To what extent was Hitler a weak dictator?
Adolf Hitler, one of the most well known figures throughout history, has multi-lateral views on whether he was a master of the third Reich or perhaps he was to be considered as a weak dictator. Firstly you have the view of intentionalist historians such as Martin Kitchen and Steven J Lee claim and argue that Hitler was in fact a master of the third Reich, they believed this as they felt that many laws had to be passed through the fuhrer himself before action could be taken place. The Nazi members had to obey their ruler and follow his ideology. However on the other hand you have a different view from structuralist historians such as Martin Broszat, D.G.Williams as they actually fact that Hitler was in fact a weak dictator. The historians argue this because they feel that their were certain factors in which Hitler had no control over, hence showing his lack of leadership and perhaps portraying himself as a weak dictator. Finally you get the post structuralist view of Ian Kershaw. He believed that Hitler was in between being a weak dictator and a master of the third Reich. He felt that he was politically dominant and his policies were not being opposed by subordinates however he was also weak in the fact that he had a distant style of leadership and he was hesitant when it came to critical decisions. theses are three different interpretations by different historian and after further research and analysis there will be a conclusion made on whether Hitler was a weak dictator or not.
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On the structuralist view, Martin Brosatz talks about how Hitler allowed his members in the secret police total control over that side of things and had little control over what got done in this area. His book the Hitler State says how “he remained in the background” and that the SS had “total control of the political police”. There were other departments were Hitler had given his men complete control. The SS with Himmler, the Second Four Year Plan with Goring, propaganda with Goebbels and the Labour Front with Ley. To be strong a dictator needs a secret police, Reich governor Von Epp said that the secret police was “the precondition of our eternal well-being”. This shows Hitler was weak because one of his members is saying we need a secret police badly and he has given away control to a different person. Brosatz also talks about how he used “a proven and useful follower”, which could show Hitler was too weak to manage the secret police himself. Hitler left the argument between Himmler, Hyderich and the ministry of the interior to themselves which goes with Borasatz point. The trouble caused by his army the S.A. also shows that he may have been weak. The S.A. had three million men and Hitler let it get so out of control that he the leader Ernst Rohm killed by Himmler and the SS. Brosatz calls this the Nazi party being “freed of their most dangerous enemy”. The Weimar constitution gave Hitler the power to restore law and order “President…may take all necessary steps for their restoration”. Would a strong dictator have just given up control of the way he was going to stay in power? The constitution also says the president has “emergency decree powers to protect the republic from crises initiated by its opponents on either the left or the right”. Other Chancellors like Bruning had used these powers to make the critical decisions that they faced in more hands on way than Hitler. This helps Brosatz structuralist view because it shows when Hitler had come to power he didn’t use this power himself. However maybe this just shows that was delegating his powers around. The post – structuralist Ian Kershaw says that in Poland “Hitler did not believe Brauchitsch, and would fly to the front the next day”. Brauchitsch was Chief of Staff in the Army, but was overseeing executions of spies and other German enemies. Kershaw’s point shows that when Hitler was unhappy with his members he wasn’t afraid to take control. Although Brauchitsch was head of the army he was heavily involved in the activities of the secret police and Kershaw points out that Hitler “demanded to know how many death sentences had been carried out”. This is a counter to the structuralist view that Hitler did not really care for the running of the Nazi government, shown by his interest in the secret police in Poland.
Continuing with the intentionalist argument, historians like Martin Kitchen have argued that Hitler was master of the third Reich. In The Third Reich: Charisma and Community, Kitchen counters the structuralist point about Hitler being caught up in the running of government with “Hitler delegated responsibility to his immensely powerful satraps but, as seen with Ernst Rohm, he would not tolerate any challenge to his authority”. The night of the long knives is a prime example of the way in which Hitler would deal with his opponents in this manner. Among those killed were former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Bavarian politician Gustav Ritter von Kahr along with Gregor Straser. This goes along with Kitchens view of Hitler being supremely powerful and even further as the master of the third Reich. There are further examples like when Himmler and Goering tried to force Hitler out they were instantly dismissed. Therefore we can see the intentionalist view being proved right as ultimately Hitler dealt with his political opponents quickly and efficiently. The enabling act could have been the most key bit of legislation that Hitler had helps Kitchens view as the powers he got would have allowed him to act as the master of the third Reich. The historian Alan Bullock said “Hitlers dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single piece of law the enabling act”. It also explains how Hitler could act as master of the third Reich with the powers that he gained from this act. Perhaps, if he doesn’t get these powers he can’t govern in the way he would have wanted to and the way Kitchen views him. Therefore Hitler was definitely not uninterested in the government and a weak dictator as the structuralist would say. Although the disorganization of his party challenges the view that Hitler was master of the third Reich Kershaw refers to how “a third set of individuals sharing the view that Hitler had to be removed” were actively plotting against him in the foreign ministry. Kerhsaw is a post – structuralist therefore is more skeptical of Hitler’s dominance in the third Reich. This is shows how far deep the divisions within Hitler’s Reich were. Kerhsaw is referring to the actions of Admiral Canaris who actively plotted against Hitler in this time and is revealing of the divisions just mentioned. This directly challenges the view of Hitler as a cult of personality, like a Stalin figure due to the real threat he faced from his own men that Kerhshaw has said.
