If we repeat an expression often enough, do we forget its origin and real purpose?

I bet at least once in your life you’ve heard the expression or words to this effect: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.” Interestingly, I’ve heard it spoken by those most often in a position of power. I wonder if that’s simply a coincidence. And I wonder, also, if it’s not.

If you have heard that expression, now let me ask: Do you know its source? The original person who said it and why? It’s a good one to know, because it connects you with its history: the truly troubling significance and repercussions of the phrase. It’s also yet another of many reasons why I hate spin so much. It has – as with all spin – its roots in moral turpitude, but let’s just call it evil, since the shoe fits.

So why did it come about, who said it and for what purpose?

Joseph Goebbels said it. That’s right, the Minister of Propaganda for the ‘Third’ Reich, the Nazi Government of WW2. So a Nazi-lying scum-sucking spinmeister said it and sometimes we hear people quote it – as if it’s an amusing bon mot (clever remark/witticism). Heck, we may even be tempted to quote it ourselves.

If we did know it was Goebbels and it was in aid of fascist propaganda to keep hidden the truth of the Nazis’ genocidal extermination programme to kill all “undesirables” – the Jews, gays (to a lesser extent, lesbians, because the Reich regarded all women necessary as “baby machines”, besides seeing them as less of a threat to their masculinity), those with severe disabilities of mind and/or limb, political dissenters, and others – to keep that truth hidden from entire populations and other countries’ populations invaded by the Nazis in WW2 – well, I wonder if we’d still have the stomach to be so pithy and so easy about its use?

Clearly, the context and origins of who said it and why are genuinely disturbing. Goebbels’ full remarks from which this blogpost’s first mention of it came, were:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

He even said it more succinctly (he did consider himself a gentleman, after all), as:

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

Nowadays, when I hear someone say the casual expression of “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth”, or words to that effect, politely I ask that person if they know who said it first (often we don’t) and wonder if they’d be willing to use it thereafter without acknowledging that Goebbels said it. I also ask if they’d still cite it given its horrific and catastrophic history of consequence. Would you join me in such polite questioning and observation that’d help to contribute real understanding, not spin?

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