Was Adolf Hitler Stupid?


#41

So what would the state of most freedom of action according to Hitlers goal have been in your opinion? Winning the war? Because I have seen scholars make the argument that Hitlers actual goal was to go down in history as a legendary figure, which was achievable by either winning or losing the war and we can see that he has succeeded in this endeavor.

Now if we assume that he in fact desired victory at all costs, then it appears to me that all the ideological nonsense that clouded his judgement could be just as well attributed to some form of psychological delusion, which heavily impacted the alignment of his subjective reality with the objective reality required to win the war.

Point being, there are a lot of factors causing people to make bad decisions and lots of them, intelligence is by no means an effective protection against the many kinds of human fallacies.

Now I dont know nearly as much about Hitlers personal life and career as you do so maybe you would be able to provide some concrete examples of Hitler making stupid decisions that could quite clearly be attributed to a lack of intellect?

Thanks for taking the time to write this article down!


#42

That is a fair point - but judged by this intelligence test, this would not qualify as intelligent. Simply put: making super notoriety your goal by definition limits the options to either spectacular success or spectacular failure.

Well, they are famously grand, such as:

  • Believing in and actually executing a plan for Germany to have a resource based economy where the resources needed were not inside Germany.
  • Starting a pan-European war when his country was on the brink of bankruptcy
  • Attacking the USSR instead of staying allied
  • Actually believing that Great Britain would make peace despite every single sign pointing in another direction

And I’m deliberately ignoring his clearly delusional ideas about race, academia, economy and what have you that led to endless series of catastrophic decisions. as those are hard to discern what kind of mental error they originated from.


#43

Hitler did not lack a great amount of intelligence, but he wasnt a genius either.

He had a decent grasp of political and military theory, and practical experience, but he was blinded by what he believed would help him in every situation: fate.
Most soldier who survived World War One would go home believing fate had been on their side in order to keep them alive, and Hitler was not an exception. Not only that but he took it to the extremes, believing he could rule Germany (which he eventually did, going from a nobody to one of the most powerful men in the world)
He idiotically placed the wrong people in the wrong positions of leadership (Goering, for example.) and made various diplomatic and military blunders. However, his quick thinking saved the German army in 1941 when the Russians nearly encircled a large group of men during the battle of Moscow. By calling off the attack and ordering a steadfast defense of the lines, and by sacking Halder and Kluge who attempted to withdraw the troops (which could have caused a mass loss of equipment and was starting to open massive holes in the German lines) Hitler (unfortunately) kept the German army from a complete collapse. Of course there are varying opinions on that, the above is simply the one I hold after my own reading of the battle.

Simply put: He was delusional more than he was stupid. He was surrounded by people he over estimated and thought he was destined to win.
Maybe that disqualifies him from being called even semi-intelligent, or maybe it doesnt matter in that realm.


#44

My first contribution to this or any history forum where I’ve been looking for somewhere to debate/understand things for a while and have watched all The Great War, Between Two Wars etc. so here goes.

Unfortunately, language is limited and has personal meaning for each of us - some of the discussion here seems to be with reference to the general / colloquial meaning of stupidity, hence why I think Spartacus has specifically tried to define "stupid" with F = T ∇ Sτ and measure against it as a “Question 1” and as a “Question 2” discuss if this is a “good” definition as his second question.

I’m going to answer the second question first as this will actually give the context for the first question. Is this a “good” definition of “stupid”?

Yes – in that it serves a purpose in getting this sort of discussion going and provides a base line to shape a conversation from and around.

No - in that it is:

Poorly defined. What “τ” time horizon are we specifiying? What do we really understand by “Temperature”, “Resources” etc.

Reductionist in trying to turn a qualitative view / meaning into a quantitative measurement. These are essentially different things and the nuances, detail, subtleties and different meanings of a qualitative approach get lost in this process. It’s like asking if you had a good holiday and you have to give a score of 1 -10. It’s a starter for a conversation – if you give a 7/10 I don’t know if your 7/10 matches with someone else’s 7/10 nor do I have any insight into what you did on your holiday (a beach or skiing trip or who you went with etc.). It serves a purpose but one that is very limited.

