Hitler and Conformity
Adolf Hitler rose to power when he was placed in charge of the Nazi party in 1920. Considering his troubled childhood, I think that once he got a taste of power, it gave him an overly inflated view of his own self-worth. As a result, Adolf used his power to build and maintain his dictatorship. He received immediate gratification once he had the opportunity to achieve power because he never had any power or control during his childhood. Once Adolf was able to establish his dictatorship, he was able to obtain the power that he never had when his father abused him as a child.
One huge characteristic of a dictator is the desire for power or being in a position of power. Hagman (2005) declares, “All dictators crave power using it to bring reality into conformity with their needs” (p.964). Hitler wanted his views to be the norm in society, and changed Germany’s culture to fit his needs. Germans were forced to change their views to fit within what he considered appropriate. Sciraev & Levy (2013) states, “In countries low on individualism, conformity is popular and autonomy is rated as less important” (p.277). This is no surprise because Hitler would punish those that would not obey his rules or regulations. Obedience is a huge part of maintaining dictatorships because it keeps the leader in a position of power, while the weak remains subservient.
Hitler managed to obtain power by using manipulation to gain trust from the Germans. Cmarada (n.d) says, “By controlling the minds of the German youth, persuading the people of the country to support his cause through the use of propaganda, as well as his use of anti-Semitism resulted in Hitler’s control of the German society” (para.1). Ironically, for a point in Hitler’s past the argument could be made that he was one of Germany’s best leaders. Dorner & Guss (2011) said in their article, “Hitler would have been perceived differently if he had died in 1938. They state that he would have been seen as one of Germany’s best leaders because he unified Germany as a whole” (p.37). The key here is understanding how differently Hitler was perceived in different cultures.
Hitler utilized an authoritarian approach when he was in a leadership position. He dictated the orders that the group as a whole was to follow, and the group had no other options but to obey his commands. Individualism was frowned upon, and Hitler’s followers were not encouraged to offer their own opinions. Groupthink was a major part that was used during Hitler’s reign to psychologically manipulate everyone. It is much easier to control a large amount of people when they are all feeding into groupthink.
I can debate whether or not Hitler was a leader. Some might say that he was a successful leader, but he psychologically manipulated people to submit to his authority. In the occurrence that someone might try to disagree with him, he used punishment as a method to keep them in line. A true leader has the ability to lead without having to manipulate others. In all fairness, Hitler had numerous psychological issues, and some of them could be attributed to the abuse he suffered from his father. Some examples of psychological issues that he displayed are: delusions of grandeur, narcissism, low self-esteem, paranoid behaviors, and posttraumatic stress disorder from when he served in the German army. I find it ironic how Hitler had such a low tolerance for mental health clients, when he exhibited some symptoms of different disorders himself. Koepf & Soyka (2006) says, “Besides his extreme anti-Semitism, mentally ill were among the most threatened individuals with some 200,000 being killed” (para.1). Maybe it was a form of self-hatred that caused him to kill that particular group of individuals. He projected a lot of his self-hatred not only on himself, but on Jewish people and homosexuals.
The aspects of the German culture that supported Hitler’s rise were that he focused on making societal improvements for German children. He knew that he could win over society if he demonstrated that he cared about the young. Hitler focused on the youth by forming a youth foundation and making improvements on schools. Cmarada (n.d) summarizes this nicely by saying, “If you can capture the minds of young children and persuade them to become dedicated to your cause, your theory of the truth and your theory of what is right and wrong, then you can hold the whole country captive and you have complete control” (para.2). Consequently, Hitler gained public support which led to his rise in power. As he gained more power, he changed the education system so that it suited his beliefs and purposes. Hitler used children to manipulate and gain the vote of the citizens. Hitler may have been manipulative, but it cannot be argued that he was a very intelligent and shrewd individual. I would also state that he is an opportunistic individual that understood that was his only shot at gaining power. Hitler’s personality is very complex and interesting from a psychological perspective. He blatantly displayed narcissistic behaviors but yet was very intelligent and enjoyed a broad arena of areas such as art. Hitler’s main goal was to use the children to gain public sympathy and vote and then he would exercise his own plan to become a dictator.
The relationship between the German culture and social influence is Hitler wanted to use the children to win over society and then he knew he could instill his dictatorship and gain the power he so desperately sought for years. Once Hitler gained power, he was able to influence the thoughts and behavior of the group as a whole. As a dictator, the more power that Hitler got, the more that it increased his ego. Hitler wanted to maintain cohesiveness within German citizens so that no one would question his authority. In a lot of cults, cohesiveness and groupthink are common characteristics that are used to keep the group under control. In Hitler’s dictatorship, individual thoughts and opinions were not encouraged and were often punished. He wanted everyone to fall in line and obey his rules. Questioning his authority and offering differing opinions could have led to divisiveness and helped end his reign so he made sure to keep any small instances of rebellion in check.
I see this relationship as an abusive or a forced relationship. Hitler manipulated and tricked citizens so that he could gain power and control that he never had during his childhood. Since he had no choice in his relationship with his father growing up, he modeled the same type of behaviors as an adult. He never saw anything wrong with this because he learned by example and no one ever taught him that his father’s abusive behaviors and controlling behaviors were wrong. I would say that Hitler’s father laid the path of his adulthood, at an early age by controlling him. Maybe Adolf was envious of the power that his dad had over him when he was a child, and he may have vowed to somehow get himself into a position of power if he ever had the opportunity. He sought power to increase his self-worth and to make his victims feel small or powerless. Maybe he wanted them to feel the pain that he felt due to the physical and emotional abuse that he suffered. Like I stated earlier, it could also be a desire to be in a position of power and wanting to feel what it was like to be in control.
In Germany, Hitler was worshipped and seen as a hero. On the other hand, in America he was viewed as crazy and narcissistic. I don’t want to say that one view is correct and the other is wrong as I think there were multiple aspects to Hitler’s personality which stemmed from his difficult childhood. Hitler was also viewed as the villain in American culture, and has been repeatedly mocked in movies and comic books over the years. I would like to note that Germany’s perception of Hitler was probably influenced by the trickery and manipulation he used to gain their trust. It would be interesting to do a research study and analyze Germany’s current perception of Adolf Hitler and his reign and compare him to the group that actually lived during his dictatorship. However, I do not know it is realistic to be able to do such a comparison and how that would work logistically speaking.
In conclusion, this week I got to analyze Hitler’s dictatorship with what I learned about conformity and leadership. I saw the role that power played into his childhood and adulthood, and got to understand why Hitler became the individual that he became. I got to see how the different terminology was applicable to his reign as a dictator. I also learned how important social influence really is and how it influences dictatorships. I was very intrigued at learning how Hitler manipulated society to get them to follow his beliefs. I realize that psychology really is an applicable field and can be applicable in multiple areas of life. This assignment helped me to learn different ways that different cultures are affected by psychology as a whole. At the end, I got to see differing cultural perception regarding Hitler and analyze why he became the tyrant that he was.
Cmarada, J. (n.d). The nazification of German society. Retrieved from: http://www.ithaca.edu/history/journal/papers/fa03Nazification.htm
Dorner, D. & Guss, C. (2011). A psychological analysis of Adolf Hitler’s decision making as commander in chief: Summa Confidentia et Nimius Metus. Retrieved from: Walden Library
Koepf, G. & Soyka, M. (2006). Hitler’s missing psychiatric file. Retrieved from: Walden Library