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Völkisch research was a phenomenon in the social sciences and humanities that aimed to describe and cultivate the Volk, conceived broadly as a group united by some pre-existing or transcendental bond. Studies of this research complex have thus far been dominated by questions related to its close affiliation with the Nazi regime, but much remains unknown about how its longer-term development related to the transformation of science or to conceptual changes in the notion of Volk. This article addresses these questions by tracing the ways in which the idea of Volk transformed through accommodation with shifting scientific norms.


Volk, National Socialism, Humanities, Social Science, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Karl Viktor Müllenhoff, Völkisch Thought, Volksgeist

The idea of Volk is notoriously slippery in German studies. In historical treatments it has both elided and encapsulated a variety of expressions of group belonging, including “people,” “nation,” and “race.” Reinhart Koselleck traced its conceptual fluidity across more than two centuries, noting its use as a generic referent, an ethnographic category, and a political expression.1 Others have explored the ways in which Volk was variously invoked in support of the right-wing völkisch movement (Völkische Bewegung) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.2 And, of course, they have noted how the idea resonated during the years of the Nazi regime, whose avowed political goals included the utopian dream of fostering a Volksgemeinschaft, or a community of the Volk.3 [End Page 575]

This mixture of potency and ambiguity also extended into the realm of science and scholarship. Indeed, far from being a mere figment of popular consciousness, the idea of Volk lay at the core of a tradition of so-called völkisch research that cut across the humanities and social sciences. Thus far, a proper understanding of this tradition has been obscured by an emphasis on the links among academic research, the right-wing political and ideological attitudes of the Völkische Bewegung, and the Nazi regime between 1918 and 1945. By contrast, we propose in this article to reframe the history of völkisch research by looking beyond the Weimar and Nazi eras and by focusing instead on the longer tradition of inquiry into the nature of Volk from the early 1800s to the 1930s.

Historians have had good reasons to set their sights on the interwar and Nazi eras. Those years, after all, saw the appearance of such research fields as Volks- und Kulturbodenforschung (folk and cultural territory research) and Kulturraumforschung (cultural area research). They also witnessed concerted scholarly attempts to delegitimize the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles in the 1920s and later direct collaboration between academics and the Nazi state.4 Over the course of this period, the trajectory of so-called völkisch research appears to have been one of steady growth and politicization, and the support of the Nazis brought it to a zenith in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Such an emphasis on the years after 1918 has generated at least three historiographical threads investigating the work of völkisch scholars in order to understand the autonomy, legitimacy, and objectivity of research in the Nazi era. The first concerned the choices of individual scholars, beginning with Max Weinreich’s indictment of academics who aided the Nazis’ pursuit of mass murder.5 In the 1980s, Michael Burleigh inaugurated [End Page 576] a second thread encompassing the broader context of research, including its disciplinary structure and institutional orientation. The avowed aim of his study of Ostforschung (Eastern Research) was “to show why a school which was incapable of construing its subject autonomously, heterogeneously, or beyond a germanocentric perspective, gained the ascendancy over genuine attempts to work in another direction.”6 More recently, a third line of inquiry has considered disciplinary continuities both before and after the Second World War. Most notably, Uwe Puschner pushed the origins of völkisch research back to the era of the German Empire, aligning it with the nascent völkisch movement and its responses to the “crises” of high modernity.7 Such an approach corresponded to the works of Wolfgang Emmerich and Klaus von See, who had traced the nineteenth-century alignment of völkisch and nationalist thought in Germany.8 Exploring a different set of continuities, Jürgen Kocka evaluated the methodological legacy of völkisch approaches and found innovative strides in interdisciplinary and quantitative approaches, a claim disputed by such scholars such as Alex Flügel and Peter Schöttler.9 The ensuing debate about the scholarly value of völkisch scholarship has extended the discussion beyond its relationship with Nazism and raised broader questions about the formal functioning of science.

Building upon this larger conversation, we ask how the mutability of Volk as one of the field’s central objects of study was informed by the developing epistemological terrain of the scholarly disciplines tasked with studying it. Of course, the relationship between nineteenth-century notions of [End Page 577] Volk and the völkisch movement of the twentieth century was not necessarily a direct one. The movement may have been characterized by what Stanley Payne has called a “relatively formalized ideology,”10 but Puschner has shown that it nonetheless incorporated a broad array of nationalist, racist, religious, and anti-Semitic ideas, each of which individually eclipsed older notions of Volk.11 Within this eclectic ideology, Volk functioned as a watch-word lending cohesion to the whole, even as it was treated as a serious concept within related völkisch research fields. Above all, it remained important as an alluring but highly malleable expression of community, connoting both a material quality and a transcendental bond that hearkened back to early nineteenth-century conceptions.12

In order to understand how such an ambiguous and paradoxical notion informed the formation and development of the völkisch research complex, we provide here a brief sketch of the history of the idea of Volk as an object of research. Our purpose is to show how and why it came to flourish in what we would call a “völkisch era” in the early twentieth century and how its institutional success contributed to its rapid un-doing.. With this approach, we maintain that this longer tradition of scholarship hinged on its place within the field of scientific knowledge production and, crucially, with its accommodation of evolving scientific norms and practices. What we demonstrate, in contrast to the debates among Kocka, Flügel, and Schöttler, is that the foundations of völkisch research were characterized by methodological and epistemological inconsistencies that stemmed from a disciplinary formation process rooted first in the religious, aesthetic, and political spheres. Finally, we will explain why the resulting intellectual dilemmas contributed to the field’s decline in the 1930s. [End Page 578]


A proper reconsideration begins with the pathways in which Volk crystallized in German thought in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, at the intersection of the late Enlightenment and early Romantic periods.13 As Jost Hermand and Christopher Krebs have shown, the beginnings of the idea stretched back to new humanist readings of Tacitus’s Germania during the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.14 In this case, Volk and its plural Völker referred both to Tacitus’s perspective of an “other” distinct from civilization and to a German self-identification with the tribes that had once occupied the German-speaking lands. In this way, the concept became in the eighteenth century both an extension of and a response to the cosmopolitan impulses of the German Enlightenment, placing it astride uncertain contemporary notions of universality and particularity in history and philosophy. Thus, a number of scholars utilized Volk as a generic category of analysis. For example, the early German ethnographers Gerhard Friedrich Müller (1705–83) and August Ludwig von Schlözer (1735–1809) used it when describing the socio-cultural attributes of Eastern and Northern European peoples.15 Other researchers’ interpretations of Volk lent themselves to more specific connotations. In the late eighteenth century, German scholars such as Johann Christoph Adelung (1732–1806), Christoph Meiners (1747–1810), Karl Ludwig Heinrich Pölitz (1772–1838), Daniel Jenisch (1762–1804), and Hermann Dietrich Hegewisch (1764–1812) conceptualized new histories of culture situated between universal historical structures and biological or linguistic particularities unique to specific nations.16 [End Page 579]

