Völkisch movement

The Völkisch movement (German: Völkische Bewegung; "folkish movement") was a German ethnic and nationalist movement from the late 19th century up until the Nazi era. Erected on the idea of "blood and soil", inspired by the one-body-metaphor (Volkskörper) and the idea of naturally grown communities in unity, it was characterised by organicism, racialism, populism, agrarianism, romantic nationalism and, as a consequence of a growing exclusive and ethnic connotation, by antisemitism from the 1900s onwards.[1][2]

The Völkisch movement was not an homogeneous set of belief, but rather a "variegated sub-culture" that rose in opposition to the socio-cultural changes of modernity. The "only denominator common to all was the myth of a national rebirth" inspired by (reconstructed) traditions of the Ancient Germans, either by "Germanizing" Christianity—an Abrahamic, i.e. Semitic religion that spread into Europe from the Near East—or by rejecting any Christian heritage in Germany, in order to revive a pre-Christian Germanic paganism.[3] In a narrow definition, the term is used to designate only groups that consider human beings essentially preformed by blood, or by inherited characteristics.[4]

Völkischen are often encompassed in a wider Conservative Revolution by scholars, a German national conservative movement that rose in prominence during the Weimar Republic (1918–1933).[5][6][7]


The adjective Völkisch (pronounced [ˈfœlkɪʃ]) derives from the German word Volk (cognate with the English "folk"), corresponding to the concepts of "nation", "race" and "tribe".[8] While Völkisch has no direct English equivalent, it could be loosely translated as "ethno-nationalist" or, closer to its original meaning, as "bio-mystical racialist".

If Völkisch writers used words like Nordische Rasse ("Nordic race") and Germanentum ("Germanic peoples"), their concept of Volk could also be more flexible, and understood as a Gemeinsame Sprache ("common language"),[9] or an Ausdruck einer Landschaftsseele ("expression of a landscape's soul"), in the words of geographer Ewald Banse.[10]


The Völkisch movement emerged in the late 19th century, drawing inspiration from German Romanticism and its fascination for a medieval Reich supposedly organized into a harmonious hierarchical order.[11] They idealised the myth of an "original nation", that still could be found at their times in the rural regions of Germany, a form of "primitive democracy freely subjected to their natural elites."[12] The notion of "people" (Volk) subsequently turned into the idea of a "racial essence",[13] and Völkisch thinkers referred to it as a birth-giving and eternal entity—in the same way as they would write on "the Nature"—rather than a sociological category.[14]

Despite the former lower-class connotation of the word Volk, ideologues from the Völkisch movement loaded the term with a noble overtone, suggesting a German superiority over other peoples.[13] Thinkers led by Arthur de Gobineau (1816–1882), Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854–1936), Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927), Ludwig Woltmann (1871–1907) or Alexis Carrel (1873–1944) distorted Darwin’s theory of evolution to advocate a "race struggle" and an hygienist vision of the world. They had conceptualised a racialist and hierarchical definition of the peoples of the world where Aryans (or Germans) had to be at the summit of the "white race". The purity of the bio-mystical and primordial nation theorised by the Völkisch thinkers then began to be seen as corrupted by foreign elements, Jewish in particular.[11]

It was not a unified movement but "a cauldron of beliefs, fears and hopes that found expression in various movements and were often articulated in an emotional tone".[15] As they sought to overcome the malaise of a scientist and rationalist modernity, Volkisch authors imagined a spiritual solution in a Volk's essence perceived as authentic, intuitive, even "primitive", in the sense of an alignement with life and the cosmic order.[13]

The defining idea, which the Völkisch movement revolved around, was that of a Volkstum: literally the "folkdom", the "culture of the Volk".[16] Other associated German words include Volksboden (the "Volk's essential substrate"), Volksgeist (the "spirit of the Volk"),[13] Volksgemeinschaft (the "community of the Volk),[17] as well as Volkstümlich ("folksy" or "traditional")[18] and Volkstümlichkeit (the "popular celebration of the Volkstum").[16]


