A recent blog post from scholar Uli Schimmack noted that at least one undergraduate textbook contained the rather clumsy claim that Hitler had “high self-esteem.” This comment was made as part of an insinuation that individuals who have committed a considerable amount of violent acts, whether gang leaders or violent criminals, tend to have higher self-esteem. Leaving aside these broader claims for a moment, and ignoring that mental health problems are, in fact, quite common among prison populations, let's take a closer look at the claim about Hitler.
The textbook's source for the Hitler claim appears to be a 2003 scholarly article that concludes, despite some benefits to self-esteem, efforts to boost self-esteem aren't particularly helpful to society. The full quote on Hitler from that source is:
“It [self-esteem] may still prove a useful tool to promote success and virtue, but it should be clearly and explicitly linked to desirable behavior. After all, Hitler had very high self-esteem and plenty of initiative, too, but those were hardly guarantees of ethical behavior. He attracted followers by offering them self-esteem that was not tied to achievement or ethical behavior—rather, he told them that they were superior beings simply by virtue of being themselves, members of the so-called Master Race, an idea that undoubtedly had a broad, seductive appeal. We have found no data to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today's children or adults, just for being themselves, has any benefits beyond that seductive pleasure.”