A Political Speech Analysis.

I got back a paper I wrote for my Comm 4010 class – perusuasion – and the teacher had written across the top of the page something like “This is way beyond the level I expect for a 4000 level SUU student.”  It made me happy and prideful.  I thought I would post it on here in case anybody is interested in reading an analysis of one of Hitler’s speeches of 1941. 

Hitler’s May 4, 1941 Speech in
Berlin, the Reichstag

            For this paper I will apply the “Ethos, Pathos, Logos” model to the speech that Adolf Hitler gave in
Berlin on May 4, 1941.  For this analysis we will consider each part of the Aristotelian model one at a time in an effort to reveal any patterns in this speech. 

            Ethos could be called a speaker’s moral authority in the eyes (or perhaps more accurately, the ears) of the listeners.  Ethos is a measure of how much trust an audience gives to a speaker based on perceived trustworthiness.  It can be called the character of the speaker. 

            In today’s society people often express disbelief that somebody like Hitler could gain and maintain the support of a nation.  It is a credit to his skills of rhetoric that he was able to maintain an image of such righteousness in the midst of such atrocities being committed by the organization of which he was the head.  In the speech of May 4, Hitler spends much of the beginning of the speech condemning the enemy and assuring the people of his own purity and good desires.  In the first paragraph he flatters those who are in action and humbly insinuates that he hopes to be forgiven for taking time away from those who are ‘doing’ by giving a speech – and this is accomplished in a masterful way.  He does not overtly point at the military man whose “deeds count,” nor to himself as a humble leader as deserving praise; but he creates the impression that this is how he sees the situation and it comes across as practically charming.

            Hitler’s use of ethos is constant, but most intense at the beginning of this speech.  In this speech he does not miss any opportunity to elevate other’s opinions of himself.  In fact, he never once speaks about himself without directly or more often indirectly attaching some positive attribute to himself.  He begins by indicating that he has been endeavoring “to come to an understanding with Britian” (p. 1), proposes “understanding,” and indicates that his desire is only to serve the German people (who are, of course, above repute).

            An example of his skillful speaking follows.  In the following sample he both elevates himself by suggesting he has great concern about the life and happiness of every individual, while simultaneously indicating blame for the damage done during war is his enemies’ in a subtle use of pathos.

            “…I considered that I owed it to our German people and countless men and women in the opposite camps, who as individuals were as decent as they were innocent of blame, to make yet another appeal to the common sense and the conscience of these statesmen… I therefore once more publicly stated that Germany had neither demanded nor intended to demand anything from Britain or from France, that it was madness to continue the war and, above all, that the scourge of modern weapons of warfare, once they were brought into action, would inevitably ravage vast territories.”  (p. 3)

            This quote takes place near the beginning of this speech.  After this quote, Hitler takes every opportunity to point himself out as a person who has “made appeals,” or “sought peace.”  The beginning of the speech is used primarily to establish the credibility of Hitler, which is then re-enforced as the speech goes on.  Clearly, this speech makes good use of this part of rhetoric, to Hitler’s benefit.

            Pathos is the appeal to the emotions of the listener.  This can be any kind of emotion.  Hitler uses his skills of rhetoric for the creation of listener pathos more than anything else.   Although his speech here is given in the guise of an informative style speech, it’s really a persuasive speech.  The persuasion he is doing in this speech is that Hitler is good, Churchill is evil, and all that has occurred is justified on the part of the Germans and unjustifiable on the part of the British.  Hitler’s greatest tool in this kind of persuasion (that is persuading without overtly stating what he’s trying to persuade you of) is his appeal to pathos.

            In this speech, Hitler’s appeals to pathos focus on two main categories, one positive, one negative.  The first is that he attaches positive images and phrasing to his descriptions of
Germany, the Reich, and himself.  The second is that he attempts to create negative emotions when he talks about Winston Churchill.  His attacks on his enemies are focused almost entirely on Churchill. 

