Michael Wildt

Volk, Volksgemeinschaft, AfD

[Volk, Volksgemeinschaft, Populism]

160 pages
ISBN 978-3-86854-309-4
March 2017

About the Book

We are the people. The others are not. Historian Michael Wildt examines the ambivalent meanings and the dark side of »the people« as a political concept.

»We are the people!« This is a powerful and challenging pronouncement, especially in a democracy, where the sovereign is the people. Article 20 of the Basic Law, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany states that »All state authority is derived from the people«.

But who are »the people«? Those who have German citizenship and are eligible to vote in Germany? Those who demonstrated in Leipzig in October 1989 against the East German dictatorship? The orange-clad masses on the Maidan Square in Kiev, who demonstrated in 2013/2014 and forced Yanukovych to vacate the presidency? In the long history of the people as a concept, who belongs and who does not has always been contested. Women, for example, did not gain voting rights in most states until the twentieth century. And what happens, as German journalist Sebastian Haffner asked in 1933, when the people no longer want to live in a democracy?

This essay on the historical and contemporary dimensions of the people as a political concept explores its ambivalent meanings as well as its dark side. The author retraces how the concept became a radically racist and anti-Semitic idea embedded in the context of the Nazi’s Volksgemeinschaft, the ethnic community of the people. Wildt then considers the recent populist utterances of the political party Alternative für Deutschland [AfD, Alternative for Germany] that address divergent notions of the people. The AfD’s attempt to apply cultural definitions to minorities reveal the threat of a return to the radical exclusion of specific groups from what is defined as the »Volk«. But insisting that the people are demos and not ethnos is not a viable alternative approach, since it fails to move beyond the treacherous imagination of the people as a homogeneous entity.

Michael Wildt argues that it is instead time to revive Hannah Arendt’s ideas on the subject and to place human beings and their individual right to have rights—rather than the people—at the center of our thinking about democracy.

Author / Editor

Michael Wildt

Historian and professor of modern German history at the Humboldt University, Berlin since 2009. His texts on Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and on racial ideology are widely cited as standard works in the field. He co-edits the Hamburger Edition series Studies in the History of Violence in the Twentieth Century.



Frankfurt, Goethe-Universität, 11 June 2018

Michael Wildt: Wir sind das Volk. Die Anderen nicht

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Frankfurt, Goethe-Universität, 28 February 2018

Michael Wildt: Volk, Volksgemeinschaft, AfD

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Berlin, W. M. Blumenthal Akademie, 10 October 2017

Michael Wildt: Volk, Volksgemeinschaft, AfD

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