Völkisch Ideology in Imperial Germany: An Overview

This is an excerpted section from the Honors thesis I wrote in my senior year at college, reproduced with minor edits and accompanying images. Following on earlier lines of argument, my thesis argues for a closer, more critical if still empathetic investigation of the intellectual affinities between völkisch ideology and anarcho-socialist Gustav Landauer’s political philosophy of the Volk. It is the most accessible chapter, requiring no prior familiarity with the person of Landauer, nor with the specifics of Imperial Germany’s political history. Making this research accessible to a wider English-speaking readership will, I hope, offer a useful perspective on a long-standing historical controversy as well as a corrective to the glut of ahistorical neo-völkisch material available online.


odalmagirminsulWolfgang Willrich: Title page for Odal magazine (1935).

A shorthand definition for völkisch ideology would be that of an exclusionary, chauvinist strain of ethno-racial nationalism, with the emphasis on an integral, pristine Volk community constituted in the bonds of blood, culture and roots to the land. In practice, it is nearly impossible to bracket off the history of völkisch ideology from one’s operative interpretive framework for the history of modern Germany writ large, nor is it immediately obvious what the epistemological value of such a dissociative approach would be—especially when the poisonous and destructive influence of völkisch propaganda after World War I speaks for itself. Indeed, in conventional understanding the völkisch movement is often synecdochized with National Socialism, whereby the former’s ideological coherence and political bearing power is usually gauged according to the core criteria of the latter, its ontologically purest historical expression. From this perspective, an interpretive framework is constructed in which the German Right, over an extended period of time, appear, in a manner almost organic, to coalesce into a single, cohesive frame of reference, while secondary divergences in this value system necessarily recede further into the background. This imposes an inevitable but still unfortunate encumbrance on historical enquiry; for those intending to study earlier periods on their own terms, this conflation inevitably obscures more than it clarifies.

This paper is not the place to reprise the perennial debate over National Socialism’s intellectual genealogy or its relationship to the course of the country’s political development—and still less to rehabilitate the legitimacy of the völkisch worldview as a valid mode of social critique. On the contrary, it is my intention to outline a research focus going beyond the historical fixation and definitional template offered by historical fascism; this will restore some specificity and agency to the emergence of völkisch ideology and assist us in appreciating the multiple discursive forms in which people could express their affinity with the Volk.

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The conventional scholarship of völkisch nationalism can be classed under an older tradition of intellectual history which deals with ideas as autonomous transmissions from selected individuals and their writings—transmissions whose forms, independent of contemporary reception, precede the material and institutional factors which help give expression to them. This approach goes hand-in-hand with the Sonderweg thesis, first elaborated in the 1960s. A product of Historische Sozialwissenschaft’s interest in sociological modernization theory, this master narrative of German exceptionalism postulated deep structural deficits in Germany’s social development. The “special path” taken by Germany in the 19th century in contrast to Western liberal democracies—a fact once emphasized as much by its partisans as by its detractors—had left it with the legacy of an underdeveloped civil society, the entrenchment of authoritarian institutions, an uneven process of economic modernization and an at best only grudging and tentative acceptance of the parliamentary process.

71sw9drzwHLGeorge Mosse’s classic account of völkisch ideology remains the standard English-language entry in this school of interpretation. He traces the genesis of völkisch thought to the anti-liberal and/or anti-democratic reaction of Romanticism following the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and to the subsequent socio-economic dislocations and convulsions of industrial capitalism. Delayed political unification following 1815 and 1848 encouraged heightened expectations which would only be met by Bismarck, but the interim consequence of these deferred dreams was to shift national aspirations into the realm of idealism, where spiritual and cultural unity were elevated into a transcendental sine qua non for Germany’s rebirth. His formulations in the first chapter, in which he delineates the core elements of the belief system that would remain basically unchanged through the 19th century up to the Nazi era, are representative of his concerns:

The intellectual and ideological character of Volkish thought was a direct product of the romantic movement of nineteenth-century Europe. Like romanticism, Volkish ideas showed a distinct tendency toward the irrational and emotional….A further and more basic impetus was given to the romantically inspired Volkish movement by the turmoil that accompanied the social, economic, and political transformation of Europe.1

And further on, he reinstated the essentially retrograde nature of so-called völkisch thought when he reminded his readers that

it was an ideology which stood for opposed to the progress and modernization that transformed nineteenth-century Europe. It used and amplified romanticism to provide an alternative to modernity, to the developing industrial and urban civilization which seemed to rob man of his individual, creative self while cutting him loose from a social order that was seemingly exhausted and lacking vitality.2

The rejection of the Enlightenment’s salubrious effects, in short, was the original sin of Germany, political unification under Prussia’s aegis its “mark of Cain” (or of Bismarck, as it were). National Socialism was fatefully inscribed in the historical failure of liberalism, compounded by the conservative reaction to the cumulative shocks of modernization. Exercised by a sense of déjà vu in the 1960s, Fritz Stern, whose later Failure of German Illiberalism (1972) is a classic summation of this thesis,3 adopted a similar tack in the well-researched Politics of German Despair (1961), where he traces the obsessive disavowal of modernity and rationality in favor of a “Germanic ideology” in the tracts of the cranky but nevertheless popular Paul de Largarde, Julius Langbehn and Moeller van den Bruck. Although he is generous enough to admit that such sentiments are not exclusive to Germany but are part-and-parcel of “a general Western phenomenon that preceded and has outlived national socialism,”4 he still proceeds under the assumption that these three individuals and their diagnoses of modern culture were indicative of social trends that would critically anticipate the ascendency of National Socialism.5

Roderick Stackelberg’s Idealism Debased represented a more sophisticated exercise in intellectual history. He delineated the gradual vulgarization of the once distinguished tradition of German idealism in three thinkers—Heinrich von Stein, Friedrich Lange and Houston Stewart Chamberlain—into völkisch commonplace. So it superficially mirrors the structure of Stern’s work and can be considered a sort of companion piece to it, but Stackelberg set more realistic expectations for his monograph. He expressly precluded a crude model of causality and delimits his analysis to only one aspect of völkisch ideology, that is, its idealism. Stackelberg adopts a nuanced dialectical argument whereby, in contrast to Stern’s radical, anti-establishment figures, Stackelberg states his interest in explaining how his deeply conservative and elitist subjects could contribute to the aura of “respectability” of the Nazi movement, which ostensibly evoked the dangers of a revolutionary, mass politics.

