Tuesday 17 January 2017

The Harmsworth Principle

Alfred Harmsworth, Viscount Rothermere
Yes, I've deliberately picked a picture of him looking nasty, silly and pompous, as a nice example of just the sort of attack-politic technique he pioneered.

Is your life not going quite as you hoped? Your cleverly-laid plans not quite working out? Don't worry, it isn't your fault. It is the fault of the Enemy People. Join us in the great fight for freedom from The Enemy people, and you can only win, win win!

The 'Harmwsorth Principle' is the idea, said to have been invented by Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Daily Mail newspaper, that, if you want to get people to laud and follow you, you must first give them something to hate and fear, "give them something new to hate every day". The principle is probably older than that, but it remains the same - if your constituency are frightened and angry, they'll follow the one who offers to explain or protect them from the supposed evil.


It is broadly the same principle as that explained by the jailed Nazi Hermann Göring; "the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

The real power of the principle seems to have become apparent after Harmsworth commissioned a series of articles 'The Invasion of 1910' for his Daily Mail outlining a possible German attack on Britain. This, entirely fictional account, was accompanied by fake posters warning the public of the foul Germans and even salesmen dressed as German soldiers parading through central London. At the time there was not the slightest argument between Britain and Germany, but by 1914, they were at war, leading to the accusation that "Other than the Kaiser nothing has done more to bring about the war than the Daily Mail". The 'Invasion' stories, and the subsequent war, were hugely successful for Harmsworth's sales and brought him immense wealth.

From then on, The Mail has carried on a vigorous and ever-changing campaign against some supposed enemy or other; Jews, Italians and foreigners in general. It has often been characterised as the 'Daily Hate'. In the 1920s it turned on supposed communists and in 1924 the Daily Mail produced the entirely fake 'Zinoviev letter', which suggested that British Communists were planning violent revolution. This is generally seen as a significant factor in the defeat of Ramsay MacDonald's mildly socialist Labour Party in the general election, held four days later.

The Principle seems to work because humans are fiercely attuned to spot danger, while commonplace safety and security are almost always ignored. Terrors terrify and make us spring to action, while everyday comforts pass by unnoticed. This seems odd, yet the mechanism in the brain which causes it to construct the mind this way seems to be surprisingly easily explained.

At the same time, many people have aspects of their lives which are not at all satisfactory. So, to offer an explanation for their ills by blaming them on some, almost always imaginary, enemy is highly appealing. In this way, the would-be Harmsworth doesn't actually need any followers to get started – create the hate, and they'll come to you.

The Daily Mail could be pro-Europe when they could make an enemy of the French Government, then anti-Europe when they could make an enemy of the European Union
You'd think the easiest enemy to set up would be some sort of bad people. Like robbers and murderers. But that won't do, because everyone hates them, so you aren't going to get any special following by adding your name to the list. Anyway, criminals have knives and guns and anger, so are not necessary the best people to get on the wrong side of.

In fact, the enemy pretty much has to be imaginary.

A real enemy would be someone your followers could meet, and then discover that they are quite nice, really. Even worse, the enemy might come round to your way of thinking. Either way, then you wouldn't have an enemy at all, and then you'd be screwed. The enemy has to be an outsider, of course. But foreigners, for instance, aren't by any means necessarily enemies, so you need imaginary, nasty, foreigners as enemies. Not, you know, like the nice Mr Chevalier down the road, but those dirty foreigners from, erm, somewhere else. And not the elderly Daisy and Dot, but the Bad homosexuals. The evil Jews, not nice Dr Goldberg.

Who's next?

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