Origins in the 19th century

The völkisch movement had its origins in Romantic nationalism, as it was expressed by early Romantics such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his Addresses to the German Nation published during the Napoleonic Wars, from 1808 onwards, especially the eighth address, “What is a Volk, in the higher sense of the term, and what is love of the fatherland?", where he answered his question of what could warrant the noble individual's striving "and his belief in the eternity and the immortality of his work", by replying that it could only be that "particular spiritual nature of the human environment out of which he himself, with all of his thought and action ... has arisen, namely the people from which he is descended and among which he has been formed and grown into that which he is".[19]

The movement combined sentimental patriotic interest in German folklore, local history and a "back-to-the-land" anti-urban populism with many parallels in the writings of William Morris. "In part this ideology was a revolt against modernity", Nicholls remarked.[20] The dream was for a self-sufficient life lived with a mystical relation to the land; it was a reaction to the cultural alienation of the Industrial revolution and the "progressive" liberalism of the later 19th century and its urbane materialist banality. Similar feelings were expressed in the US during the 1930s by the populist writers grouped as the Southern Agrarians.

The völkisch movement, as it evolved, sometimes combined the arcane and esoteric aspects of folkloric occultism alongside "racial adoration" and, in some circles, a type of anti-Semitism linked to exclusionary ethnic nationalism. Many völkisch movements included anti-communist, anti-immigration, anti-capitalist and anti-Parliamentarian ideas. Over time, völkisch ideas of "national community" (Volksgemeinschaft) came more and more to exclude Jews.

Before World War I

A number of the völkisch-populist movements that had evolved during the late 19th century in the German Empire, under the impress of National Romanticism, developed along propagandistic lines after the German defeat in World War I, and the word "the people" (Volk) became increasingly politicized.

The same word Volk was used as a flag for new forms of ethnic nationalism, as well as by international socialist parties as a synonym for the proletariat in the German lands. From the left, elements of the folk-culture spread to the parties of the middle classes.[21] But whereas Volk could mean "proletariat" among the left, it meant more particularly "race" among the center and right.

Although the primary interest of the Germanic mystical movement was the revival of native pagan traditions and customs (often set in the context of a quasi-theosophical esotericism), a marked preoccupation with purity of race came to motivate its more politically oriented offshoots, such as the Germanenorden (the Germanic or Teutonic Order), a secret society founded at Berlin in 1912 which required its candidates to prove that they had no "non-Aryan" bloodlines and required from each a promise to maintain purity of his stock in marriage. Local groups of the sect met to celebrate the summer solstice, an important neopagan festivity in völkisch circles (and later in Nazi Germany), and more regularly to read the Eddas as well as some of the German mystics.[22] This branch of the völkisch movement quickly developed a hyper-nationalist sentiment and allied itself with anti-semitism, then rising. One of the most important völkisch organizations after World War 1 was the Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund.

Another völkisch movement of the same time was the Tatkreis.

George Mosse examined völkisch literature in 1966 and identified some of the more "respectable" and centrist channels through which these sensibilities flowed: school texts that transmitted a Romantic view of a "pure" Germanic past, the nature-oriented German Youth Movement, and novels with an ideally ruthless völkisch hero, such as Hermann Löns' Der Wehrwolf (1910).

Not all folkloric societies with connections to Romantic nationalism were located in Germany. The Völkisch movement was a force as well in Austria.[23] While the community of Monte Verità ('Mount Truth') which emerged in 1900 at Ascona, Switzerland, is described by the Swiss art critic Harald Szeemann as "the southernmost outpost of a far-reaching Nordic lifestyle-reform, that is, alternative movement".[24]

Weimar Republic

The political agitation and uncertainty that followed WWI nourished a fertile background for the renewed success of various Völkish sects that were abundant in Berlin at the time.[25] Although the Völkisch movement became significant by the number of groups during the Weimar Republic,[26] they were not so by the number of adherents.[25] A few Völkische authors tried to revive what they believed to be a true German faith (Deutschglaube), by resurrecting the cult of Ancient Germanic gods.[27] Various occult movements such as ariosophy were connected to Völkisch theories,[28] and artistic circles were largely present among the Völkishen, like the painters Ludwig Fahrenkrog (1867-1952) and Fidus (1868-1948).[25] By May 1924, Wilhelm Stapel perceived the movement as capable of embracing and reconciling the whole nation: in his view, Vökischen had an idea to spread instead of a party programme and were led by heroes, not by "calculating politicians".[29]

