Essay On to What Extent Did Hitler Determine the Policies of the Third Reich Between 1933 and 1945?
Number of words: 3703
William Carr describes how Hitler was as surprised as anyone, when during the summer of 1933 the right wing parties, the Centre, the Populists and the Nationalists dissolved, leaving the Nazis in control of a one party system . This left Hitler in control of a one party state, and by default, the dictator of Germany. Numerous debates have arisen from Hitlers’ time as dictator of the Third Reich. One such debate, I wish to answer within the content of this essay is; ‘to what extent did Hitler determine the policies of the Third Reich?’
I will be answering this question by focusing upon two main theories. The first theory being the “intentionalist” approach to Hitlers role. Ian Kershaw explains the idea that the Third Reich and any decision politically within it, were all “Hitler’s ideological intentions” . That Hitler was the central figure who directed and devised the activities objectives and policies of the Third Reich. The second approach is the opposing “structualist”  theory to Hitlers’ dictatorship. This focuses upon “Pressures built into the governmental system” strongly influencing policy formation and general activities, as well as the “chaotic structure and institutions of the Third Reich” . This theory shows Hitler did not have much influence in policy formation , relying on others and not his “Personality and ideology”  being the main driving force behind the direction of the governments policies.
There is evidence of the power and influence he had over other members of the Nazi party, and of the ultimate respect they gave him. This would show that Hitler was the overriding force within the party and any policy would have been made or approved by himself. When Hitler spoke, it was described by some members of his party as being like a preacher delivering a sermon. Members of the Nazi party would look to Hitler for approval on the policies they had created, such as during the Goebbels Diaries. Goebbels is constantly giving accounts of visits to Hitleror showing him his latest projects in order to seek approval. Hitlers’ ideologies and compliments would also be taken very much to heart. Letters from the Fuhrer would have members of the party “moved”  and policies and general opinions on such topics as the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle would be supported, merely because the person making the point was Hitler. The fact Hitler was so respected by his party shows he had a large influence in policy formation during the Third Reich. He had complete control over party members, so any policy activated by the party would have come from him.
Hitler often treated members with complete contempt. Even Goering and Goebbels who were very close to Hitler knew there were “limits beyond which, they dare not go”. Hitler in his own words even described his general staff as “young louts”, evidence he considered himself the firm leader of the party. Kershaw discusses the fear factor Hitler has over his party members and incidents such as ‘The Night of the Long Knives’, kept members of the party in line, this meant orders would be “carried out and not disobeyed”, which would make him the main force within the Nazi government, including policy formation and what ever he said, was done. Historian Bullock, describes Hitler as a man who “exercised absolute power” . The complete control he had over his party, follows the intentionalist view that Hitler was the main force behind the plans and activities during the Third Reich.
It has been argued that Hitler had brilliant skills as a politician, which won him the popularity of the nation. It was the popular policies which Hitler made which gave him such popularity, this popularity would not have exsisted without the policies coming directly from Hitler. The Hitler Myth discusses the good work Hitler did for the German nation, particularly focusing upon his “abolishing <of> unemployment” and “constructing motorways” (autobahns) .Hitler would action policies that on the surface appeared to be for the benefit of the German people and the economy. However ultimately these policies would serve a different agenda. Workers would be given jobs building motorways or in military service (as a solider, working in the arsenal factories etc), this would keep the public very happy, but also help Hitler push Germany towards war. By 1938, Germany had the strongest army and air force in the whole of Europe. This evidence suggest Hitler was the main driving force towards policy formation. He had to enact these policies or his hidden goals could not have been achieved. Although the source from Goebells diary may not be so reliable, it states within that Llyod George “recommends serious consideration of Hitler’s proposals” . This source shows Hitler to be politically extremely strong as even the opposition are considering following him and his policies.
Hitler would also make extremely bold decisions, such as the abandonment of Germany’s longstanding animosity with Poland. Hitler himself even described his decision making skills as “lightning quick” . Hitler was an extremely passionate man with extremely strong views, even arguing with a librarian on one occasion merely because he wouldn’t take Hitlers quest for ultimate knowledge seriously. A man with this much passion for knowledge and power certainly would not have allowed any other to have too much influence over the governments policies. The book ‘Hitler’, describes the, “sense of power, with a mounting crescendo of excitement” , that Hitler had, he never failed to impress an audience. The fact Hitler had the power of the people supporting him, shows him to be the policy formatter, as it meant he was the orator influencing the peoples views, meaning he could implement policies of personal choice and they would be followed. Unless they were his own policies, surely he would not put so much effort into influencing the people, he would allow others to do it.