Tries to produce a binary and definitive yes / no or stupid / not stupid. This loses the sense that even these change over time, the measurement is time bound and we can say someone is stupid at one point in time and not stupid at another or else with retrospect is “stupid” but wasn’t at the time and our perspective with greater historical distance or the particular viewpoints or our own culture / social system / individual outlook will prejudice our conclusions which it can be more useful to own at the outset.

Conclusion : How do we define a “good” definition? It is A definition but we can only really engage with THIS definition by also acknowledging the limitations of it and then starting a discussion. As we’ve done here!

At the outset Spartacus has owned that he wants to prove Hitler was stupid so everything else is going to be constructed in that light. That’s cool as means he’s owning his bias from the start.

Was Hitler stupid according F = T Sτ ?

Spartacus owns that he’s trying to prove Hitler is “Stupid” by this definition. I’ll own that Hitler can be deemed “Stupid” or “Clever” by this definition dependent on your interpretation.

I’ll try and stick to the definition Spartacus has given where “Stupidty” measurement seems to have been equivalated with a Directed Force which is expressed as an output of “Temperature” with a directional vector (∇) and freedom of action over a defined time.

In this instance I am uncertain why freedom of action over time has been taken as an element of measurement in “stupidity” and with Alex Wissner-Gross being unfortunately not on hand to ask I have to make some assumption – I’m assuming that freedom of action provides room for manoeuvre to maximise alternative solutions to achieve the overall direction (∇) you’re wishing to move in over the given time horizon and hence why it is a factor.

Spartacus hasn’t defined the time horizon and that would have dramatic effects on our outcome (e.g. 1889 – 1945, 1933 – 1940 or 1942 vs. 1939 – 1945). So, I’m going to have to make another assumption. Spartacus might mean 1939 – 1945 as this is the WW2 forum so I’ll use that (but if measuring over all then his lifespan was 1889 – 1945, but of course he didn’t know that his life would end in 1945….)

So the measure seems to be F as a directed force and our output measure of “stupidity” with the more power we have to act, the stronger the force and the less “stupid” we are.

T is system temperature or work capability / resources :

Spartacus view : high score . But Spartacus also references Hitler’s “capability” – here we haven’t defined what we mean as “capability” so it’s difficult to comment on that.

My view : high score

We have to define what we mean as “resources”. Do we mean his personal qualities, education, skills? Or do we mean making use of the external resources available to him to further the “direction” (e.g. party organisation, the material / industrial riches of a conquered Europe in WW2 or the strategic / tactical political situation he could make use of)? These two would be interlinked anyway in that one’s personal education / skills / qualities would then limit one’s ability to utilise the material / industrial / political capabilities open to us.

Degree of personal resources – High (made good use of what he had, frequently saw things others didn’t and performed better than expected by a peer group).

He was poorly educated, from a disparate home in the Habsburg Empire and a homeless beggar in early life. However, he rose to be the leader of one of the most powerful economies in the world and lead his people and allied nations to conquer Europe and a large part of Russia. This is obviously not his sole individual achievement but he identified, exploited, motivated other groups and individuals to this end.

His strategic and tactical views / decisions and co-ordination brought (at times) greater insight / awareness than some of his professional staff officers (e.g. Halder) (understanding the need to remove Britain, need to secure oil supplies in caucasus vs. Halder and general staff driving on Moscow) or professional politicians (e.g. von Papen or perhaps Chamberlain) in seeing and exploiting the individual and structural weaknesses in the Reichstag and in the Allies relationships and strategy to preserve the balance of power. He appears to have strong “personal resources” in this regard.

However, He had all the manpower and industrial strength and wealth of the strongest industrial power base in the world in Western Europe and the granary basin of the Ukraine for a long period. Yet ,the industrial and economic might of Western Europe was not harnessed effectively to the German military and political machine. Aircraft, truck, tank etc output significantly lagged Britain alone when Germany culd have used all the production capacity of itself, France, Netherlands etc combined. Hitler never really identified the need for nor then harnessed all the possible resources via putting the entire European economy on a war footing. If this has been done then things might have been very different. His ability to identify the need for this appears to have been due to his overall strategy to fight a short war in conjunction with political manoeuvring to secure his aims. He was committed to this strategy from the outset and the nature of the gamble in it offered little Sτ “freedom of action” within the τ (tau) time horizon for progressing the “vision” he had (if we assume that vision as set out in Mein Kampf (Lebensraum, Greater Reich etc).

