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Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt and Churchill: Communication between Political Leaders and Their Audiences in Interwar Europe and United States


The picture of the 20th century leaderships in social sciences and humanities is still dominated by a number of uncritically accepted postulates such as (1) ascription of special manipulative) properties to Nazi, Soviet or Fascist language; (2) fixation on vocabulary only(G.Orwell's ‘newspeak’) and (3) belief in suggestive power of classical rhetoric projected onto semi-literate masses.
These theses find little empirical support in recent scholarship. It turns out that (1) manipulation is typical for political communication even in modern democracies, (2) fuzzy logic has proved more useful in swaying public opinions than ‘wrong’ vocabulary, and (3) the image of scarcely educated people enjoying Ciceronian rhetoric of tyrants does not pass serious scrutiny: Hitler's speeches in German regions were negatively related to his popularity up to 1933, and influenced positively only those who knew and supported his views.
Still, few attempts at isolating informational flows between chief executives and their constituencies have been made, so we are still in the dark about the knowledge gained by an average listener of Roosevelt's fireside chat or a participant of a Nazi rally in Nuremberg. The first samples show that preexisting knowledge about the speaker, communicative setting, voice or gestures could play a crucial role, whereas the verbal content would mostly fill the gaps. To prove or disprove this hypothesis, a set of linguistic and anthropological methods is applied to the model of direct communication constructed by pairing messages (political speeches of Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill) with feedbacks (direct responses to those speeches in private letters).
The importance of knowing how communication between political leaders and their audiences actually worked may be of significant interest for European political practitioners and their constituencies, mutually dependent on better understanding and more efficient interaction.

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327 Mile End Road
E1 4NS London
United Kingdom

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Schonle Andreas (Prof.)
EU contribution
€ 279 680