The ideological antecedents of National Socialism are not to be found in doctrines of social or political revolution or in preachments of spontaneity, amorality, self-indulgence, decadence, or anarchism, but rather in the intellectual reaction to such “permissive” and excessively democratic precepts. The works of Lienhard and Chamberlain represent the triumph of squeamishness, of resentment, of purism and moral intolerance, of the need for rigid control and total order. It is precisely in such n atmosphere of moral absolutes that the ends could be viewed as justifying any means….The ideological road to National Socialism was paved not by Nietzschean self-awareness and self-overcoming, but by völkisch self-congratulation.6

Much of value can still be extracted from the older literature, provided one employs it judiciously. But if we are to do more than document the output of idiosyncratic minds, it is first incumbent upon us to account for some of the ways in which the völkisch label is made to carry the weight of explanatory importance which it cannot bear. In properly assessing the persistent discrepancies in this historiography, it bears emphasizing that history—though this is rarely obvious to contemporaries—is characterized at least as much, if not moreso, by discontinuities as by continuities.

Firstly, such arguments posit an uninterrupted continuity of a disembodied intellectual tradition. The völkisch ideology—however one cares to define it—is given a free-floating power unto itself without respecting either the autonomy of historical actors to set their own agenda or contingencies of political struggle; with regards to the latter, if, for the sake of argument, we entertain the notion of decisive divergences in German politics, is it not worth questioning whether they might have shorter-term causes? Under this construction a plurality of tendencies dispersed over a wide time-span is neatly collapsed into an uninterrupted and linear continuum of thought—in which internal differences of principles either quietly recede into the background or are otherwise reduced to the status of mere epiphenomena. The emergence of a völkisch ideology is abstracted from the multi-dimensional processes of institutional development.

Secondly, when moving into a critical exposition of völkisch movements these histories often relapse into descriptive surveys of any and all remotely right-wing beliefs, however fringe and tangential. Along with other extreme segments, such as the Pan-Germans and the various tendencies of anti-Semites, völkisch thinkers and activists become assimilated into an amorphously defined reservoir of dangerous right-wing ideas whose efficacy only the later radicalizations will eventually allow to be tapped. This enables us to recognize the appearance of discrete characteristics subsumed under a post hoc typology without explaining how and why they configure together in specific historical situations.

This historiography is also distinguished by a deterministic teleological narrative which presupposes a normative course of development for Western liberal democracy and capitalism. This follows from a prescriptive one-to-one equation of “liberal” and “bourgeois”—whereby the former necessitates the successful gestation of the latter. In practice this presentist mode of interpretation argues backwards from the successful (by what independent standard?) examples of England and France to explain Germany’s development in terms of omissions and deviations.7 But history obeys no necessary, internal logic, and it most certainly has no prior obligation to the fulfillment of some ideal bürgerliche Gesellschaft—a monolithic ideological conceit that, moreover, was constituted from fields of contradiction effectively obscuring the story of systemic gender, class and racial exclusion. The tendency to pathologize chauvinist tendencies in Germany can be partially explained by an impulse to exorcise the inner demons of the Enlightenment project.

Finally, these authors furnish no ontologically useful distinction between a völkisch ideology and a völkisch movement proper, and as a consequence what should be discrete categories flow in and out each other. This definitional slippage is pervasive and, again, betrays unclear thinking.

b6953389c4bdcc55f4d93f3c1c270bf4Franz Stassen: Odin am Weltenesche hangenden. Illustration for Die Edda: Germanische Götter- und Heldensagen by Hans von Wolzogen (1920)

Although the post-Sonderweg school, by foreshortening the vanishing point into a crisis of modernity, was ill-equipped to substitute a tenable continuity thesis explaining the Third Reich,8 by now the intervening critiques have laid to rest most of the operative methodological assumptions regarding the material and socio-political basis for Imperial Germany’s march to authoritarianism. This has facilitated the emergence of a more self-critical variant of the Sonderweg thesis, whose analytic core, with modified contents, has been fortified by recent research into persistent irregularities in state and class-formation.9 Such critical reevaluation, however, has not penetrated, to the same extent, into intellectual histories of the German Right where the appeal of deep cultural constants remains active, and attentiveness to specific causalities, to the practical realization of ideas in particular contexts, or to the concretely contextualized efficacy of intellectual influences in politics is still preemptively undermined by the deep narrative structures of their accounts.10 The causal centering of dominating cultural tropes too often flattens the heterogeneous and contradictory possibilities of the intellectual landscape in which a distinctively völkisch discourse first emerged into a smooth continuum with the post-war situation.

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From the preceding discussion the hermeneutic necessity of a historically and ideologically delimited conception of völkisch discourse becomes clearer. On the first count, fortunately, a number of scholars have more recently contributed, directly and indirectly, to a more precise periodization of the völkisch phenomenon. This scholarship also breaks new ground in its emphasis. In the 1970s and 1980s, the greater share of research on völkisch nationalism concentrated on organizations that were, per the interpretation of the Sonderweg school, manipulated in such a way as to cement an authoritarian status quo.11 The result was to demote the importance of ideology, particularly its capacity to destabilize, and to relegate nationalism generally to the status of a historical atavism. These authors break decisively with this tradition: not only is ideology taken seriously but it is conceptually emplotted as an integral part of both modernization and modernist cultural movements.

Beginning with The Peculiarities of German History (1984),12 co-written by David Blackbourn, Geoff Eley has positioned himself at the forefront of efforts to revise the Sonderweg thesis and to overhaul the entire conceptual apparatus supporting it.13 Occupying himself in making the discussion of “modernity” relevant to the context of Wilhelmine Germany, he has staked out his specialty in expanding the understanding of political participation in this period.14 His book, Reshaping the German Right,15 while it deals with the emergence of radical nationalism in general and not völkisch nationalism per se (the categories overlap extensively but are not strictly interchangeable), has been hugely instructive in organizing my own thoughts about the völkisch movement proper.

The organizing premise of Jost Hermand’s useful study of völkisch utopianism, Der Alte Traum vom Neuen Reich, translated into English in 1992, initially invites heavy skepticism.6578528-1 The asseveration here is that liberal and leftist historians, in denying the progressive elements implicit in the “idea of the national community”—the former reducing patriotism to a set of abstract constitutional or civic prescriptions, the latter questioning the social legitimacy of the nation-state itself—have ceded the rhetorical advantage to their right-leaning colleagues. The risk of diverting collective appeals into chauvinist channels is, in his estimate, too real not to recoup some of the concept’s positive value from the ideological bankruptcy of rightist-authoritarian manipulation.16 Certainly, as a post-war reflex, the commitment to a rationalist and progressive politics as a prophylactic against any relapse into anti-modernist obscurantism or nationalist apologetics—argued most forcefully by Jürgen Habermas—was historically limited and bound to prejudice readings of Germany’s past. But Hermand’s line of argument, made from good intentions, rests on a very weak ontological basis, insofar as it presupposes the concept of “nation” as a self-evident and fixed category without critically examining its historically determined constructedness.17 Notwithstanding this caveat, he has devised a useful typology for organizing the shifting registers in which the Volksgemeinschft has historically been invoked and frustrated.

