How Smart and Well-Read was Adolf Hitler? By Stephen Hicks
One century ago, Adolf Hitler was fighting in the Great War. He was a good soldier — he would be promoted to the rank of corporal, be wounded two times, and be awarded six medals. And with him during the war he had the writings of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
The image of Hitler reading Schopenhauer is startling, as one popular depiction of Hitler is of a semi-literate, semi-sane outlier who somehow lucked and manipulated his way to power in Germany. Certainly after the devastation of World War Two and the horrors of the Holocaust, it’s tempting to think that those who caused them must be close to crazy and to dismiss the possibility that educated people could be responsible.
But if we are going to fully understand the causes of National Socialism and other horrors, we have to consider an unsettling possibility: Maybe those who commit them, like Hitler and his accomplices, can be highly intelligent, well educated, and think of themselves as noble idealists.
“Books, books, always books!” wrote August Kubizek, young Hitler’s teen-years friend. “I just can’t imagine Adolf without books. He had them piled up around him at home. He always had a book with him wherever he went.”
Also according to Kubizek, Hitler was registered with three libraries in Linz, Austria after the war, and spent much of his time in Vienna in the Habsburgs’ court library. “Books were his world.”
The phenomenon of bookish young men and women becoming activists for political violence is not rare.