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5 Nazism and the Beitrage zur Philosophie
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The Volk

The discussion of Heidegger's relation to Nazism so far has exposed a triple turning, centered in Heidegger's acceptance of the National Socialist conception of the realization of the Germans as German, based in German Volk ideology, both for its own sake and for his concern with Being. The triple turning is manifest in Heidegger's turn toward real Nazism in his assumption of the rectorate, his turn away from it when he resigned his post as rector, and his turn toward an ideal form of National Socialism. The fundamental thread that binds together the three political turnings in Heidegger's thought, the concern with the Volk , is prominent in the rectoral address and recurs after the rectorate in the initial lecture series on Hölderlin and in the Nietzsche lectures. It is a recurrent theme throughout the Beiträge . Attention to Heidegger's remarks on the Volk will offer insight into his supposed confrontation in this work with National Socialism. It is reasonable to suppose that if Heidegger desired to break with, or even to distance himself from, Nazism in the period after the rectorate, his desire would be evident in his treatment of the Volk throughout the book. At the same time, through the inspection of these passages, we will gain further insight into Heidegger's position in this work.

The following survey of Heidegger's account of the Volk in the Beiträge does not aim at completeness; it is intended to provide no more than a representative sample of how he uses this concept. In the Beiträge , Heidegger discusses, or at least alludes in passing to, the Volk in numerous passages throughout the work. Taken together, these passages provide an indication of his view of Nazism during a period in which he is in the process of fundamentally revising his thought in the wake of the failure of his rectorate. A typical instance of Heidegger's rejection of National Socialism as a theory occurs in a remark on Volk ideology in a passage on Ereignis , the main theme of the book, where he objects to the idea of a worldview.


We have already noted that Heidegger is critical of the idea of the philosophy of the worldview, or Weltanschauungsphilosophie , as early as his initial lecture series, as well as in his review of Jaspers's Psychology of World Views (Psychologie der Weltanschauungen ).[74] In Being and Time , Heidegger does not discuss the concept of the worldview, to which he returns in his lectures on The Basic Problems of Phenomenology . Here, he notes that a worldview is a coherent set of beliefs arising in relation to a particular individual at a given time, but not a theory as such; and he follows Husserl in arguing for a difference in kind between philosophy and a worldview. "If philosophy is the scientific construction of a worldview, then the distinction between 'scientific philosophy' and 'philosophy as worldview' vanishes."[75]

In the Beiträge , in his "postphilosophical" phase, from the vantage point of the other beginning Heidegger criticizes National Socialism as a mere Weltanschauung like Christianity or liberalism.[76] According to Heidegger, both the Christian view of transcendence and its denial in terms of the Volk as the aim of history are forms of liberalism (Liberalismus ). He further maintains that what today appears under the heading of a "worldview" is an alloy formed of varying parts of Christianity, Volk-Ideen , and culture (Kultur ). His objection, which is not clearly formulated, seems to be that a worldview of any kind presupposes that one already essentially knows what a person is, in terms of which the transcendent has meaning; but, on the contrary, it is only in terms of the transcendent that we can know beings, including human being.

As different as these "worldviews" are, and although they openly or covertly oppose each other—if the sending into the undecided [Sichum-treiben im Unentschiedenen] can still be named a battle—they all agree, without knowing or ruing it, that human being is posited as that which one essentially knows, as a being [Seiende], as that in respect of which and from which every "transcendence" is defined and accordingly as that which hence must first define the human being. But this has been made basically impossible since the human being is already grasped as definable, instead of defining it in terms of something else, which must be dis-placed [ver-rückt] from the previous determination, in order in the first place that the initially definable may be defined.[77]

Heidegger objects to the definition of the transcendent in terms of human being since he holds that human being must be understood in terms of Being in general; but the requirement to do so is concealed by the forgetfulness of Being. "Or is there the possibility that this displacement [Verrückung] comes over man? Certainly. And this is the need of the forgetfulness of being."[78] Heidegger maintains that the awakening of this need is the initial displacement of man into what he calls the be-


tween, characterized as an openness, that is, an openness in which Being occurs.