The most recent empirical research into the völkisch movement has unsurprisingly come out of Germany. Uwe Puschner’s richly documented, if undertheorized, Die völkische Bewegung im wilhelminischen Reich (2001) submits the twofold thesis that 1) it is more instructive to speak of a definitive caesura between two distinct völkisch movements around World War I, and that 2) to understand what changes transpired with the Nazis, it is vitally instructive to start with the turn-of-the-century roots of the organized völkisch movement.18 More historically delimited treatments of this subject are meager compared to the preponderance of both specialized studies and general surveys of the authoritative tradition of völkisch thought, which embraces a markedly broader timeframe. Puschner implies that this accepted approach tends to overlay a semblance of continuity that may not actually obtain throughout the intervening periods of time—and, conversely, the organized movement itself supplied the missing link between disaffected and isolated intellectuals and the mass political phenomenon that manifested in the post-war era. He departs from the stand-alone “history of ideas,” in acknowledgement of the fact that, unless one extends the analysis beyond the contributions of individuals to the prodigious publications, one is at a loss to gain a purchase on the real breadth and diversity which at its inception characterized the völkisch movement—which is better conceived as an inherently fragmented and widely dispersed network or Sammelbewegung of organizations with overlapping memberships.19 Puschner organizes the triad of language, race and religion under his central chapter headings, though these function more as rubrics than guiding concepts. The pamphlets, brochures, tracts and, above all, the newspapers—all of which comprise the main corpus of sources—created the forum in which the völkisch worldview was actively discussed, formulated and disseminated among a considerable readership. With certain methodological qualifications in mind,20 this approach enables the historian, despite gaps in the record, to carve out both a more continuous timeframe in which to integrate these numerous and heterogeneous organizations. Together with a co-edited volume of independent essays, the Handbuch zur “völkischen Bewegung” 1870-1918, the paucity of closely integrated argument or guiding conceptual framework makes this compendium more valuable as an encyclopedia than as a synthetic study situated properly within the historiography.

Useful as a partial corrective to Puschner’s exhaustively compilatory methodology is Die Völkischen in Deutschland (2008), in which Stefan Breuer, with a sociologist’s skilled precision, locates the distinctively völkisch politics within the associational networks of pressure groups, political parties and activist Bünde. Dispensing with the deep cultural sociology of backwardness which was one of the more undertheorized components of previous histories of the völkisch movement, Breuer situates the prima facie nostalgia for a harmonious national community within a discursive field necessarily shaped by the terms and consequences of Germany’s unfolding modernization. The repudiation of some liberal and progressive (not to mention socialist) values here was not by that virtue categorically anti-modern or romantic; indeed, the radicalism of the völkisch movement, which ultimately abandoned the traditional value system of conservatism, was intensified precisely by their ambiguous, dynamic confrontation with the crises of modernity.21

This scholarship opens up new directions in mapping out the background of the völkisch phenomenon, starting with a history of the term itself. “It’s all the name.” Trite, perhaps, but no less true for all that when considering the etymology of völkisch and the distinctions therein. What follows on my part is no mere semantic parsing but rather an attempt to take seriously historical actors’ claims to take command of their own language, to mobilize and give new meaning to old terms. The adjectival völkisch is, to put it banally, a derivative of Volk. Its coinage at the beginning of the 19th century was roughly concurrent with the liberationist appeals to the Volk, but it did not enter into common usage until 1875, when, upon the Germanist Hermann von Pfister-Schwaighusen’s recommendation for a substitute for the anodyne and vacuous word “national,” it acquired a firm fixture in the radical nationalist lexicon.22

But to elide these varying usages at the outset of the struggle of national liberation and unification is not only catachrestic but moreover constitutes something like an epistemological impropriety. Historicist notions of cultural exchange, assimilation and related continuities could exist comfortably enough within the oraganicist framework of early Romantic nationalism, as Brian Vick has demonstrated.23 It should be clear by now that Volk did not yet accrue all the vaguely sinister mystical and transcendental connotations which Mosse attributed to the word.24 Günter Hartung catalogues the various associations contained in the term, from

Volk as synonym for different groups of people, for the collectivity of non-ruling strata (‘gemeines Volk’), for the inhabitants of a territory or the subjects of a state (‘Staatsvolk’), up to the ethnically specific term for a natural collective of people of common extraction and language (‘deutsches Volk’).25

None of these definitions can be disengaged from the semantics of “nation,” but at least in this opening period the term differs little from how liberal nationalists throughout most of the 19th century appealed to “the people.” In point of fact, one particularly constructive development of late has been to at least partially reintegrate the German experience into the wider political transformation initiated by the French Revolution. The tendency now is to update the point of divergence from the nebulous Romantic wave to 1848-9—specifically, the breakdown of the Frankfurt Assembly deliberations.

Philipp Veit: Germania (1848)

Hermand convincingly demonstrates, for example, that much of the nationalist propaganda of the early-to-mid-19th century fell into a generally democratic-republican cadence with distinctly populist overtones, projecting its animus more against the corrupt, archaic institutions and practices of their own aristocratic elite than against external foes.26 While this more democratic strain of nationalism exhausted itself by the time of unification and was henceforth recuperated by the acquiescent National Liberals, its real significance lies in confirming that Germans neither were hermetically sealed off from the Enlightenment debate nor had collectively dispelled its associated values once and for all after the Metternich restoration. This is also the view of Lawrence Birken, who in his exegesis makes the provocative argument that völkisch nationalism was articulated as a reassertion—in the face of Bismarck’s kleindeutsch solution, calculated in the interests of dynastic survival and affiliated traditional elites—of popular sovereignty within the großdeutsch framework of a nation-state, the stolen hope of the 1848 generation.27 Most recently, that this liberal answer to the “national question” never completely went out of currency is evidenced by the renewed appeal of Anschluß— a concern conventionally thought exclusive to the far-right in this period—among Weimar republicans, who sought to buff up the historical credentials of German democracy.28 Meanwhile rediscovery of such continuities has prompted much-needed reevaluations of liberalism’s trajectory in modern Germany over the last decade. Eric Kurlander, for example has amply documented the failure of German liberalism to reckon with a legacy to which prescriptions for ethnic homogeneity were endogenous.29 The oppositional thrust of völkisch nationalism as it manifested itself post-unification, then, can be read “not as a repudiation but an intensification of Enlightenment, and thus of Western values.”30 Eley anticipated this finding when he offered up the Navy League as a corrective to the narrow sociological interpretation of populist politics; its membership comprised largely of the rising bourgeoisie, who retained at least a formal affinity with the earlier liberal tradition in their discourse.31

