Adolf Hitler, one of the most notorious leaders of the 20th century, came to power in Germany, when he became chancellor in 1933. What is most intriguing is the fact that he came to power through legal means, through elections. Therefore, we must ask the important question of why did Hitler rise to power? This essay will critically examine a few of these reasons -- problems that plagued the Weimar Republic from the beginning, Hitler's personality, the Great Depression, the support of the elites and political intrigue during the period of 1932-33.
One of the major arguments put forth by pessimist historians for the rise of Hitler are the problems that plagued the Weimar Republic from the beginning. They argue that the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler were inevitable. The Weimar Republic was established as a result of the defeat of Germany during World War 1. The Weimar Republic was burdened by the Versailles Treaty, and was blamed by the German population for accepting the treaty and especially the war guilt clause, reparations and the lost territories. Consequently, the German population already held a grudge against the Weimar Republic early on. From the start, the Weimar Republic also experienced extreme political instability, as there were constant uprisings from both the extreme left and right against the Republic.
Later on, whilst campaigning for the NSDAP and spreading his political beliefs, one of the major arguments Hitler put forth was the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler consistently repeated that he would overturn the Treaty of Versailles and make Germany great again. He also argued that the Weimar Republic should be overturned, as they were "criminals" who "betrayed Germany" by signing the Treaty. Hitler was also able to make use of the political instability in Germany at that time, even following the example of the Communists by organizing uprisings and spreading massive propaganda against the government.
Consequently, the problems that plagued the Weimar Republic from the beginning paved way for the rise of Hitler. Hitler's personality also played a big role in his rise to power. The success of the Nazis was largely a production of Hitler's ability as an orator, propagandist and opportunist. One of the most frequently used adjectives to describe Hitler was "charismatic".
Once exposed to Nazism, all potential supporters became exposed to Hitler's 'charismatic image'. Hitler inspired the millions attracted to him by the conviction that he and he alone, backed by his Party, could end the current misery and lead Germany to new greatness. Secrecy and detachment were also features of Hitler's character and they helped built up his aura of 'heroic leadership' and 'messianic greatness'. Hitler's single-mildness, inflexibility and his opportunism also help to achieve his goals and gain opportunities a less risky leader would not have gained. For example, Hitler gambled in 1933 for the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Law, which would grant him dictatorship of Germany. Consequently, Hitler's personality helped him come to power.
One of the most crucial events, which helped Hitler rise to power, was the Great Depression. Without the depression, Hitler would have continued to be an insignificant minority. During the "golden years" of the Weimar Republic, during which there was relative economic and political stability, people showed very little interest in Hitler's party or any radical party. However, in the years right after the Great Depression, the NSDAP, which for ten years had been a small radical rightist minority, suddenly became a nationwide gathering mass movement. They absorbed 75% of former voters of the parties of the middle and right within three years and were able to capture 37.4% of all votes by July 1932. The Depression ruined the middle class and small farmers and led to the desperation of the working class.
The Depression also resulted in unprecedented levels of unemployment. As a result, all these people began to look towards Hitler and voted for the NSDAP in elections, which led to the rise of Hitler. Another important factor to the rise of Hitler was the support of the elites he received. Without the patronage, protection and support of the Munich bourgeoisie and political and military authorities, Hitler's passage into a position of prominence in the Bavarian radical Right, during the 1920's, could scarcely have been made. This was even more so, during the 1930's when Hitler came to power. The campaign to reject the Young Plan revision of reparations payments in 1929 provided Hitler with the opportunity to join forces with Alfred Hugenberg, the leader of the D NVP.
Hugenberg controlled the media and as a result, Hitler benefited greatly from the increased publicity he received. In addition, people of importance began taking Hitler and the NSDAP seriously for the first time. Hitler also had contacts with the leaders of business, industry and agriculture. Consequently the support of the elites helped pave way for Hitler's rise to power. Finally, political intrigue in the Weimar Republic during 1932-33 directly resulted in Hitler's appointment as chancellor. The Nazi breakthrough in the election of July 1932 did not gain acceptance from Hindenburg, Hindenburg did not allow Hitler to become chancellor.
Instead von Papen became the chancellor. However, the government of von Papen had no realistic chance of surviving as Hitler refused to support him. Meanwhile, von Schleicher took advantage of von Papen's difficulties and urged Hindenburg to drop him. He succeeded and was appointed Chancellor.
However, under von Schleicher the government also could not function properly. Therefore, von Papen began to scheme to take advantage of the situation. He appealed to Hindenburg to accept Hitler as the chancellor while he himself would be vice-chancellor. Von Papen was willing to do this because he believed that Hitler would soon be discredited. Hindenburg accepted. Thus Hitler became Chancellor through the ambitions of his rivals and through the defects of the Weimar constitution, which allowed the President to exercise emergency powers, rather than outright victory at the polls.
In conclusion, Hitler rose to power through a multitude of reasons such as the problems that plagued the Weimar Republic from the beginning, Hitler's personality, the Great Depression, the support of the elites and political intrigue during the period of 1932-33. As can be seen from these long-term and short-term reasons, Hitler's rise to power did not only depend on his abilities, but rather it was a balance between his abilities and exterior forces of society and politics.