Fact check: Joseph Goebbels misquote on “converting intellectuals” resurfaces 

Social media users have been sharing an image with a quote attributed to Nazi politician Joseph Goebbels. This passage is not a direct quote from Goebbels, for being Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany prior to and during World War Two, although it is likely to represent his views.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Examples of the claim can be seen  here  and  here

As Minister of Propaganda, Paul Joseph Goebbels was known for presenting the Nazi regime in the best possible light. He died in 1945 ( here ). The posts attribute the following quote to Goebbels: “There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyway always yield to the stronger, and this will always be “the man in the street.” Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.” 

The quote stems from the introduction of the 1978 book “Final Entries, 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels” which was edited, introduced and annotated by English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. ( here )  

The quote can be found in a similar edition published in 1979 called “The Goebbels Diaries: The Last Days”, also edited, introduced and annotated by Trevor-Roper. On page 19, paragraph one (visible  here ) Trevor-Roper wrote:

“Often he laid down his general rules. “The fundamental principle of all propaganda,” he declared, was “the repetition of effective arguments”; but those arguments must not be too refined – there was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyway always yield to the stronger, “and this will always be the man in the street”.* Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not to the intellect. Truth was unimportant, and entirely subordinate to the tactics and psychology, but convenient lies (“poetic truth”, as he once called them) must always be made credible.”

A blog called “Goebbels Didn’t Say It” by Professor Randall Bytwerk of Calvin University addresses inaccurate quotes by the Nazi statesman that have been circulating online ( here ). Professor Bytwerk reached the same finding in his blog about the quote in these claims, sourcing it to the introduction to “Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels.” He adds that “it is a reasonable summary of Goebbels’s views— but he never would have put it in that way. As I’ve observed before, in public he always maintained that propaganda had to be truthful.” ( here

British historian Richard J. Evans told Reuters via email that indeed the words in the claim are not directly from Goebbels, adding the quote is “a précis of what Goebbels wrote, so not the exact words, though doubtless Trevor Roper accurately summed up what Goebbels wrote.”


Partly false. These words come from the introduction of a book about Goebbels and are likely to reflect his views but are not a direct quote.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work  here  .