This excursion has been necessary in order to better appreciate the novelty of the Wilhelmine experience; and I say “Wilhelmine” specifically, because, as Eley’s investigations show, radical nationalism, as an organized political response, constituted a principally elective and autonomous ideological tendency empowered by a conjuncture of centrifugal contingencies precipitated by the post-1890 breakdown of the Bismarckian political order.32 The immediate prompt in this process was the forcible retirement of Bismarck from the chancellorship, but more decisive in the long-term were the admission of Social Democrats into parliamentary politics and the disintegration of a once stable centrist bloc. The centrifugal momentum opened up a previously sequestered political space to competing claims to national identity and the interests of the German Volk—often in ways which militated against a purely instrumentalist interpretation of the sort of unilateral, hegemonic and top-down “integrationism” which the German state aimed for and diverted the articulation of “national identity” onto ideologically contested terrain. While select contingents of the radical-nationalist camp at times served as effective auxiliaries to a state-directed “integrationist” project, this was not, in the final analysis, their prescribed role, and multiple groups just as often competed with each other and the government on the same contested terrain of national identities.33 In the interest of breaking from the strictures of idealist or instrumentalist determinism, then, Eley is willing to give radical nationalists some voice in self-identification; in other words,

to respect the relative independence of ideology…It is vital to recognize that membership of the nationale Verbände had its own internal logic for activists. It was conceived by them as an autonomous sphere of political engagement. It cannot be reduced to the functional requirements of the so-called ‘ruling strata’ and their ‘strategies of stabilization’….It is vital…to consider radical-nationalist ideology on its own terms…as a mode of commitment which articulated a series of antagonisms within the existing political structures of Wilhelmine Germany’s ruling bloc….The radical nationalists were constituted as a distinctive political grouping not by their similar social origins, but by a shared political experience and its ideological formation.34

This applies mutatis mutandis for the völkisch movement, an expansive subset of the radical-nationalists. Specifically, this insistence on the primacy of ideology in organizing political affinities points to the implicit chronology underlying Puschner’s book. As he convincingly documents, what would develop into a full-fledged ideological movement had its origins in more-or-less independent initiatives—it was principally through open forums like the journals and newspapers that participants debated and articulated something like a common voice. The movement for language purification, which had its formal inception in 1885 with the founding of the Allgemeine Deutsche Sprachverein, only by the turn of the century had sufficiently expanded the scope of its original programme from education to agitate on an explicitly völkisch platform, aided by organs like Heimdall (1896-1910), and the more radical Alldeutsche Sprach- und Schriftverein, which had its origins in the Berlin chapter of the Sprachverein, expelled for denouncing the organization as out of touch with the völkisch currents of its day.35 In this sense, associations devoted to promoting the purity of the German language provided some of the key impulses to a more general völkisch worldview, and they continue to provide historians with a means for tracing out the ways in which that worldview shifted and changed as the century drew to a close.

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We are now better equipped to excavate the variable meanings embedded in the word völkisch. An effort is made in what follows to give a coherent summary breakdown of those beliefs that can in fact be classed as völkisch ideology. Even “ideology” or “worldview,” while provisionally acceptable, still implies a coherent, unified set of beliefs shared equally by all, when in actuality the ideas it gave voice to were more diffuse than those terms would imply and so cannot be assimilated into a body of thought. For our purposes, when not referring to specific ideas, in most cases we will instead of speak of a völkisch “discourse.” The term does not completely escape the aura of an invented expedient, but it does more clearly suggest an ongoing discussion, the terms of which were always subject to change; active participants were at liberty to reformulate their premises in accordance with their self-determined priorities.

Any generalizations at this point will necessarily remain preliminary—and likewise so must the answer as to Landauer’s place in this ideological complex await the conclusion of this study. Of course, the overriding importance of the völkisch phenomenon does not exhaust itself in the reconstruction of a specific worldview. But some common constituent patterns of thought in the völkisch discourse may be drawn out of the preceding discussion. I believe a proper definition of historical völkisch ideology can be achieved by the comprehension of four of its chief ideas, each interdependent of the other. These are by no means exhaustive, but they should satisfy the distinguishing criteria for a heuristically useful comparative baseline: 1) pan-Germanism, 2) racial determinism, 3) the appeal to a national myth, and 4) a renewed emphasis on activism.

Pan-Germanism. This term refers, quite simply, to an expansive definition of German nationality which transcended borders, going beyond rhetoric of solidarity to demand territorial revision. However pan-Germanists chose to articulate this unity, it was not merely a descriptive account of cultural ties but had a normative component as well; the discovery of compatriots abroad implied in turn a moral, if not explicitly political, obligation. If we take seriously the above-mentioned continuity of völkisch nationalism with its abortive liberal legacy, then it becomes less surprising that Bismarck’s Germany could hardly satisfy radical nationalist aspirations, which usually found expression in the reiteration of something approximating the democratic großdeutsch solution. What was specifically völkisch in this strain of radical nationalism was a persistently ambivalent attitude towards the German state; insofar as it united a significant swath of Germans, the Kaiserreich elicited the appreciation of nationalists across the spectrum, but in most völkisch formulations, as an existing political unit, it represented at best a transitional entity, a mere promissory note for the eventual consolidation of an all-encompassing ethnic state. In point of fact, its historical significance, putting aside temporarily the particular criteria deployed, lies in directly contravening the prevailing orthodoxy of civic or constitutional nationalism, circumscribed in the last resort by the formal limits of the separate nation-states. The pan-German formula, from its beginning in Paul de Lagarde’s Deutsche Schriften, was thus an implicit—often explicit—repudiation of canonical historicism, which posited the state as the central object of teleological history; in the emergent Volksgeschichte, the state was relegated to a function of the eternal national myth.36 The potentially destabilizing nature of völkisch nationalism arguably comes into sharper focus if one turns from the Kaiserreich to Austria, where the lingering chimera of Anschluß and the perceived precariousness of their minority status within the polyglot Habsburg Empire stimulated pan-German aspirations among Austrian Germans. Indeed, if Hartung is correct, Deutschnationalismus underwent its initial stirrings in Austria, where a growing affinity for Imperial Germany was nevertheless checked by dependency on the Habsburg status quo for stability.37

The trajectory of the Sprachbewegung is illustrative of the wider movement towards an explicitly imperialist platform that went beyond appeals to mere cultural solidarity. The Allgemein Deutschen Sprachverein (ADS) was founded in 1885 to promote the preservation of a more pure and authentic German language. Spokespersons for the radical-nationalist camp of the ADS were Adolf Reinecke and the aforementioned Pfister-Schwaighusen, who came together in 1890 to found Heimdall. This organ represented an exemplary early effort to build bridges between disparate groups on the far right margins of the movement; Heimdall indeed became the principal mouthpiece for an expansion of the original mission of the language movement. The Muttersprache was the main solvent of völkisch belonging, a transcendent bond which served as the pretext for a more emphatically pan-German orientation. This common linguistic bond should prefigure the unified, homogeneous ethnic state of the state; to this noble end it was the filial duty of the Volk to cultivate and preserve the “mother tongue” in its pristine form.38 Language, in any case, was not the exclusive designation of the Volk: Reinecke and his associates advanced a racial-supremacist discourse which privileged the German Volk as the natural aristocracy of mankind, a position withheld from them by the onus of foreign influence.39

