A consensus Dictatorship? (Historical Debate)
A Dictatorship that existed, but with the consent of the overall majority of people (this isn't the same as popularity). Considerbale debate whether the Nazi Regime was based on popular support or repression and terror.
Evidence that the regime was popular
- The plebicites (a democratic vote on a single issue): Results tended to indicate people supported Hitlers policies. Ian Kershaw believes these referenda helped create 'plebiscitary acclamation' ( Hitler regularly renewed his right to rule by holding referenda on policies he knew would recieve overwhelming support, thus giving the appearence the regime was popular.
- Lack of opposition: During the 1930s there was very little overt opposition with no significant attempts to overthrow the regime/plots against Hitler. Only plots to happpen came from individuals or small elite groups (therefore cant be seen to reflect public opinion).
- Collaboration (between the people and the regime): Can be argued the regime was a concensus dictatorship; it relied heavily on collaboration of the public. Only 20 Gestapo officers (who didn't have time to mount surveillance against people, they relied on denunciations from ordinary people to root out the people who didn't conform to the regime). 'Working towards the Fuhrer' became a known concept, Hitler believed he was above day to day politics and left a vacuum for people to fill (where power/influence was up for grabs); you gained power/reward if you successfully worked towards Hitlers world view in the right way and this is how the process of Cumulative redicalisation started.
A consensus Dictatorship? (Supporting evidence)
Evideence that some aspects of the regime were geniunley popular:
- The Legacy of Weimar Republic: People seen to support the Nazi Regime because they percieved Weimar to have failed; the political/economic crisis that characterised the final years of weimar was a likely reason for people to support a regime that seemed to bring greater stability.
- Popular policies: Peoples lives were seen to geniunley improve as a result of economic/foreign policy. e.g. Unemployment reduced (fell to 1m by 1935) and economic growth returned, Strength Through Joy (allowed some WC people to enjoy more leisure/holiday time), managed to successfully and peacefully remilitarise the Rhineland in 1936 and unify with Austria in 1938 and free healthcare for pregnant 'Aryan' women increased some people living standards.
- Impact of Propaganda (Goebbels): Newspapers were censored and recieved daily press briefings, radio was used to propagate Nazi messages and the annual Nazi Nuremburg Rally became a showcase for Nazi power. However, this does undermine the argument that is was a 'consensus dictatorship' ; the people were subject to propaganda, so they may have been manipulated into supporting the regime and not freely consented.
- Hitler Myth: Goebbels painted Hitler's image to be the saviour of Germany (shown in poses reminiscent to Jesus), and tied him to popular aspects of the regime, such as foreign policy and the 1936 olympics. Made him look to stand above politics and represent a whole nation; the positive view of Hitler contributed to the level of support the party enjoyed in the 30s.
Was the regime really popular?
Some historians have opposed the idea:
- Matrin Bozrat points to evidence of resistance from civil servants/senior Army Generals (who resisted nazi initative and generals tried to prevent complete nazi controll of Military); Tim Mason argued that WC discontent about declining living standards in late 1930s pushed Hitler into war earlier than planned; also SOPADE/Gestapo/SD reports indicated unrest with living standards and cynicism about propaganda.
Opposition and Non-conformity:
-Through studying local archives, Bozrat uncovered evidence of what he interpreted as widespread opposition; Bozrat saw this as anything that defied Nazi ideology e.g. listening to jazz, buying goods from Jewish shops, refusing to give Nazi salute,
Others have argued discontent and non-conformity didn't often translate into a desire to overthrow the regime; Hofer argues that Bozrat overstates the significance of Resistenz (that he sees to have no effent on Nazi policy), it was normally related to small economic problems.
Types of opposition (Detlev Peukert - research based on Edelweiss Pirates opposition levels):
- Active resistance: e.g attempts to overthrow regime, like the Bomb plot of 1944.
- Protest: criticism of aspects of Nazi policy e.g. catholic priests reading out encyclical from pope condemning Nazi ideas
- Non-Conformity: failing to adhere to Nazi ideals e.g. listening to jazz, telling anti-nazi jokes
- Overall sees little active resistance and protest, but significant levels of non-conformity.
The role of terror and repression:
'Historians who focus on the idea of a 'consensus dictatorship' underestimate the s of the terror':
Terror against the Left:
-A reason for the lack of opposition to the Nazis was the brutal repression directed at the Left in 1933 e.g. concentration camps were established to detain the regimes opponents (1933- 150-200k people were detained). Armed SA members also took over trade union offices in May 1933 and regularly brutally broke up meetings.
- Under the Nazis, people lost rights ro freedom of speech, freedom of assembley and the Gestapo gained the right to arrest/hold people in custody for any reason. Gleischaltung meant the Nazis were in control of most aspects of the state. Although the Gestapo was small in numbers, the regime kept an eye on people via public agents/block wardens who monitored their local areas for any signs of deviancy.
- From 1936, Heinrich Himmler (head of the Schutzstaffel, or SS) was in charge of a huge terror and repression network including the SS, SA, security service, the police and the Gestapo.
