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Year 12 Major Work: History Extension

Adolf Hitler: A Study In Madness

An analysis of changing constructions and interpretations regarding

the evil of Adolf Hitler:


The present paper instances a historiographical analysis of Adolf

Hitler with reference to both traditional and contemporary
psychological and scholarly theories and interpretations. All
referenced works are an attempt to elucidate the contributing
factors, whether it is personality or psychosocial, that likely
contributed to the augmentation of a profound psychological moral
code; which has prompted decades of theological arguments and
debates. It is hoped that presenting such a profile on Adolf Hitlers
personality and psychopathology will be helpful in cultivating a
deeper understanding in what motivated his horrific acts and
contributed to building such a conflicted and fastidious character.

Initially this paper was, understandably, daunting. Thousands of

works have been conducted on Adolf Hitler, and as far as Alvin
Rosenfeld and many others are concerned no representation of
Adolf Hitler has seemed able to present the man or satisfactorily
explain him. Although I wasnt conducting this work for a
definitive answer or attempting to explain him the idea of delving
into a topic of history that is so immense and widely debated really
was challenging. Subjectivity, even in this type of work, was difficult
to wholeheartedly maintain, how would I know my work wouldnt
sound apologetic for the Nazi regime, or conversely, how would I
know if I was overstating facts or unknowingly alienating Hitler,
through my own personal prose and expression.

I thought to myself, how could I deliver the best-balanced and least-

biased analysis of changing interpretations and constructions
regarding the powerful psyche and evil of Adolf Hitler? By using a
range of well known scholars, each from different fields of work,
approaches and context I have been able to build a sophisticated,
well-structured and sincere analysis of the fastidious personality. By
analysing these constructions and opinions, we see the graduation
of a still misunderstood and ultimately unsolved Hitler and the

power of history in dictating how individuals are ultimately

Thomas Corel
SCECGS Redlands
The intricate complexities of Adolf Hitlers character have given rise
to numerous voices and interpretations both as a result of new
evidence and changes in ideologies and context. As Ian Kershaw
affirms: Hitler has been viewed in many different and varied
fashions, often directly contrasting with each other. (Kershaw,
1998), It is this conflict on which I intend to focus. Historians Hugh
Trevor-Roper and Alan Bullock, despite sharing similar contexts offer
vastly different views regarding the demonisation and madness of
Adolf Hitler, debating whether he was purely evil or just simply a
pragmatic opportunist. German historian Joachim C. Fest and
Hungarian historian born John Lukacs provide a far more conceptual
and theological analysis of Adolf Hitler and his so called madness
and demonisation, delving into the reasons that promulgated these
views and tendencies British historian Ian Kershaw will be
employed to provide a contrast. Psychologists Erich Fromm and Alice
Miller both conducted studies on the German statesman, and while
they concluded that he wasnt inherently evil, Miller claimed it was
due to corporal punishment at the hands of his tyrannic father,
while Fromm suggested that it was the neglect of his mother that
was to blame for his malevolence. As of recent, new evidence
(Hitlers methamphetamine addiction) has also played an
undeniably significant role in providing new reasons for Hitlers
madness, novelist and director Norman Ohler has sparked new
revelations regarding the reasons for his so called evil, in what Ian
Kershaw called a serious piece of scholarship (Ohler, 2016).

For this study, a consideration of the traditional, modern and

psycho-historical approaches as well as psych analyses will be
utilised to try and determine the extent to which Hitler has been
interpreted differently over varying fields of work, context, and
Ideology, in the hopes to ascertain what has ultimately changed and
driven these practices (Modern, Traditional and Psyche-analytic
approaches to history). Despite the efforts of numerous scholars to
try and understand the actions of Hitler and what motivated him,
there is an established notion that argues the pursuit of these ideas
is both futile and immoral, see (Rosenbaum, 1998). On the other
hand, it is evident that many scholars who have indeed tried to
understand the complex enigma that is Hitler and attempted to
provide reasons for his actions have retreated into the falsely
consoling arms of labelling him as evil. As stated by Aaron T. Beck
the assignment of the label evil does little to further our
understanding (Beck, 1999). Irish historian Thomas Desmond
Williams reinforces the importance of Adolf Hitlers context, stating:

Hitler will appear to posterity somewhat different from the way in
which he appeared to his contemporaries. He will not evoke the
more extreme forms of judgments, or interpretations, passed on him
by his own generation. (Williams, 2012). Thus, re-establishing and
reinforcing the rationale for this paper to consider both
psychoanalytical, modern and traditional historical views:
championed only by well-known authorities in order to best
determine to what extent Hitler has been interpreted differently
over the decades.

