Nazi Germany Totalitarian

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  • Topic: Nazi Germany, Nazism, Adolf Hitler
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To what extent could Nazi Germany be considered a totalitarian state in the period 1933-1942?

From Hitler's election to power in January 1933, Nazi Germany although exhibiting totalitarian elements lacked some required factors to characterize it fully as a totalitarian state. George Orwell suggested that totalitarianism is (1984, introduction) "the ability for a political system or society where the individual does not exist, a single party controls every aspect of life." Paramount to the classification of a state as totalitarian is the oppression of its people and the lack of their patriotism caused by the resentment and anger they harbor towards their dictator. Rather it was through populism gained through continued success that Hitler governed Germany. A question is raised as to the extent that the Nazi government conformed to a totalitarian state and an example of this dispute arises with the structuralists criticism of the interpretation of the intentionalists. Structuralists, notably Ian Kershaw, criticize the internationalists emphasis on the form the society took rather than its content. Intentionalists, such as Alan Bullock, focus on the image presented by the Nazis. With respect to both these arguments it would be further incorrect to describe Nazi Germany as fully totalitarian as it does not fulfill sufficient criteria according to the academic interpretation of Carl Friederich. Thus Nazi Germany cannot be labeled a totalitarian state in the period 1933-1942.

Implicit in a totalitarian society is the ability of a state to thrive as a monolithic- well organised structure however (William Carr 320) "Gleichschaltung to did not lead to a clear and orderly system of government." Structuralist's such as Kershaw, ague that Hitler ruled through his trusted henchmen under a polycratic system of government- a complex power structure in which Hitler's personal authority was only one element of the entire structure. Thus, the Nazi party was not a unified whole but rather a mass of specialist organisations keen to uphold their own political interest, splintering and depriving the party of a unified structure. Consequently, the Nazi hierarchy was riddled with bitter rivalries as a result of the excessive competition within the party. Fuhrer under the 'Fuhrerprinzip,' (recognising the absolute right to the elite to rule on behalf of the masses), Hitler did not actively intervene in the government which is a reflection of Hitler lacks of interest, weak dictatorship and his reluctance to make decisions. As Broszat suggests (Layton 65) "Hitler was unwilling to make decisions, frequently uncertain, exclusively concerned with upholding his prestige and personal authority." Intentionalists argue that the (Geyer 45) 'morass' state of the government was a result of deliberate 'divide and rule' - in effect an attempt to maintain his own political authority by encouraging division and confusion in both the structure and personnel of the government. Despite the discarding of this opinion by structuralist's, the chaotic structure of the government was atypical of a totalitarian state. Furthermore, Nazi ideology, lacking coherence and criticized for it intellectual and superficial simplicity, was far too disjointed to formulate into a strict party policy. Although the Nazi party centred its function on its ideology, there was a lack of any systematic order for coordinating the various policies. The governments failure to construct a monolithic, orderly system of government and large degrees of power held by Reichleiters, restricts the fulfillment of one of Friedrich's major requirements of a totalitarian state in which a "single mass party led by one man, which forms the hard-core of the regime."

Throughout the Nazi regime there was never a complete control over the economy, which would have been necessary to exercise full authority. Hitler, chancellor in 1933, accepted responsibility for a depressed economy. Nazi economic policy...
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