In his study »Hitler's Volksgemeinschaft and the Dynamics of Racial Exclusion«, Michael Wildt explored how Volksgemeinschaft, the racial »community of the people« envisaged by the Nazis, was realized with violence perpetrated against Jewish citizens by their fellow Germans.
Deeply concerned about how contemporary right-wing populist movements are aiming to rehabilitate Nazi-era concepts like Volk, völkisch and Volksgemeinschaft, Wildt returns to these concepts in this essay. The far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) asserts that these terms should be »positively connotated«—and has misquoted Wildt to back up such views.
Historian Wildt reviews the international history of key political and philopsophical concepts—demos, sovereignty, nationhood, community—related to discussions in Germany and elsewhere. Moving from Athens to the American Federalist debate, from Hobbes to Tonnies to Carl Schmitt, the author shows how, after 1918, the idea of Volksgemeinschaft was spread across Europe and across the political spectrum, to be embraced by liberals as well as conservatives and social democrats, e.g. in Sweden with the folkhemmet concept.
Wildt addresses the questions that have shaped the debates in Germany, Europe, and beyond: Who should belong to the people? How can the people express its will and wield power? Why did support for self-determination lead to demands for ethnically homogeneous nation-states? Today's revival of such definitions of »the people« based on a purported shared culture, Wildt warns, again comes with the risk of political radicalization. All the more reason, he argues, to promote concepts of political equality, citizenship, and citizens' rights that are recognized globally.