Journalists, eye-witnesses, and scholars have long regarded Adolf Hitler as one of the most powerful orators and propagandists in history. He is the archetype of an evil demagogue. Hitler’s persuasive skills undoubtedly helped lever him into power, resulting in a worldwide catastrophe unparalleled in recorded history. However, for more than a century, even his most perceptive critics have either distilled his persuasive powers into a simple list of nasty tricks or chalked it up to magical powers—in many cases inadvertently relying on Nazi talking points to explain the Führer’s unique persuasive abilities. But Hitler’s persuasive talents were neither simplistic nor magical. They were rhetorical.

Hitler’s Rhetoric examines how Hitler actually used rhetoric to persuade millions of people to support, or at least acquiesce to, Nazism. Drawing on original research, primary documents, and published histories, Dr. Ryan Skinnell explains how Hitler learned rhetoric, how he used it to attract fanatical supporters and attain power, and what made him so malignantly effective. In closely examining Hitler’s rhetoric, Skinnell challenges the conventional wisdom that Hitler was either a primitive demagogue or a supernatural wizard. Hitler and the Nazis were gifted theorists and practitioners of persuasion, but as it turns out, they were working from a deeply-rooted, decipherable rhetorical playbook. Skinnell shows how deciphering Hitler’s rhetoric can help make sense of his rise and reign, and even how it can help us recognize Hitler’s rhetoric in circulation nearly a century after his death.


Introduction: Magical Hitler
Section 1: Education

This section provides background about Hitler learned, trained, and practiced as a populist orator and what effects it had on his early development as a political agitator.

Chapter 1: Hitler’s Paideia
Chapter 2: Ausbildung vom Trommler, or Hitler’s Goes to Drum School
Chapter 3: The Führer’s Finishing School

Section 2: Practice

Chs. 4-7 survey some of Hitler’s most consistent rhetorical tactics, including figures of speech, performative habits, and argumentative strategies. Ch. 8 explains how he adapted the rhetorical lessons from his own speaking and propaganda to teach other Nazis throughout Germany how to be effective speakers and propagandists.

Chapter 4: Common Topics and Common Sense
Chapter 5: What’s So Common about Sense?
Chapter 6: Identifying (with) the Führer
Chapter 7: The Führer’s Rhetorical Physics
Chapter 8: The Rhetorical Headmaster

Section 3: Legacy

These chapters examine the legacy of Hitler’s rhetoric in the 21st century.

Chapter 9: Literal Nazi Rhetoric 100 Years Later
Chapter 10: Democracy’s Rhetorical Failure(s)
Chapter 11: Secret Nazis in Popular Rhetoric

Conclusion: Nazi Genes

Endorsements (under construction)

  • Hitler "stripped of his free speech," 1924


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“Hitler’s eloquence, his astonishing ability to move a German audience by speech, that more than anything else had swept him from oblivion to power as dictator and seemed likely to keep him there.”

William Shirer, The Nightmare Years

About Me

Dr. Ryan Skinnell is an award-winning writer and speaker. He is an expert in political rhetoric, especially as it relates to authoritarianism, demagoguery, and democracy. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Salon, among other places.