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Labelling

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WAS HITLER A WEAK DICTATOR?

Introduction

The question of whether Hitler was master in the Third Reich or a ‘weak dictator' is one of the central debates amongst historians of Nazi Germany. It is not necessary to spend too much time here outlining the debate, as this information can easily be found elsewhere (see, for example, the excellent chapter on this subject in Ian Kershaw's The Nazi Dictatorship). Broadly speaking, historians who have participated in this debate can be located on a scale ranging from the ‘intentionalists' at one extreme to the ‘functionalists' on the other.

The ‘intentionalists' include historians such as Norman Rich, Joachim Fest and Karl Dietrich Bracher. What these historians have in common is their stress on the centrality of Hitler's person and ideology in Nazi Germany. According to Rich, for example: ‘The point cannot be emphasised too strongly. Hitler was master in the Third Reich.'

The ‘structuralist' school of thought (sometimes called the ‘functionalist' school) includes historians such as Tim Mason, Hans Mommsen and Martin Broszat. Though structuralists do not deny the importance of Hitler's role, they tend to stress the fact that he exercised his power within certain structures that shaped, and in some ways placed limits upon, his policies. Some structuralists also argue that Hitler was indecisive, influenced by his cronies, and divorced from the day-to-day running of the Third Reich. Hans Mommsen even goes so far as to argue that Hitler was in some ways a ‘weak dictator'.

In order to try and establish which school of thought comes closer to the truth, we shall look at two key issues on which structuralists and intentionalists have clashed, namely the ‘polycratic state' and the Nazi economy.

The polycratic state

Structuralist historians often stress the chaotic structure of the Third Reich. They argue that Nazi Germany was in no sense a monolithic state. On the contrary, it was a chaotic collection of... [continues]…...

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