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Enneagram: Typing Hitler

Updated on November 2, 2010

Conventional enneagram wisdom sees Hitler as a counterphobic Six, all spines and huffing and puffing, saucer-eyed and quivering in terror at his own internal demons and projecting them out into the unfortunate environment.

I recently read a biography of Hitler’s early years in Vienna and saw a documentary that described his behavior in great detail, and the portrait that emerged was of an unhealthy 3/4 or 4/3 very close to the centerline between the two types.

Hitler apparently came to Vienna to make his way in the world after getting fed up with his provincial Austrian hometown. With meagre support from home, Hitler set about preparing a suite of paintings that would gain him entry to art school. Buildings were his favorite subject; the people in these paintings were, I think significantly, little more than stick-figures. The academy turned him down, citing "lack of heads", or human portraits, as a reason. Hitler was infuriated.

While spinning tales of his scholastic progress to his family in the hinterlands, Hitler resolved to make it on his own. He took roommates to stretch his funds and sold watercolors to finance leisurely afternoons in Vienna’s cafes reading newspapers and talking with other patrons, and to purchase student rush tickets to any production of Wagner. His roommates particularly dreaded his return from the opera, as Hitler would ramble on for hours about the decadence of modern art and corruption of ideals and hammer out Wagnerian themes on a broken-down piano until the neighbors complained.

At this point in his career there was no talk of anti-Semitism or political economy; it seems significant to me that Hitler’s peculiar passions were first generated by artistic motivations, as bizarre as that may seem (to non-Fours).

As time passed, Hitler’s mother died and he inherited a small amount of money; while spending this, Hitler, probably as a result of his coffee-shop exposure, fell into associations with crank groups like the Thule society, a sort of Nordic heavy metal new age organization that used an artistic vision of proud Germanic values as a carrier wave for a lot of uglier ideas. Hitler bought the package, based on his appreciation of the esthetic, and spouted the racism and politics in public and in print.

Eventually his funds ran out. He left Vienna in an ugly mood. He burned with resentment at the city that had rejected his artistic vision: clearly it was contaminated by Jews and other vermin; someday he would return in triumph and sweep all the trash into the dustbin of history. Unlike so many other frustrated losers, he eventually did return.

I recently saw the tremendous PBS documentary of the life of Leni Riefenstahl (The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl), which I recommend as strongly as I can to all and sundry. She is known, for the most part, as the creator of the magnificent Triumph of the Will, the documentary of the NSDAP (Nazi Party), the greatest propaganda film every made and one of the best movies ever.

Unfortunately, though she was a cinematic wunderkind on the level of an Orson Welles, designing her own camera lenses and film emulsion formulae, Hitler’s sponsorship ended her career. In the biography she discusses how Hitler became entranced with her early films as an actress and dancer, then gave her unlimited resources to film the party congress and subsequent events. While Hitler was building stadiums and marching troops around, playing dolls with Wagnerian gusto, Riefenstahl filmed it all.

She relates occaision after occaision where Hitler lamented that politics had wrecked his career as an architect, or painter, or music critic, or whatever, and he moaned that he sacrificed himself and his art for the good of the Volk. She also relates that he refused to appear at the Munich Olympics because he disliked the architecture of the stadium.

The picture that fills in from these two sources is not of a fearful man - at least, not one who acts out his fears as an unhealthy Six does - but an irrationally self-assured sociopath for whom people had significance limited to their role in his artistic vision. In the end, as the lights dimmed in the bunker and dust flaked from the ceiling as the artillery rounds walked closer and closer, he raved about betrayal and lack of faith in his vision of the Reich, and the tragedy of a martyr like himself.

The obsessive tendency to see everything in terms of oneself is diagnostic of type Four, and Hitler’s sociopathic inability to relate to others as anything more than stereotypes of soldiers or Jews or middle-class political ballast is diagnostic of type Three.


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