To what extent was Hitler 'a weak dictator?'

Categories: Hitler

There is a significant historical debate over the strength of Adolf Hitler’s leadership and his position as a dictator, but it is fair to say that despite some clear weaknesses in his leadership style he was in fact a strong, rather than a weak, dictator. In order to understand why this is the case it is necessary to analyse Hitler’s personality, decision-making and leadership style, and there are two main arguments that have developed when considering these issues.

The “Intentionalists”, such as Mason and Broszat, argue that Hitler’s leadership showed he was a strong dictator as he was an astute politician, creating confusion among his followers to protect his position as leader.

The ‘structuralists’, such as Shirer and Noakes, argue instead that Hitler’s approach demonstrated weakness as he struggled to make decisions, failed to rationally organise his party and allowed his subordinates to undermine his authority. Overall, it is clear that despite his weaknesses, Hitler was a formidable politician who was able to maintain control of his government and cannot therefore be considered a weak dictator.

Paragraph 1: Hitler’s Personality

Joachim Fest (1963) emphasise that Hitler’s personality was very temperamental and have sudden “abrupt changes of mood”1. This is also supported by Noakes and Pridham (1984), when claims are made about Hitler “avoiding decisions or declining to get involved”2 So it seems that Hitler was not willing to get involved in government proceedings and rarely made set decisions without getting distracted or changing his mind. These views are well supported by the fact that Hitler was very much a public and social figure rather than a political genius.

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However, Hitler became Chancellor to President Hindenburg in 1933 which meant Hitler did take part in any governmental proceedings. Hindenburg saw Hitler as a great speaker and a potentially good leader for Germany.

It was when Hitler received the Enabling Act in 1933 that allowed him to acquire power to be able to produce his dictatorship. Burleigh (2000), shows a insight that gives an idea that Hitler did not have to take hold of all his responsibilities as the Furher. “We should not expect a leader who saw himself as an artist-politician genius to behave like a hard working academic committee man”3. Ian Kershaw (1985) does agree with Burleigh and creates a very understandable argument. However, Kershaw does mention that the “Overall structure of government was reduced to a shambles of constantly shifting powers bases or warring factors”4

Hitler’s personality did play a massive part in the government, however to whether this made him weak is another matter.

It may seem that Hitler did have the power to be able to pass his powers on to his Subordinates, however, his personality of being a very temperamental, shows from Joachim Fest, Noakes and Pridham’s point of view of Hitlers personality putting a real toll on his government.

German General Heinz Guderian made an observation of Hitler (July 1944), it shows his views on Hitler’s personality and contributes in the historian’s debate.

“After the July 20th attempt, Hitler was a sick man. Even before the assassination attempt, he had been very nervous, and not in complete possession of his faculties. His left side trembled. His mind was not clear enough to appreciate the real situation of Germany”5

This primary source agrees with Joachim Fest(1963) and Noakes and Pridham(1984), in that even before an assassination attempt on Hitler, he had still shown signs of nerves. Could have Hitler’s dictatorship been weakened by the fact that Hitler was constantly under attack? Evidence does show that Hitler was being targeted however, for a dictator; it goes with out saying that Hitler had to move on and focus on pressing matters and therefore showing Hitler to be more strong than weak

2nd paragraph: Hitler’s decision making

The historians argue Hitler stayed supreme by blurring lines of command, creating duplication within the Reich. For example, He broke up unified control over the Party organisation and established himself as Furher. Looking at G.Noakes and D.Pridham (1984), ” In any government, people tend to look at the head of government for instructions and decisions”6 Now, looking at this extract it is clear to say that in this case, in the Nazi government, people did not look at the head of the government (Hitler) for instructions and decisions. Looking at primary evidence, Ernst Von Weizsacker memoirs, shows how in the third Reich, Hitler went about making decisions. I see in the source that Hitler rarely made a sustainable decision and when he did, it was said that he made a slight remark or “murmur”7 that then was sent of as “Order of the Furher”8.

This states to me that Hitler was obviously very bad at making decisions, yet even when he did, It was in some what a way of propaganda when it is sent off as “Order of the Furher”. Looking at another source, I find more substantial evidence. Otto Dietrich’s “Twelve years with Hitler” 1955, shows me that Hitler had produced the biggest confusion in government that has ever existed in a civilized state. Yet, what is not to say Hitler did this intentionally? Yes Hitler may had been horrendous at decision making but he had highly educated generals do that for him.

So, I believe that Hitler wanted this technique of systematically disorganised the upper levels of the Reich leadership in order to develop and further his authority of his own will until it became a despotic tyranny. However, in Ernst Von Wiezsacker’s memoirs, he puts a strong emphasis on the fact that Hitler was mostly lazy and showed no compassion in his work. Ian Kershaw also explains that Hitler had many “Peripheral decisions”9 meaning that Hitler did not focus on main decisions that were needed to be made, instead he focused on little issues. This emphases the argument that Hitler was very much aware of the problems within his regime, however chose to look at less important matters rather than take full responsibility for every single decision, which one might find to be odd in a dictatorship government.

Paragraph 3 Hitler’s Leadership style

William L. Shirer, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1959, and G. Noakes and D. Pridham, “Nazism 1984, all emphasise that Hitler’s leadership style did effect the regime greatly. For example, Shirer says that “Hitler was bored by the details of day-to-day governing and after he had consolidated his position following the death of Hindenburg he left them largely to his aides”10 This refers to the Fuhrerprinzip doctorine established in from the 1920’s. Hitler chose not to exercise his powers after the Enabling Act of 1933 allowed him to act as ruler by decree.

