Upon his return to Italy in 1948, Julius Evola sought to reestablish contact with authors with whom he had had epistolary relations before the Second World War in order to suggest that some of their works be translated into Italian. René Guénon replied favourably to this proposition, while Mircea Eliade, Carl Schmitt and Gottfried Benn declined. Ernst Jünger did not even reply.
Born in 1895 in a bourgeois family, Ernst Jünger joined the Wandervogel (‘Bird of Passage’) movement while young. In November of 1913, attracted to Africa, which he considered the “summum of the savage state and of primitivity”, he ran away from home to Verdun to join the French Foreign Legion, only to be expelled some weeks later on his father’s intervention. A year later, “seized by the intoxication of the moment,” he joined the Imperial German Army on the first day of the war. In his war diaries he evoked life in the trenches, the bombardments, the fighting, the fear and the courage of the combatants. Wounded fourteen times, he was decorated with an Iron Cross, 1st Class, in September of 1917, and some months later, with the medal Pour Le Mérite, the highest Prussian military distinction. On his return from the front, he began to shape his wartime journals, from which he wrote four novels that had an immediate success in Germany : “In Stahlgewittern” (“Storm of Steel”) (1920), “Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis” (“War as an Inner Experience”) (1922), “Das Wäldchen 125” (“Copse 125”) (1925), “Feuer und Blut” (“Fire and Blood”) (1925).
Four great figures appear successively in Jünger’s work : the Lansquenet ; the Worker ; the Rebel ; and the Anarch. The Lansquenet, confronted with a new type of warfare, where technics overpower, crush and reduce man to nothing, embodies the possibility of reconciling man and technics, heroic war and technical warfare.
In the 1920s, Jünger published numerous articles in the newspapers of the “Bundisch” movement, the hard core of the youth movement whose origins went back to the Wandervogel and the national-revolutionaries, from which it picked up the protest against bourgeois thought, and the will to return to nature. Deeply marked by the experience of the front lines, profoundly revolted by the defeat of 1918, attributed to the incompetence of the German political class of the day, the Youth League aspired to the spiritual, political and social renewal of the German nation. Ernst Jünger sees in this young generation a new human type, completely opposed to that of the bourgeois : the Worker.
Jünger begins by pointing out how technics invades the world and affirms that it is futile to refuse it, and that, in his own words, “there can be no going back.” “On the contrary, one must enable its development so that from the chaos it engenders, a new world may arise. In modern times, nothing exists outside of work, everything exists through technics.” The Worker ignores morals, but possesses an ethic founded on self-sacrifice. Effectively, technics do not afford material comfort, but power. His satisfaction resides in work. He does not presume to freedom but to work. His happiness is accomplished in sacrifice to war or to work – and work itself becomes a war against matter.
“The Worker [is] a titan who uses the planet and submits matter to his will. Master of technics, he maintains nevertheless a link with the elemental forces that grant him his power. In him is abolished the traditional opposition of nature/culture.” (1)
Even though the Worker differs from the Marxist proletarian insofar as his revolution does not target private property but bourgeois culture founded on reason, morals and individualism, Goebbels had his reasons for thinking that “the Worker” could constitute a covert apology for communist society. On the publication of “the Worker” in 1932, the Nazi party newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, declared that with this book, Jünger had approached “the zone of bullets in the neck”, a macabre and ironic allusion to the no less macabre epigraph to the work : “Writings have their destiny – like bullets!”
However, his past of war veteran and his patriotic writings gained him the sympathy of Adolf Hitler, and the national-socialist party was not long in surrounding him with solicitude. (2) They also allowed him to become one of the leaders of the “new nationalism”. Jünger retired from politics, though, when the national-socialists took power. Mobilised on the 30th of August 1939 in the Wehrmacht with the rank of captain, he was assigned to Paris, where he mixed with the then fashionable writers, including some whom he knew had joined the resistance, and where the Bible became his bedside reading. It was also in the French capital that he got wind of von Stauffenberg’s plot against Hitler. There, he corrected the proofs of “Auf den Marmorklippen” (“On the Marble Cliffs”), which he had started in February 1939, when he lived in Überlingen, near Lake Constance, and which he had completed in July of the same year in his new home of Kirchhorst, near Hanover. The story takes place in an imaginary land, Marina, a land of vineyards and culture, surrounded by the sea to one side, and to the north by marble cliffs which separate it from Compagna, a land of large pastures and shepherds. The intrigue occurs seven years after the war of Alta-Plana, a territory located on the other side of the sea. The narrator and his brother, who had both fought in the war, work in the midst of a vast hermitage situated on the marble cliffs. Occupied with their library and herb garden, living peacefully in the contemplation of nature, they witness the rise of the Head Forester, lord of Mauretania, a forest country to the north of Compagna. The hordes of the Head Forester wreak havoc on Compagna and threaten Marina itself. The narrator and his brother end up exiling themselves in order to escape. Some have seen this story as a thinly veiled critique of national-socialism, beginning with the Reichsleiter Bouhler, who took Jünger to court.
