Using glittering generalities as a means of propaganda allows you to sway the beliefs of your listeners, without actually giving them a concrete reasoning. It involves using words associated with high valued ideals.
One of the most effective examples of propaganda techniques would be the oratory skills of Adolf Hitler. Hitler, once he started talking, would send the crowd into raptures, making them believe with all their hearts in the Aryan country he wanted to set up, and the pride in the fatherland that the people of Germany should feel.
One of the many techniques that Hitler employed while trying to sway the crowd was using glittering generalities in his speeches. Use of words associated with ideals like freedom, integrity, and pride allowed him to have a hold over the citizens of Germany, which would have been otherwise impossible.
What is it?
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis which popularized the use of this form of propaganda explained it by saying that, “Glittering generality is, in short, name calling in reverse. While name calling seeks to make us form a judgment to reject and condemn without examining the evidence, the glittering generality device seeks to make us approve and accept without examining the evidence.” It was in 1938 that the Institute added it as one of the seven main types of propaganda techniques.
The first use of the term though can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when Abraham Lincoln in a letter to Henry L. Pierce cited how political opponents criticized the principles of Thomas Jefferson as a glittering generality.
Words appeal to the emotions of a person and cause people to form an association with principles and beliefs that are highly valued. Most of these words manage to get people to support the ideals without having any concrete foundation or information to base it on. There is no logical explanation that people look for when being influenced and inspired by these emotionally charged words.
Most politicians use this technique as a means of propaganda, especially during elections. It is an extremely effective way of raising support for a campaign without any logical reason behind it. Advertisers are another professional community that make use of this technique to market their products and services.
The easiest explanation of the term glittering or glowing generality can come from dissecting the term itself. In simple language, these are the words that make something glitter or sparkle while using words that are generic in nature. At a certain level, they can be likened to the poetry by Wordsworth in the collection Lyrical Ballads, wherein he made extremely commonplace things seem like they defied earthly rules.
A person using this technique as a means of propaganda will never put himself or herself in a position, where the use of the word can cause him to be questioned about his motive or criticized. In fact, a speaker using this technique makes vague statements using nouns and words that have a positive connotation, which appeals to the emotional self of the listeners. While its speakers or users do not outrightly state an argument, using these purposely vague statements allow them to suggest the argument they are trying to sell to the listeners and viewers.
The two most important features of any term that uses this technique is that, it is vague and it will definitely have a positive connotation for the person listening. While most words do have subjective connotations, these words work by being associated with concepts that result in powerful, positive emotions. Most of them have connotations that are highly moral in nature, despite being difficult to explain or define.
They may sound like the person using the term means everything he is saying from the bottom of his heart, but the sincerity may be a foolproof method of getting the listener to agree. This does not mean that these generalities always are a means of fooling people. During India’s struggle for independence, freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, while addressing a rally had very famously stated, “You give me blood and I will get you freedom.” One of the best examples, this famous line motivated a lot of youngsters appealing to the patriotism in them.
The effect of using these techniques is magnified, when you use them in comfortable surroundings and also enhance your speech with use of figures of speech like alliteration and metaphor. This makes the words seem more lyrical and poetic in nature, appealing to the listeners on a deeper level. Some of the best examples are ones that use terms like freedom, democracy, love, peace, honesty, integrity, etc.