The Hitler State

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Martin Broszat intended for this study of the development of the power structure of the Nazi regime to serve as a corrective to earlier oversimplified pictures of the Nazi government as a monolithic, totalitarian superstate. Although studies in English had begun to discredit that earlier belief before the appearance of Broszat’s book in Germany in 1969, the book remains sufficiently valuable, despite some noteworthy flaws, to merit translation into English in 1981. The author also offered his analysis of governmental structure, which is based primarily on documents from the legal and administrative institutions of the German government, as an antidote to the proliferation of increasingly specialized works on the Nazi regime. Yet his very sources indicate that his study is no broadly based work of synthesis; rather, it is in the tradition of institutional histories that examine the operation of the bureaucratic and legal machinery of government with little treatment of the wider social and economic environment. Furthermore, as explained below, The Hitler State must be read with caution, and readers will need some prior knowledge of Nazism and Nazi Germany to thread their way through the book.

Broszat emphasizes the complexity of the internal workings of the regime, in which power came to reside not in a rationally organized bureaucracy but in certain individuals closely associated with Hitler. The amorphous form of government that resulted from Hitler’s personal dictatorship defied logic and reduced the rational organization and operation of the German state bureaucracy to chaos. This irrational structure, which Broszat terms a “polyocracy of individual officeholders,” meant the end of a rational collective governmental policy, and the atomization of offices and responsibilities led to the proliferation of arbitrary decisions and acts of violence. Such developments between 1933 and 1939 laid the foundation for the wartime evolution of the Nazi regime to an arbitrary government comprising individuals whose authority depended upon direct access to an increasingly inaccessible Führer. The very confusion of this structure enabled certain organizations to execute Hitler’s secret and unwritten directives, such as the annihilation of the Jews. Broszat’s central thesis that there was a correlation between the structural development and the actions of the Nazi regime is well argued and substantiated.

In his analysis of the Nazi rise to power before 1933, Broszat emphasizes the importance of other forces in the Nazi success. To him the Nazis were less a revolutionary than a parasitic force, preying on the economic crisis in Germany. It was this crisis that transformed an eccentric and a crank—Adolf Hitler—into a powerful demagogue. Furthermore, the very nature of the power structure during the Weimar Republic, specifically the partial democratization of the old conservative forces of the bureaucracy and army, was conducive to Hitler’s accession to power. Broszat succeeds in establishing that before 1933 the Nazi movement needed allies to come to power and found them in the conservative state bureaucracy that had never fully accepted the democratic form of government. Admittedly, there is nothing new in this interpretation.

More original is his interpretation of the nature of the Nazi movement, because it makes clear that the more power the Nazis achieved, the more they were bound to destroy rational governmental processes. The Nazi movement’s sole integrative force was the person of Adolf Hitler, whose charismatic talents as a speaker allowed for the substitution of propaganda for any program or logical organization of the movement. Hitler’s predilection for personal rule consequently precluded the party’s administrative or institutional unity. Furthermore, he throve upon the delegation of special positions to groups such as the SS and the Hitler Youth, whose leaders derived their power from their personal relationship to the Führer. Such delegation of power was antithetical to any rational organization, and it was this mode of governing that Hitler brought with him to the corridors of power of the German state in 1933.

Although Hitler’s absolute power in the party was transferred to the government and state after the seizure of power (thus the book’s title, The Hitler State), the Nazi mass movement and the old conservative forces in the state shared the exercise of power in a tenuous balance until 1938. Although for purposes of simplicity Broszat points out that the Nazi Reich had a triangular structure of an absolute Führer based on party and state, he emphasizes the complex “polyocracy” of state departments and party organs which functioned in arrangements varying from amalgamation and coexistence to conflict. Hitler governed expediently and arbitrarily, eschewing any systematic reform of the bureaucratic or legal systems. As Broszat...

(The entire section is 2013 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Choice. XIX, October, 1981, p. 294.

History Today. XXXI, October, 1981, p. 59.