[Source: Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda by Leonard W. Doob, published in Public Opinion and Propaganda; A Book of Readings edited for The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. ]

Goebbels was the Third Reich’s Propaganda Minister, and the principles below are translated from his diaries by Doob.

Note the principles I’ve asterisked. They’re used today not only by governments but by non-government organizations as well as governments. The principles in their entirety could be used by organizations to strongly influence the actions and opinions of their members (e.g., think NRA or websites like the Daily KOS or Townhall)

Also note the shaded comments. Those are comments made by Doob, based on his extensive study of Goebbels’ diaries.

— Rth


  1. The propagandist must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.
  2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority.

    • It must issue all the propaganda directives.
    • It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.
    • It must oversee other agencies’ activities which have propaganda consequences
  3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action.
  4. Propaganda must affect the enemy’s policy and action.

    • By suppressing propagandistically desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence
    • By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions
    • By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself
    • By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference would discredit that activity
  5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign
  6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium. *
  7. Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false. *

    “Truth, he thought, should be used as frequently as possible; otherwise the enemy or the facts themselves might expose falsehood, and the creditibility of his own output would suffer.”
  8. The purpose, content and effectiveness of enemy propaganda; the strength and effects of an expose; and the nature of current propaganda campaigns determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.

    “If it seemed that the goal of the propaganda was to elicit a reply, he was silent . . . On the other hand, a reply was made if it were felt that the enemy statement was considered false, Goebbels believed that only the blatant ones should be exposed. . . . Ineffective enemy claims required no reply . . . Goebbels examined his own propaganda arsenal before he assayed a reply. He kept silent if he believed that his case, in the absence of facts or arguments, would appear too weak.”
  9. Credibility, intelligence, and the possible effects of communicating determine whether propaganda materials should be censored.
  10. Material from enemy propaganda may be utilized in operations when it helps diminish that enemy’s prestige or lends support to the propagandist’s own objective.
  11. Black rather than white propaganda may be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects. *

    “By “black” propaganda is meant material whose source is concealed from the audience.”
  12. Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige. *
  13. Propaganda must be carefully timed. *

    • The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda.

      “Whoever speaks the first word to the world is always right.
    • A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment

      ” . . . he stated that counter-propaganda against enemy claims should not be too long delayed: “one should not let such lying reports sink in too deeply.” ”
    • A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness
  14. Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans. *

    • They must evoke desired responses which the audience previously possesses

      “if the words could elicit such responses, then Goebbels’ propaganda task consisted of simply of linking those words to the event which thereafter would acquire their flavor.”

    • They must be capable of being easily learned

      “It must make use of painting in black-and-white, since otherwise it cannot be convincing to people”
    • They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations
    • They must be boomerang-proof
  15. Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.
  16. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level. *

    “For Goebbels, anxiety was a double-edged sword: too much anxiety could produce panic and demoralization, too little could lead to complacency and inactivity. An attempt was constantly made, therefore, to achieve a balance between the two extremes.”
    • Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat
    • Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and which cannot be reduced by people themselves
  17. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration.

    • Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated

      “Goebbels’ reasoning seems to have been that a frustration would be less frustrating if the element of surprise or shock were eliminated. A present loss was thus endured for the sake of a future gain.”
    • Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective
  18. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for
    hatred. *
  19. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.*

    “Goebbels clearly recognized his own propaganda impotency in six situations. The basic drives of sex and hunger were not appreciably affected by propaganda. Air raids brought problems ranging from discomfort to death which could not be gainsaid. Propaganda could not significantly increase industrial production. The religious impulse of many Germans could not be altered, at least during the war. Overt opposition by individual Germans and by peoples in the occupied countries required forceful action, not clever words. Finally, Germany’s unfavorable military situation became an undeniable fact.”