"Volksgemeinschaft" as a Research Concept: The Argument for a Modern Societal History of National Socialism

Michael Wildt

National Socialism destroyed Germany’s constitutional state within a very short period of time, profoundly changing German society. Research in past decades held that terror and violence were primarily responsible for this transformation. But more recent research projects focus on societal acceptance of the Nazi regime in the German population, especially when the Nazis first came to power. Even today, very little is known about the experiences, expectations, hopes, and longings that led many Germans to support the new order without necessarily becoming Nazis themselves.

In contrast to earlier research projects that searched for resistance or assumed that a comprehensive model of social behavior could be identified in the triad of "perpetrator-victim-observer", "Volksgemeinschaft" stands for a research concept that no longer plays the state against society. Rather, "Volksgemeinschaft" highlights the fact that the political not only emerges in the state but also in and through society itself, and that the political order can have its roots in the social order as well as in the experiences and expectations of society.          

Michael Wildt is professor of German history in the twentieth century with a focus on National Socialism at Humboldt University Berlin. During his stay at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research as a research fellow from April until October 2013, he will work on a study to be published in the spring of 2014 in the Hamburger Edition’s "kleine Reihe" series.