General Question

lookingglassx3's avatar

Was Hitler insane, or just evil?

Asked by lookingglassx3 (2134points) January 23rd, 2013

I’ve always thought Hitler must have been seriously ill, but my family all disagree with me and say he’s just plain evil. And after watching Der Untergang (Downfall) I’m beginning to question if he was just rotten after all.

What do you think? Could the death of millions of innocent people be down to just one ‘normal’ but very evil man? Or would you have to be seriously mentally ill to even think of killing that many people for such stupid reasons?

If you do believe he was mentally ill, which mental illness do you think he had?

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47 Answers

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Rarebear Link doesn’t work.

PhiNotPi's avatar

Here’s a fixed version of @Rarebear‘s link.

filmfann's avatar

I think he was insane, but he may have just been the worlds biggest fucking asshole.

MilkyWay's avatar

Evil people are insane.

janbb's avatar

Evil and mentally ill seem to be terms from two different ontological systems. Evil is a moral term whereas mental illness defines the psyche more scientifically. I guess you would say a sociopath has no concept of good and evil, while an evil man chooses to be bad but I’m not sure if these distinctions are helpful in the case of Hitler. Nor do I think we can tell in hindsight.

Rarebear's avatar

Sorry about the link, and thanks @PhiNotPi

Look, to create a dichotomy (was he “insane” or “evil”) is minimizing and trivializing a very complex social situation in Germany. Racism in Germany stemmed back from the late 1800s, and after WW1, when Germany was humiliated and forced to captitulate, it created a ripe environment for scapegoating. It can easily be argued that if it wasn’t for Hitler, another leader would have stepped up and done exactly the same thing. Certainly there were a lot of people in Germany who were complicit and agreed wholeheartedly in the racist solutions, and to call Hitler evil is to call out all of Germany as evil.

To say, “Hitler was just evil” or “Hitler was just insane” completely ignores the fact that things like this happen all the time. What happened in Germany is merely the most famous of many different ethnic cleansing events throughout the world, that have continued late into this century—most notably recently in Africa.

I write this as a Jew who had family who was killed in the Holocaust. Hitler was NOT evil. He was NOT insane. He was a product of a social milieu that actively encouraged such thinking, and the solution is not to label the leader, but to prevent that social milieu from occuring again by preserving active social liberalism and encouraging economic prosperity throughout the world.

josie's avatar

Insane is the same as evil.

JLeslie's avatar

I never think of him as insane. I would say between the two choices I choose evil, although I almost never use the word evil in general. I guess maybe it has a religious undertone, so it is not really part of my vocabulary, but I realize it does not have to have a religious connotation.

I guess he must have been sociopathic to some extent, which would be a psychological diagnosis, but do we care serial killers are sociopaths? Do we dwell on them being insane? I don’t think we do. They lack empathy, some feel compelled to harm others to satisfy some sick need. Hitler felt he was making Germany and the world a better place. I would say he was delusional, but look how far he got. So, probably delusional doesn’t fit.

@josie How is insane the same as evil? People can be severly mentally ill and not want to harm others.

bea2345's avatar

Hitler was a nasty piece of work, to be sure. Not the kind of man you bring home to Mother. But evil? that is a strong expression. I think he was the agent of evil and led a great many people into behaviours they later came to regret. But being evil is another thing entirely. While his talents as a military strategist are acknowledged, he was out of his depth when it came to the governance of the state. With ideas as extreme as his, it was only a matter of time before the roof fell in: look at Pol Pot. But evil is a moral judgement, not political. Was he crazy? in the sense the word is used in the West Indies, he was a nut on certain subjects, to the extent that he allowed his prejudices to govern his administration. That is rather like having the conductor drive the train.

lookingglassx3's avatar

Wow a lot of interesting answers. Admittedly I didn’t know anything about racism in Germany or about it stemming back to the 1800s. After watching Der Untergang I’m really interested in World War II and Nazism (in a curious way, I don’t agree with it in any way, shape or form) and this idea just sprung to mind, so I did really generalise in the question, I know evil and insane aren’t just black and white and that there are a lot of shades of grey to each of them.