Title heading for Odin, Year 1, No. 38 (July 1899)

This expanded mandate provided the opening for a schism in the ADS. The Berlin chapter was expelled from the central organization after criticizing it for remaining aloof from the untapped potential to grow into a genuine völkisch movement. Pfister-Schwaighusen also denounced the ADS on similar grounds for being out of touch with the popular völkisch currents of the day.40 The Alldeutsche Sprach- und Schriftverein (ASS), which sprang from the erstwhile Berlin chapter on the instigation of Reinecke, expanded on their criticism of the ADS in their founding statement to ascribe insufficient enthusiasm for either the German script or racial purification. What distinguished this breakaway faction was their holistic framework, intertwining language and race in such a way as to render so-called half-measures ineffectual. Whoever fought for the dearest property of the Volk, its language, must ipso facto cultivate a higher conception of their pure German inheritance. The corruption of the German tongue was symptomatic of the deeper decline in the current Volksgeist. A revival of the original language, a legacy of their ancient forebears, was thus imperative in effecting a commensurate renewal of the Volk.41 The ASS was not constrained by national borders in their expansive conception of the German Volk, envisioning something approximate to the Großdeutschland idea, welcoming not only the obligatory Austrians but also Swiss, Tyrolean and Baltic Germans into their embrace. In the estimation of Reinecke and his associates the German Reich in its current manifestation was not coterminous with the true expanse of the German Volk.42 This dissatisfaction with the mere shell of the ideal nation-state informed their particularly intensive cooperation with like-minded Vereine in Austria-Hungary, where the longing for an Anschluß of the sort promulgated by Schönerer held strong.43

At this point one should interject that, crucially, although the protagonists of this movement arrived quite naturally at racialist ideology, such ideas were not an inherent feature of its founding mission; although engaging in the discourse of race, the term was not defined in so narrowly biological terms but rather encompassed a broader range of cultural, linguistic and spiritual associations. Some of the core premises motivating the movement for language purification nevertheless shaded into the more virulent and chauvinistic tenor adopted by the ASS, for whom the crusade for language purification began to assume perceptible racial dimensions. Various initiatives to revive a living connection to the spiritual essence of the German ancestors came close to treating the German tongue as an analogous racial construct with the attendant biological connotations.

Racial Determinism. The example of the language movement suggests that race was contrived in large part to resolve the implicit elasticity of a völkisch identity deriving from a shared language or culture. From a historical perspective, race, as a social construct, is doubly difficult to reference consistently when overlaid by the variable definitions assigned to it in the past. As Hartung reminds us, the term was notoriously arbitrary and indeterminate in its contemporary usage; not only was there no prevailing scientific consensus on race, the central tenets of racism were already firmly established when völkisch theorists were borrowing selectively from scientific findings to support their own constructed paradigms.44

Anti-Semitism, for our purposes, was the practical manifestation of völkisch racism, though by itself the predominance of anti-Jewish prejudice within the radical nationalist milieu does not imply a necessary relationship. Whether its adherents chose to define völkisch ideology positively (in affirmation of the special qualities of the Volk) or negatively (in denigration of those excluded from and/or threatening the Volk) xenophobia and anti-Semitism remained constitutive elements of the worldview. But as a broader phenomenon it cannot be reduced to a single, exclusive cause like that of anti-Semitism, which was still in the process of elaboration as the movement was coalescing. 137584471368ba45_l As Puschner suggests, the multiplicity of individuals and groups credited with the dubious legacy as original founders of the völkisch movement reflects the diversity and indeterminacy of the contemporary organizations and leaders themselves and, by extension, the futility of isolating an original, stable concept of race inspiring the whole movement.45 Although the normative equation of anti-Semitism and völkisch identity was ubiquitous in the movement, especially with reference to Aryan clauses in party programs, some prominent spokesmen strenuously reproached the single-minded emphasis of the political parties and activist groups as being of limited strategic value, recklessly short-sighted and reductive of the fuller meaning of völkisch identity.46 Indeed, other scholars have argued that the anti-Semitic movement and the völkisch movement proper initially developed independently of each other and only converged by the end of the 1880s;47 seen in this context, the underlying impetus of the völkisch movement, after the initial surge of anti-Semitic agitation had faltered by the end of the 1870s, was to recuperate anti-Semitism within a more comprehensive and systematic ideological framework. In point of fact, the anti-Semitic parties throughout this era, such as those founded on the initiative of Adolf Stoecker and Friedrich Naumann, based as they were on narrow class, confessional or regional constituencies, provide a rather more obvious example of “social functionalism” (including its limits) than the later constituted völkisch nationalists, who operated on a consciously ideological platform.48 At this point “racialist” ideas were focused more on positive self-identification than negative “othering,” though the latter was inevitably a concomitant of the former. The reaffirmation and revival of Volk consciousness was the chief consideration in the völkisch discourse when the movement was just starting out and idealist or cultural constructions of race still maintained a foothold against the incipient gridlock of deterministic pseudo-scientific designations. The primary function of anti-Semitism, then, was less to prescribe a deliberate policy program for the Jews than to serve as a discursive aid, a rhetorical foil to the völkisch ideal-type. Anti-Semitism arguably remained a secondary, but necessary, consideration to the quasi-sacral mystification of race, which further served the purpose not only of distinguishing völkisch thought more definitively from the narrowly national purview or single-issue anti-Semitic agitation, but also—and this is crucial—of divorcing itself from the idealist precepts of the 19th century.49

In the völkisch discourse, therefore, we are concerned with two constructions of race—the idealist and the naturalist. While in actuality the dichotomy was rarely so explicit as I present it—like much of völkisch ideology racialism was a gradient phenomenon—it is important to account for the dialectical tension underlying these two perspectives. Scientific racism, the more familiar of the two, insisted on the immutability and fixity of inherited racial traits. In the scholarship on racism, especially in the German context, it has become axiomatic that the increasing elaboration of race into a biological category signaled an inauspicious paradigm shift from this earlier discourse; it thereby acquired a binding force that sealed off the path of cultural assimilation—a pseudoscientific legitimation over which common values held no opposing claim.

