Bonhoeffer’s “theory of stupidity”: We have more to fear from stupid people than evil ones

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident who was executed in Germany in 1945.1 Bonhoeffer’s ideas and beliefs have continued to resonate long after his death, particularly his theory of stupidity. Bonhoeffer argued that it was not evil people who were the greatest danger to society- it was stupid people.

Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity:

Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity is rooted in his belief that there are two types of people in the world: those who think and those who don’t.2 According to Bonhoeffer, the latter is far more dangerous than the former. Evil people, he argued, are often intelligent and motivated by a clear goal. They know what they want and are willing to go to great lengths to achieve it. Stupid people, on the other hand, are often driven by a mix of selfishness, laziness, and ignorance. Stupid people lack the ability to think critically and evaluate information and are often content to blindly follow whatever is put in front of them.

Bonhoeffer believed that the proliferation of stupid people in society posed the greatest threat to democracy and freedom. He argued that stupid people were easily manipulated and could be used by those in power to achieve their goals.3 They were the foot soldiers of authoritarian regimes, blindly following orders without question.

Moreover, Bonhoeffer believed that stupid people were a greater danger than evil people because they were far more numerous. Evil people, he argued, were relatively rare, and it was often easy to spot them. Stupid people, however, were everywhere, and they were often difficult to identify. They blended in with the crowd, and their stupidity was often mistaken for innocence or naïveté.

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The relevance of Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity today:

Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity has profound implications for modern society. In an age of fake news and disinformation, it is easier than ever for stupid people to be misled and manipulated. Social media has made it possible for false information to spread like wildfire, and many people are willing to believe whatever they read or hear without questioning its veracity.

Moreover, Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity sheds light on the rise of authoritarianism in many parts of the world. Populist leaders have been able to mobilize large numbers of people by appealing to their basest instincts and exploiting their fears and prejudices. They have used propaganda and disinformation to create a climate of fear and distrust, and they have demonized their opponents in order to maintain power.

In conclusion, Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity highlights the danger posed by those who lack critical thinking skills and are easily manipulated. Stupid people are not necessarily evil, but they can be used by those who are. In order to protect democracy and freedom, it is essential that we promote critical thinking and educate people to be more discerning consumers of information. We must also be vigilant against those who seek to manipulate us and use fear and ignorance to maintain their grip on power. Only by recognizing the danger posed by stupid people can we hope to build a more just and equitable society.

Keep Reading: ‘Don’t Look Up’ Is Basically About How Collectively Stupid Society Is


  1. Ethical and religious thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Britannica
  2. Fortress Press
  3. Bonhoeffer’s “theory of stupidity”: We have more to fear from stupid people than evil ones.” Big Think. Jonny Thomson. January 26, 2023.