No era is safe from tyranny. It begins with demagoguery, fueled by prejudice. It ascends by patriotic zeal, intensified by a collective hysteria over assumed oppression by neighbors. Through a combination of charisma, superb oratory, and cold-blooded chicanery, along with catastrophic good fortune, the tyrant can gain political advantage over and eventually eliminate his rivals. Inevitably, under the rationale of expediency, he can justify absolute power. Thereafter, a dictator is constrained only by the limits of his imagination. Such was the rise of Adolf Hitler. It is fortunate for humanity that Hitler's extraordinary imagination-his megalomania-led him eventually to a fatal overreach against an international constellation of powers.
The story of Adolf Hitler is both fascinating and instructive. The third son of the third marriage of a minor Austrian customs official on the Austro-German frontier, Adolf Hitler was not born into greatness. His youth was remarkable only for his fanatical German nationalism and his defiant ambition to become an artist, or at least an architect. Orphaned by 19, Hitler would eventually throw himself into politics. A twice-wounded corporal decorated for bravery in the German army of World War I, Hitler was infuriated by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Railing against the Jews and Bolsheviks, Hitler became an effective Nazi agitator. Following a brief imprisonment for revolutionary activity, he became a hero to those who dreamed of Germany's return to greatness. How Hitler became the architect of the Third Reich and eventually its master is a chronicle of demonic genius and, inevitably, incalculable misfortune.
The focus of this program will be biographical, for Hitler's life story is compelling during the current era of revolution and nationalistic fervor. Europe's two World Wars and the years intervening will be viewed only as context for understanding the nature and fate of one of mankind's most remarkable and dangerous characters. Taking on the challenge of analyzing Hitler's rise and fall will be W&L historian Bill Patch; Will Hitchcock, professor of history from UVA; and Wayne Thompson, political scientist.