These latter perspectives appeared most prominently in the writings of the philosophers Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814). Herder used Nation and Volk almost synonymously while considering notions of Volksgeist or Nationalgeist, which referred to a “spirit” (Geist) that manifested itself as “national prejudices” originating from “climate and way of thinking,” “morals/customs,” and “language.”17 Herder resolved the divide between universalism and particularism by claiming that Nationalgeist was particular and individual, but that the cultural historian could collect its manifestations, the “national prejudices,” found in poems, songs, and myths, in order to compare them with other groups.18 The outbreak of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars served both to spread and politicize Herder’s ideas,19 and it was in this period that Fichte drew upon the concept as a way of drawing a sharp contrast between the Germans and the invading French.20

Neither Herder nor Fichte necessarily intended for notions of Volk or Volksgeist to warrant scientific study. They both adhered to a strain of Enlightenment thought that eschewed rigid empiricism and seemed to share the view that Volk and Nation were best defined not by rational arguments but through aesthetic practices.21 Nevertheless, their views were significant for future academic studies, because each similarly addressed the ways in which Volk and Volksgeist manifested themselves not only in spiritual terms, but also through physical qualities that marked their psychic boundaries. For instance, Herder and Fichte both understood Volk as a historical entity. Herder suggested that the individual Völker emerged from the confluence of human and natural creation conforming to the divine plan of God, whom Herder understood as the schöpferischer Weltgeist (creative world spirit) offering a positive teleology of history.22 Although Herder held [End Page 580] that all Völker possessed the same value, he nonetheless stressed the ways in which their individual historical experiences stamped each Volksgeist with its own essence and thereby distinguished one from another.23 Fichte went one step further, drawing upon history to reveal the exceptional uniqueness of the German Volk. He endeavored to show how the German spirit had been more palpable in the past and suggested that it retained a singular potential to flourish in the present.

Language was another common feature that reflected both the material and spiritual aspects of Volk, and Fichte in particular stressed the integrity of language as a hallmark of the vitality of the German nation. He maintained that German was an Ursprache (primordial language), a “living language” with an unbroken lineage and uncorrupted by outside influences. This was significant, since, as he explained, “With a people who speak a living language spiritual culture intervenes in life.”24 Fichte argued that while the Germans had a pure language informing a culture closely tied to creation and nature, the French, whose language bore the corrupting influence of Latin, had lost themselves to a superficial, mechanistic, and rootless culture.25 This distinction, for Fichte, meant that only the Germans were capable of becoming a true Volk.26

Fichte’s perspective was very much in keeping with emerging strains of Romantic thought in that it posited Volk as an organic entity with the potential to bring spirit and substance together into a harmonious whole.27 This potentiality was embedded within the particular historical nature of the German Volksgeist, which Fichte believed could unite the German provinces with their diverse dialects, customs, and political opinions.28 Fichte seems to have viewed the development of Volk as episodic; his Reden an die deutsche Nation (Addresses to the German Nation), published in 1808, [End Page 581] was not a prediction but an exhortation, and its capacity both to be in the past and to become in the future through a spiritual revival was key to his appeal to his countrymen. Cultivating the German Volk required for Fichte the people’s will and a new education system that would raise the German consciousness.29 Later, such historical-philosophical thinking would inform a wide range of German thinkers, most notably Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marx. But where the Left-Hegelians would gradually excise the spiritual dimension in favor of a decidedly materialist philosophy rooted in Hegelian notions of nation and state,30 the thinkers who picked up the threads of Volksgeist sought to preserve the immediacy of its transcendental quality.

At first glance, we might be tempted to interpret this iteration of the concrete manifestation of Volksgeist as a phenomenological claim, but Fichte’s assertion that language informs the immanence of spirit suggests a much more complex relationship between the spirit and its physical manifestation. Because the nature of a given Volksgeist hinges on the nature of its expression in reality (e.g., as a language or a historical development), the Volk itself must be understood at least partly in ontological terms. This perspective suggested a reconciliation between the spiritual and material by positing the Volk as necessarily existing in both realms, but it raised the stakes for the fundamental question: “What is the German Volk?”

The resulting uncertainty meant that the more particularist and spiritualist notions of Volk developed in a state of ontological tension, even as the early musings of Herder and Fichte left a tantalizing pathway for an empirical approach to the concept. The incoherency between the analytical concepts and the observable material world later constituted the core of the epistemological problems with which völkisch researchers in the early twentieth century were confronted. Even immediate contemporaries of Fichte seemed to have struggled with the finer points of his philosophical resolution. Some seemed to share the Herder-Fichtian interest in the Volksgeist as an entity with agency operating in the material world. For example, the legal scholar Friedrich Carl von Savigny (1779–1861) expressed his so-called Volksgeistlehre (spirit of the people doctrine) theory of law by arguing that true law was the creation of a national conscience, a view which he contrasted with law as a product of a rational and formal process.31 “For law, as in language,” he wrote, “there is no moment of absolute [End Page 582] cessation. . . . Law grows with the growth, and strengthens with the strength of the people [Volk], and finally dies away as the nation loses its nationality.”32 Later scholars, however, often took a different view, emphasizing the ways in which Volksgeist was not an agent but a product emanating from within the Volk—that is, from the collective activity of its members. These evolving perceptions ultimately informed a trend toward greater empiricism, which gradually marginalized the transcendental elements of Volksgeist while resolving the inherent ontological tension in favor of material articulations of the Volk.


The military and political struggles of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras had engendered an intense philosophical discussion on the nature of Volk. In the ensuing decades, the tantalizing prospect of defining it in empirical terms broadened the conversation. A mixture of scholarly and political interest drew questions about Volk into the orbit of a number of emerging humanities and social science disciplines. Among the earliest of these was the field of Germanistik (German studies), whose first chair had been established at the University of Berlin in 1810 in the wake of the Prussian reforms and was thus very much colored by the nationalist fervor that gripped the German states during the post-Napoleonic years. Indeed, many of the pioneering scholars of German studies were prominent within the ongoing debates over political liberalization and national unification.33 For example, the brothers Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm had scholarly interests in the folklore of the German Volk while also occupying political positions; Jacob was a former war and legation secretary, Wilhelm a library secretary, and both stood in the service of [End Page 583] electoral prince Wilhelm I of Hesse-Kassel.34 This meant that the cultural notion of Volk and the political idea of the nation-state, which were otherwise not precisely identical concepts, nevertheless overlapped from the outset, as contemporaries realized that defining the former was necessary to constructing the latter.

