“Lone wolf” device

“There is first of all the “lone wolf” trick. It is taken from the arsenal of Hitler, who always used to boast … about the fact that others controlled the press, the radio – everything; and that he had nothing. [He] slightly modifies this by specifically insisting he has no politician’s money behind him. …. This modification results from [him] playing upon the American distrust of the professional politician who is supposed to profit privately by making a racket of public matters. Since [he] himself, like his fellow agitators, shows all the characteristics of a political racketeer, he is all the more anxious to shift the onus of such occupation upon those from whom he claims to be detached. Fewer, he reasons, will believe him a racketeer, if he thus violently attacks racketeering. It is incidentally one of the most outstanding characteristics of fascist and anti-Semitic propagandists that they blame their victims in an almost compulsory way for exactly the things which they themselves are doing or hope to do. Counterpropaganda should consequently point out concretely that they are doing the self-same things about which they they profess to be furious. There is practically no category of fascist propaganda to which this rule cannot be applied. It is this pattern through which the mechanism of psychological “projection” makes itself felt throughout fascist ideology.

Apart from playing up one’s own courage and integrity in order to win the confidence of those who feel that they are underdogs and alone, there is a deeper calculation implied in the “lone wolf” device. It allays the universal and ever-increasing fear of manipulation. This fear grows out of sales resistance and terminates in the semi-conscious belief that no word uttered in public has either objective significance or represents even the speaker’s private conviction. It is thought of as propaganda in the broadest sense, serving the interest of some strong agency paying for every public statement that is made. The reason for this attitude lies, of course, in the economic centralization and monopolization of the channels of communication. The claim that “no politician’s money is behind me” amounts to the pretension that the statements one makes are spontaneous – not yet directed by monopolistic organization. However, that attitude towards manipulation and, therefore, the psychological function of this device must not be oversimplified. Under present social conditions, people are not only afraid of manipulation, but also, conversely, they long for it and for the guidance of those who they realize are strong and capable of protecting them. The hierarchical nature of our economic organization has increased the desire to be passively manipulated. Moreover, the borderline between “objective statements” and propagandistic devices begins to become more and more fluid. The more power is concentrated in the agencies and individuals who control the channels of communication, the more their propaganda amounts to “truth” insofar as it expresses true power relations. It is highly significant that in Germany the Goebbels office is called the Ministerium fur Volksaufklarung und Propaganda (ministry of public enlightenment and propaganda) and thus in its very name identifies objective truth, about which one is supposed to be enlightened, with the propaganda words of the party. They do not expect it to be taken quite seriously, and it probably never is. While they play upon public distrust of manipulation by the present powers within communications and party politics, they suggest with the “lone wolf” trick that in fact very much is behind them, namely the true powers that be, as opposed to the official title holders. In the present phase, stirring up hatred against monopolism is one of the means of promoting the final victory of totalitarianism. The listener who hears daily over a big radio station that the speaker is lonely and working on his own account, realizes that he is not backed by the openly known and established agencies of today but rather by the potential power of the integrated collectivity and the “secret kingdom to come” of which one becomes a citizen by submerging oneself in it as early as possible. Just the defamation of manipulation is the means of manipulation. People are skillfully made to believe that the initiative is with them and their model, the speaker. The more they are stripped of spontaneity, the more their supposed spontaneity is upheld as an ideology.”

Pp. 4-6 in Adorno, Theodor W. 2000. The Psychological Technique of Martin Luther Thomas’ Radio Addresses. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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