This "betweenness" ["Zwischen"] is, however, not a transcendence with respect to man, but on the contrary is the openness [jenes Offene], to which man as the founder and Wahrer belongs, in that he as Da-sein occurs [er-eignet] is from being itself [vom Seyn selbst], which does not essence [west] otherwise than as occurrence.[79]

In light of Heidegger's concern with Ereignis as the dominant theme of the other beginning, we can paraphrase his muted objection to Volk ideas as well as his own form of the first beginning as follows: Any explanation of the transcendent from an immanent perspective overlooks the fact that the immanent is explicable only in terms of the transcendent in the same way as Being in general is the "ground" of beings. One must, then, reject any form of the "anthropological" approach to ontology, such as the Cartesian position, the approach to Being in terms of Dasein featured by his own fundamental ontology, or a philosophy based on a worldview, or even the assumption of the Volk as the goal of history. Note, however, that Heidegger's continued interest in the Volk is compatible with his own rejection of its teleological claim since, from his ontological angle of vision, the end in view is not the Volk but Being.

Heidegger is not more critical of the Volk approach in this and other passages because his main concern does not lie in the rejection of National Socialism as such, but rather in the transition from the first to the other beginning. There is another example in Heidegger's lengthy analysis of the concept of decision at the end of the first section of the book. Heidegger's discussion here suggests his continued concern with the realization of the destiny of the German people, the theme so prominent in the Rektoratsrede . In a passage on the "decision," Heidegger emphasizes a point made at the beginning of the initial Hölderlin lecture series:[80] the decision is either for history or for its loss.[81] According to Heidegger, there is a commission to carry out the innermost need arising out of the abandonment of Being. This decision occurs through the so-called gift or the staying away from that which is designated as the future directed.

How does the decision occur? Through the gift [Geschenk ] or the staying away [den Ausbleib] from the excellently symbolized [jener ausge-zeichneten Gezeichneten], which we call "the future-directed" ["die Zukünftigen"] in contradistinction to the many kinds of as you please and unrelenting later considerations [Späteren], which have nothing more ahead and nothing more behind themselves.[82]


Heidegger provides a list of five forms of Gezeichneten . The fourth form includes individuals, namely, the few and the many, understood not numerically but in terms of their symbolic function. In a manner similar to Sartre's later view, Heidegger describes this form as possessing a hidden agreement (Einverständnis ) which, for historical reasons, can suddenly appear, thereby causing individuals suddenly to become a Volk .[83] In the fifth point, Heidegger affirms that the Volk is defined by the uniqueness of Being, whose task it is to ground. "This people [Dieses Volk] is in its origin and definition only according to the onetime occurrence [Einzigkeit] of Being itself, whose truth it must ground in a single place [in einer einzigen Stätte] in a single moment [in einem einzigen Augenblick]."[84] Here, Heidegger repeats his revolutionary view of the Volk that comes together in a propitious historical moment. With respect to the rectoral address, an important difference is that Heidegger is no longer interested in the destiny of the Volk for itself, but as a way to ground Being. In this way, he obliquely suggests that his turn toward Nazism was not only intended to bring about a gathering of the Germans as German, hence, not only for the perverse humanism whose highest form is National Socialism. Rather, his Nazi turning is also, perhaps above all, for the purpose of realizing his own authentic thought of Being.

Another reference to the Volk occurs in one of Heidegger's numerous remarks on the so-called abandonment of Being (Seinsverlassenheit ). In a section on a supposedly enduring problem, he suggests that this phenomenon corresponds to the prevalent understanding of Being, which fulfills and hides its forgetfulness.[85] Attention to such traits as generality and contemporaneity concern beings, but not Being as such. According to Heidegger, the ground of the historical uprooting of Being is due to Being itself, which withdraws before beings.

The innermost ground of the historical uprooting is essential, grounded in the essence of Being [im Wesen des Seyns gründender]: Being [Seyn] withdraws before being [dem Seienden] and it is hence then as "being" ["seiend"] and even as "in the process of being" ["seiender"] that it lets itself appear [erscheinen lässt].[86]

Heidegger offers a list of no fewer than sixteen ways in which the forgetfulness of Being announces itself (sich meldet ).[87] The first form of the forgetfulness of Being is a decided insensitivity to the ambiguous character of the essential.