Idealist racism, even in its most vulgarized form, shares with the namesake philosophy a belief that the inner spiritual life of the individual exercises a metaphysical power not deriving from the natural laws. Several holdouts maintained an older, more spiritually determined ontology of Volk, which, if it did not outright obviate race, obtained as a distinct quality; otherwise, they simply resorted to relativizing race beyond all usefulness as a classification by compounding with it less tangible qualities like language, spirit, soul and civilization. Friedrich Lienhard, while accepting the premise of different races, held fast to an idealist notion of race—that is, giving priority to an affective and elective affinity of the individual with the Volk over ascriptive determinism—characteristically considering even the scientific trappings of the approach too much of a concession to the pervasive materialism of the times.50 Although Lienhard often expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, he allowed for the theoretical compatibility of “Jewish idealism” and considered anti-Semitism inessential to the self-cultivated identification with and love for one’s own Volk. In his opinion anti-Semitism was simply the negative obverse of völkisch renewal, a stance which informed his exaggerated estimate of the Jews’ baleful influence on German society; his injunction to proactively “be German in blood and spirit and, by extension, in politics and culture, feeling and action” was the best prophylactic against the ravages of modernity, the “true anti-Semitism.”51 Bernhard Förster also exemplifies the ambiguity of idealist anti-Semitism, His Antisemitischen Correspondenz contains a typical expression of giving the rhetorical benefit of the doubt to Jews:

“Every Jew, who surrenders himself with love and conviction to a spiritual inclination, which is un-Jewish in its essence, ceases at that moment to be a Jew ….[This also extends to] Aryan scientific research, art, living for the Volk and the community…whoever devotes himself to such activity with their whole heart and with true love is no longer a Jew.”52

Although in light of what came later one is inclined to give some credit to such attitudes, such idealism still retained a coercive thrust. Even here racial and spiritual-cultural constructions were ontologically imbricated; if they were disinclined to reduce race to biological heredity, idealist racists rather essentialized race in terms of collective values and mindsets. From this ascriptive determination of idealist anti-Semitism followed an intensification of the dictates of assimilation. As Stackelberg gravely reminds us, “Idealist anti-Semitism, an ostensibly benevolent bias…prepared the soil in which, under different conditions, more extreme forms of anti-Semitism could flourish.”53 Still, because a Jew could shed his quintessentially Jewish mentality more easily than his Blut, idealist racism, even as it blurred the line between ostensibly discrete categories, maintained at least a theoretical emphasis on individual agency and moral improvement which distinguished it from biological determinism.

Fritz Erler: Land detail of a mural painting (1913).

All things considered, however, any descriptive determination of völkisch racism which relies on such an analytical distinction will fail to explain adequately why either formulation, by itself, should have manifested such destructive implications in the future. Puschner’s research shows that völkisch thinking was driven by abstraction, idealism, and mysticism, not strictly by biological precepts; this is evident in the majority view of the movement that religious unification and purity would help regenerate the race.54 The real innovation, as Mosse had originally discerned, was actually to ontologically fuse these two interpretations into a metaphysics of race which neutralized both any charitable idealist interpretation and any claim to scientific objectivity; inherited racial traits were, according to this ontology, simply outward reflections of essential and inherent spiritual qualities.55 From here it was a logical step to extrapolate perceived racial differences onto the historical stage, the objectification of an existential struggle of values between Germans and, principally, the Jews.

Myth. With reference to the mythological structure of the race narrative, such intimations of decay and degeneration almost invariably were suffused with a poetics of collective redemption or salvation. Almost all völkisch activists and writers of the prewar period, in fact, were tacitly aware that, if they wished to avoid the fatal pitfalls of an ironclad racial determinism, the fate of the mythical Volk necessarily rested on an affirmative fiction. Such language reveals the extent to which religious modes of thinking retained their vitality in the discourse of myth, despite the unpropitious climate of what appeared to contemporaries to be a progressively secular, rational European society. Although the subjects of his monograph on the German “longing for myth” rest largely outside the chronological and biographical scope of this paper, George Williamson traces the evolution of “mythical narratives that attempted to explain the historical relationships of old and new mythologies to modern society.”56 He finds the origins of this discourse in both a neohumanist appreciation for ancient Greek culture and a Romantic desire for religious renewal in the face of increasing secularization. For Williamson, this quest for common myths, which he defines as “a coherent system of narratives that legitimated the religious and political traditions of a polis,” reflected “the persistence of confessional and theological modes of thought in the modern era”; indeed, the practice of myth-making was part and parcel of “the emergence of the public sphere, national identity, and the formation of collective memory” in modern Germany.57 Instead, he argues, the “longing for myth” reflected the pervasive experience of “dislocation and disorientation” precipitated by industrialization, revolution, and the dissolution of community values in the abstract conception of secular society, compounded by the fragmentation of German society “along confessional, social, and territorial lines”; the splintering of traditional social and cultural bonds gave rise to the desire for an “aesthetic-religious imagery” that would “unite modern society just as Greek mythology had supposedly once united the polis.”58

Im-Tempel-Der-Zweieinheit-Fidus-Hugo-Höppener-1914Fidus (aka Hugo Höppener): Im Tempel der Zweieinheit (1914)

The völkisch quest for an integrative Mythos was an immanent aspect of the ambiguous experience of modernity. Breuer frames his study explicitly within the conceptual framework of “reflexive modernization,” which detects certain entailments of critique and dissatisfaction always already inscribed in the very transition to an industrial society. Where an initial stage of modernity may be characterized by the assertion of powerful ordering principles increasingly implemented through the agency of a state, accompanied by the dream of society’s eventual cohesion and ultimately realized integration, the second stage is predicated around growing uncertainty and skepticism involving instability, complexity, ambivalence, and necessary incompletion. Thus a key manifestation of the advent of “reflexive modernity” at the turn of the twentieth century was the holistic desire for “re-integration,” a “synthetic-harmonizing pattern of thought,” through which its exponents hoped a lost wholeness might be regained.59 In the first place, then, the discourse of myth drew its relevance from the recognition that cultural cohesion was necessary for the articulation of public society. The völkisch project of myth-making thus gained impetus from the paradox of two countervailing trends integral to the nineteenth-century process of secularization: the relegation of religious practice from the public to the private sphere, that is, the transposition of spirituality into individual conscience; and the reflexive desire to diffuse religious modalities into the realms of aesthetic and political culture, that is, to reconstitute an public religion, whereby the consummation of complete harmony between the individual and the national community was to be mediated through a unified, exoteric system of symbols and narratives.

It needs to be emphasized, however, that in the völkisch worldview the state, as an external product of history, had no internal point of reference besides the Volk and so could not act as the sole repository of a lasting national mythology of its own. Myth, as distinct from a manufactured legend, was reducible neither to an antiquarian construct nor a crude function of propaganda—though it usually entailed these partial meanings as well. Rather, in its völkisch articulations, myth, as a form of collective memory, emanated from the autochthonous subconscious of the Volk, buried beneath the cumulative accidents of history. As such it should be postulated that, pace Williamson, völkisch conceptions of myth consciously ran counter to the uncritical distinction between positivistic history and falsifying myth; rather, myth formed the irreducible substrate of the Volk’s historical consciousness. And in a fragmented and rootless society, these narratives were the only recourse available to the völkisch revival, whose vectors could point simultaneously to the lost mythology of Germanic antiquity and to a new mythical era.