Taking a more structuralist view Dave Evans and Jane Jenkins put forward the argument that Hitler was trapped by the different things in the Nazi state which was out his control. They say “Hitler was weak because decision making was split in the resulting absence of clear rational policies”. Hitler’s talk about lebensraum and anti – Semitism became basically talking points rather than anything concrete as the third Reich continued to rule Germany. Hitler only gave verbal orders and wrote little down so his commands could have been misinterpreted by those in the Reich Chancellery or misinterpreted by those in power like Himmler, Goering and Boorman. Evans and Jenkins go on to say that “he allowed a polycratic system to develop, where power was decentralized”. This goes against the claims of intentionalists such as Kitchen and Bullock as the master of the third Reich as Evans and Jenkins also talk about how “this led to administrative chaos”. From a structuralist point of view Hitler only really seems to be making orders from the Nuremburg Laws of nineteen thirty five which mostly focused on the Jewish problem “... from below that the government would then have to follow”. Following the structuralist idea of Hitler, according to the view of Dave Evans and Helen Jenkins seemed to be very uninterested in how Germany was run and acted more in a charismatic manner. Perhaps the view of structuralist like Dave Evans and Helen Jenkins and Brosatz explains why Hitler was more images based. When looking at charisma and personality Kitchen argues that “Hitler saw the advantage of being a ‘hands off dictator’ in that the shortcomings and failures of his regime could be blamed on his subordinates”. The idea of Hitler’s personality is very propaganda based and you could say that it was all Goebbels doing. There was a knock on effect DR Alan Bullock says how “Ribbentrop was four years younger than the Fuhrer whom slavishly admired and copied”. This quote shows how strong Hitler’s image as a dictator was among people and what he meant to them. Therefore it is easy to agree with the view of Kitchen about Hitler’s charisma helped by Goebbels but looking at the structuralist view clearly Hitler had problems in the organization of his Nazi state which contribute to the view that he was a weak dictator. Perhaps Hitler was showing apathy in the way he viewed the running of government which contrasts the intentionalists’ view that he reigned supreme throughout Germany.
However the cult of personality view and Nazi propaganda that characterized Hitler’s strength as a dictator is shown in Martin Kitchens the Third Reich: Charisma and Community. Kitchen remarks how “Hitler himself became totally convinced by his own myth” so then in Nazi Germany the ordinary public would have been convinced of the view that Hitler was an almighty dictator. Goebbels was clearly very important in building Hitler up to this level. For example to celebrate Hitler's appointment as chancellor, Goebbels organized a torch lit parade in Berlin on the night of 30 January of an estimated 60,000 men, many in the uniforms of the SA and SS. This had led Kitchen to make the point that “even those today who speak of the fascination of Hitler are still under the spell of this despicable megalomaniac”. The spell that Kitchen talks about is a product of Goebbels; this is an intentionalist view as it shows great Hitler was at the time in term of how he was known as a dictator. As Kitchen goes on to talk about Hitler’s propaganda strength as a dictator was not only based around his personality but also on things like strength through joy and the KDF. Kitchen says “strength through joy was an undoubted success giving the German Worker his first sense of mass tourism”. It was also “admired by the foreign delegations that visited the New Germany”. Perhaps the New Germany was all part of Hitler’s ego and what he was meant to represent. It is a view corroborated by fellow intentionalist Alan Bullock who in the book Hitler: A Study in Tyranny makes the point that Hitler’s speech to the Congress of German Workers in nineteen thirty two was “an example of Hitler’s skill in adapting himself to an audience he was facing”. This is also another example of Hitler’s famed skills as an orator and his authoritative personality. Such power shows how the intentionalists’ make a good point that Hitler was in fact a strong dictator. This led Goebbels to comment “the other parties and organizations will not be able to hold out long… in a year’s time Germany will be in our hands”. However there is the structuralist point of view that all this was just fakeness aimed at hiding the trouble going on behind closed doors. As Dave Evans and Jane Jenkins say “Historians emphasize Hitler’s dependence on the obscure people of the 1920s who helped him secure power”. These include people like Joseph Bürckel who established the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, at first responsible for the forced emigration of Jews, and later for the subsequent deportation and murder of at least 48,767 Austrian Jews out of Vienna. By doing something that Hitler wanted so much and doing it that well he could have been favorable with Hitler therefore undermining Hitler’s authority as a dictator and the idea of Hitler that the intentionalists have of him as a single supreme leader. Albert Speer backs up the idea that Hitler didn’t do much compared to his men he says that “in the eyes of the people Hitler was the leader who watched over the nation day and night. This was hardly so”. Speers view supports the structuralist view that Hitler, in reality did not very much in the years between 1933 and the end of World War Two.