JLeslie's avatar

This Q reminds me of what an expert said about tue shooter in Newtown, CT. He said, some of the people who do this are mentally ill and some aren’t. They have three things going on, resentment, hopelessness, and identification and facination with distruction. These people blame others for all their problems. Hitler probably had some other things going on also, like insecurities and seeking power and control over his environment by controlling others. But, the expert emphasized not all mass killers have mental illness, even though people on the show I saw kept talking about the mentally ill having access to guns, as that is the hot topic. He kept correcting them. He wasn’t arguing for the mentally ill having access to guns, he was arguing the general population doesn’t really understand the mind of mass killers.

bea2345's avatar

@JLeslie ”... the general population doesn’t really understand the mind of mass killers.” That’s an uncomfortable idea. Would we be better off if we did? I should like to see the link.

mazingerz88's avatar

Evil is not even sufficient enough of a word to label on Hitler or the likes of him. He was insanely beyond evil.

JLeslie's avatar

@bea2345 I have no desire to understand it really. But, people talk like they do understand. I guess it makes them feel better to think they could spot the bad guy a mile a way. They want to believe he could have been locked up before committing such a crime. Indeed there are signs, but they are looking at the wrong thing. I am just referring to this false sense of thinking they know how that mind works. Hitler was a mass murderer. I would guess he also felt others were culpable for his problems, had a lot of built up resentment, and was fascinated with destruction. Although, he also was fascinated with construction I would say. Expanding Germany, building a highway system, research and science, etc.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I don’t see a difference. The results are the same.

rojo's avatar

@josie I disagree, insane is not the same as evil. Evil implies intent to do/be bad. Insanity is an uncontrollable state of mind. And while this could be evil, it is not necessarily so.

As to Hitler, I do not believe he was either insane nor evil. He was sane enough to convince a large portion of his nation that his beliefs were correct. He was sane enough to utilize the paranoia of a population to further his own ends. He was sane enough to follow through with his plan to make himself more powerful.
What he did was not, from my and probably your point of view, right. But good and evil are subjective constructs and wholly dependent upon the point of view of the individual. What I percieve as evil others find no problem with and vice versa.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Insane that turned into pure evil!

HolographicUniverse's avatar

@bea2345 and @JLeslie

What needs to be understood is that society’s inability, or unwillingness, to identify with these criminals is one of the motivations behind these crimes. The general populous does not understand the ramifications of mental illness or the psychological profiles of the offenders… That’s something I’ve always despised and anchored for in these incidents… These are alienated individuals, instead gun control, invest in better mental health

in regards to the question

Murder is a part of the natural condition, our social norms and intelligence have sanctioned the act of murdering fellow man, along with religion, but this doesn’t mean a murderer is “insane” or “evil”... Hitler held strong beliefs he acted upon, it could have been mental instability but have other racial crimes and ethnic cleanses been labeled as such? I would say he was neither but rather irrespective of human life

josie's avatar

@rojo @JLeslie
A symptom of insanity is the inability to make rational conclusions and the further inability to comprehend the consequences of ones corresponding actions and how this affects not only social interactions but also selfish interest.
Evil is the same thing.

CWOTUS's avatar

Nazism was not the product of a single deranged or evil person. Hitler may have been the poster boy for Nazism, but he was capably aided by men, and women, too, one may presume, who were just as vicious and deranged as he was.

Germans who had lived through the systemic evil of the First World War and then the punitive reprisals of the Allies through the Versailles Accord followed by the total economic and political collapse of the Weimar Republic were willing to believe in the fictions that Hitler and his cronies delivered. Because of that “Emperor’s new clothes” trap that the electorate fell into, few people had the courage after he got rolling in the early 1930s to call his bluff, or if they did they were soon purged, beaten, murdered or otherwise marginalized. By the time of World War Two, “ordinary” Germans were complicit in the scheme, or they were killed. Most rational people choose complicity over torture and murder of themselves and their families.

Unfortunately also, pogroms in Europe were not begun by Hitler. The scary thing to realize is that he will only be memorable in the centuries to come because of the sheer size, scale and speed of “his” quest, and the war that raged in parallel with the Holocaust, and hid its scale for several crucial years.