Jünger’s next work, “Der Waldgang” (“The Forest Fleer” or “The Retreat into the Forest”), is an essay that marks a reversal. “The Worker embodies the man of the masses, who has, in the meantime, lost the heroic and aristocratic virtues which Jünger had endowed him with. The Rebel is, on the contrary, the individual of the elite who resists being press-ganged into the collective machinery. “Heroic realism” no longer consists in placing oneself voluntarily at the disposal of the totalitarian work-machine, but on the contrary, while recognising its presence and predominance, to resist by a return to the transcendent and inalienable substance of the human being.” (3)
“Der Waldgang” bears a subtitle that is paradoxal, to say the least, considering how modern barbarity had been personified under the name of “Head Forester” in “Auf den Marmorklippen”: “The Retreat into the Forest.” “The return to the forest, writes Jünger, represents a new answer of freedom… Free men are powerful, even if they are but a tiny minority.”
Even the title itself is no less contradictory. Effectively, in the ancient Nordic community : “The heaviest punishment was expulsion from the family ; and banishment, the crown of sorrow for a German”. The “Waldgang”, the “Forest Fleer”, “The wretched victim of such a fate [,] was cut off from all protection of law and order, and renounced the benefits of civilization. Thus at the other extreme of fortune from the proud head of a proud and powerful clan stood the clanless man, the exile, the outlaw, who had no protecting relative, no strong kinsman, no “gold-friend and lord.” (4) Any “Waldgang” thus became the last among men, while Jünger makes him into the member of an elite. Every “Waldgang” accepted his fate, conscious of having become an outlaw by his own doing, whereas the Jüngerian “Waldgang” is “resolved to resistance and plans to continue the struggle, even were it hopeless.” This proscription signified, ipso facto, the loss of freedom, whereas Jünger’s “Waldgang” “is placed by the law of his nature in relation with freedom”. Yet this is more of alienation rather than being placed in relation with freedom, in the deepest core of his being, since he does not choose to be excluded and to isolate himself, but is “isolated and deprived of his fatherland” by an external force : “by the workings of the universe.”
Julius Evola, for his part, was not mistaken when he labelled “Der Waldgang” as belonging to Jünger’s “minor writings with ideological pretentions”, whose content “signals a notable intellectual weakening”, with their “themes close to “democratic” re-education, “humanist” at the very least, like those proned in Germany after the war, themes openly opposed to those [Jünger] had upheld in the preceding era.” (5) Already in 1956, in his review of “Der Gordische Knoten” (1953), Evola had warned the reader against “the confused ideas, the unilateral and debatable presentations” which he had judged to be those of the German writer following the end of WWII, reiterating with characteristic frankness the implicit judgement he had passed on Jünger’s work in a letter he had sent him in 1952, and to which he never received a reply : I am especially interested in those works of the first period, say, until “Auf den Marmorklippen”.” “Eumeswil” (1977), in which appears the fourth figure, the Anarch, “the positive counterpart of the anarchist”, is not lacking in the confusion which already characterized Jünger’s views since “Der Gordische Knoten” ; for instance, this extract which illustrates the author’s vacillation between true and false ideas : “The free man is anarchic, the anarchist is not.”
It is therefore unsurprising that the book by Ernst Jünger that Julius Evola proposed to translate was a novel from what he considered to be the German author’s first period : “Der Arbeiter” (“The Worker”). “But, while rereading it, I convinced myself, Evola says, that it would not be by a translation that I would achieve the goal I had fixed myself. Effectively, the worthwhile parts are mixed with others which, to an undiscerning reader, would only be a hindrance, since they are influenced by the situation in Germany at that time, and do not take into account the experiences whose problematic nature has become apparent in the meantime… I therefore abandoned the idea of a translation in favour of a vast synthesis largely based on quotes from the book, leaving aside the redundant or false parts, in order to set forth the essential and immutable, by reducing to a minimum the critical and explanatory presentation.”
