The Psychopathic God

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

If ever a subject was suited to psychohistory, it is Adolf Hitler. Even during his lifetime there was great interest in his psychology, and during World War II the American psychiatrist Walter Langer drew up a psychological profile of Hitler for the OSS. This profile was not published until 1971, when it appeared as The Mind of Adolf Hitler. Rudolf Binion followed in 1976 with a psychohistory of Hitler entitled Adolf Hitler and the German People. Now we have Robert G. L. Waite’s The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler, the third major psychological study of Hitler to appear within a decade. With Dr. Norm Bromberg hard at work on another full-scale study to be called Adolf Hitler: A Psychoanalytic Study, the end is not in sight.

Waite’s book is not a biography. It is an interpretation of the psychological dimension of Hitler’s personality and the relation between his psychology and his career, both its successes and its failures. The book is designed to supplement rather than replace full-scale biographies such as Alan Bullock’s Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, which Waite still regards as indispensable.

Accordingly, Waite does not proceed chronologically. Assuming a knowledge of Hitler’s career, he plunges into a description of the adult Hitler’s personality and mind. Great decisions of state are dealt with only if they throw light upon some dimension of his subject’s psychology. What interests Waite are the trivia of daily life generally ignored as irrelevant by traditional historians; such matters as Hitler’s eating and sleeping habits, mannerisms, physical appearance, personal hygiene, manner of speaking and characteristic vocabulary, and sex life are all of the utmost importance because they are most revealing about the man’s state of mind.

A picture of a pathetically maladjusted man emerges. Hitler was a vegetarian extremely concerned with his diet who compulsively ate huge amounts of sweets; he was a man obsessed with personal cleanliness who felt drawn to a coprophragic form of masochism; he was an effeminate man with latent homosexual feelings who compensated with an exaggerated posture of hardness and brutality. He was an insomniac who kept very irregular hours. Despite occasional bursts of energy and will power, he was a lazy man who wasted much of his time watching movies, going on picnics, idly daydreaming, and boring everyone around him with stupefying monologues. He had an amazingly impoverished intellectual background. His attention span was short and he hardly ever read anything as long as a book. Waite finds no evidence that Hitler studied any of the great German thinkers. Instead he culled his ideas from cheap anti-Semitic pamphlets written by intellectual cranks such as George Lang von Liebenfels and Guido von List. The only person of stature who influenced Hitler was Richard Wagner, a man who combined musical genius with a great deal of nonsense.

Fanatical anti-Semitism was the central element in this strange personality, but the psychohistorians (a word Waite finds ugly, but it will have to do) disagree over when such rabid anti-Semitism first emerged. Hitler’s mother died of breast cancer in 1907 while under the care of a Jewish doctor, an event which most agree was fundamental in the development of his irrational hatred. However, Rudolf Binion believes there is no contemporary evidence that Hitler was especially anti-Semitic in the years before World War I, despite his testimony to the contrary in Mein Kampf. Binion argues that Hitler’s feelings remained subconscious until a second trauma, Germany’s defeat in November, 1918, unleashed his rage against the Jews. Waite sees no reason not to believe Hitler on this matter, pointing out the prevalence of anti-Semitic literature in Vienna. That disagreement is possible on so fundamental an issue as whether or not Hitler was an anti-Semite as a young man reveals the obscurity which veils his younger life and the difficulty the psychohistorians face in trying to analyze his childhood experiences.

Waite makes a great effort to surmount this difficulty. He examines the scanty evidence with great care and reads the memoir literature with a critical eye. He appends a useful note on spurious sources to the end of the book. But in the end he has to take a leap of faith, and it is psychiatric theory which provides the springboard. Because of the lack of traditional historical evidence, he has to abandon the inductive method of traditional historians in which the evidence is gathered and then the conclusions drawn which the evidence permits. Instead, Waite deals with “a different kind of historical fact”: the psychological symptoms of the adult Hitler. He then uses psychiatric theory to deduce the experiences which produced these symptoms. If traditional historical evidence can be found to support these deductive hypotheses, well and good. But the very nature of the information sought—the intimacies of family life, the secrets of the bedroom, and the inner thoughts of little children—means that traditional historical evidence is scanty and inconclusive. This is true, as he concedes, for his most sensational conclusion—that Hitler desired women to defecate in his face. Thus the psychohistorian, as Waite disarmingly admits, is often forced into...

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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Commentary. LXIV, September, 1977, p. 76.

Economist. CCLXIV, July 9, 1977, p. 127.

Encounter. XLIX, June, 1977, p. 15.

New Republic. CLXXVII, July 9-16, 1977, p. 28.

New York Review of Books. XXIV, May 26, 1977, p. 10.

New Yorker. LIII, August 29, 1977, p. 82.