Kershaw disagrees with Mommsen’s “Weak Dictator” thesis: the idea that Hitler was a relatively unimportant player in the Third Reich. About the book:

However, he has agreed with his idea that Hitler did not play much of a role in the day-to-day administration of Nazi Germany. Kershaw’s way of explaining this paradox is his theory of “Working Towards the Führer”, the phrase being taken from a 1934 speech by the Prussian civil servant Werner Willikens:[51]

Everyone who has the opportunity to observe it knows that the Fuhrer can hardly dictate from above everything which he intends to realise sooner or later. On the contrary, up till now everyone with a post in the new Germany has worked best when he has, so to speak, worked towards the Fuhrer. Very often and in many spheres it has been the case—in previous years as well—that individuals have simply waited for orders and instructions. Unfortunately, the same will be true in the future; but in fact it is the duty of everybody to try to work towards the Fuhrer along the lines he would wish. Anyone who makes mistakes will notice it soon enough. But anyone who really works towards the Fuhrer along his lines and towards his goal will certainly both now and in the future one day have the finest reward in the form of the sudden legal confirmation of his work.[52]

Kershaw has argued that in Nazi Germany officials of both the German state and Party bureaucracy usually took the initiative in initiating policy to meet Hitler’s perceived wishes, or alternatively attempted to turn into policy Hitler’s often loosely and indistinctly phrased wishes.[51] Though Kershaw does agree that Hitler possessed the powers that the “Master of the Third Reich” thesis championed by Norman Rich and Karl Dietrich Bracher would suggest, he has argued that Hitler was a “lazy dictator”; an indifferent dictator who was really not interested in involving himself much in the daily running of Nazi Germany.[53] The only exceptions were the areas of foreign policy and military decisions, both areas that Hitler increasingly involved himself in from the late 1930s.[53]

In a 1993 essay “Working Towards the Führer”, Kershaw argued that the German and Soviet dictatorships had more differences than similarities.[18] Kershaw argued that Hitler was a very unbureaucratic leader who was highly averse to paper work in marked contrast to Stalin.[18] Likewise, Kershaw argued that Stalin was highly involved in the running of the Soviet Union in contrast to Hitler whose involvement in day-to-day decision making was limited, infrequent and capricious.[54] Kershaw argued that the Soviet regime, despite all of its extreme brutality and utter ruthlessness, was basically rational in its goal of seeking to modernise a backward country and had no equivalent of the “cumulative radicalization” towards increasingly irrational goals that Kershaw sees as characteristic of Nazi Germany.[55] In Kershaw’s opinion, Stalin’s power corresponded to Weber’s category of bureaucratic authority, whereas Hitler’s power corresponded to Weber’s category of charismatic authority.[56] In Kershaw’s view, what happened in Germany after 1933 was the imposition of Hitler’s charismatic authority on top of the “legal-rational” authority system that had existed prior to 1933, leading to a gradual breakdown of any system of ordered authority in Germany.[57] Kershaw argues that by 1938 the German state had been reduced to a hopeless, polycratic shambles of rival agencies all competing with each other to win Hitler’s favour, which by that time had become the only source of political legitimacy.[58] Kershaw sees this rivalry as causing the “cumulative radicalization” of Germany, and argues that though Hitler always favoured the most radical solution to any problem, it was German officials themselves who for the most part, in attempting to win the Führer’s approval, carried out on their own initiative increasingly “radical” solutions to perceived problems like the “Jewish Question”, as opposed to being ordered to do so by Hitler.[59] In this, Kershaw largely agrees with Mommsen’s portrait of Hitler as a distant and remote leader standing in many ways above his own system, whose charisma and ideas served to set the general tone of politics.

Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S33882 / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons