I would take a different tack on this question. All of the points brought up so far have neglected what I feel to be the most important of all: he wasn't successful. If I open a business and have three months of great profits but mismanage the store and have it close, that's not a success. The overall goal was to operate a profitable store in perpetuity. Hitler's goals were not short term, and therefore he was not successful and the premise of the question is off. Of course, I'm just being a fly in the ointment...
It was due to both. I believe another dictator would have emerged if it had not been Hitler, but perhaps not as soon as Hitler took power, and perhaps not as effective as Hitler at building and maintaining a base of power. In addition, perhaps WWII wouldn't have started as early, or perhaps at all, but economic and political conditions in Germany in the 1920s and 30s were a key factor at bringing Hitler to power.
The previous posts were quite lucid on a question where there will be divergent opinions. I think that Hitler's "success" was a combined effort of his abilities as well as circumstances that allowed him to find "success." Certainly, Hitler was able to use the harsh conditions of the Versailles Treaty and its treatment of Germany to his advantage. These conditions allowed others to accept his premise that the decline of Germany was caused by "outsiders" and those who could not understand its greatness. Hitler did not create these conditions, but manipulated them for his advantage. At the same time, Hitler was not directly responsible for the economic decline that caused so many Germans to abandon hope and search for answers in the most unlikely of places. While he was not responsible for this predicament and these conditions, Hitler made the most of them to his advantage.
Right time, right place, right skill -- when these components align, someone will effect something in a profound way. Certainly the extreme economic situation of the Wiemar Republic created fertile ground for Nazi philosophy to take root and flourish, and bring forth someone as extreme as Hitler and his followers. The same could be argued for another European conqueror, Napoleon -- the French Revolution created chaos throughout France, which gave Napoleon the opportunity to become emperor. So circumstances (time and place) have to be "right," and someone with the right skill set (in these cases, the ability to sway the masses) can have an immense impact, for either good or ill.
This is, of course, impossible to answer definitively because we cannot go back and see what would have happened if Hitler had been born in different circumstances.
To evaluate this statement properly, we must ask which circumstances helped Hitler become an important figure. Here are what I see as circumstances that made this possible:
- The loss of WWI in circumstances where many in Germany thought they were winning. Germany still occupied much of France when they surrendered. This lent credence to the "stab in the back" theory.
- The harshness of the Treaty of Versailles. This led many Germans to feel bitter and therefore more likely to support Hitler.
- The terrible economic times under the Weimar Republic. These made people desperate and more likely to support Hitler even though he was so radical in his ideas.
You can certainly argue that these three historical facts helped bring Hitler to power.
I think you make a great point. There are always two elements that play into history. First of all the person is important. I do not think that anyone would deny this. With respect to Hitler, with all his evil, he was an amazing person. My point is that only talented people can be greatly evil. Evil takes strength also.
Second, the historical context is also important. In fact, without the right historical context, a talented person might not be able to do anything. Without World War I and the uncharitable treaty against Germany, Hitler may never have come to power. Or what if Hitler was born in another country, he may have been only a lowly thug.
Favourable circumstances are very important for the success of any individual irrespective of his or her abilities. But circumstances alone do not lead to success, particularly a series of successes over an extended period.
The circumstances faced by Hitler must have been favourable for Hitler in many ways. But the circumstances only present opportunities. But opportunities do not result in successes automatically. The Opportunities must be recognized and grabbed to achieve one's objectives. This can be done only by people who have the skill to do so. Circumstances that follow can again frustrate the efforts of a capable person also, but without capabilities there is no hope of repeated success.
The circumstances faced by Hitler must have been faced by many others also, but they could not convert such advantages in to success while Hitler did.
Also, just luck, in the form of favourable circumstances can shower success on an incompetent person also. A useless person may earn more money in a sweepstake than many others may not earn in their life time, but one cannot win a sweepstakes with regularity over a period. It must be noted that Hitler managed to achieve many objectives he had set for himself, one after another for an extended period, facing opposition and resistance of many capable and successful people. Such successes cannot be attributed to favourable circumstances alone.