No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Community Ideology and its dangers

The Renaissance of Community Ideology and its dangers – Stefan Kühl


In modern society, many people feel lost. Industrialization and the capitalist economic order have dissolved traditional bonds and communities, leading to a feeling of rootlessness. Although modern society offers individuals new freedoms, individualization also carries risks as it can lead to a loss of identity and a sense of home. In response to this feeling of alienation, many people long for community, a place of security and cohesion, in contrast to a cold, alienated society shaped by capitalism and technology. Some social scientists see community as a response to the negative effects of increasing individualization and call for a return to communal principles.


The fascination with small social structures such as families, friendships and neighborhoods is based on personal relationships and individual expectations. These small communities could serve as models for society. The idea of an extended community is evident in protest movements, religious groups, ethnic nations and businesses. Community is often linked to “the people”, as is particularly clear in the German discussion about the idea of the national community. This term was of particular importance in the German context during and after the First World War and was used by various political and religious groups as it allowed for a variety of interpretations. The National Socialists consistently integrated the idea of the national community into their ideology by defining it as a racially determined blood community. This idea excluded people who did not fit arbitrary racial criteria. Ethnic and eugenic racism were central elements of this ideology, aimed at eliminating or destroying individuals considered racially different or genetically inferior. This racist loading of the concept of the national community led to a social order in which the well-being of the collective was placed above the well-being of the individual, and in which exclusion and extermination were viewed as justified measures.


After the Second World War, the idea of the national community was discredited in Germany for a long time. The promises of the Nazi state had not been fulfilled, and the Allied occupation destroyed Germany's aura as a world military power. The systematic mass murder of Europe's Jewish population left deep wounds and triggered contradictory reactions. In the post-war period, the idea of the national community was influenced by memories of the Nazi era and found only limited acceptance. The discussions about reparations and the return of Jewish emigrants led to a general reluctance to aggressively propagate the idea of community. In both the German Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the idea of community was viewed with caution, with the nuclear family, the circle of friends and the neighborhood being considered more important reference points. In the GDR, the idea of community was reactivated under the socialist regime, but the actual feelings of community emerged more from practical necessities, such as overcoming the scarcity economy. The reunification of Germany was perceived by many as the destruction of the usual community structures.


Helmut Plessner criticized romantic notions of community as early as the 1920s by warning for the risks of close proximity and confinement. He argued for the indispensability of distance in modern society. Though the idea of community was greatly discredited after the Second World War, it’s experiencing regular revivals, albeit in different variants. One of these is the reactivated idea of the national community, which is often propagated by the new right. Another variant is the idea of New Work, where companies should serve as places for community building. A third variant sees organizations outside the workplace as potential places for community building, such as sports clubs or religious groups. But the question remains as to what community ideas can look like that are compatible with modern society's ideas of freedom.


In modern society, people long for community because in many social areas they are only perceived as role bearers. The search for community often extends beyond romantic relationships, nuclear families and circles of friends. But caution is advised with large communities that offer a strong we-feeling, as they often seek access to the lives of their members in all situations. Community building becomes problematic when it claims to determine the entire life of its members. Examples of this are Marxist K-groups, evangelical sects or Islamist terrorist groups. Other communities allow more freedom and allow their members to be members of multiple communities.


People often look for different communities at different stages of life in order to feel a sense of belonging and security. The paradox is that, on the one hand, a deep sense of community can only arise if you feel safe as a whole person, but on the other hand, there is a risk of losing your individuality in the community. Instead of looking for a large community, many people move between different communities, which makes them less dependent on individuals.

Kühl, S. (2024), Die Renaissance der Gemeinschaftsideologie und ihre Gefahren, Working Paper 3/2024, Bielefeld Universität. Direct link