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To What Extent Was Hitler A Weak Dictator?

2191 words - 9 pages

To what extent was Hitler a ‘weak dictator’?

The debate as to whether Hitler was a ‘weak dictator’ or ‘Master of the Third Reich’ is one that has been contested by historians of Nazi Germany for many years and lies at the centre of the Intentionalist – Structuralist debate. On the one hand, historians such as Bullock, Bracher, Jackel and Hildebrand regard Hitler’s personality, ideology and will as the central locomotive in the Third Reich. Others, such as Broszat, Mason and Mommsen argue that the regime evolved out from pressures and circumstances rather than from Hitler’s intentions. They emphasise the institutional anarchy of the regime as being the result of Hitler’s ‘weak’ leadership. The most convincing standpoint is the synthesis of the two schools, which acknowledges both Hitler’s centrality in explaining the essence of Nazi rule but also external forces that influenced Hitler’s decision making. In this sense, Hitler was not a weak dictator as he possessed supreme authority but as Kershaw maintains, neither was he ‘Master of the Third Reich’ because he did not exercise unrestricted power.
Within Nazi government, Hitler acted as the final source of authority, which serves as evidence against the notion that Hitler was ‘weak’. Having consolidated power by 1934 Hitler was, at least theoretically, omnipotent, being Chancellor, Head of State and “supreme judge of the nation”. However, the notion that Nazi government systematically pursued the clear objectives of the Fuhrer is challenged by the reality of Nazi government structure. It has been widely accepted by historians that the Nazi State was a chaotic collection of rival power blocs. Mommsen’s explanation that this was the result of Hitler’s apathy towards government affairs seems the most convincing. Hitler’s failure to direct government led to his subordinates taking their own initiative and making decisions based on their interpretation of the Fuhrer’s will. Nevertheless, the fragmentary structure of the Nazi party does not provide sufficient evidence to conclude that Hitler was weak. As Kershaw argues, there is no evidence to suggest Hitler sought a different structure or that he was “prevented from attaining it”. Hitler was “content” with disputes between his subordinates and on occasion, “actively furthered rather than tried to hinder governmental chaos”. Bracher is correct in arguing, “institutional antagonism was resolved by the key position of the Fuhrer”. Through distancing himself from disputes, Hitler transcended governmental chaos and emerged as the ultimate decisive force. Rival agencies competed with each other to win Hitler's favour: the only source of political legitimacy. Furthermore, although leading Nazi figures were given considerable autonomy in creating policy, they were required to work within the framework of Hitler’s ideology and to remain loyal to him. As Overy maintains, power should not be confused with responsibility; although responsibilities were...

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