The Dictator’s Temper Tantrums


In a review of a number of new books on Adolf Hitler, Carlin Romano turns to Laurence Rees’s Hitler’s Charisma to understand the connection between the Nazi leader’s mercurial temperament and mass appeal:

Rees observes that Hitler “found it impossible to debate any issue. He would state his views and then lose his temper if he was systematically questioned or criticized,” and was “the least likely person in the world to change his mind on any issue he thought was important.” Hitler specialized in “screams, tantrums, rapid changes of mood, sulks.”

Rees notes, however, that the “overconfidence” implicit in such behavior was widely “perceived as a mark of genius” and persuaded millions—in part because Hitler made “in an extreme form” arguments already in the minds of his German listeners. Was that not a canny use of reason? Hitler understood, says Rees, that it’s smart to present oneself as “infallible.” Hitler may also have thought it effective to appear volatile. Rees writes that Hitler rooted his hatreds in “an emotionality that was given such free rein as to appear out of control. The ability to feel events emotionally and to demonstrate that emotion to others was a crucial part of his charismatic appeal.”

German listeners, according to Rees, thought of Hitler as someone who spoke with “conviction” and an “absolute certainty” that they liked.

(Photo of Hitler in 1933, from the German Federal Archives, via Wikimedia Commons)