Adolf Hitlers personality is polarising to most, his fastidious

characteristics, pervasive immorality and ambiguous motives and
psyche make for an alluring study. English historian Alan Bullock saw
Hitler as irrational, but of shrewdly rational calculation, a human-
scale schemer - not a monster of madness or an evil genius. Bullock,
also tells us that Hitler, contrary to popular belief, was not an
individual of profound theological dimensions that burst the
boundaries of previous frameworks of explanation. In Bullocks
biography Hitler: A Study In Tyranny he remarks: Hitler wasn't a
madman, he was an extremely astute and able politician(Kershaw,
1998), Bullock saw the statesman as a cunning political figure,
however this view changed with the release of his 1991 study Hitler
And Stalin: Parallel Lives, where he then states that Hitler was
instead an actor who eventually came to believe his own lies, a
mesmeriser who mesmerised himself. Which is particularly ironic
given Adolf Hitlers statement in Mein Kampf: Make the lie big,
make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it."
(Hitler, 1925). Despite over 50 years of research on Hitler, Bullock,
somewhat frustratingly stated that : The more I learn about Adolf
Hitler, the harder I find it to explain. fellow conceptual rival Hugh
Trevor-Roper, also a British historian, averred that Adolf Hitler
remains a frightening mystery, despite also conducting over 50
years of research. (Rosenbaum, 1998). Hugh Trevor-Roper did
believe that Hitler was sincere in his designs, and misguided rather
than evil. Roper tells us that Hitlers psyche exceeds the powers of
ordinary psychological analysis to grasp. In Ron Rosenbaums
Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, Roper
states that he despises psychohistory, as the psychological tools
employed by the practice in order to analyse human behaviour are
inadequate to capture a more than human (Rosenbaum, 1998)
Hitler. Ron Rosenbaum later interviewed Hugh Trevor-roper in
London, asking him the question: Do You consider Hitler
consciously evil? Did he know what he was doing was wrong?
Trevor-Roper firmly declared that he does not see Hitler as
consciously evil, stating, Hitler was convinced of his own rectitude

(Rosenbaum, 1998). Trevor-Roper believed that Hitler committed his
evil deeds unknowingly; he conducted them in a deluded and
sincere belief that he was taking heroic measures to salvage the
human (Aryan, German) race from the destructive Jewish peoples.
By taking this position, Roper is affirming the tendency of centuries
of western philosophic thought on the questions regarding evil -
which if it is defined as a conscious wrongdoing means that Hitler
was, not in fact mad, but a victim of his own radically deluded will.

No one individual has ever come close to evoking so much promise

or hate, demanded so much adulation or thought, Adolf Hitler is an
enigma that has, and will continue to mesmerise Scholars and the
greater world. Renowned German Historian Joachim C. Fest presents
a fascinating study, and a refreshing view on the German
statesman. An individual who experienced first hand the atrocities of
the Nazi party, his views are widely respected and highly valuable to
any scholarly practice regarding the regime. He raises a
controversial question; why dont we see Hitler as great? Why do
we instead demonise him? He goes on to tell us that No one
evoked so much rejoicing, hysteria, and expectation of salvation as
he; no one so much hate. (Fest, 1974), The German politician, as
Fest sees him, was not a sadist, nor was he what we might
constitute as traditionally great but rather Historically great or as
Ian Kershaw put it negative greatness (Kershaw, 1998). In
Kershaws biography, Hitler, he goes on to state: that while Hitler
lacked the nobility of character and other attributes taken to pertain
greatness in historical figures, his impact on history was
undeniably immense, even if catastrophic. Declared by Fest as
peculiar greatness it is linked to quality of excess, he shattered all
existing standards of personality and theology. Fest argues that
Hitler created everything out of himself, he states that he
uncovered the deeper spirit and tendencies of the age and further
iterated, To represent those tendencies, there certainly is an
element of historic greatness (Fest, 1974). Hitlers profound
ambition to exercise his will on the German people and the greater
world, and with such precision and scale is shocking to most, almost
to the point where it is unfathomable. Joachim Fest suggests that
Hitler is predominantly demonized and seen as mad because he

