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Was Hitler on Meth? & Other Burning Issues 
Nassir Ghaemi’s A First-Rate Madness

1,271 words

Nassir Ghaemi
A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness
New York: the Penguin Press, 2011

This has to be the silliest book I have ever read. But I read it cover-to-cover, because it is also highly informative and engaging. Nassir Ghaemi, MD, is an Iranian-born, US-educated professor of psychiatry at Tufts University and a widely published author.

Ghaemi examines the lives of a series of political figures: Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. What do these people have in common? They are not all “liberals,” but they are all icons of the contemporary left because, from the point of view of white racial interests, they have been disasters for us and boons to the rising tide of color. They have another thing in common too: they suffered from severe mental abnormalities or outright mental illnesses, usually bipolar disorder (manic depression).

Confronted with a list of anti-white icons who also happened to be mentally ill, does Ghaemi wonder if there might be something aberrant about their politics as well? If he had such doubts, he keeps them well-hidden. Despite his scientific training and wide-ranging research, Ghaemi interprets everything he encounters within the unshakeable mental and moral dogmas of the multicultural left. Since all of these mentally ill figures struck severe blows against the interests of the white race, and that’s a good thing, Ghaemi concludes that there must be something good about mental illness. The stigma of insanity must, therefore, follow racism, sexism, and other irrational prejudices into the dustbin of history. It is as if the apriori structures of Dr. Ghaemi’s consciousness were determined not by human nature, but by National Public Radio.

Ghaemi argues that mental illness contributes to four positive traits: creativity, realism, empathy, and resilience. Mania, in particular, contributes to creativity. Depression contributes to realism, empathy, and resilience. Ghaemi does not argue that we should be ruled by madmen at all times. He says that sanity works best under normal conditions. But in times of crisis, mentally ill and abnormal leaders often excel. At firebombing cities, for instance.

But what about Hitler? Wasn’t Hitler crazy? But if he was crazy, doesn’t that imply that he was a good leader? And doesn’t that constitute a fatal objection to Ghaemi’s thesis? Since everybody knows that Hitler was the worst leader in history. Even complete moral skeptics and relativists agree that Hitler was evil. Indeed, it is the only moral absolute allowed to enlightened people today.

Ghaemi’s response to this objection is rather interesting. He agrees that Hitler was mentally ill. He diagnoses bipolar disorder based largely on August Kubizek’s memoir The Young Hitler I Knew. He argues that Hitler’s mental illness did indeed contribute to his leadership skills. Hitler’s mental illness only became malignant when he met Dr. Theodor Morell, who in 1937 started giving Hitler opiates to help with his digestive problems, barbiturates to help him sleep, and amphetamines to pep him up. Ghaemi claims that this cocktail, particularly the amphetamines, interacted with Hitler’s underlying bipolar disorder to fatally affect his decision-making processes. But Ghaemi argues that Hitler was never psychotic: he never had a break with reality.

The claim that Morell was injecting Hitler with methamphetamine is based on Leonard L. and Renate Heston’s The Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler (New York: Stein and Day, 1980). Ghaemi does not cite David Irving’s The Secret Diaries of Hitler’s Doctor (Windsor: Focal Point Publications, 2009, first published in 1983). I have ordered a copy of the Heston book, and I am eagerly awaiting its arrival. But from what Ghaemi says about it, the evidence it presents is dubious and does not correspond to the Irving volume.

Hitler’s valet Heinz Linge reported immediate positive reactions after Morell’s injections, which is consistent with methamphetamine. But this proves nothing. According to Irving’s account, Morell’s injections primarily contained glucose, vitamins, and hormone preparations. Moreover, the doses were so small, and the solutions so diluted, that there was little chance of any purely pharmacological effect, for good or ill, which makes it likely that their effect was primarily psychological. Hitler had a powerful imagination which made him highly susceptible to placebos, which Morell understood quite well. And, since placebos are the best medicine (if you really do get better), Dr. Morell was a very good doctor indeed.

The claim that Morell was dosing Hitler with methamphetamine comes from Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenk, one of Morell’s professional rivals. His criticisms of Morell, like those of another professional rival, Dr. Karl Brandt, were heard and dismissed by Himmler. (The professional arrogance of doctors usually makes them bad liars. Wily policemen tend to see through them easily.) But more on this anon, when the Heston book arrives.