Studies of Volk played a vital role in forming Germanistik as a discipline. As a new line of inquiry, it offered the Germanisten a way to distinguish their field while applying their studies to the salient political questions of the day. Such motivations were already at work in studies of key Germanic texts during the 1820s and 1830s. Most notable among these was the debate over the authorship of the famed medieval epic, The Nibelungenlied, which pitted the philologist Karl Lachmann (1793–1851) against the Brothers Grimm. At issue was whether the epic was the product of a single author or an amalgam of multiple authors working independently over time. The academic debate was important in defining the methodological directions of the field, but for the Grimms, who were disciples of Savigny and enamored of Fichte’s spiritual nationalism, the larger question was whether the Nibelungenlied could serve as evidence of the German Volksgeist.35

For years, the Grimms had been using a comparative approach seeking commonalities across a wide range of medieval texts that would allow them to infer the working of a collective spirit.36 Epics such as the Nibelungenlied were important in this endeavor because they had a verifiably diffuse authorship. By the 1820s, however, their approach was challenged by Lachmann, who adopted a methodology based on his training as a classical philologist. Lachmann advocated close and internalized readings of the Nibelungen manuscripts themselves rather than using comparisons with different sources of Germanic writing. His goal was to sort through the differences among extant forms of the epic in order to determine their most original and thereby authentic iteration.37 This strict adherence to text demanded a tremendous amount of training and study, which Lachmann [End Page 584] saw as distinguishing the professional researcher from the amateur. The focus on a single text and reduced reliance on inference introduced a decidedly more empirical methodology to the debate and shifted Lachmann’s research away from any conclusions related to Volksgeist.

In the 1840s, the debate advanced through the work of a second generation of scholars. Particularly noteworthy was a young philologist named Karl Müllenhoff (1818–84), who was inspired by Wilhelm Grimm’s lecture on the purported similarities between the Nibelungenlied and another recently discovered Germanic epic, the Kudrun saga. In 1845, Müllenhoff published his own treatment, Kudrun: Die echten Theile des Gedichtes (Gudrun: The Authentic Elements of the Epic). In it, he attempted to utilize Lachmann’s methods to bring about the Grimms’ objectives. He acknowledged previous studies that had placed the text alongside other, better-known sagas, but he noted that there was simply nothing to match what Lachmann had done for the Nibelungenlied. This led Müllenhoff to place the text itself at the center of the study in order to distinguish “the genuine and the purely fictive in the poem itself.”38 He concluded that the extant saga was in fact an amalgamation of three sources, and that only about one quarter of the text could be judged originally related to the true story of Gudrun.

The result was a claim to orthodoxy built on synthesis. Müllenhoff validated Lachmann’s text-centric methodology, but he had not abandoned the Grimms’ overarching objective of gaining clearer insight into the nature of the Volk. In a telling commentary years later, Müllenhoff’s student and biographer, Wilhelm Scherer (1841–86), argued that his mentor’s work had been a part of a larger project that aimed “to determine the original root sagas [of the German people] and then indeed to locate the foundation of all outer and inner national life in the oldest recognizable conditions of the Germanenvolk.”39

Müllenhoff’s study thus represented the possibility of accommodating assumptions about the transcendental nature of Volk into the methodologies of emerging disciplines. It reflected a consensus within the humanities and social sciences on the value of empiricism as a prevailing epistemology, [End Page 585] but preserved beliefs about the essential nature of the underlying object of his textual studies. Müllenhoff’s solution, of course, did not resolve the essential epistemological dilemma. He continued to view language as a primary carrier of the Volksgeist, but by adopting the techniques of Lachmann’s philology, he implicitly equated language and text, thus reducing Fichte’s notion of “living language” into an object that could be rigorously studied. From there, it was not such a great leap for his student Scherer to equate the production of text with the manifestation of Volksgeist, whose existence he inadvertently portrayed as no longer continuously immanent, but instead as synchronically embedded within particular cultural artifacts and awaiting the discovery of the scholar.


By the mid-nineteenth century, investigations of the German Volk had reached a crossroads. The concept, on the one hand, had become more widely accepted within scholarship, but on the other hand was coming under increasing pressure to conform to changing views of science. In 1860, for example, the philosopher Moritz Lazarus (1824–1903) and the philologist and linguist Heymann Steinthal (1823–99) noted that Volksgeist had become a common term in German scholarship. They lamented, however, that a firm definition remained elusive. “This concept,” they explained, “must first have for itself a place in scholarship, where its content, scope, and its meaning in the form of academic recognition can be gathered and ascertained.”40 At the heart of Lazarus’s and Steinthal’s complaint was a metaphysical crisis becoming increasingly evident across the sciences in the second half of the nineteenth century.41 The positivistic spirit of the age fueled a turn to deductive thought in Western science, especially after the publication and widespread popularity of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin [End Page 586] of Species (1859).42 Although the process of change was slow, Darwinism and positivistic historicism nevertheless threatened to relegate the spiritual understanding of Volk to the margins of the wider scientific field. The German scientific field was soon to be dominated by the strict mathematical methodology and empiricism of the sciences, while a similarly empirically grounded historicism had become the leading approach in the humanities. These trends made science less compatible with the organicist model used to research the Volk through language, customs, spirit, and myth, and meandering among philosophy, material cultural history, and political aesthetics.

It may thus seem surprising that the latter half of the nineteenth century witnessed an increase in scholarship on Volk and Volksgeist, both in terms of its volume and the breadth of representation across fields. During this period, research on Volk began to proliferate in such disciplines as archaeology, geography, and history, while new approaches emerged as incipient interdisciplinary endeavors. Similar trends spread across Western Europe, but were most evident in the German-speaking lands.43 In 1858, Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl (1823–97) penned a plea for Volkskunde (i.e., the study of customs and folklore) to be treated as “science,” and in effect separated it from earlier notions of ethnology and ethnography by limiting its parameters to the study of Germans and the cultivation of “self-awareness of the nation” (Selbsterkenntnis des Volkstums).44 Two years later, Lazarus and Steinthal’s critique of Volksgeist led them to found the new field of Völkerpsychologie, which aimed to bring together contemporary thinking about psychology, history, and cultural studies to demonstrate that language formed a particularistic worldview for every Volk.