Importantly, as a constructive narrative, its truth value was not fixed in itself but suggestive and contingent upon the collective capacity for the German Volk to fully apprehend its eternal quest for self-realization. Because the Volk was a dynamic entity, the political content of its myths was never fixed but could always be reinterpreted according to its changing needs; the vital and operational nature of a mythical past, by stimulating the natural instincts of the Volk, thus formed the basis for present action. A specifically German national myth gained in importance over the course of the nineteenth century and rather ominously encouraged völkisch enthusiasts to think of German history as a distinct passage from catastrophe to redemption.

fa27Ludwig Fahrenkrog: Der Tempel des Schweigens (1920)

Such fantastical and idealized historical constructions formed the backdrop for a litany of simultaneously utopian and dystopian narratives. Psychologically, the movement seems to have been generated by a combination of nearly eschatological hopes—raised by the Reich’s new world power—and apocalyptical fears—of biological, political, cultural, moral, and economic devastation. Around the turn of the century there was a feeling of entering into an age of collective paralysis, and the proliferation of völkisch groups can be restated in temporal terms as the direct response to a diffuse longing for a new age. The hysterical tenor of the commentary is so disproportionate to the actual conditions of contemporary German society that one seems at a loss to diagnose the source of this reaction in a remotely objective manner, but suffice it to say, the response can usually be traced back to an pervasive disillusionment with the situation in Imperial Germany, in which the initial surge of patriotic fervor attending unification was promptly deflated by the onset of new crises in the social, economic and political spheres. Dire critiques of contemporary society went as far back as the so-called forefather of völkisch thought, Paul de Lagarde,59 but all the perceived symptoms of modernity—a grab-bag of rampant materialism, liberalism, partisanship, socialism, urbanization, etc.—seemed to intensify under the auspices of Wilhem II’s rule.61

The publication of these jeremiads, in both fictional and polemical format, is the main subject of Hermand’s study. One can only imagine how even a cursory review of this literary dross must test the limits of endurance, and this material would be of marginal historical value if not for Hermand’s ambitious attempt to read the shifting mood of the times in these texts, united in diagnosing the causes and symptoms of societal decline but whose prescriptions for reformation are highly contested. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of the output of dystopian and utopian writings crowded the transitional period between the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, that threshold in which the discrepancies between the immediate preceding years of Germany’s subjugation and degeneracy and a seemingly imminent future auguring purification and renewal seemed to play out as dramatically on the political scene as on the page.62 By comparison, the relatively stable pre-1914 era should have been less given to apocalyptic forecasts. But, tellingly—and again confirming Eley’s original timeline—even the still quite conservative reign of Wilhelm II produced its own counterreaction in the unambiguously “proto-fascist” “Volkish Opposition.”

Exercised by what they saw as the creeping inertia of an overly moderate regime complacent in the face of its manifest destiny, these nationalists propagandized for an explicitly authoritarian and expansionist political program. The plots of futuristic dystopias gave full vent to the chauvinistic and elitist tendencies of ruling class interests, offering dire panoramas of Germany’s fate, delivered by internal elements into the hands of their foreign enemies. The leveling tendencies of democratization, racial mongrelization and socialism could only checked by reasserting the heroic claims of the Volk culminating in the apotheosis of an imperialist Greater Germany, usually led under the banner of a truly national Führer—demonstrating the anti-dynastic sympathies of most pan-German utopias.63

Antisemitic pamphlet published by the Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund (1919)

Activism. That neither dystopian nor utopian thinking attained an absolute, exclusive claim on the discourse at any particular moment—on the contrary, such narratives only acquired their full rhetorical power from the internal tension between these elements—is indicative of another, if not the crucial defining point underpinning the völkisch project: that is to say, the emphasis laid on activism. The collective agency of the Volk not only acted upon the dynamic tension between dystopian and utopian thought, but more fundamentally modified the fatalism implicit in racial determinism into a dialectical impulse which Mosse traced back to publisher Eugen Diederichs’ “idealism of deeds.”64 This typically entailed more active engagement with contemporary social and political questions. The imperative of an active intervention into the socio-political sphere marked a clear departure from an earlier generation of Romantic thinkers, whose abstinence from modernity (Welt- und Zeitablehnung) and aesthetic escapism (Welterflüchtung) were logical corollaries of a more pure, rarefied tradition of idealism.

Puschner and Breuer both offer a great deal of material on the internal leadership, ideas, institutions, networks but comparatively little on the diffusion and impact of völkisch ideas on the politics, culture, and society of Wilhelmine Germany and its opinion-shaping institutions. Despite the extensive research, including some numbers on subscriptions to journals and memberships in organizations, figures on the total number of Germans who were involved in the völkisch movement before World War I must, by Puschner’s estimation, remain speculative. Hermand’s survey of völkisch literature suffers from a similar deficiency in conclusive quantitative data, in that he furnishes no figures on the number of copies printed or sold; the actual impact of these dreadful novels, likewise, is a matter of speculation. One can safely, however, assume “that broad sections of the German people were confronted and came in contact with völkisch ideas.”65 This is due mainly to the völkisch movement’s eminently modern character as a dispersed network of activists with overlapping memberships, which probably went a long way to ensuring its dynamic capacity for “agitation and propaganda, as well as infiltration and networking.”66 The Heimatschutzbewegung provides a textbook example of how the movement linked up with more mainstream, reformist causes to appropriate their ideas and integrate them within their distinctly racial worldview (Puschner deploys the metaphor of Trittbrettfahrer [“free-rider”] to characterize this strategy).67 They also potentially provided a prime outlet for “entryist” tactics, that is, insinuating völkisch slogans and tropes into the broader moderate discourse.

It is less certain from the present studies whether this diffuse influence translated into sustained political gains during the Wilhelmine period—along with Breuer, I am inclined to answer in the negative. The obverse of the völkisch movement’s extended reach is the outstanding fact that it never coalesced into any kind of unified, centralized umbrella organization and in point of fact was inherently fragmented and philosophically opposed to any kind of unity or centralization.68 The modern völkisch movement, such that it was, emerged out of a very specific context—the demographic, economic and social instability of the Wilhelmine period. And in all likelihood, had it not been for the outbreak of World War I and the consequent radicalization of nationalist tendencies, along with the threatening profile of the far-left (despite its swift suppression by the early 1920s), in the long term it would have disintegrated or otherwise “have faded into marginality.”69 But alas.