In chapter 15, Ghaemi also goes on to argue that Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair were overall quite mentally healthy, which made them bad leaders in times of crisis. In the same chapter, he revisits the Nazis and argues that the psychological profiles of the Nuremberg defendants indicated that they were all mentally healthy. Hermann Göring tested with an IQ of 139, and he had only the third highest IQ in the bunch. (One wonders how Himmler and Goebbels would have tested.) Since we all know that Nazis are eeevil, Ghaemi merely treats all this as further evidence of the dubious value of mental health. (These Nuremberg profiles would, of course, be fascinating material for a book.)

A First-Rate Madness is a fascinating book on many levels. First, and foremost, it is chilling to learn just how crazy people like Churchill and Kennedy really were. They also consumed epic quantities of drugs. But the summaries of recent scientific studies are interesting as well. For instance, it turns out that depressive people are more realistic in their assessments of themselves and the world than healthy people. Mentally healthy people, in other words, tend to be unrealistic.

Ghaemi distinguishes between mental abnormality and mental illness. Mental normality and abnormality are defined statistically. To be mentally abnormal means simply “above average” or “below average” along certain dimensions. Ghaemi deals with three kinds of mental abnormality: dysthymia, hyperthymia, and cyclothymia. Translated into ordinary language, dysthymia means a “low-key” temperament, hyperthymia means an “up-beat” temperament, and cyclothymia means being “highly-strung,” i.e., alternating between ups and downs.

It is not clear whether Ghaemi thinks that mental illness is just mental abnormality intensified to the point that one becomes unable to function. Is the difference between illness and abnormality, like the difference between abnormality and normality, merely a matter of degree? But is it illness to be severely depressed about something that really is severely depressing? Is it illness to be giddy about something that really is cause for elation? In such states, of course, one should not make major decisions. But do they constitute illness? Was Hitler bipolar, or was he merely highly-strung?

It seems reasonable that real mental illness requires something beyond mere dysfunctional intensification of mental states. There has to be a breakdown of reason and a departure from reality. But this means that mental health has to be defined in terms of the proper functioning of the mind, not merely in terms of statistical averages.

Furthermore, to determine if there has been a break with reality, one has to know what reality is. And, unfortunately, we live in a society in full flight from reality on all matters connected with race. In the end, I believe that Dr. Ghaemi can look favorably on the psychoses of Lincoln, Churchill, King, etc. because their delusions define what he thinks is real.


  1. Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Dr. G sounds like what we used to call in grad school “a reliable anti-authority”, viz. someone who whose opinions are always 180 degrees off and hence just as reliable as a real expert. Eg., Jim Cramer. In this case, the good Dr. is so committed to his pantheon of liberal gods that he inverts reality itself: they were crazy? Well, long live madness!

    It’s like ‘psychohistory’ [remember that old fad] but written by R. D. Laing. The fashionable 60s idea was that people like Nixon or Reagan were ‘crazy’ because their attempt to embody a ‘bourgeois lifestyle’ required all kinds of ‘repression’ that left them tightly wound timebombs clicking ball bearings like Capt. Queeg [eg, Betsy on Mad Men]. Now the idea is that “normality’ itself is madness. Ho hum.

    I believe I commented on Steiner’s Roots of the Right series in a comment to a previous post on Alfred Rosenberg. The editor of that Rosenberg volume brings up the Nazi IQ data, which point I commented on at the end of this post on my blog:

  2. Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Debunking Nassir Ghaemi’s profession was my hobby for about five years. It’s a pity that the bulk of my anti-psychiatric writing is in Spanish, but the literature that demonstrates that psychiatry, especially biological psychiatry, is a pseudo-science is mostly available in English (see e.g., my references here).

    Readers of this webzine ought to know that Theodosius was the first head of a state to introduce the concept that those who rejected the new religion (i.e., the pagans) were officially insane. Since the 1950s, the Soviet communists adapted this trick to its ultimate consequences, labeling dissidents as schizophrenics and destroying their brains with neuroleptics (so-called “anti-psychotics”, which they will very probably administer to Anders Breivik soon).

    The story of psychiatry and psychoanalysis is so hideous that it boggles the mind that very few nationalists have dared to review it (perhaps because some major critics of the profession—Tom Szasz, Peter Breggin, Jeffrey Masson—are Jews?).

