“The ‘Great Man Theory’ At Its Most Frightful”

by Dish Staff

Andrew Heisel read more than 600 Amazon customer reviews of Mein Kampf, and came away disturbed:

Again and again, reviewers praise Hitler as “one of the most powerful men in history,” or “the greatest mover in history.” He was a “man of strong principles, discipline and good organizational skills,” and overcame poverty “to create the worlds largest empire.” Try to set aside your negative feelings for a moment and appreciate the impact: “Greatness is not measured by good or evil. Greatness is. Fascist or not, Hitler was a great leader.” The praise is qualified, but the tribute paid to morality often feels trivial alongside the esteem. Hitler “did some bad things,” one of the above says. Although he “crossed that line and spiraled into madness” and “evil,” says another, he was “wonderful leader.” Few leaders, offers another, have “matched the depth of his dedication, evil though it was.” They see that he’s a “monster” just like many of the other reviewers; they just don’t think it’s worth dwelling on instead of the positive takeaways.

Some would suggest this discourse is the effect of relativism, and there’s some of that in there, but I think, more than that, it is the value-neutral language of enterprise, where what matters most is getting things done—having an impact, being a “mover.” It’s a language that reveres action, power, and profit as goods in themselves and overlooks the ethical failings of those with power. With mere achievement as your focus, you can whittle away the details until Hitler has an affinity with Jesus. It’s the “Great Man Theory” at its most frightful. If you accomplish so much, you become beyond judgment, become simply History.