Essay on Was Hitler a Weak Dictator or the Master of the Third Reich?
Number of words: 3875
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; ‘Was Hitler a weak dictator or the master 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 in fact a strong dictator, as he was the central figure who directed and devised the activities and objectives 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 to be a weak dictator, relying on others and not his “Personality and ideology”  being the main driving force behind the direction of the government.
Hitler can be seen as a strong dictator. 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. When Hitler spoke, it was described by some members of his party as being like a preacher delivering a sermon. For a man to have such motivational power with speech, shows he is a strong dictator. 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 desperately 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 views 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 him to be a strong dictator. 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 a very strong dictator as 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 a strong dictator and the main force behind the plans and activities during the Third Reich.
Other reasons Hitler should be considered the master of the Third Reich, were his brilliant skills as a politician, which won him the popularity of the nation. 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 suffice 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. Hitlers’ ability to solve the countries major problems, and still work towards his own goals, shows him to be an extremely strong dictator and certainly the master of the Third Reich. Although the source of Goebells diary may not be so reliable, within it he states Llyod George “recommends serious consideration of Hitler’s proposals” . This source shows Hitler to be political extremely strong as even the opposition are considering following him.
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” . The characteristic of decisiveness certainly makes for a strong leader. 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 so passionate easily captured the heart of the nation, making him a very popular politician at the time. The book ‘Hitler’, describes this as a, “sense of power, with a mounting crescendo of excitement” , Hitler never failed to impress an audience. The fact Hitler had the power of the people supporting him, shows him to be the master of the Third Reich, as it meant he had influence over there lives, meaning he could implement policies of personal choice and they would be followed.
Hitlers policy of “divide and rule”  which he implemented within his own political party is another example of, and reason why, Hitler was the master of the Third Reich. This 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. This made Hitler a master within the Third Reich, as it meant members of his party were to busy fighting with each other, and not making a bid for ultimate power as the party leader. This consolidated him as the ultimate leader of the Nazis and Germany, making him a very strong dictator. 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 Hitler to be a very weak dictator, as a strong leader has the ability to at least make decisions. 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. Surely if Hitler truly was the Master of the Third Reich, every decision would have to be authorized by him first?
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 orders. 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 such a strong dictator, then his orders would not have been ignored. Not only that, the fact there were several attempts on his life from within his own party, for example in July 1944, shows that Hitler was not strong enough to control his own party, let alone the nation. This shows that Hitler was in fact, a weak dictator.
Another reason that Hitler can be seen to be a weak dictator 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. There are a number of reasons illness affected his statues as a dictator. 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, making him a weak dictator as he did not think plans through as well as they possibly should have been.
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 dictator. Within it there is a huge list of conditions Hitler possibly had, such as syphilis, he apparently obtained from a Jewish prostitute. If this is indeed true, it would show that personal health was effecting his policy creation, in one issue that certainly had a hand in his parties demise, (the holocaust), as it made then so unpopular with the rest of the world, showing him to be a weak dictator. Not only this, it was “beyond all doubt” he had cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses that would affect Hitlers ability to perform certain tasks. This shows Hitler to be a weak dictator, because, of these diseases he would need help from his entourage and assistants. This show he was not the Master of the Third Reich and did rely on others to successfully run the nation. Although, ‘intentionalist’ would cease this argument and use it to illustrate Hitler as a man who survived all adversities to lead the country as a strong dictator. However, due to such severe medical conditions, I believe that to be extremely unlikely
Historians such as Haffner, also suggest that Hitler in fact was not a strong dictator but it was the weakness of his opponents that made him appear to be so successful in foreign and domestic policy. Hitler may have kept power, during the Third Reich not due to his strength of character and ability as a dictator, but because his opponents were so weak they were not able to formulate anything that was likely to threaten Hitlers position as a dictator. Even to the point, if the committees had been stricter in enforcing the Treaty of Versailles, then most of Hitlers actions would not have been able to take place. This shows it wasn’t Hitler being the ‘Master of the Third Reich’, it was in fact the weakness of his opposition. Hitler took advantage of his oppositions weakness to make success of his campaign during his rise to power, showing Hitler not to be amazingly strong, but the only alternative government.
Even without comparison to others, Hitler can be seen as a weak dictator. His ideas for policies were 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. 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. The fact Hitler would obsess over ideas that were not even his own, could show Hitler to be a weak dictator. Even if Hitlers policies were original and implemented well, the Furhers laziness, lack of work ethic, and his odd sleeping pattern, would always hold him back. It is difficult for any worker to be strong in their field when they perform in such a manner, Hitler is no exception, and his idleness could prove that in fact, he was a weak dictator.
To conclude, I feel that Hitler was not a weak dictator. 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. However, Hitler allowed certain members of his party to exercise their own power on other issues. The fact Hitler ‘allowed’ these people to have the power, shows he had ultimate control, and his treatment of Rohm showed what would happen if any members of his party stepped out of line. Hitler was the Master of the Third Reich and despite any lethargy he may have had as a politician, he controlled his party with force, gaining not only respect, but fear, both of which I believe are essential qualities for being a strong dictator.
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