Saturday, February 25, 2012


We should not so readily equate evil with insanity, disease, or idiocy.  I found myself giving this caveat to a student after she claimed Hitler was mentally deranged.  I don’t know why it’s important for me to correct such comments.  I suppose her statement was rather simplistic and as an educator I had to challenge her a bit.   Her pronouncement lacked analytical weight and evinced no appreciation for the complexities and nuances of real life.  Michael Burleigh in his book Blood & Rage wrote that terrorists, according to the scientific literature, are “morally insane, without being clinically psychotic.”  The same applies to architects of genocide.  We can definitely say they are morally deficient, but why do we Americans always assume our enemies—Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—are non compos mentis?  I suppose it’s too difficult to realize that people do awful things out of rational calculation.