Life in the Weimar Republic, and more prominently in Berlin, seemed to be fast moving toward the future. Avant-garde movements of every kind were almost the norm. Social mores were evolving towards equality (between men and women, between minorities and the German population at large) and new ideas were quick to take roots, then change once more.
WWI had been a dramatic caesura with the past. Young people no longer recognised values and ways of life of their parents. They were reckless and ready to adopt new values and lifestyles.
But this picture, although true, might be misleading. Life in Berlin and a few other big cities was fast and furious, but the rest of the country was far slower to catch up. In large areas of the nation, people were far less receptive of change when they were not outright against it.
Besides, even in the big cities, ‘memory’ was still a strong ideal. The strict ‘Wilhelmin’ values and ways of life were still appreciated and followed. The modernistic art movements, the new behaviours of the youth, not to mention the shockingly free attitude of the new woman – all of this was destroying everything good and German and was therefore considered unpatriotic. The old values had led Germany to her greatness before the war. Those values would bring her back to prominence. This was certainly one of the great advantages the Right had on the Left: while the Left tried to create a new, unknown future, the Right was calling for a return to something people knew all too well.To the Völkisch Movement, rural rootedness was the heart of the people (Das Volk). Being rootless meant being unpatriotic #History #Germany #WWI Click To Tweet
The Völkisch Movement
The intellectual base of the Völkisch Movement arose from Romanticism, a way of life and thinking that had been hugely prominent in Europe in the 1800s, and particularly in Germany, where it was born. Just like Romanticism, the Völkisch philosophy advocated a return to the traditional values of the past, which were considered more wholesome and positive. They favoured the irrational and emotional, as well as direct contact with the landscape and the soil.
To the Völkisch Movement, rural rootedness was the hart of the people (Das Volk). Being in connection to the land and the traditions connected to the land was the heart of any project of life. The movement theorised an almost mystical connection between rural people, their tradition and the land. It, therefore, rejected everything else was decadent and evil, foremost the city and the alienation it created, which was a consequence of losing contact with the land.
It’s no surprise then that many right-wing forces were also strongly völkisch, since völkisch ideals were quite clearly apt at supporting hard nationalism, as indeed they did. The Völkisch movement, on its part, gladly supported many right-wing nationalistic parties.
Völkisch ideals were often used in support of Anti-Semitism. Having no roots, in the völkisch thought, meant to be deprived of an essential life force. To them, Jews were a restless people who didn’t occupy any specific territory – and were, therefore, rootless – and mostly lived in the soulless cities. In short, they seemed to incarnate everything which was bad and unpatriotic in the eyes of the Völkisch movement.
Völkisch Paganism – The Völkisch Movement: The Volk
Historikerkreis – Völkisch” Writers and National Socialism – Introduction
Walter Laqueur, Weimar, A Cultural History 1918-1933. Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd. London, 1971
Gunther Mai, Die Weimarer Republik, C.H. Beck Verlag, Munchen, 2009
Enzo Travero, A ferro e fuoco. La guerra civile europea (1914-1945), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008
Yes, we all know about that longing for “the good old days”, don’t we? All too familiar! And knowing what happened in Germany afterwards, it’s scary, isn’t it?
Aussie Children’s Writers: M Is For Elyne Mitchell
It is. But I believe when looking at the past we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we’re looking at. It’s easy for us to say all the signs where there, because we know how it went down. But those people could never imagine where they were going.
This is so interesting! And we see that sort of nostalgia in so many societies. That pull to return to comfortable traditions can lead in frightening directions. It’s interesting and unsettling to see how that worked in Germany.
It is scary, but I think it’s also very human. We know the past, so we feel it as conforting and when big changes are happening and we don’t know where we are going or what life is giving us, we look to the past to have some form of confort.
Dangerous? It might be. But when handle properly, I think the past really can help us to face the future.
There is a great danger in believing everything about the past was good (or bad for that matter) – we are still seeing it today. Nostalgia is great, we all have a tendency to hark back to salad days, but nostalgia is no basis for an ideology.
Sophie’s A to Z – Ghostly Inspirations
I don’t think it’s the ideaology, but rather how you use it.
Romanticism was a pivotal time in the evolution of Europeans as we are today. We would be extremely different people if Romanticism hadn’t happen. And although Romanticism was mainly a reaction to the Enlightment and its stress on reasoning over feelings, it did appreciate the past more than Enlightment did.
Personally, I think the balance between these two ways of life created the European personality (and to some extend the entire Western World personality) as it is today. But this happened in a time of peace. Ideas had the time to evolve ‘naturally’, so to speak. The problem at the time of the Weimar Republic is that the world, after having been on hold for a century, changed at a furious pace and people got scared. And fear really is the worst councellor.
The past was always great. But when the past was the present, there must have been a more distant pass people harkened back to. Things just seem to be on repeat.
I think you’ve said it in the best way: past cannot be the present. That’s when things go crazy.
Hi Sarah – I see ‘volk’ for this sad representation of people’s lives … I have to say I’d always thought ‘volk’ was the people – not those without roots … and Volkswagen as a name – interesting … I will definitely be back to re-read and go to your links – cheers Hilary
Oh, yes, in German Volk means people. But in the volkisch ideaology ‘people’ meant a slightly different thing. It meant be part of an exclusive echosistem, so to say. When you wasn’t part of that echosistem, you became an impaired person, and so, not really ‘people’.
At least, thisis how I understand it.
You always have the greatest pictures with your posts!
I’ve alwasy loved old photos. I’m having a blast searching for the right ones for my posts 🙂
Fascinating post. I hadn’t realized the relationship between the need for rootedness, which probably gives the illusion of safety, and anti-semitism.
That was a discovery for me too. I also find very interesting how ideals that might have been positive at the beginning (like rediscovering one’s own tradition, as many nations did during the Romanticism) then became tools of turnign ‘the other’ into evil.
It is so very sad how the Jewish people were already being pegged as the worst…just disgusting since so many had left Russia and other Eastern European countries because they were persecuted. What is sad is that many people in Canada and the U.S. also thought the same way. My dad was born in 1913 and remembered how strongly people thought of the Jewish people in a negative way. I just don’t understand…
Anti-Semitism in Europe goes a long way back and to some extent, I can see why it happened (but we have to go back at least as far as the Middle-Ages). But why should it be the same in the US and Canada?
Sarah, insightful as always.
Happy you found it interesting 🙂
The way the past looks depends on the filter applied, rather than the reality. When an individual’s personal experience is rosy-hued, it can be easy to assume everyone shared that same experience. For most it’s just ignorance, but there’s always that core for whom self is all that matters. In this way, history really does repeat itself.
A-Zing this year at:
Normally found at:
I think it’s also a matter of insecurity. In times of great change (and the postwar years sure where times of change) people is scared of an unknown future. And so of course, the past they know very well taks up a sense of security.
It’s quite understandbale, if not logic or commendable, I believe.
Interesting. I have Amish ancestors, very rural and land rooted, who left Europe because of the control of the Catholic Church. They are a very peaceful people and most of the offshoots of this belief system in the US are welcoming and warm and still fairly land based. I wonder what the determining factor with land is.
Here in Europe, traditional cultures are often very close to the land. Belonging to the land is generally considered a good thing. In fact, in their twisted way, it was considered a good thing even by the Volkisch Movement.
As we so many other things, it wasn’t the idea in itself, it was the way in which it was used.