The initial success of the new scholarly endeavors hinged on the ways in which scholars responded to the pressure to define the Volk in increasingly material terms. Two particular strategies are evident. One was to drain it of its transcendental element and define it solely as a function of physical processes that could be investigated by experimental methods. This was the preferred approach of Lazarus and Steinthal, whose Völkerpsychologie essentially transformed the understanding of Volksgeist from “spirit” to [End Page 587] “mind” and defined it as a study of “mental life.”45 As they explained, the Volksgeist was essentially the collective mentality formed by the relationship between individuals and the socio-cultural components of their community. By studying these interactions, they hoped both to shed light on individual mental processes and “to reveal the reasons, origins, and causes, both of the appearance and the development and finally of the demise of the peculiarities of a Volk.”46

A second approach preserved the transcendental element but shifted the locus of study from Volk and Volksgeist to its cultural manifestations. This was a trajectory implied in Müllenhoff’s earlier research and elaborated in his final work, Deutsche Altertumskunde (German Antiquity Studies). In five volumes appearing between 1870 and 1883, Müllenhoff attempted to distill the oldest fragments of German antiquity from an ambitious array of texts, ranging from Tacitus’s Germania to the Icelandic Eddas.47 His emphasis lay with capturing the creative essence of ancient Germans with an eye toward defining the physical contours and characteristics of the nation in its most distant recognizable form. In the end, however, he was stymied by the limits of his textual sources, but one of his students, the archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna (1858–1931), later pursued similar questions by drawing upon artifacts instead of texts. Kossinna’s “settlement archaeology” rested on a presumed correlation between ethnicity, language, and archaeological objects. It entailed analyses of large amounts of artifacts to connect specific stylistic variations to their geographical distribution patterns. He declared, “Clearly outlined archaeological cultural provinces always correspond to specific peoples (Völker) or tribal groups.”48

As with Müllenhoff’s textual approach, Kossinna’s archaeology was limited in its ability to illuminate any spiritual notions of Volk and thus [End Page 588] reduced the investigation to a search for physical location. Moreover, Kossinna employed language that conflated a number of related terms. He famously labeled his archaeology “a pre-eminently nationalist science” (eine hervorragende nationale Wissenschaft) but focused his search on the roots of so-called Indo-Germanic peoples, whom he variously identified with both the German Volk specifically and with the development of civilization more broadly in Europe. And, finally, after the First World War, he increasingly became influenced by racial science and sought to draw links between artifact distributions and skeletal remains to correlate his findings to specific racial groups.49

A similar concern informed the work of other humanities and social science scholars. For instance, Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl joined the geographer Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904) and the cultural historian Karl Lamprecht (1856–1915) in connecting the biologically-culturally defined Volk with the Boden (soil) to which it was supposedly rooted. Here again are early signs of the kind of interdisciplinarity that characterized völkisch scholarship in the interwar period. For instance, Ratzel’s 1897 Politische Geographie (Political Geography) developed a bio-political concept of Volksraum (people’s space) that used geography, biology, and history to portray the nation-state as an organism formed through the interaction of Volk and Boden.50 Riehl’s widely published works argued along the same lines, postulating a specific German Volk character as naturally and organically grown through the investigation of rural customs, everyday objects, and archaeological remnants.51 Lamprecht also employed mixed methodologies, using serial analyses of historic and archaeological material to illustrate long-term developments. However, as Roger Chickering convincingly argues, Lamprecht’s approach “eliminated the transition from the particular to the general by positing the identity of the two” and “assumed that the general was present in the particular and that the particular served not as the basis for the inductive approach to the general, but rather merely as illustration for general propositions whose validity was . . . already established.”52

Such treatments also indicated a fresh political turn. Volk and Boden [End Page 589] not only appeared as objective categories for exploring the spatially determined characteristics of the German people, but also implemented specific political goals by providing historical legitimization for the territorial claims of the German Reich in the present. In this way, the scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries preserved a legacy of thought stretching back to Fichte by portraying the Germans as a rooted nation with an unbroken cultural lineage that placed them on a higher civilizational level. Moreover, their work marked a turn that defined the nation primarily in material terms and intersected with a budding völkisch movement whose conception of the nation mixed national, pan-Germanic, and racial categories.53 We can thus be forgiven for sharing the confusion of contemporary scholars who, as Koselleck has noted, conflated the terms and applied the notion of Volk liberally but synonymously.54 Contemporary research proliferated but was unable to advance the concept methodologically. The scholarship increasingly shifted its focus to physical texts and artifacts, relegating Volk to a predetermined, quasi-metaphysical assumption. The upshot was that its role shifted from being an object of study to a fruit of research. By the turn of the century, a number of scholars followed Müllenhoff’s lead in seeking to reveal the “inner life” of the Volk, but the mission of discovery that characterized the earlier work, whether seeking to uncover the originality of the Volk or unmask its ubiquity, had fallen away. This lay at the heart of the criticisms leveled against Kossinna, who was asked how he could know that the commonalities in the ancient artifacts that he studied necessarily conformed to a specific people.55

When Lazarus and Steinthal published in 1860, there remained a great deal of ideological diversity within Volk research fields. Völkerpsychologie itself was a liberally oriented discipline.56 By the end of the century, however, the growth of fields engaged in dedicated studies of race, ethnicity, and territoriality, and the transition of Volk from analytical category to implicit premise, shifted the bulk of the overarching field in a radical conservative and right-wing direction increasingly linked to the emerging völkisch political movement. [End Page 590]


The period from the beginning of the Wilhelmine Era in 1890 until the early 1930s marked the heyday of völkisch scholarship. The expansion of research within a variety of disciplines elevated the field to its greatest political and scientific potential while also carrying the seeds of its ultimate undoing in the later 1930s. Among the reasons that this research complex flourished was the rise of a radical illiberalism that Jost Hermand has connected to a “völkisch opposition” positing alternative visions of nationhood at odds with the Prussian-centered Kaiserreich.57 A recognizable völkisch movement appeared in the years after 1890, following the lifting of the anti-socialist laws and the publication of Julius Langbehn’s enormously popular Rembrandt als Erzieher (Rembrandt as Educator). There was wide diversity within the movement, including political pressure groups like the Pan-German League, parties like the German National Party, religious movements like the Deutsche Glaubensbewegung (German Faith Movement), and social groups like the Lebensreform (Life Reform) movement.58

By the 1920s, these groups, catalyzed by the seminal catastrophe of the First World War, had accumulated a great deal of cultural, social, and political capital, and their broadly shared conception of Volk led them to bridge their differences through a common orientation toward biological-organic definitions of the people and a politics that was ethnic-nationalist and anti-Semitic. Most were avowed anti-modernists who followed the lead of Langbehn in decrying the decadence of industrialization and materialism.59 Their anxieties about the fragmentation of modern German society anchored a wildly eclectic set of ideas about the nature and role of the Volk that clamored for scholarly treatment.60 This development shows that völkisch [End Page 591] research remained both a scientific and political endeavor and provided a means of fundamentally criticizing contemporary society.

