Who's Who

Was Hitler a Weak Dictator?

David Williamson examines two seemingly irreconcilable schools of thought.

Perhaps of all the exam questions set on the Third Reich, 'Was Hitler a Weak Dictator?' is the most difficult. It leads to the heart of the complex Intentionalist-Structuralist debate. On the one hand, there are the Intentionalist historians who argue forcefully in the words of Norman Rich that 'Hitler was master in the Third Reich', while the Structuralists stress the many contraints on Hitler's power which range from his own personal inadequacies to the limits imposed upon him by the structure of the Nazi party and state. Mommsen, for instance, argues that he was 'in many ways a weak dictator',1 and David Irving in one of his earlier and less outrageous books even goes so far as to describe him as 'probably the weakest leader Germany has known this century'.2

The weak dictator/leader argument is paradoxical and is bitterly contested by a formidable array of historians who include, amongst many others, Bullock, Bracher, Dawidowicz, Hildebrand, and Jackel, who argue that Hitler had a programme and possessed the necessary powers to implement it. Bracher and Bullock, for instance, see Hitler as an immensely cunning politician who would use any tactic to further his aims. Bullock stresses that his foreign policy is only explicable if seen as a combination of 'consistency of aim with complete opportunism in method and tactics'.3

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