Discussion Questions for K. Burke’s “Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle”

Matthew Lipscomb

Dr. Heather Palmer

Propaganda & Persuasion, 3/10/2011

Discussion Questions for K. Burke’s “Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle”

1) Burke tells us that “Hitler combines and coalesces ideas the way that a poet combines or coalesces images” (158)-explain what he means by this and give examples

Essentially what Burke is describing here is Hitler’s rhetorical skill. Hitler understood that this was critical to the impartation of his ‘message’ and (as a side note, from an alternate historical source [William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich], Hitler is purported to have spent hours watching videos and studying picture frames of himself delivering his oratory. He understood that it was not just content but also style that was critical, in terms of his capability to connect with his intended audience. But all the intensity and theatrics (both visual/speech-related and textual/persuasion writing) are/were not sufficient without a degree of actual content (regardless, for that matter, if the material be sophistic or ontologically defensible). From this perspective – Hitler sought to persuasively write by incorporating various ontological substrates/contextual identifiers and sought to interrelate-intercontextualize them with one another. This endeavor (if successful) results in a transfer of teleological authority in the awareness/attention of the reader-viewer. In effect, the ‘power-posit’ of an idea is teleologically sublimated-transferred from one ontological base into another; the effect of which (for example) is to transfer/translate the power (as represented by the mystery, fear, wonder, love-of, or other subjective/objective-dimensional attributes of the given subject) from ‘one place – into another’ in the continuum of the participant’s imagination. For instance, Hitler incorporated sexuality into his arguments. By doing this – he captured the fear, the desire, the mystery, and the inescapability of sexuality that existed within the listener-reader’s imagination and moved them from one dimension into one of his own engineering – and whereas these ideas served as a emotio-existential ‘power source’ in the previous, contextual substrate (the reader-listener’s sexuality for example) this had the affect of them essentially then becoming the ‘power source’ for the ideological structure rhetorically assembled him (the speaker) within the imagination of the reader-listener. If this is successful – the fear and wonder powering the sexuality of the conversation participant – can power/suffuse their politics. An example of this – is Hitler’s portrayal of the Jew as a dirty old man – laying in wait to sexually defile ‘good, pure, German girls.’  This captures not just the desire to protect the sexuality of the imaginarily contextualized and idealized German girls – but also the subtle and disguised forces of jealousy on the part of young German men.


Sexuality is the most base, yet most irresistibly emotive-ethoic persuasional agent for any political/economic/marketing argument – and it is still pervasively used today.


A second, and equally powerful component of Hitler’s rhetoric – was that he was able to take elements of the church and incorporate them into his own ‘political religion’ by which he established Nazism as having very strong elements of religious ritualism. It is well known that an integral part of Nazi ideology was the pantheistic hero-worship archetypically resonate with traditional Germanic folk religion. As past heroes were worshiped as pseudo-divine entities, racial supremacy and “blood and soil” archetypes became pervasive and compelling dimensions to the way that Germans saw themselves in terms of global contextualization. They were superior from a divine/creational standpoint – and intended by God to rule the world. The issue was that this was from a Nietzschean “will-to-power” dichotomy vs. the traditional Judeo-Christian ‘strength-through-weakness’ and ‘leadership-through-servanthood’ dialectic(s). The Darwinian-Nietzschean ideology that formed the crux of Nazi political ideology borrowed from the Christian forms and structures and ‘echoed’ their ‘poetry’ through they had a completely different ‘sound’ and ‘meaning.’

Throughout the article, Burke makes the case that the strength of Hitlerian rhetoric is his “unification devices.” He lists several (155-156)—explain how they are used by Hitler and give examples of the following

2) Inborn dignity


The concept of inborn dignity is the idea that there is an engrained and irrevocable state or essence intrinsic to the human condition. From the perspective of American political history-theory, our own constitution reflects back on this when it says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”



3) Projection device


This is an important dynamic from both a religious and a political standpoint.


