But beyond him being (obviously) a genocidal maniac, there’s an aspect to Hitler’s rule that kind of gets missed in our standard view of him. Even if popular culture has long enjoyed turning him into an object of mockery, we still tend to believe that the Nazi machine was ruthlessly efficient, and that the great dictator spent most of his time…well, dictating things.
So it’s worth remembering that Hitler was actually an incompetent, lazy egomaniac and his government was an absolute clown show.
In fact, this may even have helped his rise to power, as he was consistently underestimated by the German elite. Before he became chancellor, many of his opponents had dismissed him as a joke for his crude speeches and tacky rallies. Even after elections had made the Nazis the largest party in the Reichstag, people still kept thinking that Hitler was an easy mark, a blustering idiot who could easily be controlled by smart people.
Why did the elites of Germany so consistently underestimate Hitler? Possibly because they weren’t actually wrong in their assessment of his competency—they just failed to realise that this wasn’t enough to stand in the way of his ambition. As it would turn out, Hitler was really bad at running a government. As his own press chief Otto Dietrich later wrote in his memoir The Hitler I Knew, “In the twelve years of his rule in Germany Hitler produced the biggest confusion in government that has ever existed in a civilized state.”
His government was constantly in chaos, with officials having no idea what he wanted them to do, and nobody was entirely clear who was actually in charge of what. He procrastinated wildly when asked to make difficult decisions, and would often end up relying on gut feeling, leaving even close allies in the dark about his plans. His “unreliability had those who worked with him pulling out their hair,” as his confidant Ernst Hanfstaengl later wrote in his memoir Zwischen Weißem und Braunem Haus. This meant that rather than carrying out the duties of state, they spent most of their time in-fighting and back-stabbing each other in an attempt to either win his approval or avoid his attention altogether, depending on what mood he was in that day.