Idealism Debased: From Völkisch Ideology to National Socialism

We have in this country seen at least two periods of, shall we say, “visionism” in German leaders—Kaiser Wilhelm II and the second one much worse… Germans have an emormous capability for idealism and the perversion of it.

Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, N.Y. Times Magazine, September 21, 1980

This study explores the insidious complex of traits that made völkisch ideology so seductive to generations of middle-class Germans.  This ideology, it is sometimes forgotten, was an outgrowth, albeit deformed, of the same venerable tradition of idealism that inspired some of Germany’s greatest artistic and literary works.

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