Monday, June 28, 2010

The Nazi Dictatorships: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation

by Ian Kershaw

Effective and innovative historical writing. Kershaw is most widely cited as the origin of a line of interpretation for politics of the Nazi Regime. Baldly stated, the main schools of thought have been the intentionalist interpretation and the functinoalist. The former emphasizes Hitler as a strong dictator imposing his will on the Nazi party, and generally plays up the influence of coherent ideology and long-term planning. The functionalist school of historiography emphasis the pragmatic, incoherent, moment to moment aspects of Nazi rule, and deals with the party as a polycratic, diverse network, in which Hitler’s actually day to day involvement with political light can be seen as administravely weak. Kershaw’s middle approah of "working towards the Fuhrer" develops the thesis that Hitler didn’t dominate administratively in day to day efforts, but served as the center of personal relationships and a motivating force that promoted lower-tier Nazi officials to act in a certain way, guiding them to a specific manner that attempted to fulfill Hitler’s intention as the lower official saw it. Such a theory is a useful concept for parsing both the continuity as well as erratic character of Nazi politics.
The book is engaging and well organized, providing brief but effective overviews of historiography on Nazi government, economy, foreign policy and genocide. He also gives a useful presentation of the impact of later memory, basing on the nature of the regime and the mystique of resistance against the Nazi regime. Overall it’s an invaluable presentation on issues relating to understanding the structures of the Third Reich.

Better than: The Rise and Fall of the Theird Reich by William Shirer
Worse: Sweeping the German Nation by Nancy Reagin

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