chapter  2
10 Pages

The ‘Hitler Phenomenon’ and European Fascism

Two opposite yet interdependent types of interpretation at present hold the field as regards our understanding of the Third Reich. On the one hand is the traditional biographical method, which has been practised with success particularly in recent years. This takes as its starting-point Hitler’s personality and policy, and advances to a general estimate of the history of his time. The value of a biographical approach to the history of Nazism and the Third Reich was pointed out by Waldemar Besson as early as 1961, when he expressed the opinion that Bullock’s life of Hitler gave the best comprehensive account of Nazism for a long time (Besson, 1961, ‘Zeitgeschichte’, in Geschichte. Fischer Lexikon 24, Frankfurt am Main, p. 344). Even today, when there is an unmistakable trend towards social, economic and ‘structural’ history, there can scarcely be any serious doubt of the value and justification of the biographical approach to the history of Nazism. For, after all, Hitler represented and shaped his ‘movement’ and his state to an exceptional and decisive extent. His policy and personality, which stamped the general history of the interwar period, have not yet been adequately or even approximately explained by any general theory of fascism or totalitarianism.