Sτ is the “freedom of action” of each state that can be reached by the intelligence within a τ (tau) time horizon

Spartacus view : very, very poor score

Spartacus relates this to a “vision” which seems something else again than simply freedom of action within a time horizon but I interpret as being the extent to which this freedom of action was in a direction that Hitler desired. That direction actually seems to be the component “∇” and not , hence it starts to appear that we can only consider “T ∇ Sτ” as a complete system not as separate variables. Spartacus starts to apply subjective aspects such as how he “should” have been able to change his mind or assumptions that were “blatantly false” which means were back moving from a quantitative assessment of stupidity to a qualitative again. So, to try and stick to the definitions.

My view 1 : Sτ could be low (same as Spartacus but different reasons)

Hitler’s visions were very long sighted with the thousand year Reich and a concept of completely overturning the entire Christian, democratic political / geographic and ethnic landscape. However, he chose to try and achieve this in a very short time frame (very low τ (tau)) both because of wanting to achieve something concrete in his own lifetime and also because he perceived both the British Empire and Soviet military and economy weak and hence an opportunity to be taken. The German army / navy envisaged the war being 5 years later than it occurred. The lower τ (tau) applied pressure that reduced the Sτ “freedom of action” within that time. This both resulted in him making dramatic gambles that initially paid off (Rhineland, Anschluss, Munich, Poland, France, early Russian campaigns) and also was probably driven by his personal comfort in making such gambles which initial success encouraged him to continue with (in which psychological bias confirmation he is no different to most other people). However, he had limited freedom of movement (Sτ) if these gambles hadn’t paid off and once they didn’t he was stuck. Once he had embarked on outright conflict and didn’t draw this to a conclusion very quickly (the most crucial being not removing Britain) he had no “Plan B” or a low Sτ score. He could have simply continued to dominate Europe, had some Lebensraum in Poland (but not the amount he wished) and not invaded Russia (which he gambled would fall through seeking terms (as they had done in the Russo-Japanese and Winter War) or else the regime collapsing (as per WW1). However, not invading Russia this would have left an enemy in being in Britain with global trade dominance (his theory seems to be that removing Russian would mean Britain would seek terms) and not have pursued his vision on the time frame he wished or he felt was dictated to him which was his entire purpose. In Mein Kampf he never saw the Eastern Front as a conflict that would “end” but one that would continue indefinitely but on a low level as a “proving ground” or German blood / warrior spirit and of sufficiently low risk to the Greater Riech as to not be an existential threat to it.

My view 2 : Sτ could be high

Hitler chose to try and achieve his “vision” in a very low τ (tau) as above. However, his perception that both the British Empire and Soviet military and economy were completely avoidant of war and / or weak was justified in light of British appeasement and Russian Russo – Japanese, Winter war, Polish- Soviet war and WW1 experience and the Rhineland, Anschluss, Munich, Poland, France, early Russian campaign of Barbarrossa and early Fall Blau - hence indicated was an opportunity to be taken before they strengthened. The lower τ (tau) before they rearmed then appears reasonable and reduced Sτ “freedom of action” less relevant if the increased Temperature “T” behind the “ ∇” direction would improve the “F” stupidity score.

is the direction chosen

Spartacus view : low score

My view : low score

We see that Hitler had a vision of Nazi / German racial dominance of European and central Asian economic, cultural and political populations and territory through a Nazi system of society. If we stick with just the formula and trying to be quantitative not qualitative, then we can say that simply this was his direction. His chosen direction we can give a low score not through moral / ethical judgements (I agree with Spartaucs in that they are all flawed / repulsive!!!) but because they have a limited chance of success in that they relate to Sτ and the chance of these being delivered in the τ chosen for them and in light of the external factors and risks inherent in them.

