Geopolitks - Lebensraum

I know this may feel like a strange place to start but if we are to understand Lebensraum, which was the excuse Hitler gave to push through Europe we need to start with at the beginning, which is with Charles Darwin. Or more specifically Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species – by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. And YES, that is what it was actually called. This was published in 1859.

Oscar Peschel

In 1860 a gentleman called Oscar Peschel ‘reviewed’ the book and that was the beginning of the word Lebensraum Oscar was a German anthropologist and geographer, who became a professor and published a book called ‘The Races of Man and Geographical distribution. This book divided people into seven races that he himself defined. Although his rationale is questionable to say the least.

Friedrich Ratzel

The next person who really established the word Lebensraum was Friedrich Ratzel. He too was German geographer and an ethnographer. Friedrich travelled after his study, spending time in the Mediterranean and America. He studied how German people had influenced the area’s they lived in. Some sources say that he believed cities are the best place to study people because life is "blended, compressed, and accelerated" in cities, and they bring out the "greatest, best, most typical aspects of people".

His travels led him to write Anthropogeographie in 1882/1891, Politische Geographie in 1897 and The History of Mankind, the English version being published in 1896. He basically (this is very simplified) said that society was influenced greatly by their geographical situation and that societies that could readily adapt to geography would in turn expand their boundaries. He believed that countries would naturally expand and shrink depending on their habitat.

This is the basics of his geopolitiks theory. He believed that because of Germany’s success and culture, they would naturally expand into and develop other states that did not have the strength that Germany did. He expressed a belief that Germany needed overseas colonies for which German’s could emigrate to, such as those in Africa. In fact, the essay he published on Lebensraum actually was more focussed on biogeography, which looks at environmental factors affecting people, societies and migration.

This really split the field as everything is left up to interpretation and his work was interpreted in different ways Johan Rudolf Kjellen split this into three concepts, Geopolitik, Ecopolitik and Demopolitik. This was shown in the book Staten som lifsform, which was published in 1916. In the book he focuses on the state and stated that it was made up of 5 political-scientific segments.

He believed that the state;

Most of these have been developed further into things that we use today, geo-politics, demographics, economics, and sociology.


The term Geopolitics’ was used by groups pushing imperialism, which was still widely acceptable in that time, especially with Russia and England. In 1911, General Friedrich von Bernhardi, published Deutschland und der Nächste Krieg/Germany and the Next War. In the book he took the concept of Lebensraum and Geopolitics’ and turned it into a racial struggle for living space and focused on the east as a place for the German people. In his book (be aware this has been translated), he states ‘without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy, budding elements’. This is the interpretation of geopolitics or Lebensraum that the Nazi party took on and used as their justification.

Karl Haushofer

We finally get to Karl Ernst Haushofer, a German General in the First World War, and a Professor of Geopolitics/Lebensraum at the University of Munich. To say that Karl was a contradiction would be an understatement. Do I know ultimately what his intentions for Lebensraum was, absolutely not. In fact, every time I think I have made up my mind about how much of an influence he was on the likes of the holocaust, I see something that seems at odds with that belief.

So here are the facts as much as I can ascertain. If you know of any others, please send them to me to investigate.

Why is this all relevant to Lebensraum? Hindsight is an important thing to look at when explaining the past. Karl often said that the Nazi party had taken bits of Lebensraum and twisted its meaning. He said he believed Hitler to be a half-witted man, who took catch words and misinterpreted them. A common theme of his teachings was focussing on the environmental rather that the racial aspects of Lebensraum. It was about expanding, but about introducing culture and the strengths of the Germans to what were deemed the weaker areas. It was about cultivating the land, using its resources, adapting to it.

But this is not how the Nazi’s adopted it. The question really is how much influence Karl Haushofer had on this mutation of the concept. Did he in fact believe, although undocumented that the German or more correctly the Ayran people should eliminate the ‘weaker’ states or was that purely an interpretation that fit with the Nazi agenda. My current line of thinking (with the information I currently have) is that Karl understood the concept in a very theoretical term to start with. He had an idea based on his study and the restrictions on Germany after the first world war. But the practicality of it was not well thought out. Like so many other concepts that thinkers, philosophers and scientists have given the world, people will interpret it with their own preconceived narrative. Aspects of the concept as opposed to the full concept of Lebensraum was adopted by the Nazi’s and it spiralled.

He is quoted as saying

‘Although our eyes can not penetrate the darkness of the future, scientific geopolitical analysis enables us to make certain predictions.’


Lebensraum is now forever linked with the Nazi’s. But we study and use Geo-politics today. We use it in understanding the expanding global economy for trade, agreements, and how countries react to each other. But even today or at least in the last 20 years we see how geography, resources and societies can cause wars and power struggles. It is a word, which is used and abused to justify the acts that governments want to accomplish. Hopefully in the future we can learn from the study that has evolved for over 100 years.