A profile piece on arch-villain Adolf Hitler focuses on how his charisma propelled him to the leadership of Germany, in the BBC News Magazine:
Adolf Hitler was an unlikely leader but he still formed a connection with millions of German people, generating a level of charismatic attraction that was almost without parallel. It is a stark warning for the modern day, says historian Laurence Rees.
At the heart of the story of Adolf Hitler is one gigantic, mysterious question: how was it possible that a character as strange and personally inadequate as Hitler ever gained power in a sophisticated country at the heart of Europe, and was then loved by millions of people?
The answer to this vital question is to be found not just in the historical circumstances of the time – in particular the defeat of Germany in World War I and the depression of the early 1930s – but in the nature of Hitler’s leadership.
It’s this aspect of the story that makes this history particularly relevant to our lives today.
Hitler was the archetypal “charismatic leader”. He was not a “normal” politician – someone who promises policies like lower taxes and better health care – but a quasi-religious leader who offered almost spiritual goals of redemption and salvation. He was driven forward by a sense of personal destiny he called “providence”.
Before WWI he was a nobody, an oddball who could not form intimate relationships, was unable to debate intellectually and was filled with hatred and prejudice.
But when Hitler spoke in the Munich beer halls in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat in WWI, suddenly his weaknesses were perceived as strengths.
His hatred chimed with the feelings of thousands of Germans who felt humiliated by the terms of the Versailles treaty and sought a scapegoat for the loss of the war. His inability to debate was taken as strength of character and his refusal to make small talk was considered the mark of a “great man” who lived apart from the crowd…
[continues in the BBC News Magazine]