executes a will going beyond individual desires (Fest, 1974), which
he referenced from Jacob Burckhardts famous essay on historical
greatness, in Reflections of History. Burckhardt affirms Joachims
claims as he states that there is a mysterious coincidence between
the egoism of the individual and the communal will, partly shifting
the alienation and blame from Hitler to that of the German people
and greater Nazi party, showing how Hitlers career is a classic
illustration of this tenet. Fest comes to the conclusion that both
modern and traditional scholars hesitate to call Hitler great not
because of his criminal features, but rather as a result of a notion
concerning a strange exemption from the ordinary moral code
which he suggested we tend to grant in our minds to great or
significant individuals. Fellow German historian John Lukacs offers a
similar view that is more theological; he acknowledges the popular
view that Hitler was mad, and he tells us that: By assertingand
thinkingthat he was mad, we have failed twice. We have brushed
the problem of Hitler under the rug. (Lukacs, 1997), Agreeing
wholeheartedly with the view of Aaron T. Beck, mentioning earlier in
the work that labelling does little to further our understating of
Hitler, but only further mystifies the actions of the tyrannic regime
and its leader. Lukacs goes on to tell us that if he is to be deemed
mad, then the entire Hitler period was nothing but an episode of
absurdity. The defining of Hitler as mad relieves him of all
culpability, especially in this context, where a certification of mental
illness voids a conviction by law. Lukacs concludes: Hitler was not
mad; he was responsible for what he did and said and thought.
Both agree that the Statesman was neither mad nor evil, making it
clear that he was not abnormal, but instead driven by a unique
moral and intellectual code that is largely misunderstood.
Swiss Psycho-analysts and psychologists, Alice Miller and Erich
Fromm, are both highly respected and renowned in their field of
work, their analyses provide a new aspect on Hitlers fascinating
personality and try and provide reasons for his madness. While Alice
Miller doesnt deny Hitlers later atrocities and his responsibility for
them, she does argue that he was never inherently evil; or mad,
Miller attempted to portray Hitler as a victim of an abusive father,
her book on Hitlers childhood polarised French journalist Claude
Lanzmann, in which he called the book an obscenity. Ron
Rosenbaum American literary journalist and critic also agrees with
Lanzmann (who believed that any kind of pursuit in explanation of
Hitler is both futile and immoral), however not to the same extent -
simply stating that the fifty-five-page Hitler explanation Miller
included in For Your Own Good, had raised some serious problems
in his mind as well. Miller suggests that Adolf Hitlers evil can be
traced to brutal corporal punishment at the hands of his father. The
demonisation of his father, Alois Hitler, victimises Adolf, effectively
shifting the blame. Ron Rosenbaum heavily critiques Millers work as
he states: Miller employs dubious evidence to support her claims,
all we have for evidence is Hitlers self-pitying. A final leap to

exculpation sees Miller rising to defence of Hitlers credibility. She
dismisses evidence regarding doubts of corporal punishment by
stating: As If anyone were more qualified to judge the situation
than Adolf Hitler himself (Miller, 1985). Alice miller continues to, as
Rosenbaum puts it: use dubious evidence in the service of dubious
psychologising, she takes at face value the controversial, unproven
theory that Adolfs fathers father was Jew; she argues that Adolfs
father beating his son and the sons subsequent anti-Semitism can
be attributed to self-lacerating rage about his putative Jewish blood
(Rosenbaum, 1998), Rosenbaum argues that Adolf Hitler is being
rendered into the rhetoric of victimology, through Millers
demonization of his father. Erich Fromm acts as an inadvertent (and
almost parodic) counterpoint to Millers work, instead, singling out
Hitlers mother, Klara. Fromm agrees with Rosenbaum, as he sees
Alois Hitler as a mild type (Rosenbaum, 1998), instead of the
abusive monster that Alice Miller suggested him to be, Fromm
declares that Alois was, indeed, not a frightening figure. Telling us
that Hitlers mother is the catalyst of his evil, or as he put it
neuroses (Fromm, 1973). Fromm, however, presents a complex
that he believes can be used to explain Hitler. Fromms pathography
follows largely Sigmund Freud's concept of psychoanalysis, stating:
that Hitler was an immature, self-centred dreamer who did not
overcome his childish narcissism; as a result of his lack of
adaptation to reality he was exposed to humiliations which he tried
do overcome by means of lust-ridden destructiveness (Fromm,
1973). The evidence of this desire to destroy is so outrageous that
one could assume that Hitler had not only acted destructively, but
was indeed driven by a destructive character.