Conclusion: By this formula, definition of variables and retrospective view of outcomes: Hitler was stupid if you deem to be low following retrospective insights.

By this formula, definition of variables and a view of outcomes form the time: Hitler was clever if you deem to be high by interpreting the information and assessments of likely outcomes based on the “intelligent” view of the time of likely outcomes.


#45

Great rundown and expansion - I agree with most things you say - I was applying a timeline for 1918-1939, but everything you say can also be applied to that timeline.


#46

Well, I was using this specific equation to examine my assumption that he wasn’t very smart based on my anecdotal observation of ‘idiotic’ choices. I chose the model for two reasons. First of all it’s increasingly considered a better way to examine intelligence the ‘traditional’ IQ test even if it lacks a methodology to test against. Seconds of all this equation deals with the outcome of the subject’s actions, so that with 20/20 hindsight we can judge Hitler’s capacity - thus we actually have something to go on, which normally an IQ test doesn’t provide as it requires the subject to be cooperating in the examination.

As for your conclusion in relation to this equation, being delusional would eliminate you from being intelligent pretty fast, since this means that you cannot clearly see the outcome of your chosen path. And stated above I have no way to even have a verifiable idea how Hitler would score on a ‘traditional’ IQ test, but my guess is that he would be above average, perhaps even significantly above average.


#47

I recently re-watched the BBC documentary “War of the Century” (a three hour documentary about the war in the east). It opens with the narrator explaining that Germany had never suffered such a catastrophic defeat as it had against the Soviet Union. It never had such a total defeat, so many of its soldiers captured (10 million in total including all branches).

Then it is asked by the narrator: “So it is hardly surprising that Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union has come to be seen as a catastrophic mistake, almost the action of a madman”.

He then answers his own question: “That’s not what many people thought at the time”.

Germany was essentially desperately short of many crucial resources (such as oil, rubber, manganese and especially grain) and without securing those (the Soviet Union had all in abundance) Germany could essentially forget about its grandiose ambitions.

On June 22, 1941, Germany began Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union through the territories that the two countries had previously divided. Despite fears causing the Soviet Union to enter deals with Germany in 1939, that Germany came so close to destroying the Soviet Union was due largely to Soviet actions taken from 1939 to 1941.
Without Soviet imports, German stocks would have run out in several key products by October 1941, within three and a half months. Germany would have already run through their stocks of rubber and grain before the first day of the invasion were it not for Soviet imports.

The British blockade was so effective, that Germany’s only option was basically either maintaining its deal with the Soviet Union long term or invading it and seizing the resources for themselves.

I certainly don’t think Hitler was stupid. But he was an ideologue who put his own views ahead of the facts more and more, and the sycophants around him such as Keitel reinforced those views. And generally it doesn’t end well for supreme leaders who choose to ignore uncomfortable facts. Hitler outsmarted the entire German political and military establishment to seize absolute power, and for a while also outsmarted supposed learned foreign leaders. But once he started believing his own myths, he was doomed.


#48

I see your general point, but according to the equation I used the behavior you describe would make him stupid. As the idea here is specifically the ability to see clearly where you are going and choosing the path that leads to the most amount of potential successful outcomes. Thus delusion eliminates you more or less automatically.


#49

I certainly don’t disagree that the post 1941 Hitler can be classified as stupid.

The period after the victory in France and before the failure of Barbarossa in 1941 seems to be the tipping point. Before that, Hitler can certainly be seen as above average intelligent (even if supremely evil concerning the treatment of Poland and that of German Jews pre-1939).

After the failure of Barbarossa the stupid seems to have taken over with more and more incomprehensible decisions and blatant ignoring of reality on the ground. In a sense you might say he started to bank on the idea of “wishful thinking strategy”… ie if you just believe fervently enough those Soviet reserves behind the Volga and Don don’t exist, then they really don’t exist which of course is kinda stupid.