In terms of politics – it is a useful tool for the defining of self, or of the group. This identity is formed from relational differentiation – or a contrast with the other. For instance- Republicans will often describe Democrats as ‘tax and spend’ politicians. In this sense – an identity for the Republicans is formed by nature of the fact that they stand in opposition to the projected character of the Democrats.


In terms of religion – it functions in a two-fold manner. The first is from a salvic (or in the case of Christianity – a soteriological) standpoint. In order to save (or change the existent state) the sins (or corporate brokenness) are projected (by way of theology [belief-faith and/or ritual]) onto another entity and/or group. The second is by the incorporation of a separation dichotomy, whereby a dualist perspective is adopted and the division is made between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’.


Hitler utilized this dynamic by projecting the Jews as to be the problem (a political device, by referential qualification) but then he utilized both religious dynamics by offering a plan of salvation (via separation), which found its essence in understanding one race to be sacred-superior and the other profane-inferior.



4) Symbolic rebirth


This device builds upon the previous dynamics, in terms that it functionally incorporates them. This is also a part of the religious dichotomy – in terms that a Christian is thought to be ‘born again’ and to find a new life which begins at a definitive and defining point in time. For Hitler, he creates a moment – whereby he claims that Germany can find a new point in her own existence – whereby the old is put away and there is a new political-genetic lineage established.


5) Commercial Use


An ideology is more or less worthless if it is never intercontextually related: which is to say, if it never makes it off of the drawing board and is applied in some sense or dynamic – it cannot exert any effect or causes upon secondary ideologies and/or dynamics. Hitler was a master at “selling his ideology” to those who would both support it from a financial standpoint (banks, business leaders) and those who vote/fight for it (political leaders, workers, academics). His process entailed the idea of finding a way to make it sellable to a third party. One of the ways that he did this was giving it a marketing potential in terms of how attractive it would be to a potential customer: anyone looking for an ideology to adopt, or essentially consume. By scapegoating the Jews – he was able to put a Germanic face upon his ideology – which made it very fashionable to fellow Germans and tapped into national pride.


6) What is the “persecution mania” Hitler is symptomatic of? See page 162. Burke quotes from Freud’s Totem and Taboo—how does it apply to Hitler? Note that Burke tells us that Hitler is forging a new identity—that of the Aryan against the old identity of the Hebrew. How does this fit into the father-son Oedipal dynamic? (persecution of the son by the father)



It potentially fits into the Oedipal dynamic – but I think that it may be an academic extrapolation/nuance. In my own opinion – there is a tendency within secular-Marxist thinking to try to absolve Hitler of any kind of sense of innate evil – by virtue of having an alternate or non-existent comprehension of it. It is the embodiment of a radical relativism, one that essentially makes Hitler’s problems tangential in some regard; which is to argue that he was not evil or wrong – but merely out of step with a presupposed standard. I once heard a student exclaim that she had “’gotten’ it and understood that everything was simply relative to something else.” And if “Hitler walked in the door of this room – I would kiss him on the lips!”


Hitler, by virtue of his contextual relation from his own political substrate, was ‘born’ out of it. “It” was a hot bed of thuggery, violence, national disaffection, doubt in what seemed to be the failure of capitalism and democracy, and a mixture of competing political ideologies from virtually every conceivable spectrum. Hitler is the bastard son of all these – and he carried the doubt (of the so-called ‘other’), the violence and the extreme idealism of communist and anarchist thought, and the radical pride and hope of the German people as defined by unimaginable-to-us-today economic suffering. The only pragmatics employed is the accepted use of violence as both a “handmaiden for change” (Marx) and a continuance of the break from other rules (anarchism). He shares all their DNA, yet they are all out to kill him – and he uses the violence and forms of relativism, absolutism, idealism, and pragmatism as they are present in their natural forms within them themselves.



About hollerscholar

I'm a theology & philosophy student, writer, web developer, and medical laboratory professional.
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