Norman Ohler, a German author, has recently struck much

controversy, sparking revelation and debate among Historians who
have studied both the tyrannic leader Adolf Hitler and the greater
Nazi party. His recently published novel Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi
Germany, 2016 brings to light new evidence regarding the array of
synthetic drugs provided to the German people, the Wehrmacht,
and Adolf Hitler himself. Ohler realised that there was great
dissonance between the images of Hitler as a health conscious
individual, a countrys messiah, and the bent, halting figure he
became (Ohler, 2016). Ohler tells us that visitors had described
Hitler as pale with unkempt hair and withered skin. There is an
odd contrast with the clean-cut Nazis that everyone seems to
remember, such as Ohlers grandfather, whom he claimed to gain

much of his inspiration from, when in reality dangerous drugs helped
to fuel the German war effort. Norman Ohler describes the Nazi
image (Championed by Adolf Hitler) as: strict, ideologically
underpinned anti-drug policy with propagandistic pomp and
draconian punishments as a vehicle for the exclusion and
suppression, even the destruction, of marginal groups and
minorities. (Ohler, 2016) The Nazis drug policies, he argues, were
deeply linked to anti-Semitism, in an attempt to further alienate and
subjugate them. With guidance from well-known German historian
Hans Mommsen, and respectable praise from British historian Ian
Kershaw as a well researched piece of work, Ohler has managed
to build a respectable reputation, however, other historians such as
English scholar Richard J. Evans and history professor Nikolaus
Wachsmann, have taken issue with Ohlers methods and
conclusions. Nikolaus Wachsmann, a professor of history at Birkbeck
College, University of London, and author of KL: A History of the
Nazi Concentration Camps, started out with an amiable critique
saying Ohler overstates his case, further adding that Ohler
eschews nuance for headlines and appears to mix fact and
fiction. Wachsmann ended his assessment harshly, saying that
Ohlers diligent research is buried beneath the breathless prose,
(Wachsmann, 2016). British Historian Richard J. Evans also took
issue with Ohlers work, writing in his review for the guardian: that
Ohler makes sweeping generalisations that are wildly
implausible, making examples of the doping mentality that spread
into every corner of the Reich. that he believed to be, nothing less
than farfetched and what he later called crass. Evans also went on
to tell us that he labelled Ohlers work as apologetic to the Nazi
cause, calling it: Morally and politically dangerous, as it runs the
risk of relieving Hitler and his followers of responsibility for their
atrocities (Evans, 2016). Ohler, however, does conclude in his work
that Hitler remained sane until the end and was fully in command
of himself: this was the true Hitler. (Ohler, 2016) Effectively
stating that his claim regarding Hitlers drug consumption does not
diminish his monstrous guilt, nor does it excuse the actions of the
German statesman and his radical political party.

Many attempts have been made to try and understand Adolf Hitler
and what could have lead a human being to commit atrocities on
such a grand and epic scale. Many of these attempts have failed, as
they sought explanation through shallow and futile means of
labelling him as merely evil, others have simply lacked the
understanding of the wider-context of his time and the deeply

enrooted hatred and idiosyncrasies of his dark childhood. This paper
has attempted to provide a range of traditional, modern and psycho-
historical approaches from a variety of perspectives, in order to best
summarise and analyse the ways in which changing constructions
and interpretations regarding the evil of Adolf Hitler have
ultimately changed and evolved over the decades.


1. Beck, A.T., 1999. Explaining Hitler. In Beck, A.T. Explaining

Hitler. p.176.