Hitlers policy of “divide and rule”  which he implemented within his own political party is another example of, Hitler being the main force behind policies during the Third Reich. “Divide and rule policy consisted of, pitting members of the party against each other to see who could come up with the best policy on a certain issue. The victor would rise through the ranks and receive privileges. The idea utilized by Hitler was based on the idea of social Darwinism. Carr states that Hitler would often cause “confusion and uncertainty” within his party and that he would encourage power struggles. These were very fierce rivalries and caused much animosity towards other members of what was the same party. Hitler took ideas that other members of his party came up with and could use them as his own. As well as this it also cements Hitlers place as main policy creater as it shows members of the Nazi party all creating ideas to give to Hitler, as they new he was the person in charge of policies. Kershaw infers that Hitler chose to have the government in such a “chaotic” state.
However, there are still historians, such as Momsen, that will maintain that this “divide and rule” structure was not intentional by Hitler, and that it simply shows Hitler to be a leader “incapable” of decision making. This would show that Hitler did not have much sway over policy formation in the Third Reich. This is supported by the reading of Goebbels diaries, there are countless examples of members of the Nazi party going off and taking action without first consulting the Furher. It often seems other members of the party are more in charge, such as Goebbels who orders attacks on foreign press on the 27th May 1939 without even Hitlers say so. If policies are being made without Hitlers influence or even knowledge then it shows he does not have much power in policy formation.
One major example of the party having a larger influence in writing policy was during the Spanish civil war 1936. It has been claimed that the only reason Hitler aided Franco was because, he was advised to do so by other members of his party. Another, and most famous example, would be Hitlers involvement in the final solution. Hitler certainly could not be the only one to blame for the occurrence of the holocaust; such members of the party like Himmler have admitted their large part in this atrocity. The blame for the holocaust can be placed more upon the “complex structure of decision making” in the party, not just Hitler. The way in which the Nazi party are often responsible for decision making, shows Hitler to be weak and incapable of making them himself, either that or he could simply not control his own party. Hitler admitted that he had “been too soft with them” . This could be Hitlers most costly mistake, as it gave the Nazis a chance to almost take advantage, and totally ignore his orders and policies. This occurred on the 18th and 19th of March 1945 when Hitler wanted his troops to be dispatched, without food, to march off and fight. If Hitler was the main policy maker, then his orders would not have been ignored.
Another reason that Hitler did not have much hand in policy was his depleting physical and mental health. Hitler in the later years of the war became a “shadow of himself”  mainly due to the illnesses from which he suffered. This “wreck of a man”  can in no way be referred to as a strong dictator as he was now failing in health, let alone failing to command the nation and create policies. There are a number of reasons illness affected his statues as a policy initiator. One reason Carr discussed, was the idea that Hitler would increase the speed in which he took action on issues, leaving less time for thought. His fear of an impending death would make him act before thinking, meaning that his policies may have been ignored by his party as they were well aware of the rashness they may have been created with.
The book ‘Diagnosis of a destructive prophet’ opened up the debate for Hitlers mental and physical state, and what affect it had on his power as a policy maker. Within it there is a huge list of conditions Hitler possibly had, such as syphilis, he apparently obtained from a Jewish prostitute. It was also “beyond all doubt” he had cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses that would affect Hitlers ability to perform certain tasks. This shows Hitler could not be the policy creator as it would mean he would have to have assistants, who invariably would have much influence over the policies.
Hitlers ideas for his policies could be considered extremely unoriginal, despite the way in which he attempted to adopt them as his own. For example the idea of eugenics, that Hitler used in his quest for an Arian race, was an idea that dates back to the Victorian era. This shows it may have been easy for outside influences could of affected Hitlers policy creation, showing he was not the driving force behind them. These views which he was passionate about, he would intently focus upon, often to the exclusion of other policies. Germanys rule over Europe and the extermination of the Jews, took precedence over any other issue. This was summarized during the documentary “Hitler and Stalin: Twin Tyrants” in which it is said Hitler did have control over policies he took interest in, yet if he was not interested then those policies would be created by others. The Furhers laziness, lack of work ethic, and his odd sleeping pattern, could be used as evidence to suggest that he may not have had all the power over policy formation within the Third Reich. While important decision may of needed to be made Hitler could have been in bed or at his country home, in such a time another member of the party could of simply made the policy for him. .
To conclude, I feel that Hitler was the main policy creator within the Third Reich. Hitler used the idea of social Darwinism, in order to keep ultimate power within his party and allow others to make decisions on issues in which he was less interested. When it came to issues on the extermination of Jews, or domination of Europe, Hitler was extremely involved. Hitler allowed certain members of his party to exercise their own power on other issues that he was not interested in. The fact Hitler ‘allowed’ these people to have the power, shows he was the main policy creator, if it was an issue Hitler wanted the power of policy of creation over then he would of taken it, and not allowed any member of his party to get in his way (the treatment of Rohm showed what would happen if any members of his party stepped out of line and tried to have too much say in the party). The dominance Hitler showed over his party politically and within their private lives shows Hitler to be the main policy maker and if any power of policy creation was devolved to another, it could just as easily be taken away by the Furher who was meticulous in the creation of the policies which he thought would bring power to Germany and the citezans within it.
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