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The Late Philosopher Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theory of Stupidity Exposes the Dangers of Liberalism

Actor Ulrich Tukur plays philosopher Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the film “Bonhoeffer Agent of Grace.” (Credit: Amazon)
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You might be thinking, I didn’t come to RedState to read about some dead German philosopher. To be clear, I myself am not prone to spending my Sundays pondering the nature of existence either (although I did take a philosophy course back in the day, and while some of it was mind-numbing garbage, a certain amount of it was also fascinating). But on the seventh day, I’m usually found parked in front of the TV watching grown men smash into each other in NFL action.

I happened to come across an intriguing article the other day… and couldn’t help but notice certain parallels between this thinker’s musings and our present-day reality.

According to the late German philosopher and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the stupid person should be considered more dangerous than the evil one. Bonhoeffer was anti-Nazi, and his involvement in a plot to overthrow Hitler led to his execution in 1945.

At first, the notion that the stupid person could be more dangerous than the evil one sounds preposterous—after all, we could easily outmaneuver an unintelligent foe just by using our superior intellect. But as Oxford philosophy teacher and writer Jonny Thomson writes in Big Think, Bonhoeffer would argue that “stupidity is worse than evil because stupidity can be manipulated and used by evil.” [Emphases mine.]

One thing that makes evil easier to fight is that it’s usually a known quantity and we tend to band together to combat it, as the United States did in fighting Hitler and the Nazis in World War II:

In comic books and action movies, we know who the villain is. They wear dark clothes, kill on a whim, and cackle madly at their diabolical scheme. In life, too, we have obvious villains — the dictators who violate human rights or serial killers and violent criminals. As evil as these people are, they are not the biggest threat, since they are known. Once something is a known evil, the good of the world can rally to defend and fight against it.

Even then, though, it can be hard to get people to admit what they’re seeing (cough, cough, Neville Chamberlain).

But the stupid cannot be argued with because they simply do not have the capacity to understand your points, and there’s less likelihood that people will rise up against governmental overreach because they’re, well… stupid. People are actually pretty sympathetic to the weak-minded. Bonhoeffer writes:

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.

Boy, was he prescient. Here’s a mental experiment: replace the word “stupid” with “progressive” and tell me the statement above wouldn’t be an exact description of the left.

Note: I am not calling people on the left stupid; many liberals are extremely smart, capable individuals, otherwise Democrats would not hold the White House, the Senate, and many of our nation’s institutions. I’m just noting that some of the effects of liberal philosophy are similar to what Bonhoeffer describes.

Let’s say, “well-meaning” instead of stupid:

For instance, how many times have you had an argument with a well-meaning, intelligent someone on the other side who isn’t that interested in the details of an issue, but when you try to delve into those details, they’re unable—or more likely unwilling—to entertain obvious concepts and instead simply lash out at you and call you names?

This is my common experience with progressives. (Or they might say, “yeah, you’re right. But I’m still going to vote for Gavin Newsom, because, well… you know.”)

Bonhoeffer (and author Thomson) explain the inherent dangers of the stupid well-meaning:

The problem with stupidity, though, is that it often goes hand-in-hand with power. Bonhoeffer writes, “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.”

This observation can explain why so many people continue to support utopian-sounding liberal ideas and politics when the negative effects are so patently obvious—skyrocketing inflation, rampant homelessness, an out-of-control border, and rising crime (to name just a few).

Power turns people into automatons. Intelligent, critical thinkers now have a script to read. They’ll engage their smiles rather than their brains. When people join a political party, it seems like most choose to follow suit rather than think things through. Power drains the intelligence from a person, leaving them akin to an animated mannequin.

Does this not describe the Democrat party and its devotees? Granted, some would turn the tables and argue that America Firsters are mindless drones, but that would ignore the fact that they are fans of the 45th president because America was in a far better place under Trump’s presidency in virtually every measure than it is now under Joe Biden. Trump supporters aren’t village idiots—they saw things improving, and they wanted to be a part of it.

Again, I’m not arguing that liberals are dumb because many are anything but—but that’s what almost makes it scarier. What I am saying is that their sycophantic devotion to orthodoxy makes them appear that way. If you take Bonhoeffer’s arguments and remove intelligence from the equation, you get an astonishingly accurate description of today’s leftists—refusing to deal with facts, quick to anger and demonize their opponents, and disturbingly cult-like. It’s not that they’re brainless; it’s just that they tune out every inconvenient fact in the name of their “religion.” All you need to do is examine the nation’s COVID response if you don’t believe me.

Thomson, who as an Oxford philosophy professor is most likely liberal—since the left virtually owns academia in modern times—would probably be appalled at my conclusions, but he sums it up best himself:

The lesson from Bonhoeffer is to laugh at those daft, silly moments when in close company. But, we should get angry and scared when stupidity takes reign.

Or liberalism.

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