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Volksgeist is a German loanword (literally meaning "spirit of the people" or "National character") 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. 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.[1]In some authors, for example Ernest Renan and his "sprit de la nation", the concept is characterized by racism.[2]

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."


  1. ^ Azurmendi, Joxe: "Génie du people, Esprit de la nation, Volksgeist" in : Humboldt. Hizkuntza eta pentsamendua, p.241
  2. ^ Azurmendi, Joxe: Historia, arraza, nazioa, p.75

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