasion.

  • Consensus
  • Repetition
  • Ease
  • Defense

They suggest how companies can use these levers to boost certainty. But look how flawlessly Hitler used them in his declaration of war against the US.

Consensus– “Our opponents should not deceive themselves. In the two thousand years of recorded German history, our people have never been more determined and united than today.”

Repetition– In the above speech, no less than 5 times Hitler said, “Deputies! Men of the German Reichstag!” This shout was almost like a chant. It was an attention grabber that solidified the idea that Hitler was speaking to his people, the men of the German Reichstag. If you were listening, you were a part of his team.

Ease– “We thank Him (God), that along with those in earlier and coming generations of the German nation, our deeds of honor may also be recorded in the eternal book of German history!” If God is on your side, you should feel at ease about anything you’re doing with Him.

Defense-“Ever since my peace proposal of July 1940 was rejected, we have clearly realized this struggle must be fought through to the end. We National Socialists are not at all surprised that the Anglo-American, Jewish and capitalist world is united together with Bolshevism. In our country we have always found them in the same community. Alone we successfully fought against them here in Germany, and after 14 years of struggle for power we were finally able to annihilate our enemies.” People will defend, even the most horrible and inappropriate opinions when they are construed as being under attack.

Endearment

Unfortunately Hitlers staunch racism endeared him to his audience.

He said, “What we have to fight for is to ensure existence and increase of our race and our people, the support of our children and the maintenance of the purity of their blood, the freedom and independence of the Fatherland; so that our people may be able to carry out the mission assigned them by the Creator of the universe. Every thought and every idea, every teaching and all learning, must serve this purpose. From this point of view everything is to be tested, and, according to its suitability, either applied or rejected.”

Hitler was completely invested in his audience. He told millions of Germans that they were Aryans with amazing charisma. It connected with the audience and made them feel “special” and racially better than the enemy. (Despite the ignorance and and hatred in this belief.) Furthermore, this connection helped cement the charismatic connection between leader and led, even though it was so wrong.

As a result, a madman was given the opportunity to run amuck in the world, because of his charisma.

Eye Witness

Emil Klein, who heard Hitler speak in the 1920’s said this.

“The man gave off such a charisma that people believed whatever he said.”

Charisma is one of the driving forces of influence, wether it’s for good or bad.

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