There are many explanations for why Hitler was able to come to power in Germany. The first focuses on the evil genius of Hitler himself. He was a master of demagoguery, practicing his oratorical skills in front of the mirror for hours at a time. A skilled manipulator, he played the masses, the government, and the media perfectly, creating a party that reached into every aspect of German life. A second explanation contends that the German people were in a situation that made totalitarianism possible. Germans were deeply ashamed of their loss in World War One, and the German state was devastated by the war and the Treaty of Versailles, which mandated vast reparations payments. Soldiers returned from the war to rampant unemployment and general misery. The German people, with a history of anti-Semitism, found it much easier to blame the defeat on the Jews and socialists than themselves. Hitler provided this scapegoat, and claimed that if only the Germans could expel the Jews, the state could return to its past glory. The German state had a long tradition of authoritarian government, and many Germans associated the liberalization of that government with the outbreak of war, and more importantly, the devastation of the post-war period. Many sought a return to the old ways, believing that modern, liberal beliefs had sacrificed German honor and allowed the state to depreciate in the name of freedom. Hitler offered not freedom, but rather security. He promised to take action to improve the economy, and return German national pride, and the masses, in most cases, were happy to grant him the ultimate power he needed to do so.

Hitler's political program was a vague collection of promises that led each societal group to believe it would be the primary beneficiary of the Nazi government. He promised relief for the unemployed, protection of private property against the communist threat, profits for large businesses, and survival for small businesses. These promises addressed the most important reason for Hitler's ascent to power: the economic depression that wracked Germany during the inter-war years. This is demonstrated most clearly by the lack of growth in the Nazi Party between 1925 and 1928, a period of relative prosperity during which the Party actually lost three seats in the Reichstag. Luckily for Hitler, the 1930s brought depression to Germany, and one out of every two German families was affected by unemployment. As the leader of the frustrated and disillusioned, Hitler reaped the political benefits.

Hitler's consolidation of power mirrored Benito Mussolini's in many ways, as Hitler manipulated President Hindenburg into granting him legal dictatorial power, one step at a time, so as to legitimize the rise of the Third Reich. Hitler had used corruption and intimidation to get what he wanted, and he had gotten away with it, due in part to the legality of many of his actions under concessions made by Hindenburg.

Hitler's government was the ultimate example of totalitarianism. The swastika, it's symbol, could be seen all over Germany. Its ideology could be read in pamphlets, or in the newspaper every day. The Ministry of Propaganda exerted total control over the media, playing a large role in the production and direction of movies, and monitoring every image and thought shown or expressed to the German people, all the while gauging their response and adjusting the propaganda attack accordingly. During the twelve-year reign of the Third Reich, Germany had one police officer for every 155 citizens, serving as enforcers of the system of total control. The Nazi Party controlled and defined Germany, and was in turn controlled and defined by Hitler.

Popular pages: The Interwar Years (1919-1938)