“L’“Operaio” nel pensiero di Ernst Jünger” (“The “Worker” in the Thought of Ernst Jünger”), whose first edition dates from 1960 and which has been twice since republished, making it the least read of Evola’s works, has not yet been translated, not even in France – the veritable Jüngerolatry which reigns in French Evolian circles, and to a larger extent in French nationalist circles – prevents anything that may be even remotely considered critical of the idol from being published.
We hereby propose a translation of the first two sub-sections of the first part. The excerpts from “Der Arbeiter” quoted by J. Evola in “L’“Operaio” nel pensiero di Ernst Jünger” were translated from the German original. The French translation, however, is most faithful, and has been our preferred source for the quotations by Jünger. The page numbers in brackets refer to the French edition of “Der Arbeiter”, “Le Travailleur” (Christian Bourgeois Editeur, 1989).
THE FIGURE OF THE WORKER
The Face and Limits of Bourgeois Civilisation
Jünger, proceeding from an examination of the era of the Third Estate, i.e. the bourgeoisie, sheds light on the apparent nature of its power, speaks of the crisis of its civilisation and of its fundamental ideas, and thus sketches out the figure of a new human type which he proposes to “make visible… like a grandeur in action that has already powerfully intervened throughout the course of history and which decisively determines the forms of a metamorphosed world.” (p. 35) This has less to do with “new thoughts or a new system than with a new reality” (ibid.) which must be grasped without prejudice and whose deepest revolutionary nature comes from the mere fact of its existence. The ability to recognise this new representation as a pure reality on the existential level, avoiding all judgement and conforming actively to it, is mentioned as being one of the essential characteristic traits of the spirit of “heroic realism”.
The world of the Third Estate is presented as a world of artificial and precarious superstructures, whose “Domination… has never been able to affect… the deepest core which determines the richness, the power and the fullness of a life” (p. 39). In this era, “in all those places where people have thought with the greatest depth and boldness, felt with the greatest vivacity, fought with the greatest bravery; it is impossible to not recognise the revolt against the values that the grand declaration of the independence of reason has hoisted aloft” (p. 39-40) by means of the rationalist belief that became strengthened with the coming of the Third Estate, after having been choreographically prepared by the Jacobin cult of the goddess Reason, beyond the abstract conceptions of the Encyclopaedists. “But never had those bearers of the immediate responsibility we call ‘genius’ been isolated; never had their work and their actions been exposed to more risks; and never had the hero found such an unfruitful ground for his deployment. The deepest roots had to plunge into the parched earth to reach those sources where resides the magical unity of blood and spirit that makes speech irresistible.” (p. 40) “That is why that era was so rich in great hearts whose ultimate revolt consisted in repressing their nature; and so rich in noble spirits to whom the silence of the universe of shadows seemed welcome… rich in battles where blood tested itself to other battles and other defeats as did the spirit.” (ibid.) “Honour to those dead, broken by the frightening solitude of love or knowledge, and to those that the steel laid low on the burning hills of combat!” (p. 42-43)
The bourgeois world is characterised by a special concept of liberty, that of an abstract, general and individualist liberty: “a measure, fixed once and for all, intrinsically deprived of any substance”, which “can be applied to whichever heights it is subordinated” (p. 41). This is the opposite of the idea, which we shall see later, “that the importance of the freedom enjoyed by a force corresponds exactly to the strength of the bond to which it is submitted, and in the extent of this freed freedom manifests the extent of the responsibility that confers to this will its justification and validity.” (ibid.) The bourgeois may be “freed from something” but not “free for doing something” (therein lies a well-known distinction, one which is already found in Nietzsche); he does not know the world where “freedom manifests itself with a maximum of power everywhere it is carried by the knowledge of having been granted in fief” (p. 41); he does not know that “obedience is the art of listening; and that order is the receptiveness to speech, the receptiveness to commands, which, like lightning, leave the summits to reach the deepest roots.” (p. 42); he does not know those situations in which “the leader is recognised by his being the first servant, the first soldier, the first Worker” (ibid.); finally, he is ignorant of how “we reach the supreme point of our force when there no longer remain any traces of ambiguity towards commands and obedience.” (ibid.)
