Broszat, Martin. The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich. Trans. John W. Hiden. London: Longman, 1981.
Originally published in 1969, Broszat’s Der Staat Hitlers was one of the first works to take a structuralist approach to the Third Reich. In other words, he sought to uncover the deeper forces behind the regime rather than provide a more biographical overview of the key political players. As such, Broszat’s book is not structured like a synthesis or textbook that provides a chronological account of events. Instead, the study is an examination of how power and authority were structured and exercised in Nazi Germany.
Broszat’s main goal is to reevaluate the view of the Nazi state as one in which it exercised complete, systematic, and standardized control over its nation. The picture of the Third Reich that Broszat paints is one full of complex and overlapping governmental and party structures that were often competing against one another. There was often tension between Reich ministries and the Länder organizations, between German state offices and Nazi party organs, and most often between different bureaucrats themselves. Broszat pinpoints Hitler as the reason behind this structure in which power existed not as flowing hierarchically from the top down, but as coexisting simultaneously in different spheres. Hitler, Broszat argues, demanded full authority in his position as Führer, but was skeptical of establishing a standardized, or rationalized, system of authority below him. Personal loyalty to him was paramount, but beyond that, Hitler allowed for personal and organizational competition among his underlings. This helped to assure that no significant amount of power would be collected by one office or individual outside of the Führer.
Broszat’s study focuses on the period between the seizure of power in 1933 and the preparation for war in 1939, and as he demonstrates, this is a period in which there still existed an uneasy relationship between the older conservative tradition and the radical dynamism of Nazism. In the initial months of 1933, Nazi officials instituted a number of radical policies including purges and the construction of concentration camps. But because the more traditional conservative forces had apprehensions about such actions – and Hitler still needed their influence, particularly with forming alliances with Germany’s heavy industry for the coming rearming mission – Hitler put a stop to the violence, thus returning to more conventional modes of governing by the end of 1933. In 1937 and 1938, the gap between old elites and Nazi leaders widened as Nazis began ousting conservatives from the government and formulating more aggressive foreign policies in what Broszat refers to as the “second revolution” of the Nazi regime (354).
This unequal distribution of power, which was largely defined by one’s personal connection to Hitler, fueled a Darwinian competition that led to the creation of personal empires within the Third Reich (like Himmler’s death camp system). In a functionalist vein, Broszat argues that this struggle for power forced people to develop new ways of exercising power. With the lack of rationalized chains of command, it was left up to subordinates to figure out ways to turn Hitler’s visions into realities. In addition to allowing Hitler to stand alone above – and perhaps beyond – the system, “the “polycracy” of individual office holders…ultimately led to a proliferation of arbitrary decisions and acts of violence” (xi). Therefore, the National Socialists did not come to the table in 1933 with the blue prints for the Holocaust as a secret goal; instead, the de-centralized and revolutionary power structure of the Nazi state led to the radicalization of goals and to extremism that murdered millions of people.
For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews.