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'essentially a Weak Dictator' Do You Agree with This View of Adolf Hitler

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Ð''Essentially a weak dictator' do you agree with this view of Adolf Hitler

Much of Nazi propaganda was devoted to portraying the regime as a streamlined state, with a pyramid of power culminating in the figure of the FÐ"јhrer at its peak, Hitler as the strong leader above the political fray. Presented as a positive image at the time, this picture of the regime was simply given a different, negative shading in post-war representations of the Third Reich as totalitarian, with one leader, one party and one ideology dominating the population through a monopoly of the means of propaganda and coercion. This image of Hitler as the almost archetypal Ð''strong dictator' has perhaps pervaded popular images of Hitler ever since, as well as presenting a continuing thread in the historiography. Yet even contemporary observers recognised that the structures of power in the Third Reich were not quite this simple, and the duality of old state structures and new Party organisations led Ernst Fraenkel, for example, to speak of a Ð''dual state'. Later historians, such as Edward Peterson, have focused

on what they perceive as the Ð''limits of Hitler's power' and have characterised Hitler as being a Ð''weak' dictator.

The evidence for Hitler as Ð''weak' dictator rests in part on his style of political leadership and the changing institutional structure of politics. When not Ð''enacting power', as in the party rallies and public ceremonies, Hitler appeared to lack interest in the day-to-day details of policy and legislation. Cabinet government fell into disuse, and on many matters Hitler tended simply to agree with the last person who had succeeded in Ð''catching his ear', or having a word with him when he was in a good mood. Patterns of political decision-making appear to have become increasingly haphazard, and competing centres of power proliferated, characterised by personal rivalries and animosities. Powerful underlings developed their own empires. All this would suggest that Hitler's role was that of Ð''weak' dictator.

Such a view contrasts strongly with the interpretation presented by those who emphasise Hitler's intentions and Ð''world view' as being at the centre of the development of policies in the Third Reich. For Ð''Hitler-centric' historians such as Hillgruber or Hildebrand, the goals of world conquest and racial extermination must and can only be explained primarily in terms of Hitler's intentions. Hitler remained a Ð''strong' dictator.

The two views of Hitler's role were rooted in wider differences of interpretation of the power structures of the Third Reich. On the one hand, for all the explicit attacks on the concept, the notion of a totalitarian state in which Hitler effectively exercised absolute power still lay, if only implicitly, behind much writing on the Third Reich. War and genocide could be explained primarily in terms of Hitler's intentions, carried out once the opportunity was ripe; the Ð''Hitler order' remained the focus of explanation. On the other hand, building on the work of Hans Mommsen and Martin Broszat, historians began to conceive of the Nazi state as Ð''polycratic': characterised by increasing competition between overlapping centres of power; a state in which politics became ever less a matter of formal procedures within clearly defined institutional structures and more a matter of personal rivalries among members of the elite.

Taken to an extreme in the so-called Ð''intentionalist/stucturalist debate' over the origins of the Holocaust, the intentionalsits seemed to incriminate only Hitler and a relatively small circle of loyal henchmen, while the structuralist emphasis on the Ð''cumulative radicalisation' of the regime (which seemed to take on a momentum of its own) almost seemed to write Hitler out of the script altogether.

A close examination of Hitler's role in the Third Reich, as carried out by Ian Kershaw in his biography of Hitler, develops a more complex model which succeeds in reconciling a focus on Hitler's supreme role with an analysis of the far from streamlined power structures of



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