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“Working Towards the Führer”
Ian Kershaw’s two-volume work is a landmark in the study of Nazism. It is the first truly comprehensive biography of Hitler, rigorous in its scholarship, in which the author brings to bear his outstanding knowledge of the historical material and a masterful evaluation of an immense scope of international research. Kershaw’s attempt to utilize the concept of charismatic leadership for a biography is a remarkable and challenging enterprise. Following to a large extent the classical interpretation of the “functionalist” school, he describes a system of leadership in which the subordinates constantly competed with each other in order to fulfill the anticipated “will of the Führer.” The omnipresent phenomenon of “working towards the Führer” guaranteed Hitler’s unparalleled power. However, the enormous accumulation of personal power in Hitler’s hands after 1936 and particularly during World War II, described in detail by Kershaw, could also support the thesis that Hitler managed to emancipate himself from the mechanisms and dependencies inherent in the concept of charismatic leadership. One of the book’s merits is its convincing presentation of the development and radicalization of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy as a key element of his regime. However, the tendency to stress Hitler’s symbolic role more than his personal involvement in decision-making can be questioned. The reviewer argues that a certain underestimation of Hitler’s personal power is characteristic of the book. The work clearly demonstrates both the merits and the limits of a predominantly structural interpretation of Germany’s Führer. Nonetheless, this is an excellent synthesis that offers more explanation about Hitler’s dictatorship than about his personality.
Walter Zwi Bacharach