Herrenvolk democracy

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Herrenvolk democracy is a system of government in which only the majority ethnic group participates in government, while minority groups are disenfranchised.[1] Similar concepts include ethnic democracy and ethnocracy. The German term Herrenvolk, "gentlemen race", was used in 19th century discourse that justified colonialism with the racial superiority of Europeans.[2]


This elitist form of government is typically employed by the majority group as a way to maintain control and power within the system, and typically coincides with the false pretense of egalitarianism. There is a prevailing view that as people of the majority gain freedom, liberty, and egalitarian principles are advanced, the minority is repressed and prevented from being involved in the government. This principle can be seen in the development of both the United States—especially the Southern states—and South Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. In these historical scenarios, as legislation moved toward universal male suffrage for whites, it also further entrenched the prevention of black people from participation in government and upheld their disenfranchisement.[3] The term was first used in 1967 by Pierre van Den Berghe in his book Race and Racism.[4] Ilan Pappé and other academics have debated the term's applicability to the current government of Israel, as regards the apartheid analogy between South Africa and Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians.[5][6]

In his book The Wages of Whiteness, historian David R. Roediger reinterprets this form of government in the context of 19th-century America, arguing that the term "herrenvolk republicanism" more accurately describes racial politics at this time. The basis of herrenvolk republicanism went beyond the marginalization of blacks in favor of a republican government serving the "master race"; it contended that "blackness" was synonymous with dependency and servility, and was therefore antithetical to republican independence and white freedom.[7] Consequently, the dependent white worker at this time used his whiteness as a way to differentiate himself from and elevate himself over the dependent black worker or slave.[8] According to this ideology, blacks were not merely "non-citizens"; they were "anti-citizens" who inherently opposed the ideals of a republican government.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vickery, Kenneth P. (June 1974). "'Herrenvolk' Democracy and Egailtarianism in South Africa and the U.S. South". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 16 (13): 309–328. doi:10.1017/s0010417500012469. JSTOR 17826.
  2. ^ Gründer, Horst (1999). "Ideologie und Praxis des deutschen Kolonialismus". In Beck, Thomas (ed.). Überseegeschichte. Stuttgart: F. Steiner. pp. 254 et seq. ISBN 9783515074902.
  3. ^ Vickery, Kenneth P. (June 1974). "'Herrenvolk' Democracy and Egalitarianism in South Africa and the U.S. South". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 16 (3): 311–315. doi:10.1017/s0010417500012469. JSTOR 17826.
  4. ^ van den Berghe, Pierre L. (1967). Race and Racism: A Comparative Perspective. NY; Sydney: Wiley.
  5. ^ BARAT, FRANK. "Why Israel is Not a Democracy". Retrieved 15 September 2014. Ilan Pappé: No, Israel is definitely not a democracy. A country that occupies another people for more than 40 years and disallow them the most elementary civic and human rights cannot be a democracy. A country that pursues a discriminatory policy against a fifth of its Palestinian citizens inside the 67 borders cannot be a democracy. In fact Israel is, what we use to call in political science a herrenvolk democracy, its democracy only for the masters. The fact that you allow people to participate in the formal side of democracy, namely to vote or to be elected, is useless and meaningless if you don’t give them any share in the common good or in the common resources of the State, or if you discriminate against them despite the fact that you allow them to participate in the elections. On almost every level from official legislation through governmental practices, and social and cultural attitudes, Israel is only a democracy for one group, one ethnic group, that given the space that Israel now controls, is not even a majority group anymore, so I think that you’ll find it very hard to use any known definition of democracy which will be applicable for the Israeli case.
  6. ^ Jeenah, Na'eem (2018). Pretending Democracy: Israel, an Ethnocratic State. Afro-Middle East Centre. pp. 8–11.
  7. ^ Roediger, David R. (1997). The Wages of Whiteness. Philadelphia: Verso. p. 172. ISBN 9781844671458.
  8. ^ Roediger, David R. (1997). The Wages of Whiteness. Philadelphia: Verso. pp. 59–60. ISBN 9781844671458.
  9. ^ Blevins, Cameron. "U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries: The Wages of Whiteness". Retrieved 28 September 2013.