Nazi spatial theory: The dark geographies of Carl Schmitt and Walter Christaller

Trevor Barnes, Claudio Minca

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The concern with space and, more fundamentally, the formulation of a larger, guiding spatial theory, was central to achieving Nazi objectives during the Third Reich. We disclose critical elements of that theory, focusing on two contributions: the first by the jurist and international legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) and the second by the geographer Walter Christaller (1893–1969). Applying the perverted biopolitical logic of National Socialism required the military accomplishment and bureaucratic management of two interrelated spatial processes: deterritorialization and reterritorialization. Deterritorialization involved moving non-Germanized Germans (mainly Jews and Slavs) off conquered Eastern lands to create an “empty space” that was then “reterritorialized” by the settlement of “legitimate” Germans (although often not German citizens). Although many German academics were involved in designing and implementing these spatial strategies, we single out two. Carl Schmitt provided a politico-judicial justification for reterritorialization involving the geographical expansion of the Third Reich: Großraum (greater space). Conceived four months before Germany's Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland that triggered World War II, Großraum provided the (literal) grounds for Nazi reterritorialization. Walter Christaller brought his peculiar spatial imaginary of formal geometry and place-based rural romanticism in planning the “empty space” of the East after non-Germanized inhabitants were removed. His central place theory re-created the Nazis' territorial conquests in the geographical likeness of the German homeland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-687
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number3
Early online date23 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Carl Schmitt, Nazism, reactionary modernism, spatial theory, Walter Christaller

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