The full insensitivity with respect to the ambiguous [das völlige Unempfindlichkeit gegen das Vieldeutige ] in that which is regarded as essential. Ambiguity occasions [bewirkt] the powerlessness and the displeasure


concerning an effective decision. For instance, whatever "Volk" means: the social, the racist, the lower [das Niedere] and the below [das Untere], the national, the remaining [das Bleibende]; for instance, whatever is called "godly" [gottlich].[88]

In a word, Heidegger here is objecting to the dogmatic, theoretically insensitive character of Nazism, apparent in its insensitivity to the manifold forms of Seyn as Seiende .[89] In sum, Heidegger is unhappy that the National Socialists are unaware of his own ontological difference. What is surprising is that Heidegger should be either surprised or dismayed to learn that the Nazis were less than fully absorbed, were in fact uninterested, in his own approach to Being, in the same way that they were also uninterested in the effort of Rosenberg, the well-known Nazi "philosopher," to bring about a profound spiritual renewal.[90] Heidegger's objection reveals, then, an astonishing lack of awareness of the nature of Nazism.

There is another remark on the Volk in a passage on "The Occurrence [Das Erlebnis] and 'Anthropology.' "[91] Here, Heidegger affirms that "anthropology" has today become the center of the scholasticism of the worldview (Weltanschauungsscholastik ). He restates his rejection of the approach to Being from a person-centered perspective, before remarking that the differences between the various forms of the anthropological approach are insignificant; for the significant question is whether one attempts a transition to another beginning or desires to continue the Platonic tradition.

The anthropological hairstyle [Frisur—i.e., the particular type], whether Enlightenment-moral, or psychological-scientific, or social scientific-personalistic, or Christian, or folk-political [politisch-völkische], is all the same: the question, that is, whether it questions [erfragt] about another beginning, or whether one continues to insist on the decline under way since Plato, which is only still possible if one talks oneself into taking one's lack of awareness as the overcoming [Überwindung] of the tradition [Überlieferung—literally, what is handed down].[92]

This passage is mainly significant for Heidegger's insistence that the anthropological perspective, which he earlier connected to the influence of Descartes, is in fact rooted in the Platonic tradition itself.[93] In this way, he extends his earlier objections to Descartes to the origins of philosophy in the Greek tradition. Once again, it is clear that his objection to the Volk approach lies in its supposed theoretical indebtedness to the first beginning illustrated by Platonic philosophy.

We find several further references to the Volk in a discussion of nihilism as the absence of ends in Nietzsche's ateleological sense.[94] We


have already noted that one of Heidegger's favorite hermeneutical strategies is to assert that he and he alone comprehends a particular position or body of thought. In the article on the rectorate, he made this claim with respect to Jünger's position. Here, Heidegger remarks that Nietzsche's view of nihilism has still not been understood. For Heidegger, the moral and idealistic interpretations of this concept are preliminary since nihilism must be comprehended as the result of the abandonment of Being. He holds that it is a sign of the incomprehension of Nietzsche to consider Nietzsche's "teaching" of "nihilism" as a form of cultural psychology. Since there is a refusal to acknowledge the lack of goals, one "has" goals again.

Then, the insightful reflection runs about as follows: what would we come to if this were true or would become true? And one does not imagine that even this reflection , that is, the attitude and conduct toward being [zum Seienden]. is the authentic nihilism. And hence one suddenly "has" goals again, even if it is only rather a means for the establishment [Zielaufrichtung] and observance [Verfolgung] of goals: for instance, the Volk .[95]

Once again, the Volk view is invoked as an illustration of the refusal to accept his own view of thought beyond philosophy.

In still another critique of Cartesianism, Heidegger comments on the Volk in a passage on "The abandonment of Being and 'science.' "[96] For Heidegger, science is unable to understand the essence of Being. The abandonment of Being follows from the interpretation of the being of beings (Seiendheit des Seienden ), the main theme of thought. In modernity, truth has been sought in the form of certainty with respect to beings, particularly in the realm of science (Wissenschaft ). In order to progress toward the other beginning, we need to reflect on modern science. In a clear rejection of the concept of a ground associated with Cartesian foundationalism, he writes:

Every kind of theoretico-scientific (transcendental) grounding [Grund-legegung] has therefore become as impossible as an "attribution of meaning" ["Sinngebung"] which assigns a Volk -political [völkisch-political] or any other anthropological determination of goals [Zwecksetzung] to the present at hand [vorhandenen] and accordingly essentially [Wesensbestand] unmodifiable science and its operation [Betrieb].[97]

Heidegger's point is that henceforth any form of foundationalism is impossible since foundationalism as such presupposes a concept of science as grounded in a ground that is not a ground. The idea of a Volk worldview figures here, in a restatement of Husserl's view of objectiv-


ism, as a deficient form of science which is not reflective about its own conditions.

