Functionalism Versus Intentionalism

Functionalism Versus Intentionalism

Functionalism (or structuralism) versus intentionalism is a historiographical debate about the origins of the Holocaust as well as most aspects of the Third Reich, such as foreign policy. The debate on the origins of the Holocaust centers on essentially two questions:

  • Was there a master plan on the part of Adolf Hitler to launch the Holocaust? Intentionalists argue there was such a plan, while functionalists argue there was not.
  • Did the initiative for the Holocaust come from above with orders from Adolf Hitler or from below within the ranks of the German bureaucracy? Intentionalists argue the initiative came from above, while functionalists contend it came from lower ranks within the bureaucracy.

The terms were coined in a 1981 essay by the British Marxist historian Timothy Mason. Notable functionalists have included Raul Hilberg, Christopher Browning, Hans Mommsen, Martin Broszat, and Zygmunt Bauman. Notable intentionalists have included Andreas Hillgruber, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Klaus Hildebrand, Eberhard J├Ąckel, Richard Breitman, and Lucy Dawidowicz.

Neither side disputes the reality of the Holocaust, nor is there serious dispute over the premise that Hitler (as supreme leader) was personally responsible for encouraging the anti-Semitism that allowed the Holocaust to take place. Thus, the debate between functionalism and intentionalism, which is considered a topic of legitimate academic debate, is different from Holocaust denial, which is regarded as pseudo-history among academic historians.

Read more about Functionalism Versus Intentionalism:  Origins of The Debate

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