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"What’s heaven? Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and the bankers are Swiss.

So then, what’s hell? Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and the bankers are Italian." [...]

"Prejudice is good in its time and place" -- Johann Gottfried Herder, This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity

"The resemblance of Bastian's Volkergedanken, Lazarus's and Steinthal's Volksgeister and, by implication, Wilhelm von Humboldt's Nationalcharakter was very close. Each designated the particular psychological core of any given people, which ultimately determined cultural production and individual behavior." --George W. Stocking, Jr.

“Nowhere is one more a foreigner than in France. Having neither the tolerance of Anglo-American Protestants, nor the absorbent ease of Latin Americans, nor the rejecting as well as assimilating curiosity of the Germans or Slavs, the French set a compact social texture and an unbeatable national pride against foreigners." --Strangers to Ourselves, 1991, Julia Kristeva, see Volksgeist

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Volksgeist is a German loanword (literally meaning "spirit of the people") for a unique "spirit" possessed collectively by each people or nation. The idea has its origins in the Romantic era and was proposed by Johann Gottfried Herder as a way of encouraging German-speaking peoples to forge a national and cultural identity.

The concept is associated with the concept of national, racial or ethnic stereotypes based on generalizations. Compare Zeitgeist. The premise is simple: is there any truth in German gründlichkeit and pünktlichkeit, are the French good lovers or do they more frequently make love than the rest of Europe, do Italians really have better aesthetic judgement, are Belgians averse to authority, are the Dutch candid and permissive?

The concept of volksgeist was also influential in American cultural anthropology. According to the historian of anthropology George W. Stocking, Jr., "… one may trace the later American anthropological idea of culture back through Bastian's Volkergedanken and the folk psychologist's Volksgeister to Wilhelm von Humboldt's Nationalcharakter -- and behind that, although not without a paradoxical and portentous residue of conceptual and ideological ambiguity, to the Herderian ideal of Volksgeist."



The idea is often attributed to the philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, but he never actually used the word. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel coined the term Volksgeist in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, but some authors deny that the idea is originally German. According to these authors the influence of the idea in German thought comes from Montesquieu and Voltaire, i.e. from the Age of Enlightenment. Herder used the idea as a way of encouraging German-speaking peoples to forge a national and cultural identity. Later, in some authors, for example Ernest Renan and his "esprit de la nation" or "génie de race", the concept is characterized by racism.

In Germany the concept of Volksgeist has developed and changed its meaning through eras and fields. The most important examples are: In the literary field, Schlegel and the Brothers Grimm. In the history of cultures, Herder. In the history of the State or political history, Hegel. In the field of law, Savigny and in the field of psychology Wundt. This means that the concept is ambiguous. Furthermore it is not limited to Romanticism as it is commonly known.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Volksgeist" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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