    @ Greg,

    I am a specialist on another major critic of the mental health professions, Alice Miller, who died last year and was as popular in the latest couple of decades as anti-psychiatrist Ronald Laing was in the 1960s and 70s. Would you be interested (in the future, I’m overwhelmed with work now) in an article critical of Miller’s psychobiography of Hitler? Miller’s psycho-reductionism was simple: Hitler was abused as a child by his father and he created a nationalist cult to revenge his childhood’s wounds over innocents (I used to believe this simplistic explanation of the NS movement before I started to read TOQ Online). Sooner or later I feel I must write that piece. As far as I know Miller’s psycho-bio of Hitler has not been criticized in the nationalist movement.

    @ James,

    I’ve written a book about psychohistory. My conclusion: half of it is crank science, the other half is worth revisiting.

  3. Petronius
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    “For instance, it turns out that depressive people are more realistic in their assessments of themselves and the world than healthy people. Mentally healthy people, in other words, tend to be unrealistic.”

    Now, that is… depressing!

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Maybe. But there is more to life than having accurate assessments of reality. Life is lived forward, and a lack of realism might be a necessary condition of action and risk taking.

    • Posted August 31, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      @ “depressive people are more realistic in their assessments of themselves and the world than healthy people. Mentally healthy people, in other words, tend to be unrealistic”

      Wasn’t Aristotle the one who said that almost all geniuses tend to melancholy? The trouble with psychiatry is its dry newspeak (“depression”). Contrary to what the shrinks say (it has been demonstrated that psychiatric drugs shrink the brain), melancholy is the right state for the creative spirit. As John Milton put it:

      But hail thou Goddess, sage and holy,
      Hail divinest Melancholy
      Whose Saintly visage is too bright
      To hit the Sense of human sight

      Clinical “depression” on the other hand is pathological. Of course, the limits with melancholy are fussy. My problem with psychiatry is that the profession has been unwilling to recognize the differences to the point of electro-shocking (i.e., soul-murdering) genuine artists like Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote—:

      “What these shock doctors don’t know is about writers…and what they do to them…What is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient.”

      —and then he committed suicide. Hemingway could not tolerate any living after the shrinks tried to “format” his “hard disc drive” as if his human soul was a mere machine to fix thru materialistic means.

      There’s a book on the subject of healthy melancholy, Anthony Storr’s Solitude. Storr is a psychiatrist but he doesn’t emphasize the medical model. Conversely, he shows that creative solitude, which borders on melancholy, far from being pathological “is an inveterate need, at least in some people.”

  4. Prussiancroat
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    It’s not that depressive people are more realistic but realistic people are more depressed cause they can see how crappy the world is or has my dear departed father used to say “stupid people are the happiest people in the world.”

    • Stronza
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Bless your dear dad for that, Prussiancroat.

      “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” I know what Krishnamurti meant, but the reasoning is kind of circular here, isn’t it. You have to define “well adjusted” in the first place. I guess he meant that it is not necessarily a good thing to be gracious, lovable and well behaved when everything is nuts.

  5. Spectator
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The last sentence of the third paragraph is magnificent. Good job overall.

    I like the fact that you can derive benefit from a work that is characterized overall as “silly”. It bespeaks a healthy intellect.

    I encourage Chechar to share his work with us.

  6. Greg Johnson
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    The IQs of the Nuremberg defendants are listed here:

  7. Fourmyle of Ceres
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Greg Johnson in blockquote:

    For instance, it turns out that depressive people are more realistic in their assessments of themselves and the world than healthy people. Mentally healthy people, in other words, tend to be unrealistic.

    I’ve always suspected the lunatics ran the show, and now we have proof.

    I’m going to watch “The Dark Knight” again, and see how someone who models himself after a flying rodent, and someone who wears custom tailored purple suits and a lot of greasepaint make-up, are the most rational and effective people in the movie.

    What’s that great phrase Heath Ledger performed, during one of The Joker’s soliloquies?

    “But I know the truth. There’s no going back… Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not. To them, you’re just a freak… like me. They need you now. When they don’t, they’ll cast you out.”

    I can imagine I can imagine seeing the potential in him, and counseling the incarcerated Uncle Adolf, in pretty much the same terms.

    Time to look up that movie review on Counter-Currents!

    What’s In YOUR Future? Focus Northwest!

  8. Petronius
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Rilke once refused to undertake a psychotherapy/psychoanalysis, fearing that “if his demons will be driven out, his angels will be as well”.

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