Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Hitler Was Not Crazy!

Originally posted on October 24, 2015

Perhaps he was a little towards the end, when I think he was known to abuse amphetamines to stay awake to cope with the stress of the later stages of the Second World War. But in the early parts, it seems to me that many politicians resort to similar exaggerations or not-easily-disproven lies, and for them “the end justifies the means.” I am struck with the way people can justify their acts to themselves. They come to believe their own propaganda. Examples of this are far too numerous.

Our present judgment that Hitler was crazy comes from the fact that his country lost the war. Certainly, I personally find him and Naziism repugnant. However, I recognize that in fact they all came dangerously close to winning World War II. It they didn’t totally win, then they might have for a while live with a truce in which Hitler and his associates would be allowed to dominate continental Europe. Had Churchill or Roosevelt been less hard-headed, and had the USA not been so wealthy and fully invested in winning, a negotiated peace would have been justified in many people’s minds. It then might be argued that the leaders in the West were crazy. Hitler in the light of history been viewed as evil, but not crazy.

My argument is not at all to support Hitler. His personal grandiosity was shared with a circle of his supporters who didn’t mind glorifying themselves—but how is that different from many political elites? My argument is really against the attribution of psychopathology to losers of  politico-historical games. Had they won they wouldn’t be considered crazy.

My argument is against stretching the boundaries of sanity versus insanity. Merely doing that of which we strongly disapprove may be (arguably) evil, but it need not be crazy. Cruelty was a part of national policy throughout history, including approval of torture by a country—the United States—that officially abjured torture. Nor is hypocrisy crazy.

Indeed, people justified horrendous deeds as being necessary for good ends. If their party continues as respectable, then even foolish historical actions continue to have those who make excuses for those actions. While such activities may be regrettable, people involved in such activities must not be excluded from the normal run of things by being considered crazy, beyond the pale, abnormal. It is intensely normal to be human and included in that epithet are most of our enemies, most of whom have allies who would swear to not only their not being crazy, but actually, their being right! And even if they lose, there are those who will claim they are martyrs.

My essay here is not to claim goodness for what was generally considered badness, or vice versa, but to get the psychological overlay out of the equation. Most people with true mental illness rarely exert political power. Later in their career, at least in the 17th and 18th century, leaders with syphilis and medium-late-stage dementia paralytica, syphilis of the brain, could be said to be crazy, or more technically slightly demented and capable of great cruelty, but most folks don’t have hereditary power on their side and just fall apart! In other words, keep psychiatry out of politics!

Now there is a dimension that overlaps with psychiatry, which is foolishness. Varying degrees of susceptibility to illusion are heightened with any psychiatric conditions—anxiety, depression, or various forms of psychosis. I liken this to the compounding of misfortune when the programming by television producers mix with poor functioning of the television sets, or poor software make hardware glitches even more egregious.

There are also many kinds of folly that have nothing to do with hardware dysfunction, brain disorders. Very intelligent people can actually make wicked or foolish theses more believable and troublesome. More, they can do this in all sincerity, thinking themselves virtuous for sustaining some principle or national honor that their enemies also discredit.

In summary, let’s get psychiatry out of politics. Many politicians can be “analyzed” at a distance, and such analyses always lack the fuller processes of justification of “crazy” behavior by friends or family. Worse, it makes those who merit our moral judgment simply folks who are “sick” and thus to be pitied.

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