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Abstract

German geographer Friedrich Ratzel is best remembered today as the originator of the concept Lebensraum, which became the basis of National Socialist demands for “living space” in Eastern Europe during the Second World War. Historians have described Ratzel’s Lebensraum as a Darwinian concept influenced by his support of settler colonialism, and some have emphasized the continuity of the term in the search for the Wilhelmine roots of Nazi imperialism. Much of the secondary literature on Ratzel, however, demonstrates fundamental misunderstandings of his influences. Ratzel’s work was neither Darwinian nor an obvious antecedent to Nazi ideology, and the story of Lebensraum ultimately illustrates the critical rupture of the First World War rather than longstanding continuity in German imperialist ideology.

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