The conception of the Volk recurs in incidental fashion in one of the longest sections of the Beiträge . This section follows a short paragraph on the Greek conception of the idea (Idea ),[98] which Heidegger regards as an interpretation of truth leading to the entire later interpretation of being (Seiendheit ) as objectivity (Gegenständlichkeit ). For Heidegger, it is only from the vantage point of the other beginning that the question of the original meaning of the concept of truth can be raised. He develops this point in a detailed reflection on "The Idea, Platonism, and Idealism,"[99] which is curiously divided into different subsections. This section contains a lengthy, untitled meditation in twenty-seven numbered points, which is interrupted between points 14 and 15 by two smaller passages: a short discussion, in ten points, titled "Hegel's concept of the idea and the first possibility of a philosophical history of philosophy from its first beginnings"; followed by a shorter discussion, composed of four points, called "What belongs to the concept of 'idealism.'"

Throughout the Beiträge , as part of his transition to the other beginning Heidegger rejects Platonism in all its forms. In this section, he criticizes its occurrence in contemporary thought. In point 21, he identifies six clusters of contemporary Platonism: "ontology," which presumably means any ontological approach concerned with being (Seiende ) as opposed to being as such (Seyn ); all teachings concerning "values" or "meaning" concerning "ideas" and ideals; as well as views that deny them, such as positivism and biologism; all types of "life" philosophy ("Lebens"-philosophie ), such as Dilthey's view; various combinations of the preceding; and Nietzsche's view, which, in its concern to transform Platonism, falls back into it.[100]

Heidegger immediately amplifies his understanding of Nietzsche's understanding of Platonism in the next point. Here, the concept of the Volk appears in Heidegger's rejection of still another form of worldview, in what he calls Platonism for the people. Returning now to a theme present since the rectoral address, Heidegger argues that philosophy provides the key to history. For Heidegger, Nietzsche is the first to have understood the key role and importance of Platonism for the history of the West. "On the other hand, Nietzsche is the one who for the first time recognized the key role (Schlüsselstellung ) of Plato and the importance of Platonism for the history of the West (the rise of nihilism)."[101] Heidegger credits Nietzsche with grasping the significance of Plato between the pre-Platonic and post-Platonic moments, although he objects that Nietzsche mistakenly understood pre-Platonic thought in a Platonic way and not in terms of itself. Now invoking his own turn to the other beginning, Heidegger attributes Nietzsche's mistake to a supposed failure to recog-


nize the Leitfrage as such and to complete the transition to the Grundfrage . In essence, then, Heidegger finds that Nietzsche is guilty of failing to anticipate the evolution of Heidegger's later position. Heidegger then remarks: "But it is even more important that Nietzsche detected Platonism in its hiddenmost forms: Christianity and its Verweltlichungen are everywhere 'Platonism for the people' ['Platonismus fürs Volk']."[102]

There is a further reference to the Volk in a passage on various aspects of Da-sein.[103] The precise relation between human being and Dasein is difficult to determine. In Being and Time and subsequent writings, Heidegger sometimes clearly identifies human being and Dasein, or uses the terms as near synonyms, and sometimes appears to differentiate between them. Distinguishing here between human being (der Mensch ) and Da-sein, understood as existence, Heidegger suggests that the man is grounded in existence.[104] He describes human being as one who is needed by Being for the "essencing" of the truth of Being.[105] In this sense, human being plays a role in Heidegger's view of Being similar to its role in some versions of Christian theology. Turning now to Dasein and the people in another short paragraph, Heidegger remarks that the essence of a people can only be understood in terms of Da-sein, and then adds that the people can never be a goal or aim as in the Volk worldview or in commerce.