Maybe the worst thing about the Holocaust is… it wasn’t the last one, only the most “successful”.

jerv's avatar

All wars are won by dehumanizing the opposition so that otherwise good people won’t feel bad about harming/killing them. Look at the way the US interred Japanese around that time.

War creates a sort of prosperity.

Hitler was a politician. He wanted a prosperous Germany. That is not evil.

As for insane… megalomaniacal maybe.

filmfann's avatar

I disagree that evil is the same as insane. I have my insane moments, and I assure you, they are not evil influenced. at least I hope not

JLeslie's avatar

@HolographicUniverse I take issue with your statement that murder is part of the natural condition. I think the majority of people don’t want to nor feel compelled to murder. In certain circumstances, like self defense, we will kill to perserve ourselves, but I think our natural state is to be peaceful.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@filmfann you sure about that Professor Chaos?

seekingwolf's avatar

Being evil does not require one to have a mental illness. That is what is scary to many.

Most people who claim that Hitler was “insane” ignore what he believed in and what he wanted to do. He wanted what was best for Germany, in his mind. He felt getting rid of certain groups of people was the way to do it. And thus he did it. There is no insanity or irrationality in that.

Saying that Hitler was insane comforts people. It is easy to dismiss a crazy person. The truth is that we humans are capable of very dark, dehumanizing deeds given the right circumstances.

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HolographicUniverse's avatar


Well yes, but I meant killing is animalistic, it is natural and the motivation to kill is constant in both offense and defense. You will kill if your life is in danger but won’t committ a mass murder, if the motivation is strong you will committ to the act. We’re not born with the desire to kill but we are born with the capacity to do so. Our moral doctrines, legal system and social construction has permanently sanctioned the act,for the most part it is unnecessary to survival, but to associate it with insanity or being “evil” is being simplistic and negligent (for the benefit of social influence)

We dont label killings in the wild

Jussange's avatar

Hitler was indeed bipolar and possibly a bit OCD, but was driven insane by a regimen of drugs from the good Quack Dr. Morell. Dr. Morell put Hitler on a combination of opiates to help with stomach pains with which he first gained Hitler’s trust, then stuck him on barbiturates to combat sleeping problems. The grand finale was when Morell stuck Hitler on amphetamines and anabolic steroids to combat Hitler’s depression. The content of the drugs was kept secret from Hitler at the request of his general staff even when several other doctors, suspicious of what Morell was giving Hitler, were able to steal, analyze, and report the contents of the drugs. It is probably safe to assume that with a nightmarish combination of drugs and mania, Hitler was driven insane and never had a day of normal mood from 1940 (at the earliest, 1943 at the latest) til his death.

If you compare Hitler prior to 1937 – when Dr. Morell proceeded to poison his mind with drugs – to post 1937 Hitler, one notices a lot of differences. Ex. Pre 1937, Hitler had no problems with delegating authority. He set broadish policies and allowed his advisers to enact them. Post 1937, Hitler was obsessed with details, he told his commanders what to do every step of the way and pretty much no order could be given without Hitler’s approval. Pre 1937 Hitler was rather famous for his astounding memory. Post 1937, he was utterly absentminded. Pre 1937 Hitler was the famous orator that we know him now to have been but also a great listener and was more than capable of having polite and friendly discussions with those who had views opposing his own. Post 1937 Hitler was utterly unpredictable, almost certain to snap at anyone who would disagree with him and by 1943, every time Hitler opened his mouth, one could safely bet that he was going to yell. One could argue that his nigh life long anti-semitism was a sign of delusions, but I would disagree as he lived in a culture where anti-semitism was fairly common and accepted.

So in the end, Hitler wasn’t insane from the beginning, nor was he truly “evil” (of course, there is no solid evidence that he wouldn’t have committed mass genocide or even began World War 2 if he hadn’t been drugged so this is speculation on my part). He was driven insane by one bad Quack and kept insane by his General Staff who apparently didn’t want to deal with Hitler’s mood swings which had, up to 1937, almost certainly made him an inspiring leader for Germany.