Petteri Pietikäinen observed Völkisch influences on Carl Gustav Jung.[15]

Influence on Nazism

The völkisch ideologies were influential in the development of Nazism. Indeed, Joseph Goebbels publicly asserted in the 1927 Nuremberg rally that if the populist (völkisch) movement had understood power and how to bring thousands out in the streets, it would have gained political power on 9 November 1918 (the outbreak of the SPD-led German Revolution of 1918–1919, end of the German monarchy).[30] Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that "the basic ideas of the National-Socialist movement are völkisch and the völkisch ideas are National-Socialist." Nazi racial understanding was couched in völkisch terms, when Eugen Fischer delivered his inaugural address as Nazi rector, The Conception of the Völkisch state in the view of biology (29 July 1933).[31] The Thule Society was founded on 17 August 1918 by Rudolf von Sebottendorff with the original name of Studiengruppe für Germanisches Altertum (Study Group for Germanic Antiquity), and disseminated anti-republican and anti-Semitic propaganda. Karl Harrer, the Thule member most directly involved in the creation of the DAP in 1919, was sidelined at the end of the year when Hitler drafted regulations against conspiratorial circles, and the Thule Society was dissolved a few years later.[32] The völkisch circles handed down one significant legacy to the Nazis: In 1919, Thule member Friedrich Krohn designed the original version of the Nazi swastika.[33]

In January 1919, the Thule Society was instrumental in the foundation of the Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei (German Workers' Party, or DAP), which later became the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), commonly called the Nazi Party. Thule members or visiting guests that would later join the Nazi Party included Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart and Karl Harrer. Notably Adolf Hitler never was a member of the Thule Society and Rudolf Hess and Alfred Rosenberg were only visiting guests of the Thule Society in the early years before they came to prominence in the Nazi movement.[34] The Münchener Beobachter (Munich Observer), owned by Sebottendorff, was the press organ of another small nationalist party and later became the Völkischer Beobachter (People's Observer). The Thule Society had no members from the top echelons of the party and Nazi officials were forbidden any involvement in secret societies so the connection of völkisch ideologies with the NSDAP can be overstated. According to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, an imaginative mythology has grown up around the supposed influence of the Thule-Gesellschaft within the Nazi Party.

