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The völkisch movement' is the German interpretation of the populist movement, with a romantic focus on folklore and the "organic". The term völkisch, meaning "ethnic", derives from the German word Volk (cognate with the English "folk"), corresponding to "people", with connotations in German of "people-powered", "folksy" and "folkloric". According to the historian James Webb, the word also has "overtones of 'nation', 'race' and 'tribe,'… "

The defining idea the völkisch movement revolved around was the Volkstum (lit. "folkdom", probably more precise in meaning would be "folklore" and "ethnicity"), not to be confused with the Volkssturm. "Populist", or "popular", in this context would be volkstümlich.

The völkisch "movement" was not a unified movement but "a cauldron of beliefs, fears and hopes that found expression in various movements and were often articulated in an emotional tone," Petteri Pietikainen observed in tracing völkisch influences on Carl Gustav Jung. The völkisch movement was "arguably the largest group" in the Conservative Revolutionary movement in Germany. However, like conservative-revolutionary and fascist, völkisch is a complex term ("schillernder Begriff"). In a narrow definition it can be used to designate only groups that consider human beings essentially preformed by blood, i.e. inherited character.

Origins in the 19th century

The völkisch movement had its origins in Romantic nationalism, as it was expressed by early Romantics such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his Addresses to the German Nation published during the Napoleonic Wars, from 1808 onwards, especially the eighth address, “What is a Volk, in the higher sense of the term, and what is love of the fatherland?," where he answered his question of what could warrant the noble individual's striving "and his belief in the eternity and the immortality of his work," by replying that it could only be that "particular spiritual nature of the human environment out of which he himself, with all of his thought and action... has arisen, namely the people from which he is descended and among which he has been formed and grown into that which he is" [54264].

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

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

Before and after World War I

A number of the völkisch-populist movements that had developed during the late 19th century in the German Empiremarker, under the impress of National Romanticism, were reorganized along propagandistic lines after the German defeat in World War I, as the word "the people" (Volk) became increasingly politicized as a flag for new forms of ethnic nationalism.

Yet at the same time, Volk was also used by the international socialist parties in the German lands as a synonym for the proletariat. The Völkisch movement was a force as well in Austria. Indeed the leftist political press popularized folk-culture, such as folk music, black-letter calligraphy, runes, and medieval myths and legends, much in the same way that the American left popularized folk-singing, ballads, and organic farming in the 1960s.

From the left, elements of the folk-culture spread to the parties of the middle-classes. But whereas Volk could mean "proletariat" among the left, it meant more particularly "race" among the center and right. Although the primary interest of the Germanic mystical movement was the revival of native pagan traditions and customs (often set in the context of a quasi-Theosophical esotericism), a marked preoccupation with purity of race came to motivate its more politically oriented offshoots such as the Germanenorden. This latter was a secret society (founded at Berlin in 1912) which required its candidates to prove that they had no "non-Aryan" bloodlines and required from each a promise to maintain purity of his stock in marriage. Local groups of the sect met to celebrate the summer solstice, an important neopagan festivity in völkisch circles and later in Nazi Germany, and more regularly to read the Eddas as well as some of the German mystics [54265]. This branch of the völkisch movement quickly developed a hyper-nationalist sentiment and allied itself with anti-semitism, then rising throughout the Western world.

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

Another völkisch movement of the same time was the Tatkreis.

Not all folkloric societies with connections to Romantic nationalism were located in Germany. The community of Monte Veritàmarker ('Mount Truth') which emerged in 1900 at Asconamarker, Switzerland, is described by the Swiss art critic Harald Szeemann as "the southernmost outpost of a far-reaching Nordic lifestyle-reform, that is, alternative movement". It embraced a mix of anarchism, libertarian communism and various forms of artistic bohemianism and neopaganism.

Connection with Nazism

The völkisch ideologies were influential in the development of Nazism. Indeed, Joseph Goebbels publicly asserted in the 1927 Nuremberg rally that if the populist (völkisch) movement had understood power and how to bring thousands out in the streets, it would have gained political power on 9 November 1918 (failed Communist revolution, end of the German monarchy)[54266]. Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (My Struggle): "the basic ideas of the National-Socialist movement are populist (völkisch) and the populist (völkisch) ideas are National-Socialist." Nazi racial pseudo-science was couched in Völkisch terms, as when Eugen Fischer stepped into the vacuum, as other scholars withdrew from the University of Berlin in 1933, and delivered his inaugural address as Nazi rector, "The Conception of the Völkisch state in the view of biology" (29 July 1933).

This connection can be overstated, however. According to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke an imaginative mythology has grown up around the supposed influence within the Nazi Party of a völkisch group, the Thule-Gesellschaft (Thule Society), which was founded on August 17, 1918 by Rudolf von Sebottendorff. Its original name was Studiengruppe für Germanisches Altertum (Study Group for Germanic Antiquity), but it soon started to disseminate anti-republican and anti-Semitic propaganda. In January 1919 the Thule Society was instrumental in the foundation of the Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei (German Workers' Party, or DAP) which later became the NSDAP (Nazi Party). Furthermore the Münchener Beobachter (Munich Observer), owned by Sebottendorff, was the press organ of another small nationalist party and later became the Völkischer Beobachter (People's Observer).

On the other hand it can be noted that Karl Harrer, the Thule member most directly involved in the creation of the DAP in 1919, was sidelined at the end of the year when Hitler drafted regulations against conspiratorial circles, and the Thule Society was dissolved a few years later (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 150, 221). It had no members from the top echelons of the party and Nazi officials were forbidden any involvement in secret societies. Adolf Hitler was never a member, while Rudolf Hess and Alfred Rosenberg were only visiting guests of the Thule Society in the early years before they came to prominence in the Nazi movement (Goodrick-Clarke 1985: 149, 201). However, the völkisch circles did hand down one significant legacy: Friedrich Krohn, a Thule member, designed the original version of the Nazi swastika in 1919.

See also



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


  1. James Webb. 1976. The Occult Establishment. La Salle, Ill: Open Court ISBN 0-87548-434-4 pp 276 – 277
  2. Petteri Pietikainen, "The Volk and Its Unconscious: Jung, Hauer and the 'German Revolution'" Journal of Contemporary History 35.4 (October 2000: 523-539) p. 524
  3. Hans Jürgen Lutzhöft (1971):Der Nordische Gedanke in Deutschland 1920-1940. Stuttgart. Ernst Klett Verlag, p. 19.
  4. In reviewing George L. Mosse, the crisis in German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich in The English Historical Review 82 No. 325 (October 1967), p 860. Mosse was characterised as "the foremost historian of völkisch ideology" by Petteri Pietikainen 2000:524 note 6.
  5. Austrian manifestations were surveyed by Rudolf G. Ardelt, Zwischen Demoktratie und Faschismus: Deutschnationales Gedankengut in Österreich, 1919-1930 (Vienna and Salzburg) 1972, not translated into English.
  6. George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson) 1966 sees this in the context of a broader revolt against modernity, contrasting healthy rural life with the debased materialism of city culture.
  7. Mosse 1966 examined völkisch literature
  8. Heidi Paris and Peter Gente (1982). Monte Verita: A Mountain for Minorities. Translated by Hedwig Pachter, Semiotext, the German Issue IV(2):1.
  9. Noted by Franz Weidenreich in Science New Series, 104No. 2704 (October 1946:399).

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