            Some of the adjectives he uses when describing Churchill or Churchill’s actions (however almost always indirectly used) are: fanatical, diabolical, unscrupulous, reckless, drunk, warmonger, conjurer, careless, criminal, fool, paralytic, diseased, abnormal, madman, selfish, instigator, bad soldier, bad politician, exaggerator, truth distorter, defeated, hopeless, and loser.  The vast majority of these slanderous (slanderous with perhaps the exception of ‘drunk’ if reports are to be believed) accusations are made in the first quarter of the speech.  Hitler first points to the injustices of the war against his people thus far, (for example: “there was no scruple about sacrificing the blood of the peoples.”) then directs that anger towards his desired target: Churchill.  All the while Hitler was pointing out his own purity in passing: that he had appealed for peace and freedom countless times but to no avail.

            Attacks against Churchill in this speech aren’t all overt, though many are.   Many are made by implication and comparison.  For instance, Hitler points out again and again Germany’s desire to give benefit to her neighbor countries in a way that implies that
Britain and Churchill are wicked because of their efforts to stop the righteous Germans from providing the peace and security they offer.  Hitler, having explained this situation, then uses this as an emotional and logical justification for his actions.

            Yes, because Churchill was such a monster, Hitler claims,
Germany is forced into action.  And this is where Hitler blends appeals to Ethos and Pathos with appeals to Logos.  He leads the listener to believe that you are justified in attacking your enemies because of how evil they are.  The “Jew-ridden democracies, which can think only in terms of capitalism…” (p. 4) are naturally the enemies of the Reich, which “has always endeavored to build up and strengthen…” its neighboring nations.

            This emotionally driven logic composes the remainder of Hitler’s speech, in which he describes the actions of the state up until this speech.  He follows this pattern:  First he builds up
Germany, focusing on how kind and benevolent she is and how desperately all other nations need her guidance and support.  He points out how he has made deal after deal with the surrounding nations “which made no demands whatsoever… but only offered advantages” to their neighbors. 

            After establishing the goodness of
Germany, Hitler then points to some treachery of Winston Churchill as the cause of strife and death on the continent.  The invasion of Greece “was not directed against
Greece,” Hitler assures, but against the British forces who threatened to land there.  Hitler wanted to give Yugoslavia every opportunity to join the Threepower Pact and gain every advantage available to the friends of the Reich, but “
Yugoslavia fell a victim to British intrigue.” 
Germany was forced to invade, while Hitler says “God knows I wanted peace.”

            The speech concludes with many appeals to the emotions of the military man.  Phrases like “Nothing is impossible to for the German soldier” and “The training of our officers is excellent beyond comparison,” are frequently spoken as Hitler describes the statistics of the battles.  At the same time, Hitler resumes his attacks on Churchill, concluding his evaluation of the prime minister with:

“Churchill, one of the most hopeless dabblers in strategy, thus managed to lose two theaters of war at one single blow.  The fact that this man, who in any other country would be court-martialed, gained fresh admiration as Prime Minister cannot be construed as an expression of magnanimity such as was accorded by Roman senators to generals honorably defeated in battle.  It is merely proof of that perpetual blindness with which the gods afflict those whom they are about to destroy.”  (p. 10)

            Hitler concludes his speech with a word or two about the nobility of the Reich and the pure desires of the people, and the morality of both, “which is superior to any possible coalition in the world,” surely leaving his listeners shining with German pride, and anxious to follow their courageous leader against the evil forces of democracy.  While Hitler’s use of logos in this speech is not as powerful or as skillfully done as his emotional appeals, it may be simply because he didn’t have much logic to draw off of to justify his actions.  Clearly more research is in order to determine his skill in this area.

            There is a clear pattern in this speech.  At the beginning, Hitler establishes his credibility.  He then immediately flatters the German people while simultaneously attacking Churchill.  Once emotion has been aroused and trust created, Hitler continues on describing what has happened and giving direction to the soldier whose emotions were aroused at the beginning of the speech, directing them to continued action and support of the Reich.  He then concludes with another compliment to the people and to himself.

