What Were the Causes of Nationalism in Germany?
Although its existence is most often associated with Germany’s 20th century war ambitions, European nationalism is a prominent force across the Western world. Nationalistic ideals developed from the Age of Reason, Enlightenment and Napoleonic wars, and they were bolstered by Victorian pseudoscience and cultural differences. Volkisch views in a society fueled by Lutheran education led to movements such as the Wagner circle and feelings of bitterness caused by the belief that Germans lost World War I because they were “stabbed in the back.”
1 National Developments
Several changes in lifestyle and ideology contributed to the development of German nationalism. A chief influence on this exclusionary view was the rise of volkisch thought, which romanticized German history and folklore and denied equal status to foreign cultures. The desire for Anschluss, or reunification with German-speaking Austria, also bolstered German nationalism. Other nationalistic forces included an aversion to industrialization, the development of transport links and resistance to rapid German urbanization.
2 The Wagner Circle
The composer Richard Wagner was symbolic of German volkisch culture, which espoused the idea of Aryan superiority, especially among German-speaking people who adopted German traditions. His music has world renown, and his views were a testament to the German psyche. Wagner headed a circle of right-wing philosophers and thinkers and had close ties to the National Socialist (Nazi) regime in his later years.
Social Darwinism was one of several pseudoscientific beliefs that played a role in rising German nationalism. Darwinian theories on natural selection and survival of the fittest within the animal kingdom were used as the basis for Victorian pseudoscience. These ideas were adapted to support the idea of German superiority and contributed to developments of eugenics and the German genocide of the Herero tribe in what is now Namibia.
4 Nazi Racism and Nationalism
“Mein Kampf“ was Hitler's famous publication and a statement of the National Socialist belief. The work was adopted by Nazis who went on to amalgamate volkisch German beliefs and disseminate their nationalist viewpoint to a wider and literate German population. Nazis were particularly critical of the Jews, who they portrayed as threatening enemies of the German people. Their nationalism and xenophobia also extended to homosexuals, alcoholics, the mentally ill and gypsy peoples.
- 1 University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of History: George L. Mosse Program in History
- 2 Encyclopaedia Britannica: Richard Wagner
- 3 The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia: Extract from Google Books UK
- 4 Colorado University: Social Darwinism
- 5 BBC News: Germany Admits Namibia Genocide
- 6 Gresham College: The Victorians, Religion and Science
- 7 Hitler: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
- 8 The Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida: A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust, Victims