At the same time, this approach was successful because a surprisingly large amount of space remained within scientific circles for the investigation of esoteric and non-material phenomena. It often thrived at the points of intersection among scholarly, social, and political fields. The study of the German Volk thus did not constitute a proper discipline, but inhabited a constellation of humanities and social science fields. This made it difficult to reject völkisch research wholesale, particularly as it gravitated toward more concrete objects of study during the Weimar years. Moreover, the perceived national value of Volk in political and social discourse proved crucial in preserving the respectability of the völkisch researchers. It provided a sense of purpose that positioned researchers along three distinct axes: the scientific field to which the scholar belonged as a professional, a broader social field in tremendous flux with the advent of high modernity, and a political field radically shifting between authoritarian, democratic, and finally Nazi regimes.

As the field reached its apparent zenith, the same dynamics that fostered its expansion undermined its intellectual foundation. Despite the lingering rhetoric of spirituality, the institutionalization of völkisch research forced a resolution to its ontological dilemma that robbed the concept of its essential transcendental quality. The spiritual idea once at home in the Romantic mind ebbed in favor of increasingly materialist iterations. Where it previously made sense to seek the Volk in the aesthetic realm and envision its realization as an awakening of cultural unity, it now seemed more reasonable to portray it as a social entity bounded by physical borders and operating within a befitting political system. Such an impulse was already observable just after the First World War in the work of the psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920). As Stefanos Geroulanos has argued, Wundt’s psychological approach was originally conceived as an “emphatically universalistic set of expectations for human history, for progress, in modernity, toward a universal humanity,” but by the time he published the tenth and final volume of his Völkerpsychologie in 1920, he had come to see the postwar period as a Neuordnung, placing “the German Volk at the head of all others, increasingly seeing ‘German youth’ and its culture as having led the way out of the major catastrophes of modernity.”61 In this climate, the concept of Volksgeist, which had lent itself to an imagined [End Page 592] cultural utopia emphasizing unity, receded in favor of Volksgemeinschaft, a socio-political utopian ideal whose added hallmark was equality. Michael Wildt has shown how the debate over Volksgemeinschaft in the interwar years fostered a growing call for a radical politics that would realize its utopic aspirations both by creating true internal unity and by pursuing exclusionary policies, particularly against Jews.62

Among völkisch researchers, this climate was especially visible in the growth of Rassenkunde (racial studies) following the publication of Hans F. K. Günther’s 1922 Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (Racial Studies of the German Volk) and in studies of Volksdeutschen, which referred to ethnic Germans living in contested borderlands or otherwise outside the nation-state.63 Since the mid-nineteenth century, Rassenkunde or Rassenanthropologie (racial anthropology) in particular provided instruments and methods that transformed normative and political value judgments into allegedly scientific truths.64 Overwhelmingly, the body of researchers investigating völkisch topics fell into one of these sub-fields, where the scientific work of discovering the Volk from empirical clues gave way to an applied science of shaping policy for the treatment of racial groups.65 Meanwhile, the overarching concept of Volk, despite receiving more widespread usage in German discourse than ever before, gradually lost its distinctive connotation and fell into alignment with other, more concrete terms.

Taken together, these trends suggest that the Nazi takeover of power marked a false apogee for a völkisch research complex already in decline. This would not have been evident when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. That year, the politician and racial theorist Max Robert Gerstenhauer (1873–1940) celebrated the coalescence of völkisch thought in the political success of the NSDAP. As he eagerly explained, “The task, on whose outcome the prosperous development of the German Volk in the next millennia [and indeed] its entire future depends, is to make this Unvolk again into a real Volk, into an organically united Volksgemeinschaft and [End Page 593] spiritual whole.”66 Such views seemed to suggest a valuable role for völkisch research, and, indeed, the early Nazi years witnessed its rapid institutionalization in universities, museums, and such Nazi-sponsored organizations as Heinrich Himmler’s Ahnenerbe, the “Ancestral Research Branch” of the SS. Yet these achievements were illusory, since the early state support quickly waned after the 1936 Nazi Four-Year Plan shifted resources to science and engineering.67 The völkisch research that continued in the humanities and social sciences increasingly took on an applied character, which pushed out scholars focused on more esoteric projects. This was the fate of scholars like Herman Wirth (1885–1981), who was widely known in völkisch circles as the founder of Geistesurgeschichte, which constructed a “history of primeval thoughts” from the study of ideograms.68 At the beginning of the Nazi years, Wirth was the first director of the Ahnenerbe, and with financial support from Himmler undertook two highly publicized study tours of Scandinavia to examine rock carvings. By 1938, however, he was replaced by the orientalist Walther Wüst, who was considered a more mainstream academic.69 Wirth subsequently failed to reestablish himself as a scholar in either Germany or Scandinavia.70

Wirth’s story was a common one for many völkisch enthusiasts.71 Associations like the Thule Society in Munich or the Nordic Society in Lübeck were disappointed by the regime’s lack of interest in their policy goals,72 while others such as the Astrological Society and the Anthroposophy Society were closed by a government shifting from open cultivation of [End Page 594] fringe groups to a much more limited, “pragmatic” approach.73 The same happened with Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie, which was relegated to precursor status and generally ignored.74 Those völkisch scholars who continued to enjoy state support into the 1940s typically did so only insofar as their work proved beneficial to either the population policies or wartime propaganda needs of the Third Reich. Volk as an idea did not disappear, but its spiritual qualities had become less essential, while its social utopian corollary, the Volksgemeinschaft, seemingly sank into insignificance as an operative goal of the regime.75 Political pressure, institutional norms, and disciplinary orientations had at last coalesced to produce a material conception of Volk in the service of a murderous ideology. After the war, the intellectual bankruptcy of Nazi racism did little to restore the original tension, and, as Koselleck observed, Volk attached itself to diverse and often conflicting political conceptions in a divided Germany.76


