Was Adolf Hitler Stupid?


Originally published at: http://timeghost.tv/was-adolf-hitler-stupid/

In a few days we will publish a video about Hitler’s and Ludendorff’s attempted Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Now, that event is so obviously flawed that it begs for the question; “what the hell were they thinking???” That in turn leads us to the oft debated question about Hitler’s intelligence. I attempted an answer…


Is this a good definition of intelligence?


That was a good article. Looking forward to the Beer Hall Putsch video.


All the other top Nazis had high IQs, verging on genius for at least some.

On a vaguely related note, the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, commissioned a psychoanalysis of Hitler in 1943, the text of which is available online.


Steinhäusl, Heydrich, Nebe and Kaltenbrunner being the Presidents of Interpol was no accident.


The reason that Alex Wissner-Gross has put forward his suggestion for the formula to work out intelligence that I used in the article is that IQ doesn’t provide for a very functional definition of intelligence. He’s following the oft made point that IQ tests are flawed in as much as that they only look at a theoretical definition of intelligence lacking a test section for how intelligence is applied. In other words; this posits that IQ is not a correct measure fo actual smarts, and you could be frightfully stupid and yet have a genius level IQ score. I’m not in any way positing that every one of the Nazis were stupid - that would assume that morality and a sense of ethics is prerequisite for intelligence, which leaves us in a region of contentious definition of intelligence based on values. Wissner-Gross model thankfully does away with that by looking at universal values like freedom of action and potential for success with whatever it is you set out to do. I am however saying that just because they had IQ’s it doesn’t mean they were smart. Without having any evidence for it, I’ll assume that Hitler would have scored above average on IQ as well, and I still remain convinced the he was stupid.


I like your theory, but I’m not sure I agree with your opinion. Hitler certainly did many stupid things, many of them were military blunders (which I guess the Beer Hall Putsch would fall under too), but he was an extremely shrewd politician, and above all a master propagandist. That surely can not be done by any village idiot. Just look at his court hearing just after the Putsch. He knew it was quite hopeless to plead for a reduced sentence, so instead he made it a big stage for his propaganda, which gave him massive exposure not only in Germany but over the entire world. It was (if I remember correctly) the reason Goebbels got involved with the Nazi party*, it was because he was so intrigued by this masterful play of the press. I also suppose that a stupid person wouldn’t lead an entire people into a world war, closely following his lead. Of course he was aided by geniuses, but they all followed HIM. Interested to see the debate continued in this thread.

*He wrote that in his diary on the day Hitler’s court hearing speech made the newspapers (source: Joseph Goebbels’ biography written by Curt Riess)


I work at a university. I’ve seen a lot of supposedly very intelligent people do some very stupid and shortsighted things. Hitler had the kind of intelligence needed to read what was going on around him and use that to propel himself into power. Once there, he had no real clue about what to do next and none of the mental tools needed to figure that part out.


I wonder if naive wouldn’t be a better term than stupid, at least in terms of military decisions.


The idea you’re forwarding is very related to the ‘Strong Man Theory’ that posits that single individuals of power forge history. Not only has that theory been pretty thoroughly disassembled and debunked within historiography, but the argument also ignores that ‘it takes two to tango’. Hitler didn’t appear in a vacuum out of nowhere and he didn’t suddenly twist things in a new direction. There were many, many forces that were driving in the same direction that Hitler wanted to go, finally he surfed a wave of support that grew as many, many came together to pull him forward.

Well, again it takes more than just his actions to successfully ‘play the media’ - the media needs to be willing to be played as well, and there has to be an audience willing to listen. Actually knowing how to attract attention to your own self is not forcibly a sign of intelligence. You could even by the equation I used argue that the bullying, grand standing, outrageous behaviour that you have to display to get that kind of attention is stupid, since it reduces your forward options keeping you trapped in the troll nest that you thus build.

I would posit that ONLY a stupid person would lead an entire people into a world war, especially when the people in question make up about 2.8% of humanity and don’t have the resources to actually fight that war. Also the people of Germany didn’t want a war… but by 1939 the ‘geniuses’ of the Nazi party had eroded any resistance to whatever they wanted to do and there was no stopping the Führer and his cohorts from stupidly committing mass suicide.

