Hitler and the Psychology of Evil

Dangers of the Pathological Mind

Psychopathy is characterised by an absence of love, empathy or concern; narcissistic personality disorder by excessive self-importance.  Adolf Hitler exhibited both. Hitler also exhibited another characteristic feature of those with personality disorder – an astonishing rigidity of thinking. Throughout his entire adult life there was no development, no maturing in Hitler’s character or beliefs. The arrested development of this single pathological mind sealed the fate of tens of millions of people and altered the course of history in Europe.[1]

To understand how the workings of Hitler’s psychopathic , narcissistic and paranoid mind resulted in the Second World War in Europe and the Holocaust, consider one childhood fantasy and two unalterable convictions.

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

First, the fantasy.  The Europe of Hitler’s childhood was a continent of great imperial powers, all in permanent rivalry and constant readiness for war. In this land of Emperors of seemingly unlimited power, the young Hitler could readily dream of becoming the all powerful ruler of Europe. This childhood fantasy drove him all his life.

Later, as a soldier in World War One, Hitler was furious at what he viewed as the premature ending of the war. He passionately wished to resume the conflict and secure Germany’s victory. In 1926 in Mein Kampf, he laid out his plan to do so. France was to be eliminated first; Russia, however, was to be the main prize. Once conquered it would become ‘Germany’s India’ – a colony which would provide the slave labour and living space that was rightfully due the German race. Britain and the rest of Europe, the plan envisaged, would either actively support the German cause, or stand passively by. Over a decade later, this became Hitler’s blueprint for the Second World War.

Now, Hitler’s two unalterable convictions. First, the laws of nature prescribe that races must fight one another to the death. Any race that defeats another thereby proves its superiority and has a duty to annihilate the vanquished. Moreover, in order to prepare itself for victory, a nation must purify itself by eliminating the weak and by deliberate selective breeding to improve the strong. ‘A state which, in an age of racial poisoning, devotes itself to the cultivation of its best racial elements’, Hitler wrote, must one day become the master of the earth.’ The ultimate end of the struggle between nations is the total victory of a single race. And for Hitler, of course, it was Germany which must ‘necessarily gain the position due to it on this earth’.

Hitler’s second unalterable conviction was that the Jews were spoiling this natural order. They were doing so, firstly, because the Jews did not belong to a single nation, as they should, but had spread themselves across many nations. By doing so, they were poisoning the racial purity of nations and undermining their ability to fight one another. Secondly, with their internationalism and pacifism, their international capitalism, and their international communism, the Jews were actively seeking to prevent nations from waging war against one another. Were the Jews to be successful, humanity would no longer be purified by war, with the gravest of consequences for the purity of the human race. In order to restore the rules of the natural order, Hitler believed, all nations must unite against the Jews. The Holocaust, he believed, must be carried out for the benefit of all mankind.

Crimes against Humanity

Hitler’s childhood fantasy of becoming European emperor impelled him to start the Second World War in Europe. His convictions on wars of annihilation as the natural order and the Jews as violators of that order resulted in his successive campaigns of mass murder.

First, the mass murder of those who diluted the racial stock of Germany, and detracted from the ability of the German race to achieve its rightful victory. Between 1939 and 1941, around 100,000 invalids –‘useless eaters’ –were systematically murdered within Germany.

Second, the mass murder of the vanquished. In occupied Poland, the Nazi’s instigated the extermination of educated Poles and the enslavement of the remaining population. More than one million Poles were murdered. The same fate was visited upon the Russian population in the captured Russian territories. An estimated three and a half million vanquished Russians were executed or deliberately starved to death.

Thirdly, the annihilation of the Jews.  Around six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust for violating what Hitler believed was the primary law of nature, that races must fight one another to the death.

Emperor or Saviour?

Throughout his adult life Hitler was driven by these two goals – German domination of Europe and the extermination of the Jews. Between the outbreak of war in 1939 and the invasion of Russia in 1942, both of these goals were pursued together. With his defeat on the outskirts of Moscow in 1942, however, Hitler concluded that the war could no longer be won. From this time onwards he abandoned any hope of victory and concentrated entirely on eliminating the Jews. His strategy now was to hold out at any price to gain the time needed to carry out his intended mass murder, and to hold onto the territories in which he found his victims. For the last three years of the war, Jewish families throughout Europe were taken from their homes and hiding places, transported to the east and driven naked into the Nazi death factories. Hitler was never in any doubt that the world would be grateful. In his bunker in the final days of the war he reiterated his conviction that he was acting for the benefit of all humanity. ‘People will be eternally grateful to national Socialism’, he said ‘that I have extinguished the Jews in Germany and Central Europe.’  When it came to the choice between his narcissistic fantasy of becoming emperor, and his paranoid fantasy of saving mankind from an imaginary enemy, Hitler chose to save mankind.


[1] The Meaning of Hitler, Sebastian Haffner, Phoenix, 1997

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8 thoughts on “Hitler and the Psychology of Evil

  1. Interesting reading. I have read through your other posts and what I’m trying to understand is how this small minority rise to power?

    Above are listed the characteristics of a psychopathic narcissist, but what additional attributes or skills do these disorders provide that assist in the ascent through government, society or business?

    • Hi Alan
      Thanks for your question. The first advantage they have is their sheer energy and persistence. Their psychology is such that they absolutely believe that they have a god-given right to dominate the rest of us, and they will stop at nothing until they reach their rightful positions of power. The second attribute they have is ruthlessness. Unconcerned with how the rest of us inferior beings feel, they engage effortlessly in confrontations that leave normal people reeling. And of course they have unlimited confidence and are not shy in promoting themselves.
      The external environment also plays a huge role in the tactics they can use in their pursuit of power. The use of brute force is their primary route to power in countries devastated by war, and in criminal gangs and terrorist organisations. The people with exactly the same psychopathic or narcissistic pathology however will use much subtler methods to reach positions of authority in peaceful democracies and private organisations. In these cases their superficial charm and irrepressible ambition mean that electorates often vote them into office or boards appoint them as senior executives.
      It is important to realise however that it is not only those at the highest levels that cause the damage. The 5% are distributed across all levels of a society or organisation. When the pathological leaders set the tone, the foot soldiers at every level take charge and set the rules for everyone.

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