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“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young pastor, knew that stupidity is dangerous. In the darkest chapter of German history, he began to speak publicly against the atrocities. For doing so, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned. In prison he reflected on how his country of poets and thinkers had turned into a collective of cowards, crooks and criminals.

In his famous letters from prison, Bonhoeffer argued that stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice, because while “one may protest against evil; it can be exposed and prevented by the use of force, against stupidity we are defenceless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here. Reasons fall on deaf ears.”

Source: Sprouts Schools, Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity

Taken from a circular letter, addressing many topics, written to three friends and co-workers in the conspiracy against Hitler, on the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany, below is Bonhoeffer’s entire quote on stupidity:

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenceless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed – in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable, they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

“If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so, it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

“Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

“But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from people’s stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.” – After Ten Years, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenburg, only days before the American liberation of the Prison of War camp. The last words of the brilliant and courageous 39-year-old opponent of Nazism were “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.”


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Sarah
Sarah
1 month ago

Much appreciated. Thank you. Sombre. Who knew just two years ago that this would suddenly become so relevant again.

mcc
mcc
Reply to  Sarah
1 month ago

The writing was already on the wall although I never expected a shitshow like this.

anto
anto
1 month ago

In its beginning, stupidity is a choice.

Kbro
Kbro
1 month ago

There is so much truth in this article. Despite high levels of education across the western world, it seems that entire populations are dumbed- down into a malaise of apathy, fear and intellectual inertia. The tenor of western political leadership today and the systematic attack on civil and individual freedoms is a warning that time is short to repair the damage.

abrogard
abrogard
1 month ago

Thank you for this. Why have I never known about this man before? Rhetorical question. Thank you. I’ll attempt to spread the word. 🙂

trackback
1 month ago

[…] October 30, 2021“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer […]

Nick
Nick
1 month ago

Always blame the Germans. Morons. Germany was on the right side of history. Watch Europa the last battle.

trackback
1 month ago

[…] For anyone who takes The Irish Times article at face value, only one thought springs to mind – “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice,” Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity. […]

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1 month ago

[…] For anyone who takes The Irish Times article at face value, only one thought springs to mind – “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice,” Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity. […]

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1 month ago

[…] For anyone who takes The Irish Times article at face value, only one thought springs to mind – “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice,” Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity. […]

Ernie
Ernie
1 month ago

Great website keep up the good work The truth shall set us free !

Hanna Haverbeck
Hanna Haverbeck
1 month ago

Watch https://www.impartialtruth.com/featured/adolf-hitler-the-greatest-story-never-told/

The enemy of the National Socialist German Third Reich are the ones now perpetrating this covid scam tyranny on the world. The most powerful evil force now is international jewry which Adolf Hitler fought against to free the German volk.