As this article demonstrates, Volk could never be fully transformed into a real object of scientific research. From the beginning, it implied political and aesthetic elements, although scholars attempted to scientize Volk through the application of empirical methods and theoretical perspectives. This ontological dilemma resulted in the fact that völkisch research could only gain a powerful position in the German scientific and intellectual field because it was boosted by right-wing and Nazi politicians. Increasingly after 1918, völkisch scholars embraced this support as they came to oppose a supposedly neutral science and instead suggested that their research should be a political science (politische Wissenschaft) providing knowledge that could be applied to the objectives of right-wing politics. This development enforced the already heteronomous position of völkisch research in [End Page 595] the German scientific and intellectual field. With the turn of Nazi science policy from the focus on völkisch scholarship to the massive boost of science and engineering, the signs of decline within the völkisch research complex became apparent. Following the end of the Second World War, the destruction of the Nazi state and the intellectual bankruptcy of radical right-wing politics robbed völkisch research fields of any remaining semblance of epistemic credibility. [End Page 596]

J. Laurence Hare
University of Arkansas
Fabian Link
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main.


1. Reinhart Koselleck, “Volk, Nation, Nationalismus, Masse, Einleitung,” in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, ed. Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Koselleck (Stuttgart: Klett, 1992), 7:141–51; Koselleck, “ ‘Nation’ als vorstaatlicher, ‘Volk’ als politischer Begriff: Normierungsversuch,” in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, 382–89.

2. Uwe Puschner, Walter Schmitz, and Justus H. Ulbricht, ed., Handbuch zur “Völkischen Bewegung,” 1871–1918 (Munich: K. G. Saur, 1996); Schmitz and Clemens Vollnhals, ed., Völkische Bewegung, Konservative Revolution, Nationalsozialismus: Aspekte einer politisierten Kultur (Dresden: Thelem, 2005).

3. Michael Wildt, Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft and the Dynamics of Racial Exclusion: Violence against Jews in Provincial Germany, 1919–1939 (New York: Berghahn, 2012); Devin O. Pendas, Mark Roseman, and Richard F. Wetzell, ed. Beyond the Racial State: Rethinking Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

4. Peter Schöttler, ed. Geschichtsschreibung als Legitimationswissenschaft, 1918–1945 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1997); Michael Fahlbusch, Ingo Haar, and Alexander Pinwinkler, eds., Handbuch der völkischen Wissenschaften: Akteure, Netzwerke, Forschungs-programme, vol. 1: Biographien, vol. 2: Forschungskonzepte, Institutionen, Organisationen, Zeitschriften, 2nd ed. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017); Fahlbusch, “Für Volk, Führer und Reich! Die Volksdeutschen Forschungsgemeinschaften und Volkstumspolitik, 1931–1945,” in Geschichte der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Bestandsaufnahme und Perspektiven der Forschung, ed. Doris Kaufmann (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2000), 468–89; Fahlbusch, Wissenschaft im Dienst der nationalsozialistischen Politik? Die ‘Volksdeutschen Forschungsgemeinschaften’ von 1931–1945 (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1999), 65–73; Willi Oberkrome, Volksgeschichte: Methodische Innovation und völkische Ideologisierung in der deutschen Geschichtswissenschaft, 1918–1945 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993).

5. Max Weinreich, Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes against the Jewish People, 2nd ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1946).

6. Michael Burleigh, Germany Turns Eastwards: A Study of Ostforschung in the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 8–9. See also Wolfgang Bialas and Anson Rabinbach, ed., Nazi Germany and the Humanities (London: Oneworld, 2006); Haar and Fahlbusch, ed., German Scholars and Ethnic Cleansing, 1920–1945 (New York: Berghahn, 2005).

7. Puschner, Die Völkische Bewegung im wilhelminischen Kaiserreich: Sprache, Rasse, Religion (Darmstadt: WBG, 2001); George L. Mosse, The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism (New York: Howard Fertig, 1999); Jost Hermand, Culture in Dark Times: Nazi Fascism, Inner Emigration, and Exile, trans. Victoria W. Hill (New York: Berghahn, 2010).

8. Wolfgang Emmerich, Germanistische Volkstumsideologie: Genese und Kritik der Volksforschung im Dritten Reich (Tübingen: Braxmaier, 1968); Klaus von See, Freiheit und Gemeinschaft: Völkisch-nationales Denken zwischen Französischer Revolution und Erstem Weltkrieg (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 2001).

9. Jürgen Kocka, “Ideological Regression and Methodological Innovation: Historiography and the Social Sciences in the 1930s and 1940s,” History and Memory 2, no. 1 (1990): 130–38; Axel Flügel, “Ambivalente Innovation: Anmerkungen zur Volksgeschichte,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 26, no. 4 (2000): 653–71; Schöttler, “Die intellektuelle Rheingrenze: Wie lassen sich die französische Annales und die NS-Volksgeschichte vergleichen?,” in Die Nation schreiben: Geschichtswissenschaft im internationalen Vergleich, ed. Christoph Conrad and Sebastian Conrad (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002), 271–95.

10. Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, 1914–45 (London: Routledge, 1995), 53; Stefan Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland: Kaiserreich und Weimarer Republik (Darmstadt: WBG, 2008); Rüdiger vom Bruch, “Wilhelminismus—Zum Wandel von Milieu und politischer Kultur,” in Handbuch zur “Völkischen Bewegung,” ed. Puschner, Schmitz, and Ulbricht, 3–21.

11. Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung.

12. Wolfgang Brückner, “Denkmusterkritik: Volksmythos, Urzeitwahn, Kulturideologie,” in Völkisch und national: Zur Aktualität alter Denkmuster im 21. Jahrhundert, ed. Puschner and G. Ulrich Großmann (Darmstadt: WBG, 2009), 15–30, at 18–20.

13. Bernhard Giesen, Kay Junge, and Christian Kritschgau, “Vom Patriotismus zum völkischen Denken: Intellektuelle als Konstrukteure der deutschen Identität,” in Nationales Bewußtsein und kollektive Identität: Studien zur Entwicklung des kollektiven Bewußtseins in der Neuzeit 2, ed. Helmut Berding (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1994), 345–93, at 353–57; Koselleck, “ ‘Nation’ als vorstaatlicher, ‘Volk’ als politischer Begriff.”

14. Hermand, Old Dreams of a New Reich: Volkish Utopias and National Socialism, trans. Paul Levesque (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 2–5; Christopher B. Krebs, A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012), 105–52.

15. For Müller and Schlözer see Han F. Vermeulen, Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and the Ethnology of the European Enlightenment (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), 1–8.

16. Hans Schleier, “Kulturgeschichte der Völker als Evolution und Vervollkommnung des Menschen: Deutsche Kulturhistoriker Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts,” in Europa in der Frühen Neuzeit: Festschrift für Günter Mühlpfordt, vol. 4: Deutsche Aufklärung, ed. Erich Donnert (Weimar, Cologne, and Vienna: Böhlau, 1997), 616–42, at 622–35; Larry Wolff, “Discovering Cultural Perspective: The Intellectual History of Anthropological Thought in the Age of Enlightenment,” in The Anthropology of the Enlightenment, ed. Wolff and Marco Cipolloni (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), 3–32.