See also


  1. Camus, Jean-Yves; Lebourg, Nicolas (20 March 2017). Far-Right Politics in Europe. Harvard University Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9780674971530.
  2. Longerich, Peter (15 April 2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191613470.
  3. Koehne, Samuel (2014). "Were the National Socialists a Völkisch Party? Paganism, Christianity, and the Nazi Christmas". Central European History. 47 (4): 760–790. doi:10.1017/S0008938914001897. hdl:11343/51140. ISSN 0008-9389.
  4. Hans Jürgen Lutzhöft (1971) Der Nordische Gedanke in Deutschland 1920–1940 (Stuttgart. Ernst Klett Verlag), p. 19.
  5. Dupeux, Louis (1992). La Révolution conservatrice allemande sous la République de Weimar (in French). Kimé.
  6. Mohler, Armin (1950). Die konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918–1932: Grundriss ihrer Weltanschauungen (in German). Friedrich Vorwerk.
  7. Stéphane François (24 August 2009). "Qu'est ce que la Révolution Conservatrice ?". Fragments sur les Temps Présents (in French). Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  8. James Webb. 1976. The Occult Establishment. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court. ISBN 0-87548-434-4. pp. 276–277
  9. Georg Schmidt-Rohr: Die Sprache als Bildnerin. 1932.
  10. Ewald Banse. Landschaft und Seele. München 1928, p. 469.
  11. Camus, Jean-Yves; Lebourg, Nicolas (20 March 2017). Far-Right Politics in Europe. Harvard University Press. pp. 16–18. ISBN 9780674971530.
  12. Stéphane François (24 August 2009). "Qu'est ce que la Révolution Conservatrice ?". Fragments sur les Temps Présents (in French). Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  13. Dohe, Carrie B. (1 July 2016). Jung's Wandering Archetype: Race and religion in analytical psychology. Routledge. p. 36. ISBN 9781317498087.
  14. Dupeux, Louis (1992). La Révolution conservatrice allemande sous la République de Weimar (in French). Kimé. pp. 115–125.
  15. Petteri Pietikäinen, "The Volk and Its Unconscious: Jung, Hauer and the 'German Revolution'". Journal of Contemporary History 35.4 (October 2000: 523–539), p. 524
  16. Brüggemeier, Franz-Josef; Cioc, Mark; Zeller, Thomas (2005). How Green Were the Nazis?: Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich. Ohio University Press. p. 259. ISBN 9780821416471.
  17. Poewe, Karla; Hexham, Lrving (2009). "The Völkisch Modernist Beginnings of National Socialism: Its Intrusion into the Church and Its Antisemitic Consequence". Religion Compass. 3 (4): 676–696. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00156.x. ISSN 1749-8171.
  18. "volkstümlich | translate German to English: Cambridge Dictionary". dictionary.cambridge.org. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  19. John Rosenthal (22 April 2005). "The Ummah and das Volk: On the Islamist and 'Völkisch' Ideologies ". Transatlantic Intelligencer. Accessed 7 September 2010
  20. A. J. Nicholls, reviewing George L. Mosse, The Crisis in German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich in The English Historical Review 82 No. 325 (October 1967), p 860. Mosse was characterised as "the foremost historian of völkisch ideology" by Petteri Pietikäinen 2000:524 note 6.
  21. George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson) 1966 sees this in the context of a broader revolt against modernity, contrasting healthy rural life with the debased materialism of city culture.
  22. "The Swastika and the Nazis". Intelinet.org. Archived from the original on 23 April 2010.
  23. Austrian manifestations were surveyed by Rudolf G. Ardelt, Zwischen Demoktratie und Faschismus: Deutschnationales Gedankengut in Österreich, 1919-1930 (Vienna and Salzburg) 1972, not translated into English.
  24. Heidi Paris and Peter Gente (1982). Monte Verita: A Mountain for Minorities. Translated by Hedwig Pachter, Semiotext, the German Issue IV(2):1.
  25. Stéphane François (24 August 2009). "Qu'est ce que la Révolution Conservatrice ?". Fragments sur les Temps Présents (in French). Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  26. Lutzhf̈t, Hans-Jürgen (1971). Der Nordische Gedanke in Deutschland 1920-1940 (in German). Klett. p. 19. ISBN 9783129054703.
  27. Boutin, Christophe (1992). Politique et tradition: Julius Evola dans le siècle, 1898–1974 (in French). Editions Kimé. pp. 264–265. ISBN 9782908212150.
  28. Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (1992). The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology. NYU Press. ISBN 9780814730607.
  29. Wilhelm Stapel, "Das Elementare in der volkischen Bewegung", Deutsches Volkstum, 5 May 1924, pp. 213–15.
  30. Calvin.edu
  31. Franz Weidenreich in Science New Series, 104No. 2704 (October 1946:399).
  32. Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 150, 221
  33. Hitler, Adolf (1943). Mein Kampf. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 496.
  34. Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 149, 201


  • Dohe, Carrie b. Jung's Wandering Archetype: Race and Religion in Analytical Psychology. London: Routledge, 2016.
  • Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. 1985. The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany 1890-1935. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-402-4. (1992. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-3060-4)
  • Kurlander, E. 2002. "The Rise of Völkisch-Nationalism and the Decline of German Liberalism: A Comparison of Liberal Political Cultures in Schleswig-Holstein and Silesia 1912–1924", European Review of History 9(1): 23-36. Abstract
  • Mosse, George L. 1964. The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins Of The Third Reich. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
  • Stern, Fritz. 1961, 1963. The Politics Of Cultural Despair: A Study In The Rise Of The Germanic Ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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