The essence of the people [des Volkes ] can only be understood from Da-sein and this means at the same time that the Volk can never be a goal or aim, and that such an opinion is only a Volk-type extension [völkische Ausweitung] of the "liberal" thought-of-the-"I" [des "liberalen .... Ich"-gedankens] and of the commercial view of the maintenance of "life."[106]

Heidegger's assertion here that a Volk can be understood only in terms of Da-sein is an extension of the claim that Da-sein grounds human being. Heidegger's insistence that a people can never be an aim or goal is consistent with the rejection of teleological thought in the other beginning.

Heidegger's objection to a Volk -extension of "liberalism" and of a "commercial" approach to life, which is clearly limited to the way in which the concept of the Volk is formulated, is not directed against the conception as such. In the remainder of the passage, he reformulates this conception through a quasi-Platonic view of insight possessed by only some members of the group. For Heidegger, who here draws on his earlier discussion of the concept of mood,[107] the essence of a people lies in its voice understood, not as arising in a natural way, but only occasionally and in the few.


But the essence of the people is its "voice" [Stimme]. This voice does not , however, speak, in a so-called immediate flood [Erguss] of the common, natural, undistorted, and uneducated "person" [unverbildeten und ungebildeten "Mannes"]. Then this chosen witness [Denn dieser so angerufene Zeuge] is already very distorted and no longer moves in the originary relation to being [zum Seienden]. The "voice" of the people speaks seldom and only in the few [in Wenigen], if it [i.e., the voice] can be brought to sound [zum Klingen].[108]

If the "voice" of the people does not speak through everyone, but only through the few, and the latter are not associated with National Socialism or other forms of "liberalism," then this passage can be read as a further form of Heidegger's quasi-Platonic view in the rectoral address that finally only the philosopher can secure the good life for the people. Heidegger's continued faith in the supposedly exceptional, indeed unique, capacity of philosophers to discern political truth is inconsistent with his concern in the Beiträge to reject Platonism in all its forms. His insistence on the superior insight of the selected few, even as mediated through Nietzsche, a constant feature of all his later thought, including the discussion of technology, is clearly quasi-Platonic.

The short, sixth section of the book, devoted to what is to come, prepares the way for another short discussion concerning "The Last God."[109] In the sixth section, there are two consecutive paragraphs concerning the Volk .[110] From the perspective of the other beginning, Heidegget describes the "last god," a theme that later recurs in the Spiegel interview, as beyond all reckoning, hence, beyond such terms, associated with the first beginning, as "monotheism," "pantheism," or "atheism."[111] The language of the discussion of what is to come recalls that of such writers as Nietzsche and Spengler. In Nietzschean terminology, Heidegger evokes future beings (die Zukünftigen ) as slow and long-listening founders of the essence of truth.[112] In Spenglerian terms, he describes "the hour of the fall of the West," interpreted philosophically, but not politically, as the end of the age of metaphysics.[113] Once again, Heidegger insists on his mystical pretense, a steady theme in his thought after the rectoral address, to interpret the present and future through his superior insight into metaphysics.

In his remarks on "The essence of the people and Da-sein," Heidegger returns to his conviction that only the few can provide a people with its identity.[114] For Heidegger, who here makes use of a notion of plural authenticity originally mentioned in Being and Time ,[115] a people only is one when it receives its unifying idea and so returns to Being. In this way, a people bypasses the danger of merely turning on its own axis, or of falling prey to the false god of one's unlimitedness. Heidegger main-


tains that the idea that unifies a people can only be discovered through those who listen silently, that is, by those who are the true ground of the Being of these beings.

A Volk is only a Volk if it receives its history through the discovery of its god, through the god, which, through history, compels it in a direction [hinwegzwingt] and so places it back in being [es so in das Seiende zurückstellt]. Only then does it avoid the danger of turning only on its own axis [um sich selber zu kreisen] and that which is only a condition of its maintenance, falsely honoring its unlimited [zu seinem unbedingten zu vergötzen]. But how can it [i.e., a Volk ] find the god otherwise than if those who seek silently for it and as these seekers even apparently [sogar dem Anschein nach] must oppose the still not volkhafte "Volk"! However, these seekers must be themselves first; they are to be prepared as being [seiende]. What is Da-sein other than as the ground [Griündung ] of the being of these beings, of the future beings of the last god.[116]

Heidegger now sums up his view of this relation in a single sentence describing the essence of the people as grounded in the historicity of those who seek to listen from their relation of belonging to the last god. "The essence of the people is grounded in the historicality of those listening to themselves [Sichgehörenden] on the basis of [aus ] the relation of belonging to the god."[117]