17. Johann Gottfried Herder, “Von den deutsch-orientalischen Dichtern,” in Herder, Frühe Schriften 1764–1772, ed. Ulrich Gaier (Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1985), 277–95, at 283–84, 289.

18. Herder, “Von den deutsch-orientalischen Dichtern,” 283.

19. Isaiah Berlin, “Herder and the Enlightenment,” in Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, ed. Henry Hardy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000 [1965]), 168–242, at 179–80.

20. Thomas Müller, Imaginierter Westen: Das Konzept des “deutschen Westraums” im völkischen Diskurs zwischen Politischer Romantik und Nationalismus (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009), 64–68.

21. Berlin, “Herder and the Enlightenment,” 198–99. See Giesen, Junge, and Kritschgau, “Vom Patriotismus zum völkischen Denken,” 357.

22. Tino Markworth, “Das ‘Ich’ und die Geschichte: Zum Zusammenhang von Selbstthematisierung und Geschichtsphilosophie bei J.G. Herder,” in Johann Gottfried Herder—Academic Disciplines and the Pursuit of Knowledge, ed. Wulf Koepke (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1996), 152–67; Michael Zaremba, Johann Gottfried Herder: Prediger der Humanität; Eine Biografie (Köln: Böhlau, 2002), 175.

23. Leiner, Schöpferische Geschichte, 14, 31–32, 44–66.

24. Wilhelm G. Jacobs, Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Eine Einführung (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2014), 131–32; “Beim Volk der lebendigen Sprache greift die Geistesbildung ein ins Leben,” Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Reden an die deutsche Nation, in J. G. Fichte—Gesamtausgabe (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Fromm, 2005), 10:97–298, at 155–56; translated in Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, ed. Gregory Moore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 59.

25. Müller, Imaginierter Westen, 68.

26. von See, Freiheit und Gemeinschaft, 19–20.

27. Daniel O. Dahlstrom, “The Aesthetic Holism of Hamann, Herder, and Schiller,” in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, ed. Karl Americks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 76–94.

28. Fichte, Reden an die deutsche Nation, 105–6.

29. Fichte, Reden an die deutsche Nation, 104–5, 112–15, 117–30.

30. Douglas Moggach, “Nation, Volk, Masse: Left-Hegelian Perspectives on the Rise of Nationalism,” History of European Ideas, vol. 15, no. 1–3 (1992): 339–45, at 340–41.

31. Benjamin Lahusen, Alles Recht geht vom Volksgeist aus: Friedrich Carl von Savigny und die moderne Rechtswissenschaft (Berlin: Nicolai, 2013), 25, 43–49, 68–69; Andreas Rahmatian, “Friedrich Carl von Savigny’s Beruf and Volksgeistlehre,” The Journal of Legal History 28, no. 1 (2008): 1–29.

32. “So wie für diese [die Sprache], giebt es auch für das Recht keinen Augenblick eines absoluten Stillstandes, es ist derselben Bewegung und Entwicklung entworfen, wie jede andere Richtung des Volkes, und auch diese Entwicklung steht unter demselben Gesetz innerer Nothwendigkeit, wie jene früherste Erscheinung. Das Recht wächst also mit dem Volke fort, bildet sich aus mit diesem, und stirbt endlich ab, so wie das Volk seine Eigenthümlichkeit verliert,” Friedrich Carl von Savigny, Vom Beruf unsrer Zeit für Gesetzgebung und Rechtswissenschaft (Heidelberg: Zimmer & Mohr, 1814), 11; trans. Abraham Hayward, in Savigny, Of the Vocation of our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence (London: Littlewood, 1831), 27.

33. See Brian Vick, Defining Germany: The 1848 Parliamentarians and National Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).

34. Steffen Martus, Die Brüder Grimm: Eine Biographie (Berlin: Rowohlt, 2009), 229–30, 248–60.

35. Lahusen, Alles Recht geht vom Volksgeist aus, 11, 20. Also see Johannes Zechner, Der deutsche Wald: Eine Ideengeschichte zwischen Poesie und Ideologie, 1800–1945 (Darmstadt: WBG, 2016), 85, 86, 90.

36. von See, Freiheit und Gemeinschaft, 29–31. Also see Emmerich, Germanistische Volkstumsideologie, 37–53.

37. Uwe Meves, “Karl Lachmann,” in Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Germanistik in Porträts, ed. Christoph König, Hans-Harald Müller, and Werner Röcke (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000), 27–29.

38. “Das echte und das rein erdichtete im Gedichte selbst,” Karl Müllenhoff, Kudrun: Die echten Theile des Gedichtes, mit einer kritischen Einleitung (Kiel: Schwer’sche Buchhandlung, 1845), 4.

39. “Die ursprünglichen Stammsagen zu ermitteln und dann freilich den Grund alles äußeren und inneren nationalen Lebens in den ältesten erkennbaren Zustanden des Germanenvolkes aufsuchen,” Wilhelm Scherer, Karl Müllenhoff: Ein Lebensbild (Berlin: Weidmann, 1896), 74.

40. “So muß natürlich dieser Begriff selbst eine Stelle in der Wissenschaft haben, wo sein Inhalt, Umfang und seine Bedeutung in der Form wissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis gewonnen und festgestellt wird,” Moritz Lazarus and Heymann Steinthal, “Einleitende Gedanken über Völkerpsychologie als Einladung zu einer Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft,” Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, 1 (1860): 1–73, at 2–3.

41. See Otto Gerhard Oexle, “Krise des Historismus—Krise der Wirklichkeit. Eine Problemgeschichte der Moderne,” in Krise des Historismus—Krise der Wirklichkeit: Wissenschaft, Kunst und Literatur 1880–1932, ed. Oexle (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 11–116; more recently, see Lara Karpenko and Shalyn Claggett, ed. Strange Science: Investigating the Limits of Knowledge in the Victorian Age (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016).

42. See Michael T. Ghiselin, The Triumph of the Darwinian Method (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969); and more recently David Dobbs, Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral (New York: Pantheon, 2005).

43. Vermeulen, Before Boas, 311–14.

44. Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, “Volkskunde als Wissenschaft: Ein Vortrag,” reprinted in Kulturstudien aus Drei Jahrhunderten, 5th ed. (Leipzig: Cotta’sche Verlag, 1896), 237–65, at 251.