2. Bullock, A.Hitler, A Study in Tyranny; Harper & Rowe: New
York, NY, USA, 1952.

3. Evans, Richard. "Blitzed: Drugs In Nazi Germany By Norman

Ohler Review A Crass And Dangerously Inaccurate
Account". The Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 May 2017.

4. Fest, J.C., 1974. Hitler. Penguin Books Ltd.

5. Fromm, E. The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness; Rhinehart

& Winston: New York, NY, USA, 1973.

6. Hitler, A., 1925. Mein Nampf. Franz Eher Nachfolger.

7. Kershaw, I., 1998. HItler. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd.

8. Lukacs, J., 1997. Hitler Of History. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

9. Miller, A. For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing

and the Roots of Violence; Farrar-Straus-Giroux: New York, NY,
USA, 1985.

10. Ohler, N., 2016. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. London,

England: Penguin Books Ltd.

11. Rosenbaum, R., 1998. Explaining Hitler. In Rosenbaum,

R. Explaining Hitler.

12. Wachsmann, N., 2016. Was Nazi Germany a land of

drugs? Blitzed by Norman Ohler review. [Online] Available

13. Williams, T.D., 2012. The Genesis of National Socialism.

Belfast Historical & Educational Society.

Annotated References

1. Rosenbaum, R., 1998. Explaining Hitler. In Rosenbaum, R.
Explaining Hitler.

Ron Rosenbaums 1998 work Explaining Hitler, proved to be

invaluable to the progression and cultivation of my work. It not only
helped to inspire many of my ideas, but it prompted much thought
regarding the topic itself, which impelled me to conduct deeper
research into academic works by other historians, such as John
Lukacs. Rosenbaums book was, without a doubt, the most useful
source I had at my disposal for this paper: providing unparalleled
insights into numerous historiographical debates, psychologist
theories and their critiques and important historical views regarding
the evil of Adolf Hitler. His work also ushered me to consider and
ultimately incorporate a more balanced argument, as he included
many critiques and conflicting ideas in his work. Ron Rosenbaum,
the author, included opinions and views from the worlds leading
Hitler psychologists and historians, meaning that this was a source
that I could trust. For these reasons, I see this work as endlessly
useful in its informative capacity and academic application.

2. Lukacs, J., 1997. Hitler Of History. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

John Lukacs Hitler Of History was an endlessly fascinating source,

it plunged me into a whole new view of Hitler, that was to look at
him more conceptually, more at his constructed madness and what
that meant, rather than the man himself in all his intricacies.
Lukacs, a Hungarian-born American, and respected historian gave
me a fresh take on the Hitler personality, which had a profound
effect on me, it forced me to question why it was we saw him as
mad and what it actually meant to be mad. The work by Lukacs
connected very well with the works of Joachim c. Fest, a renowned
German historian who also conducted a largely conceptually
concerned biography on Adolf Hitler. This approach was useful as it
helped to create a far more balanced argument, not only helping to
keep the argument fresh and interesting but bring contrast to the
more traditional views of Hitlers evil. This piece of scholarship was
very useful I the way that is attempted to explain the atrocities
associated with Hitler and his so-believed inherently destructive
nature, all seemed to be considered, it was a very holistic approach,
in what seemed to be a previously heated, unforgiving and
extremely bias (understandably) area of study.

3. Fest, J.C., 1974. Hitler. Penguin Books Ltd.

Perhaps my own bias here, but yet another work by a German

historian who took a far more conceptually concerned approach
regarding the analysis and judgement of Adolf Hitlers character. He
brings up a number of highly controversial questions, which I myself

at first was shocked by, however, it is this expansion of the mind
that lead me to consider all perspectives (i.e. these interpretations,
and other more controversial takes such as Norman Ohler, after
seeing their academic merit.) and cultivate a far more sincere and
considerate argument. His deep questions, such as why dont we
call Hitler great? spark many issues in your mind at first however,
after reading and thinking about the topic more deeply and taking a
more conceptually concerned and wider approach it allows you to
consider other areas of history and new approaches, such as
characteristics of human nature. For these reasons I found Fests
work highly beneficial to the completion of my work, and its
tendency to consider not just the traditional approaches, but the
conceptual, psychological, historical and contemporary takes on the
madness of Adolf Hitler.