1. George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964), 13.
2. Mosse, Crisis of German Ideology, 16-17.
3. Fritz Stern, The Failure of Illiberalism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972).
4. Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 1961), xv.
5. As a rule it is poor form to presume about the motivations of individual historians, but in the case of Mosse and Stern it would be remiss not to suggest provisionally whether, as German-Jewish exiles of liberal, assimilated background, their generation’s personal proximity to the traumatic events of the 1930 and 1940s, might have obviated the critical distance necessary for their research.
6. Roderick Stackelberg, Idealism Debased: From Völkisch Ideology to National Socialism (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1981), 160.
7. Geoff Eley, “German History and the Contradictions of Modernity: The Bourgeoisie, the State, and the Mastery of Reform,” in Society, Culture, and the State in Germany 1870-1930, ed. Geoff Eley. Social History, Popular Culture, and Politics in Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 83-90.
8. Helmut Walser Smith, “When the Sonderweg Debate Left Us,” in Revisiting Imperial Germany: Continuing Debates and New Perspectives, eds. Cornelius Torp and Sven Oliver Müller (New York: Berghahn Books, 2011), 25-31.
9. Jürgen Kocka, “Asymmetrical Historical Comparison: The Case of the German Sonderweg,” History and Theory 38.1 (February 1999), 45-46.
10. Recent examples include Thomas Rohkrämer, A Single Communal Faith? The German Right from Conservatism to National Socialism. Monographs in German History 20 (New York: Berghahn Book, 2007); Wolf Lepenies, The Seduction of Culture in German History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).
11. See Uwe Lohalm, Völkischer Radikalismus. Die Geschichte des Deutschvölkischen Schutz- und Trutz-Bundes 1919-1923 (Hamburg: Leibniz-Verlag, 1970); Roger Chickering, We Men Who Feel Most German: A Cultural Study of the Pan-German League, 1886-1914 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1984).
12. Geoff Eley and David Blackbourn, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Politics and Society and Nineteenth-Century Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984).
13. Geoff Eley, “Introduction 1: Is There a History of the Kaiserreich?” in Society, Culture, and the State, 1-15; Geoff Eley and James Retallack, “Introduction,” in Wilhelminism and Its Legacies: German Modernities, Imperialism, and the Meanings of Reform, 1890—1930, eds. Geoff Eley and James Retallack (New York: Berghahn Books, 2003), 1-15.
14. Geoff Eley, “Making a Place in the Nation: Meanings of ‘Citizenship’ in Wilhelmine Germany,” in Wilhelminism, 16-33.
15. Geoff Eley, The Reshaping of the German Right: Radical Nationalism and Political Change after Bismarck (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980).
16. Jost Hermand, Old Dreams of a New Reich: Völkisch Utopias and National Socialism, trans. Paul Levesque and Stefan Soldovieri (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), xi-xiii.
17. See John Breuilly, “Theories of Nationalism and the Critical Approach to German History,” in Revisiting Imperial Germany, 68-70; Geoff Eley, Ronald Griger Suny, eds., Becoming National: A Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
18. Uwe Puschner, Die völkischen Bewegung im wilhelminischen Reich: Sprache – Rasse – Religion (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2001), 12-13.
19. Puschner, Die völkischen Bewegung, 51.
20. Puschner, Die völkischen Bewegung, 22-23. As Puschner admits upfront, in some cases, publication holdings were fragmentary; some newspapers could only be reconstructed secondhand through bibliographies or contemporary reviews. Properly tracing and attributing authorship sometimes presented an additional challenge.
21. Stefan Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland: Kaiserreich und Weimarer Republik (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2008), 12-22.
22. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 28. And in point of fact, Uwe Puschner considers Pfister-Schwaighusen and his colleague Adolf Reinecke the closest to founding fathers that the modern völkisch movement had, which opened its first front on the terrain of Sprachpurismus.
23. Brian Vick, “The Origins of the Volk: Notion of Cultural Purity and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Germany,” German Studies Review 36.2 (May 2003), 242-248.
24. Mosse, Crisis of German Ideology, 14-17.
25. Günter Hartung, “Völkische Ideologie,” in Handbuch zur “Völkischen Bewegung” 1871-1918. eds. Uwe Puschner, Walter Schmitz and Justus H. Ulbricht (Munich: De Gruyter Saur, 2012), 23.
26. Hermand, Old Dreams, 5-21.
27. Lawrence Birken, “Volkish Nationalism in Perspective,” The History Teacher 27.2 (February 1994), 133.
28. See Erin R. Hochman, “Ein Volk, ein Reich, eine Republik: Großdeutsch National and Democratic Politics in the Weimar and First Austrian Republics,” German History 32.1 (March 2014), 29-52.
29. See Eric Kurlander, The Price of Exclusion: Ethnicity, National Identity, and the Decline of German Liberalism, 1898-1933. Monographs in German History 10 (New York: Berghan Books, 2006), 2, 4-5.
30. Birken, “Volkish Nationalism in Perspective,” 133.
31. Eley, Reshaping of the German Right, 198-200.
32. Eley, Reshaping of the German Right, 165-166.
33. Eley, Reshaping of the German Right, 176-178.
34. Eley, Reshaping of the German Right, 166-167.
35. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 29-39.
36. Gergeley Romsics, The Memory of the Habsburg Empire in German, Austrian and Hungarian Right-Wing Historiography and Political Thinking, 1918-1941, trans. Thomas Cooper (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 83-89.
37. Hartung, “Völkische Ideologie,” 25-26.
38. Quoted in Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 33.
39. Quoted in Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 35.
40. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 35.
41. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 36.
42. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 36-37.
43. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 38.
44. Hartung, “Völkische Ideologie,” 36-37.
45. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 50.
46. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 51-52.
47. Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland, 23-24; Hartung, “Völkische Ideologie”, 27-28.
48. Hartung, “Völkische Ideologie,” 29.
49. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 66-67.
50. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 71-72; Stackelberg, Idealism Debased, 89-92.
51. Quoted in Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 56.
52. Quoted in Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland, 45.
53. Stackelberg, Idealism Debased, 91-92.
54. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 204.
55. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 204.
56. George S. Williamson, The Longing for Myth in Germany: Religion and Aesthetic Culture from Romanticism to Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 11.
57. Williamson, Longing for Myth, 7.
58. Williamson, Longing for Myth, 298-299.
59. Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland, 13-20.
60. Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, 3-82.
61. Rudiger vom Bruch, “Wilhelminismus – Zum Wandel von Milieu und politischer Kultur,” in Handbuch zur “Völkischen Bewegung”, 3-21.
62. Hermand, Old Dreams, 102-115, 131-143, 158-182.
63. Hermand, Old Dreams, 38-41.
64. Mosse, Crisis of German Ideology, 60.
65. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 286.
66. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 286.
67. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 151.
68. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 285-288; Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland, 140-144.
69. Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland, 144.


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