The Evils of Stupidity

I’ve always thought Congress would do a lot of good if it would simply make stupid behavior illegal.

In that spirit, have you ever heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and dissident during the Nazi era who, when viewing what was happening around him, decided that stupidity is worse than evil.

Think about it. First, stupid people are needed to allow evil to seize power. Second, once in power, it’s easy for evil to manipulate stupid people.

But fighting stupidity is actually pretty difficult. Collectively, we tend tolerate stupidity by laughing rather than taking it seriously. Also, stupid people are not very likely to listen to reason. It’s hard for them to realize how wrong they are.

So it becomes surprisingly easy for evil (and stupid) people to achieve power. My tongue-in-cheek suggestion in the first paragraph notwithstanding, there is no intelligence test for holding office. Once in power, little thought is usually required before action, especially if you’re surrounded by like-minded minions. That is part of Bonhoeffer’s argument — individual thought is not needed to become part of the establishment.

So the practical impact of Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity is it’s okay to laugh at the silliness around you, but be very afraid if silliness achieves power.

Adapted from “Bonhoeffer’s “Theory of Stupidity”: We Have More to Fear From Stupid People Than Evil Ones” by Jonny Thomson (

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