You cannot speak of following someone in a dictatorship - you can speak of enabling the future dictator at an early stage and this creates responsibility for creating the power of the dictator and the results, but once the dictator is installed it’s no longer following, but forcibly obeying or choosing to die.

On a side note:

… but he did exactly that and that’s what he got. Treason would have potentially carried the death sentence at the time. To boot his already lenient sentence was served in a minimum security facility that was more like a house arrest with sleepovers allowed, and the sentence was commuted after only 9 months.


Thank you for replying so thoroughly,

I think overall it is very difficult to define stupidity or intelligence, because they are different in each scenario and for each person. Do you factor knowledge as a part of intelligence? Or perhaps aptitude in reacting to certain situations? I would say both of those are a factor, but you can be smart without much knowledge. Perhaps intelligence is the ability to adapt quickly, or to learn quickly. It is something I think we will never have a clear-cut definition for, unfortunately.

It is clear you know much more about the topic than I do, so I surrender this debate. You have invalidated most of my claims, and I salute you.

I would like to know however, who you think was the smarter one (or more stupid, depending on your way of thinking), Hitler or Stalin. I suppose a case could be made for both of them. Maybe you and Indy could do a video where you both argue for which of the two was more thick-headed, for example you take the role of pointing out all of Hitler’s stupidities and Indy does Stalin’s stupidities. This would also generate quite a lot of clicks, as it is (I think) an attractive subject. Title could be something like “Hitler vs. Stalin: which one was more stupid?” with some pointing red arrows in the thumbnail :smiley:

Anyway, I digress. I am very interested to see who you think was more stupid, and am glad with your thorough reply on my comment.


Don’t forget something else, not just about Hitler, but the whole Nazi worldview. When they believed, and they practiced a total exploitation of the occupied nations, in terms of economy, resources, even humans, when you give them no other alternative than resistance, it’s stupid to believe that the enslaved people will not resist.


Well they believed they would resist, but the ones who resisted could just be disposed of. They did everything to encourage assimilation in the peoples they conquered, look at the Netherlands or Czechia. They saw the Dutch as Germanic peoples and believed they too had the right to live under a Germanic rule, and some Dutch did actually like that.


That’s true for the aforementioned countries, but not the rest Europe


Well to be honest they didn’t plan for there to be other nations. Eventually they’d have abolished the puppet states, murdered every ethnicity other than Germanics, replaced the original population with Germanics and be on their merry way. Suppose they had won the war, the resistance would be just a minor annoyance. They could easily suppress any opponents, especially since they would have all media control.


Thinking that 0.6% of human population can achive that, even if they do have support from another 1%, without the other 98.4% either refusing to help them or even ourtright crushing them is in my viewpoint the definition of stupidity. With that in mind you have to wonder if they even had command of basic arithmetic and reading skills…


Say they had won the war and taken control of most of Europe, how long do you think they’d have lasted? I think the empire would have crumbled after Hitler’s death, like so many other countries in the past after a pivotal leader’s death. Maybe even before that. I do think though that the Nazi plan for European domination was (even if it was unsustainable and stupid) more realistic than the Japanese plan for world domination.


Neither were planning for that - both systems were based on a dated idea of finite resources and ‘lebensraum’ that assumed a need to conquer to grow. This iidea completely disregards that growth largely comes from development and not natural resources. It had been the basis of colonialism, but even in the great colonial powers it quickly became clear that the real value was products, not resources. To be fair to the Gernans and the Japanese it would take until after the war for the majority of the world to really start shifting, but already at the end of the 19th century economic theory had caught on and smart politicians were listening and starting to change the systems.


There is something else. Make a comparison for the anti-war novels and monuments to “the unknown soldier” conserning WW1 and WW2. In sharp contrast to WW1, the feeling of hopelessness, the rejection of the established order, ethics etc, WW2 was a war with purpose. WW2 dead are “glorious”, they “sacrificed their lives for a better world”, and all these thanks to the Nazi conduct of policy and war.


Something along those lines, but I think it was very much that WWI was fought to preserve an old order that was already gone, a war for the past that was never very good in the first place. WWII was fought between one side still trying for that old, broken, sickly order and a side that had glimpsed a brighter, better future and were hellbent to not go backwards - they fought for a better future.