#50

That would be correct if it wasn’t so that Barbarossa was in many ways the inevitable outcome of what he decided already in the 1920s. He had a delusional obsession with Lebensraum and a foolish belief in that survival of his tribe was based on a zero sum game. This led to the creation of an economy primed for conquest that consumed itself so that the options he was faced with were very limited, or rather singular: conquer or collapse.

Bleeding the territories he annexed and conquered in the first years of the war was (foreseeably) not enough to sustain the juggernaut that he had set rolling. Thus he was faced with the next inevitable outcome: capture more resources to defend this house of cards or be vanquished. Chief of this resources was (foreseeably) oil… so go East he must. But in the Middle East he faces the British Empire in a forbidding desert landscape and in the vast expanses of the USSR he faces the colossus of the Red Army… in both cases his supply line that is already hard to sustain becomes so extended that it must sooner or later snap under the force of stretching and the enemy (in fact it snapped for both reasons), These are neither the best nor the highest number of options to go for. So again, by this equation, he’s stupid from the get go.


#51

My first Ghost post. I feel honored.

To me, “stupid” is undefinable by an equation, assuming we take “smart” or “stupid” as an empiric measure of mental prowess. I think mental success or failure is more like the dice game Yahtzee, where five dice are shaken in a cup, and the results determine the score of the roll.
Intelligence: ** I would deem intelligence as the simple available power of your mental “engine,” i you will. Somebody with truly high intelligence might have a 1001hp Bugatti Veyron engine for intelligence, while somebody of lower intelligence would be more equipped like an early Volkswagen, with 30hp. This doesn’t mean that the Bugatti mind will do greater things than the VW mind. Quite the contrary–it could slam into a wall and explode, while the VW mind finds a way to utilize what it does have to its best advantage. I don’t think Hitler was extraordinarily intelligent, but I give him credit for getting more out of his potential than others have or would. More on that later.
"Instinct
**: Hitler might not have had loads of pure Intelligence, but he did have incredible instincts, at least in the early days. He had an uncanny sense of being able to read situations, and figure out how to insert himself into circles where he could achieve power. The way he played the martyr following the Beer Hall Putsch, and spent his paltry prison time dictating “Mein Kampf” was a wonderful instinctive mood. He somehow intuited that he could milk this martyr thing–“nearly dying while trying to save his beloved Vaterland”–by publishing a book called “My Struggle” and using it not only to recount his genius and courage, but to outline his heroic plan to restore Germany to her rightful glory. Hitler also had good instincts in choosing his sycophants: Goering was a legitimate WW1 German war hero, but he was also drug-addicted and malleable to Hitler’s vision. That’s one example (more on THAT later).
Hitler’s instinct toward pageantry as a way to draw-in the German people was sharp. I don’t think this was a decision based on intelligence or being smart, but the intangibility of instinct–grandiosity and pomp are the opposite of demoralization, and people will buy into it. Similarly, some of his early successes once in power came down to instinct–the way he instinctively read Chamberlain as being a willing appeaser, e.g.
Hitler also had an instinctive flair for “flash over substance,” which is why he commissioned all of those heroic portraits of himself from the photographer who gave him both the pictures and Eva Braun (Herr Wolf, I want to say). The idea that such images would stir the masses was instinct. a gut feeling, same as he saw anti-Semitism as a convenient and powerful wedge issue to strengthen his ascension. If I were to throw my cat off of a ten storey building, she would twist her body in such a way that all four paws were facing down, and she would relax, and position herself for impact. She would probably survive. This is a purely instinctive feline behavior. A mother cat can help unlock her kittens’ innate hunting skills, but she will hardly throw them off a ten storey building. Does this mean my cat is either smart or intelligent? Nope. She just has that incredible instinct (and shoulders that allow for such a thing). (nb: my cat is both smarter and more intelligent than I am, so we’re clear. She is also instinctive enough to exploit this to gain extra treats, etc)