            Adolf Hitler demonstrates in this speech a masterful ability with ethos, pathos, and logos.  However his greatest skills lay in exploiting the emotions of his listeners to provoke them to action.  His speech included great subtlety, and it seems unlikely that the listeners were consciously aware that he was making an effort to develop in them a hatred of certain individuals and groups.  Hitler would then use this emotional foundation as his springboard into logical argument.  While he never once said “Democracies are backed by Jews and all Jews are evil, therefore Democracy is evil,” he implied simply by how he used his logic that there was no question.  The listener felt no need to question the logic of his argument since they knew from what Hitler said that the enemy is pure evil and that Hitler himself is perfectly trustworthy.

           It is interesting in analysis to discover that appeals to pathos and ethos can override much of the need for logical argument in a persuasive situation.  Surely this and other speeches combined with the actions of the Reich prove that emotion and trust can motivate just as effectively (or more) than logic alone.  It should come as no surprise, then, when modern politicians attempt to use these appeals rather than explain clearly and logically what they have done or will do.  It should also come as no surprise that, after having witnessed what can happen when this technique is used, the American people in the majority are mistrusting of politicians.

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10 Responses to “A Political Speech Analysis.”

  1. Ryan Says:

    This is a well done analysis. congrats

  2. Laura-Asheyl Says:

    I loved your essay. It was very well written.
    Like you said, it’s amazing how underrated ethos is but yet, in Hitler’s case, it was the key to his success. Not only did he speak using ethos, but he used it in his delivery as well.

    I must ask was it circumstantial that ethos worked so well for Hitler? Meaning, were the people of Germany not intellectually developed enough to see beyond the ethos driven speeches? Do you think its possible that another person could appeal the same way in speeches as Hitler did by following his methods?

    • mia zagara Says:

      Short answer: (assuming you are American) 1) It is not possible to really understand what people go through when they have lived through a war in their own country. I don’t, but that’s the best answer I got after studying French literature in Grad School (some odd stuff) and it is the answer I include when ever it comes up in my classes. 2) The Treaty of Versailles from WWI. Not only do you have a war crisscrossing your state (or smaller country than the U.S.) but you and the rest of your country have to suffer the devastating economic consequences, not to mention the psychological effects of a treaty that even other European countries actually somewhat agree is a “too punitive” penalty. And by no accounts were the German people not intellectually developed. That is one of the things that is most interesting about Hitler’s rise.

      To the current day: think about the methods used by politicians today. What has changed? They use ethos and pathos primarily–largely on a population that can’t even grasp logic. Everyone gets a vote no matter how uneducated, irrational and ignorant they are. And those votes count as much as mine. It is a troubling situation.

  3. Meagan Says:

    Greg, I hope you don’t mind if I use your paper to introduce rhetoric to my class. It’s such a great example of the power of rhetoric…Meagan

  4. Nick Says:

    Laura, I think Hitler’s rhetoric worked so well because the people of Germany were ready to hear such a speech. Had it come along at a time when the country had been economically stroong it would have fallen on deaf ears. Hitler was very good at identifying what the people needed to hear

  5. katherine Says:

    it is very nice article , we are doing discourse analysis of Hitler speech and your information is so much help.still you need to be deeply analyzing the way his logic provoke people from unconscious stage to conscious one . Thank and Best wish to you

  6. Corey Says:

    This article helped quite a bit in my year 11 Modern history assignment. (3 2000 word assignments all at once in 2 weeks *groan*) Thanks

  7. yves bernard Says:

    I am looking for an specialist of Hitler speeches in Washington for an documantary
    Thanks

  8. CJC Says:

    Dear Greg,
    Having read your essay I was very impressed. Would you be interested in publishing it on a history site. http://www.history-on-the-web.com is a new site that pays royalties and a bonus scheme (details on site) and as the author you retain full copyright. We would love to have you on board.

  9. Phillip Says:

    thanks very much mate,
    this essay helped very much with my understanding of ethos pathos and logos.
    it also helped heaps with my extended response for my english half yearly on distinktive voices,
    in all very well written and hope to see some more helpful essays to come yet
    cheers mate


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