For example, Hitler enabled Goering to access any necessary powers to get Germany ready for war. Also gave power by degree to Himmler to do anything that is required to “unify the Police”11 However, there was competition in the Third Reich, for example, Goering had to work with Schacht the Economics Minster who found Goering to be “incompetent”12 and Himmler’s clash with Frick who was the Minister of the Interior who should hold more power over the police than Himmler. This shows that Shirer, Noakes and Pridam all show an approach to Hitler’s way of organising his Third Reich.

However, do the claims presented by the historians provide a convincing enough argument? This argument does not satisfy Jacobson (1999) who claims that the playing off of officials was deliberate by Hitler, this was due to the fact that Hitler believe in competition in order to produce strong subordinates. Therefore the argument presented by Shirer, Noakes and Pridham seems flawed as they try to present Germany as uniquely chaotic when it was obviously not.

Looking at Martin Brozart’s “The Hitler State” shows Brozarts views on Hitler and puts a strong emphasis on shifting powers within the Third Reich. Brozart talks about Hitler, Frick and Himmler and the issues of Himmler acquiring a degree that gave him emergency powers for him, as the head of the German Police and the Reich SS Leader. However, with this power give come with it drawbacks. “Within the Reich Ministry of the Interior”13, was used under Himmler’s power which meant that technically Frick was a higher rank as Minister of the Reich Ministry of the Interior, hence Himmler’s rank being of control of Frick. Himmler was not given the position of the State Secretary, and he was only authorised to attend meetings of the Reich cabinet. It very much seemed that Himmler did not have the power he wanted. It was said that he was not given a ministerial rank, however evidence would suggest that Himmler did not care about this rank or even bother of trying to require it.

Brozart explains, “Supplementary decrees made it clear that his subordination to Frick was more or less purely nominal”14This can be interpreted as the decree that Himmler holds, he finds himself in a situation that gives more power than Frick, however, unofficially. His decree, given by Hitler, was stated under, “To unify the control of Police duties in the Reich”15 which gave him the rank of Chief of police and S.S leader. At that time the S.S were huge with over 2 million men. So, surely Himmler found himself in a position that would allow him to take Hiler’s power. Although, Hitler has the social skills, fame, charisma and love from the Germany people. If Himmler were to take over, he may not be able to grasp the German support and keep the Nazi Regime.

However, even with this ever popular shifting of powers, did it make Hitler weak? To be able to shift powers and not be challenge by his fellow subordinate’s shows that Hitler has significant power to be able to relay his powers to his generals. Not only did he hold power, but Hitler held personal relations with his generals, for example, Himmler and his army of 2 million men in the S.S. It really showed Hitlers power within his government due to the fact that no one ever tried to take his role as Furher, but merely take responsibility for his power when Hitler was not willing to proceed with government proceedings.

It was Hitler’s leadership style along with his inability to make decisions at critical times, which lead to the undoing of Nazi Germany. What I find quite interesting is that in the early days of Hitler’s reign, he found that his senior officers were unwilling to take risks and as time went on, he came to the conclusion that Germany’s victories were his alone and that his general were incapable. However, why did then proceed to shift powers in the Third Reich? My argument is that, I see Hitler’s leadership style to be very clever. He obviously made a great name for himself and fame, meaning that he could get people to do his work. Yet, at the same time, he was very interested in natural selection and therefore encouraged competition in his Third Reich to produce generals that are of high standards.


In conclusion it would suggest that the evidence from the historians has shown me that Hitler must have shown more weak points rather than strong points, ultimately making Hitler to be more of a weak dictator. However, being able to bring back Germany from the debts of depressions after World War 1 and gathering millions of supporters shows Hitler that he was more of a strong dictator rather than a weak one. His personality was also interesting. In his private life, he seemed to be like any other man. However, it was said that he became very lazy at points and infuriated at others. It was this personality which affected his decision making skills as well.

Also, that being said, that only happened if he actually attended meetings or took responsibility with his power, instead he shifted powers, which caused a lot of confusion in the Third Reich. He was truly interested in natural selection and wanted competition in his government. It was ‘Survival of the fittest’. It would allow Hitler to shift his power and relax whilst his subordinates worked hard and gained skilled which Hitler could use to benefit the Nazi regime. Hitler didn’t care about anyone’s rank, just as long as his views were seen to. However, this method was very well in Hitler’s eyes, but when Japan and Germany joined to declare war on the USA, the confusion and disorganisation in the Third Reich was amplified. It may not be the reason for the collapse of the Nazi regime but it would have played a huge part within it.



William L. Shirer, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”1959

Joachim Fest, “The Face of the Third Reich”1963

William Carr, “Hitler; A study in Personality and Politics” 1978

Martin Broszat, “The Hitler State” 1983

G.Noakes and D.Pridham, “Nazism” 1984

1 Joachim Fest – “The Face of the Third Reich” 1963

2 G. Noakes and D.Pridham – “Nazism” 1984

3 Micheal Burleigh – “The Third Reich” 2000

4 Ian Kershaw – “The Nazi Dictatorship” 1985

5 German General Heinz Guderian made an observation of Hitler 1944

6 G.Noakes and D. Pridham – “Nazism” 1984

7 Ernst von Weizsacker, State Secretary in the Foreign Office, Memoirs 1951

8 Ernst von Weizsacker, State Secretary in the Foreign Office, Memoirs 1951

9 Ian Kershaw – “The Nazi Dictatorship” 1985

10 William L. Shirer – “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” 1959

11 Martin Brozart – “The Hitler State” 1981

12 Martin Brozart – “The Hitler State” 1981

13 Martin Brozart – “The Hitler State” 1981

14 Martin Brozart – “The Hitler State” 1981

15 Martin Brozart -“The Hitler state” 1981

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