Seduction/Charisma: These sound odd when analyzing somebody’s mental ability, but when you’re dealing with somebody who’s left as big a historical footprint on history, you have to consider it. Hitler’s charisma was incredible. As an orator, he was a master. He had such charisma that he could draw masses to him. But he also had the power of seduction. By seduction, I don’t mean luring somebody into a sexual encounter, but seducing them so that you become the object of their deepest love and loyalty. Take Goebbels. Josef Goebbels was a very intelligent man, well-educated and capable. But once Hitler seduced him, he was an addled schoolboy. Goebbels’ diaries are chock full of his mood swings based upon how Hitler treated him from day to day. Charisma, I would posit, is the phenomenon by which people are naturally drawn to you. Seduction, on the other hand, is where you aim your charisma at one person to win them, to bag them as a trophy. Hitler did this with many in his inner circle–Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, et alia. They were seduced by both the man and his vision, and–as Trump so shrewdly provided in the 2016 US Presidential Elections–the judgment-free vent he gave them through which to loose their hatred on the nation.
Willingness to Learn I think intelligence is commonly viewed as a person’s capacity to learn. Somebody with lower intelligence would be less likely to master advanced Calculus than somebody with higher intelligence, e.g. But somebody with a 200 i.q. could obstinately refuse to learn even basic mathematics, much less push the limits of their intellectual ability. However, learning isn’t limited to intellectual pursuits, but to what you might call “real life learning,” or the ability to learn from our mistakes. Was Hitler willing to learn? Yes…Absolutely
For a while. In the early days. I think Hitler was quite sponge-like in learning the proverbial ropes of the day’s political machinery. I think he learned from those who were above him in the party, and from those whose success he noticed. Many of these lessons were put to good use.
However, there came a point where Hitler became unwilling to learn, either from others’ wisdom or from his own failures It was easy for him to take credit for the early Blitzkrieg successes as a sign of his genius (conveniently omitting the brilliance of his generals (and sheer dumb luck at times)). As things soured, ii became impossible for him to learn from his mistakes or from the wizened opinions of his generals. Operation Barbarossa failed because THEY didn’t execute it properly, or because the men on the Eastern Front were cowards for surrendering. Finally…
Mental Health: This would include egomania, megalomania, and simply being batshit crazy. I would say Hitler always had a serious megalomania issue. He always believed that he knew better, going back to when he was being rejected by the art college to the stupidity of his WW1 commanders, to how he was the only one who could save Germany because HIS IDEAS WERE THE ONLY RIGHT ONES!! So, he had this working. Then, as he moved up the ladder of power, his ego grew to the point where he began to see himself as deserving all the acclaim and love showered upon him. I think Operation Barbarossa was the first real campaign where the batshit crazy began taking control. Hitler had always had his Lebensraum fixation, but assuming that the Soviet Union would fall to Blitzkrieg as easily as the Poles or the French? Umm…Nicht so gut. Following that, it was a deep plunge. He went off the rails, and as he tilted at windmills, Germany crumbled.
Howard Hughes was intelligent as hell. He designed airplanes, ran a successful film studio, made a fortune with his airline (TWA), owned half of Las Vegas…but he went crazy. Thankfully, Hughes wasn’t as tyrannical as Hitler, because he was a hell of a lot sharper.

I apologize for this being so long, but my point is that I don’t think you can call somebody smart or stupid anymore than you can call somebody good or bad. The human mind isn’t something you can reduce to an equation, but more like a potent, complex cocktail with a number of ingredients.

I only present this as an example, but I would say that these five ingredients are poured into each of our personal mental cocktail shakers by The Bartender (yes, I just equated God to being a bartender, which would require even more NyQuil than I’ve already consumed even to contemplate hah). No two of us have the same precise recipe. The ingredients are poured into the shaker and mixed thoroughly. The end result could be the most-miraculous cocktail ever, a cure for cancer, or maybe the bitterest of poisons, suitable to pour on the most recalcitrant fire-ant mounds.

Hitler was extremely potent, but extremely toxic. I don’t think “smart or stupid” are broad enough concepts to explain him adequately. Say what you will about the man, his worm-eaten mind got things done. Those things were atrocious, but he made them happen. Dismiss my ramblings in whole-cloth if you will (probably a wise move), but I don’t think somebody empirically stupid could wreak as much havoc as did Adolf Hitler.


#52

Excellent read, thanks Sparty.