Finally, there is the structuralist, or rather post – structuralist idea put forward by Ian Kershaw that while ideology underpinned the Nazi dynamic “Hitler’s ideological aims had so far played only a subordinate role in his expansionist policies”. Firstly Kershaw is outright challenging the established view of Kitchen and co. of a dangerous ideologue and is taking a more reserved look at what underpinned Hitler’s aims. At first in 1939 Germany had annexed Austria as part of a peaceful occupation and the Sudetenland due to the German speaking citizens who lived there. Hitler appears weak in the eyes of the structuralist because he is clearly being guided Himmler, Goering and Hyderich. Perhaps the nature of the expansion into Eastern Europe took the form it did due to the wishes of the SS. Kershaw explains how “in 1938 a decree by Hitler met Himmler’s wish to add an armed wing to the SS”. The final step in the creation of the Waffen-SS, an armed, military wing of the SS that constitutes a rival to the regular army which military leaders had once feared the SA would become. The chaos enacted by the SS later on does go some way to proving how Hitler may been constrained by the structure of the Fuhrer state in how little he could control what happened as a result of his decisions. An indication of how far this went is in Years of Weimar, the Third Reich and Post War Germany, Dave Evans and Jane Jenkins put forth the point that “by early 1943 was writing of a leadership struggle because of how far Hitler had detached himself from government”. All these pieces of evidence help strengthen the structuralist case that Hitler was a weak dictator. Martin Brosatz takes on the structuralist approach from the legal side that prevented Hitler from enacting certain reforms that he wanted to. Brosatz states that “little headway was made in remodeling the inner structures of the conservative bureaucracy in order to create a blind following of the Fuhrer”. A statement of how far Hitler annoyed his subordinates in government is shown in Reich minister of the Interior Frick’s resignation letter. Frick explains how “bitter feelings are spreading in the professional civil service about the lack of appreciation of their abilities and services.” Frick’s statement backs up Brosatz’s claim that Hitler made little headway in making the civil service totally a blind following to him. Despite this the intentionalists would argue that Hitler was still a very strong dictator in how he ruled the civil service and other aspects of government. As Dave Evans and Jane Jenkins point out in the Years of Weimar, the Third Reich and Postwar Germany they say “it is now accepted that Hitler promoted the setting up of huge power bases by men such as Himmler, Ley Goering and Boorman whom he trusted”. This may have been because he wanted to keep a tighter control on how the country was run, therefore he needed men who he could trust. Dave Evans and Jane Jenkins also add that “chaos of government must not be viewed as weakness”. This directly puts down the structuralist view of government chaos being a cause of Hitlers mistakes. This view is authenticated by the fact that Hitler himself was Nazi State secretary, perhaps this was a way of keeping the big personliaites in his party like Himmler, Ley, Goering and Boorman in check so they wouldn’t be powerful enough to take him on. Hence, Hitler was able to maintain his position of power by having chaos in his government.
Overall, while it is clear that Hitler had flaws in his way of governing like how many Gaulieters he had and the level of control he couldn’t seem to exert over the civil services Hitler was still clearly a very powerful almost almighty dictator. Many factors contribute to his view of him, the cult of personality, the way he dealt with opposition like Ernst Rohm and genrally how he behaved as leader of the Third Reich. Moreover, the evidence is one sided in showing how much politically motivated violence he did to people who went against his wishes, Martin Kitchen refers to the number of professors who went missing in Nazi German and it is well known that the death camps of Auschwitz were used for political prisoners as well. Although people like Speer and authors like Brosatz and other structuralists argue Hitler was weak you have to look at how there is nobody who got Hitler to back down from major policy decisions, or successfully opposed any of his major decisions until the end of the war. Clearly Hitler was supremely powerful and determined not to have his authority challenged, there are no examples of anything major being done without his approval and his orders on these issues were never ignored. Throughout his reign nothing or no one stopped from doing what he wanted to domestically only the issues of war and outside involvement restricted him from doing whatever he wanted, this is clearly not the sign of a weak dictator.