Was the Nazis a consensus dictatorship?
It's hard to fully sustain the argument that the Nazi state was 'consented' given that political freedom was abolished, opponents of the regime smached and an extensive terror network developed. Widespread collaboration and personal support for Hitler seemed strong, but even so the regime was never totally supported and the Nazis failed their mission to convert all those deemed 'racially pure'.
An efficient state? (Historical Debate)
There's been much debate over the structure of the state and the extent of Hitlers power:
A strong dictator?
- Immediatley after WW2, the image of the Nazi state was efficient and hierarchically organised; at the Nuremburg trials in 1945, senior Nazis claimed all power was in Hitlers hands and they were carrying out orders. Intentionalist Historians viewed the Nazi state as totalitarian and organised to carry out Hitlers will; the basis for why the Enabling act was passed, therefore Hitlers intentions are considered v important in explaining state policy.
A weak dictator?
- Since the 60s, that interpretation has been challenged with the view that, in fact, the Nazi states organisation/decision making were chaotic and inefficient. The actual Hitler was the total opposite to the Myth created by Goebbels; he was infact lazy, and preffered to holiday in Obersalzberg, rather than be in Berlin and give direct orders. He's argued by Structuralist Historians to be a weak dicator who didn't controll decision making in Germany.
A chaotic and polycratic state:
- There was no clear decision making procedures and often no clear lines of accountability, also structures were often duplicated and overlapping in their functions, creating inefficieny.
-Parts of the Nazi state were able to build up vast power and often competed with one another for dominance; a concept of 'dog eat dog'. Structuralists argue an anatomy of this complexity was too chaotic for Hitler to have been in full command of it.
e.g. when decision making in Germany is analysed it appears others, not Hitler initiated action; such as the Nuremburg Laws (made following pressure from local Nazi party organisations for stronger action against Jews) and Kristallnacht (orchestrated by Goebbels and spontaneous action from local levels; Hitler did authorise this though).
An efficient state? (Historical Debate cont.)
Although the chaotic nature of the Nazi state/absence of direct orders from Hitler, Nazi policy generally seems to have reflected Hitlers ideas:
- The role of Hitler- All decisions were supposed to emanate from Hitler, in some areas Hitler did directly control decision making e.g. Foreign policy (which Hitler dominantly steered, firstly by rejecting the Treaty of Versailles/ developing expansionist plans). Also in 1936 he took the decision to remilitarise the Rhineland (against the advice of his Generals) and decided to push forward with an expansionist policy in the late 1930s.
- Working towards the Fuhrer- In any other area, Hitler didn't always make direct decisions and policy; Ian Kershaw explains this as that many people within the Nazi state took decisions by 'working towards the Furher' and formulated policy on the basis of what Hitler would want. Working towards the Furher may also have been seen also as a method of potential career advancement (those who were more likely to implement Hitlers will were more likely to win favour and power).
e.g. Goebbels orchestrated Kristallnacht partly because he was out of favour with Hitler following an affair with a Czech actress (considered racially inferior by Hitler) and attempted to win back his favour by 'working towards' him. Also the pursuit of the murder of disabled childern, was Bouhler 'working towards' Hitlers intention to create a 'racially pure' society; people who were not fully fit and strong were eradicated from society.
Nature of the Nazi state (Theories and insights)
- Reasons for 'working towards the Fuhrer': Just acknowledging that many officials were 'working towards the Fuhrer' doesn't explain their motives. Potential motives include ideological beliefs (Fuhrerprinzip) that all power and authority rested with Hitler, the chance to advance their careers by pleasing the Fuhrer. Furthermore Ian Kershaw argues that the hitler Myth had such power people actually believed in the idea of Hitler as a Messianic figure who would save Germany, therefore they wished to enact his vision.
- The Third Reich: A Darwinian Jungle?: Officials 'working towards the Fuhrer' gave Hitler a strange sort of power; a dictator that didn't need to dictate. However, it could be argued that Hitler deliberatley established the system of chaotic rule; it complimented his Social Darwinist view that the strongest person, or in this case idea, will and should prevail. Thus Hitler may have felt a chaotic and competetive system was best.
- Cumulative Radicalisation: The nature of Gov. may also explain why the Nazi state became more and more extreme after the mid-1930s. It can be explained, that an absence of legal restraints, the mechanism of 'working towards the Fuhrer' and the context in which some human life wasn't valuable combined to create ever more radical policy. Through this process, the state became increasingley dominated by the SS police system and radical foreign policy became evermore extreme. This theory can be used to explain the origins of the Holocaust.
- An efficient state with an all-powerful ruler?: The Nazi state had a chaotic and polycratic structure, as can be seen in the organisdation of Economic Policy; Hitler didn't controll all decision making. Nevertheless, Hitler intervined directly in the areas that he thought were most important e.g. Foreign policy. It was Hitlers vision that provided inspiration for Nazi policy through the mechanism of 'workign towards the Fuhrer'. Others depended upon Hitlers favour to advance in their careers and gain power.
[ Pretty much same as 'Reasons for working towards the Fuhrer']