This passage provides another clear indication of Heidegger's refusal to accept the hegemony of National Socialism and his assertion of the practical significance of his thought in bringing about the future of the Germans, both constant features in his writings beginning with the rectoral address. Heidegger's remark on the need to oppose the still not volkhafte "Volk " is difficult to construe. By placing the term "Volk " in quotation marks, he points out that it is not yet a Volk in his sense, since it has not yet been unified in an authentic manner around its own essence. If this passage refers to the German people, then Heidegger is disputing the success of National Socialism as far as bringing about the historical realization of the essence of the Volk is concerned. Here, in other language, Heidegger reaffirms his intimate conviction that the "philosopher" is the essential link for the authentic gathering of the German people. This passage provides a qualified restatement, from a point "beyond" philosophy, of the ancient Platonic claim that finally only a philosopher, only one attuned to the problem of Being in general, can lead the German people with respect to its own destiny.

With respect to Platonism and his own earlier writings, here the relevant difference is Heidegger's effort to combine his insistence on the political import of his own theory with his acknowledgment of modern nihilism. In light of Heidegger's conviction that nihilism follows from


Nietzsche's statement that God is dead, we can regard Heidegger's view of the last god, to be discovered by the philosopher, as a necessary political corrective, as a way to provide a new sense of direction to society. For Heidegger as for Nietzsche, the essence of the people is grounded in the few exceptional human beings. Like Kant, who held that the philosopher is the lawgiver of human reason,[118] Heidegger apparently believed that only a "philosopher" could provide a new sense of direction in the age of nihilism. For only a thinker, one who meditates in silence, can discern the last god.

Heidegger continues this line of argument in the next paragraph, entitled "Da-sein and the future beings of the last god."[119] This passage provides a transition to his account of the last god. Now further developing his mythological account, he describes this imaginary concept as a kind of historical vademecum at the beginning of a new history beyond history. For Heidegger, the last god will introduce a series of contradictions as paths which, when followed by the people, will lead it back to its essence and enable it to create its own history. "This god will set up the simplest, but farthest contradictions [Gegensätze] over his Volk as the paths over which they wander outward in order to find its essence again and to exhaust the moment of its history [und den Augenblick seiner Geschichte auszuschöpfen]."[120] The concept of the last god functions here as an organizing principle to enable a people to find and to realize its essence within history. Heidegger's conception of history beyond history echoes Marx's well-known view of the distinction between prehistory and history in the human sense, which only begins in and through the transition from capitalism to communism.[121] If we distinguish between authentic and inauthentic forms of history, as correlated to the essential and distorted forms of a Volk , then Heidegger's point is that in the other beginning, through its relation to the last god, the people will finally reach historical authenticity. Once again, the philosopher appears as the one who points the way to an authentic historical realization of the essence of the Volk .

The final comment on the Volk we will mention occurs appropriately in the last part of the book, in the discussion of Being in general (das Seyn ) in a passage on being (das Seiende ).[122] Once again Heidegger offers a description of an inauthentic people, whose lack of authenticity he indicates by enclosing Volk in quotation marks. This passage follows an earlier discussion of being (Seiende ) and calculation in which Heidegger maintains that a result of the drive to master the environment in quantitative terms is the loss of the relation to being (Seiende ).[123] In his following remarks on being (das Seiende ), he unsystematically examines different aspects of the phenomenon.

Heidegger's comment on the Volk in this context is interesting for the


link he identifies between Greek thought and German romanticism. Ever attentive to Greek thought, Heidegger asserts that "nature" ("Natur ") is a debased form of the Greek "physis " and then raises the idea of a theoretical reformulation of Goethe's ideas of "earth" and "life." For Heidegger, a rooting around (Wühlen ) in the irrational is required to complete the modern period. He remarks that Romanticism has not yet reached its end, since it still seeks an "unclarification" (Verklärung ) of being (Seiende ) which it opposes to other views. He maintains that the resultant lack of clarification manifests the effort to renew culture that is uprooted from the people. "The historical renovation of 'culture' is invited to this raising up [Verklärung] and its uprooting is practiced in the 'VoIk ' [im 'Volk' betrieben] and striven to communicate it to everyone."[124]

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