Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl

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Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl

Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl (6 May 1823 – 16 November 1897) was a German journalist, novelist and folklorist.

Riehl was born in Biebrich in the Duchy of Nassau and died in Munich.

Riehl's writings became normative for a large body of Volkish thought. He constructed a more completely integrated Volkish view of man and society as they related to nature, history, and landscape. He was the writer of the famous Land und Leute (Places and People), written in 1857-63, which discussed the organic nature of a Volk which he claimed could only be attained if it fused with the native landscape. He rejected all artificiality and defined modernity as a nature contrived by man and thus devoid of that genuineness to which living nature alone gives meaning. Riehl pointed to the newly developing urban centers as the cause of social unrest and the democratic upsurge of 1848 in Hessia. For many Volkish thinkers, only nature was genuine. He desired a hierarchical society that patterned after the medieval estates. In Die bürgerliche Gesellschaft (Bourgeois Society) he accused those of Capitalist interest of disturbing ancient customs and thus destroying the historicity of the Volk. He presented that the 'working class' were the most respectable of Volk, as they were the most intuned to nature itself. Animosity towards the city was an integral part of the rise of Volkish thought. At times it was expressed in the slogan "Berlin is the domain of the Jews" or in the remark by another writer that "cities are the tombs of Germanism" Not until the big cities were devastated in the Second World War did this hostility end. Only with their annihilation did the cities attain equal ideological status with the rooted peasantry. Such ideas secured a place for Riehl in the history of Volkish thought. Such superficial actions as the founding of the Riehl Bund (1920) and the Riehl Prise for German Volkskunde (1935) only symbolized a more profound influence.

Riehl, born into a settled middle-class background, was a professor at the University of Munich, and later in life a curator of Bavarian antiquities.


  • G. P.Gooch "History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century" (1913)
  • George L. Mosse "The Crisis of German Ideology" (1964)

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