Jussange's avatar

On a side note, much of Hitler’s general staff were psycho analyzed post war. They were found to be (for the most part) quite sane. Though perhaps a better word to describe them is homoclite. They were, in sum, no different psychologically than any other average joe. But any average person can become one of many ideologues or (rational) fanatics. In other words, the average person/homoclite is very capable of becoming “evil.” It’s what I believe you call the horrors of the unthinking majority.

tups's avatar

I have not read the former responses, so forgive me if I’m reapeating what has been said already.

As far as I’m concerned, Hitler was diagnosed a psychopat by a doctor before WW2.

JLeslie's avatar

@HolographicUniverse Do animals kill for sport in the wild? I’m asking, I am not sure, but my guess is they don’t.

mattbrowne's avatar

Please define insanity so I know how you understand the term.

LostInParadise's avatar

Is racism insane? Is it evil? What about wars in general? Can we classify them as evil or insane? The problem supersedes these categories.

One thing that we can say is that nobody thinks of himself as evil. Hitler believed that he was making the world a better place. The idea of gratuitous evil performed by devil worshipers is a myth. Thinking that it is right to do what you know is wrong is self-contradictory. Even insane people do not think that way.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@JLeslie My cat kills other animals for no reason other than the hunt quite often. Very rarely does he seem interested in actually eating what he’s killed.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Actually they do… In addition we used to kill for entertainment purposes centuries ago (we kill, virtually, for entertainment now in video games)

It is not insanity or evil…it’s naturalistic

JLeslie's avatar

@uberbatman Great point. We used to call one of my cats the great white hunter. Maybe they are keeping their skills keen.

@HolographicUniverse People still kill animals for sport. I know many who do.

HolographicUniverse's avatar


No I meant other humans (gladiatorial contests)

JLeslie's avatar

@HolographicUniverse Oh, I find that to be inhuman to be honest. I don’t know the history well, but it seemed tp me men were forced to participate in those games to save their own lives, and so it was basically self defense.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Not entirely
“Some gladiators were volunteers who risked their legal and social standing and their lives by appearing in the arena. Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and segregated even in death.” -wiki

And a little more pertinent to my point
” The games reached their peak between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE, and they finally declined during the early 5th century after the adoption of Christianity as state church of the Roman Empire in 380, although beast hunts (venationes) continued into the 6th century.”

As I said, murder is not insane or evil

JLeslie's avatar

@HolographicUniverse How do you know those who saught out the competitions were sane? Someone who seeks violence with the goal of harming others just for the sport of it I don’t think of as being well balanced mentally.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Haha and what credentials have you to determine what a well balanced mentality consists of?

They were sane, just less burdened by social stigma. Your very attitude is why reclusives target the general public, because you’re too dismissive to accept their disparities…

Murder, as an act, is not evil and the offenders are not necessarily insane…

JLeslie's avatar

No credentials. I was the one above who said I had never thought as Hitler as insane and that an expert said many mass murderers are not mentally ill.

poisonedantidote's avatar

In my own personal opinion of him. (and I am no great scholar by any means) Is that he was more or less mentally balanced, he was not crazy, but he did have a bit of a personality problem. I think he probably had a gigantic ego, he was probably a sadist, very selfish.

When I think about it, I have to think that from his point of view, he must have been the good guy. He probably believed he was doing the right thing for his country, and probably saw the rest of the world as a bad guy. I think that, because he must have had some kind of way to justify it to himself.

If I am wrong, and that is not the case, that he knew it was not justified, and he knew he was the bad guy in all of it, and just wanted power, then yea, he would be the actual physical manifestation of pure evil. Killing on that scale, believing you are in the wrong, and just saying fuck it and doing it anyway, that is probably about as evil as anything gets.

All in all, I think he was a “normal” man, mentally balanced but with a bit of an overgrown ego. He got power, it went to its head, he used it, others followed, and at this point comes the problem, a big ego guy on a power trip with the followers to be as extreme as he wanted.

Carinaponcho's avatar

Studies have shown that many of the most well known mass murdurers have had a condition in their brain that disables them from feeling empathy for those they were killing. Perhaps Hitler too had this or something similar.

HolographicUniverse's avatar


You do understand that that is not causal however? Furthermore there are many,who have murdered with no apparent disorder… Hitler seemingly had no mental discrepancies, simply a man working toward a common goal.

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