45. Egbert Klautke, The Mind of the Nation: Völkerpsychologie in Germany (New York: Berghahn, 2013), 18–19; Ranier Diriwächter, “Völkerpsychologie: The Synthesis that Never Was,” Culture & Psychology 10, no. 1 (2004): 85–109, at 91. See Stefanos Geroulanos, “The Plastic Self and the Prescription of Psychology: Ethnopsychology, Crowd Psychology, and Psychotechnics, 1890–1920,” Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 3, no. 2 (2014),, 1–31, at 2–4, 6–7, 9.

46. “Es gilt, die Gründe, Ursachen und Veranlassungen, sowohl der Entstehung als der Entwicklung und letztlich des Unterganges der Eigenthümlichkeiten eines Volkes zu enthüllen,” Lazarus and Steinthal, “Einleitende Gedanken über Völkerpsychologie,” 7.

47. Müllenhoff, Deutsche Altertumskunde, 5 vols. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1870–1908).

48. “Scharf umgrenzte Kulturprovinzen decken sich zu allen Zeiten mit ganz bestimmten Völkern oder Völkerstämmen,” Gustaf Kossinna, Die Herkunft der Germanen: Zur Methode der Siedlungsarchäologie (Würzburg: Curt Kabitzsch, 1911), 3.

49. Heinz Grünert, Gustaf Kossinna (1858–1931): Vom Germanisten zum Prähistoriker: Ein Wissenschaftler im Kaiserreich und in der Weimarer Republik (Rahden/Westf.: Leidorf, 2002).

50. Müller, Imaginierter Westen, 111–16.

51. Zechner, Der deutsche Wald, 106–15.

52. Roger Chickering, Karl Lamprecht: A German Academic Life (1856–1915) (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1993), 109.

53. See Fabian Link, “Castle Studies and the Idea of Europe: Medievalism in German-Speaking Europe between Politics and Scientific Research, 1918–1945,” German Studies Review 38, no. 3 (2015): 555–72.

54. Koselleck, “ ‘Nation’ als vorstaatlicher, ‘Volk’ als politischer Begriff.”

55. See for example Carl Schuchhardt, Alteuropa: Eine Vorgeschichte unseres Erdteils. 2nd ed. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1926), 284.

56. Klautke, The Mind of the Nation, 12.

57. Hermand, Old Dreams of a New Reich, 33.

58. Jerry Z. Muller, The Other God That Failed: Hans Freyer and the Deradicalization of German Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 20. See Kai Buchholz, Rita Latocha, Hilke Peckmann, and Klaus Wolbert, eds., Die Lebensreform: Entwürfe zur Neugestaltung von Leben und Kunst um 1900, 2 vols. (Darmstadt: Hausser, 2001); Stefanie von Schnurbein and Justus H. Ulbricht, eds., Völkische Religion und Krisen der Moderne: Entwürfe “arteigener” Glaubenssysteme seit der Jahrhundertwende (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001).

59. Breuer, Die Völkischen in Deutschland, 11–21.

60. Wildt, Die Generation des Unbedingten: Das Führungskorps des Reichssicherheit-shauptamtes (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2002), 41–71.

61. Geroulanos, “The Plastic Self and the Prescription of Psychology,” 12. Emphasis in original.

62. Wildt, Die Generation des Unbedingten, 12–13. See also Lutz Raphael, “Radikales Ordnungsdenken und die Organisation totalitärer Herrschaft: Weltanschauungseliten und Humanwissenschaftler im NS-Regime,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft, vol. 27 (2001): 5–40.

63. Hans F. K. Günther, Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns, 1922); on the growing field of studies of Volksdeutsche during the 1920s and 1930s see Fahlbusch, Wissenschaft im Dienst der nationalsozialistischen Politik?.

64. Thomas Etzemüller, Auf der Suche nach dem Nordischen Menschen: Die deutsche Rassenanthropologie in der modernen Welt (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2015), 8–9, 77–86; Ingo Wiwjorra, “Ethnische Anthropologie: Zwischen scientistischer Innovation und völkischer Tradition,” in Puschner and Großmann, Völkisch und national, 128–44, at 128.

65. See Wissenschaftliche Politikberatung im 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Fahlbusch and Haar.

66. “Die Aufgabe, von deren Lösung die gedeihliche Entwicklung des deutschen Volkes in den nächsten Jahrtausenden, seine ganze Zukunft abhängt, ist die, dieses Unvolk wieder zu einem wirklichen Volke, einer organisch gegliederten Volksgemeinschaft und geistigen Einheit zu machen . . .,” M. R. Gerstenhauer, Der Völkische Gedanke in Vergangenheit und Zukunft (Leipzig: Armanen-Verlag, 1933), 2.

67. Götz Aly and Susanne Heim, Vordenker der Vernichtung: Auschwitz und die deutschen Pläne für eine europäische Ordnung (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1991), 50–68.

68. Luitgard Loew, “The Great God’s Oldest Runes,” in Nordic Ideology between Religion and Scholarship, ed. Horst Junginger and Andreas Åkerlund (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2013), 107–31, at 108.

69. Michael Kater, Das “Ahnenerbe” der SS, 1935–1945: Ein Beitrag zur Kulturpolitik des Dritten Reiches, 2nd ed. (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1997), 58.

70. Loew, “The Great God’s Oldest Runes,” 116–17.

71. See Junginger, “Religionswissenschaft,” in Kulturwissenschaften und Nationalsozialismus, ed. Jürgen Elvert and Jürgen Nielsen-Sikora (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2008), 52–86, at 77; Friedemann Schmoll, Die Vermessung der Kultur: Der “Atlas der deutschen Volkskunde” und die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft 1928–1980 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2009), 174.

72. See Hans-Jürgen Lützhoft, Der Nordische Gedanke in Deutschland, 1920–1940 (Stuttgart: Klett, 1971).

73. Eric Kurlander, “Hitler’s Supernatural Sciences: Astrology, Anthroposophy, and World Ice Theory in the Third Reich,” in Revisiting the Nazi Occult: Histories, Realities, Legacies, ed. Monica Black and Kurlander (Rochester: Camden House, 2015), 132–56.

74. See Adrian Brock, “Was Wundt a ‘Nazi’? Völkerpsychologie, Racism and Anti-Semitism,” Theory & Psychology 2, no. 2 (1992): 205–23.

75. On the decline of Volksgemeinschaft, see Richard Bessel, “The End of Volksgemeinschaft,” in Visions of Community in Nazi Germany: Social Engineering and Private Lives, ed. Martina Steber and Bernhard Gotto (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 285.

76. Koselleck, “ ‘Nation’ als vorstaatlicher, ‘Volk’ als politischer Begriff.”

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