Freedom and service, freedom and order, are one and the same thing. “The Age of the Third Estate never recognised the wonderful power of this unity for pleasures all too human and all too affordable seemed to deserve its efforts.” (ibid.) The counterpart to the abstract and individualist notion of freedom is the social concept, the system defined by the social contract. The nature of the bourgeois is to eventually dissolve all organic unity; “to transform all ties of mutual responsibility into contractual relationships.” (p. 50), following the aforementioned concept of abstract freedom. The specific and normal form of the bourgeois representation of the state of collective life is the concept of “society”, as opposed to the political concept of the State, and that is why the State is conceived of as being a “society”. Jünger is here referring to the rather coherent theory of the German political authors on the opposition between the systems which take “society” as their fundamental reference point, and those whose foundation and ideal are, on the contrary, “the State”, the State here considered as a superior principle real in itself and which is not reducible to the accumulated empirical experiments and material interests of the inorganic and atomic mass which it contains.
That is why, in a bourgeois civilisation, everything is conceived of as a “society” in a rationalist and moralist context. The most subtle means are employed to reduce all greatness to this form. Society was almost considered as “the entire population of the world”, which lent itself to conceptualisation as the ideal image of humanity, whose divisions into States, nations or races, rested on no more than an error of judgement. This error of judgement was to be corrected over time by “contracts”, by the “Enlightenment”, by a general moralisation, or simply by the further development of means of transport. (p. 50)
Specifically, “the bourgeois knows only the defensive war, that is to say, he does not know war in the slightest, partaking by his very nature of nothing of the warrior.” (p. 49) “And even though it be in the most obvious personal interest, he calls to the soldier for help, or dresses up as a soldier himself, he never ceases to swear to his great gods that it is only as a last resort, to defend himself, if possible, to defend humanity.” (p. 49)
The most precious discovery of the bourgeois mentality “as well as the unending source of its power of artistic creation” (p. 50) has thus been a “bizarre and abstract notion of man” (ibid.): the individual. “Nevertheless, in practice, the “individual” does not see himself opposed to humanity but to the crowd, his true reflection… For the crowd and the individual are but one, and this unity engenders this stupefying twin image of the most colourful and most disconcerting anarchy, tied to the down-to-earth regulation of democracy…” (p. 50-51) Jünger takes up a theme well-known to political thought of a traditionalist bent: at the very moment the abstract notion of freedom transforms the concrete person by reducing it to an atom, a numerical unit, by depriving it of all organic ties, the inevitable counterpart, the crowd, purely and simply the reign of quantity, is born at the same time, in a dialectic process. We shall see that, according to Jünger, the crisis of the bourgeois civilisation touches both its poles; the individual as well as the crowd, and that new categories shall be fated to dominate over the one and the other.
This contractual conception of social unity means that the preferred regime of the bourgeois, that is, the regime he feels is necessary for his own existence and that of his system, is that of discussion, of compromise and of negotiation. The bourgeois is at his ease as long as he can discuss and negotiate; and that is why he seeks to eliminate whatever may be a danger to the system within the conflicts inside “society”, namely in class conflict. He is capable of reaffirming the principle of “society” even against all attacks directed against it, by ensuring that these attacks come from this principle and of the corresponding idea of freedom; and any seizure of power ends up thus appearing as a particular modification of the social contract.
In distinction to the virile nature of the State, the feminine nature of “society” betrays itself in that it does not seek to eliminate any opposition, but rather attempts to assimilate them. Wherever it may encounter a firm demand, its most subtle tactic consists in denaturing it; it explains it as a manifestation of its concept of liberty and legitimises it under this form on the forum of its basic law: that is, rendering it inoffensive.” (p. 52)
We have indicated that this entire system, for Jünger, stems from the concepts of rationality and morality; to these concepts is added the idea of safety in a bid to remove from the vital space the “elemental” and danger: this last point is essential in the global vision of “The Worker”. Jünger, nevertheless, does not omit another accessory element, to wit, the domination exerted by the economy in the bourgeois sphere. “The attempt by arithmetic to transform destiny into a greatness that may be resolved by means of calculation… goes back to a time when the original image of man was discovered on Otahiti and Mauritius, reasonable, virtuous, and thereby happy, where the spirit began to concern itself with such dangerous secrets as the right to a tax on wheat, and where mathematics was one of those refined games with which the aristocracy amused itself on the eve of its fall. There was created the model that then found its unequivocal economic interpretation when the demands for freedom proper to the individual and the crowd fused as economic demands in the heart of an economic world.” (p. 56-57) “The ideal image of the world, reasonable and virtuous, coincides here with a global economic utopia, and it is from economic demands that all challenges stem.” (p. 57) This is an important point to understand what Jünger is getting at: for, by allowing any shock provoked solely by the economy to enter into the world of the civilisation of the Third Estate, it can be seen that the social revolutionary dialectic, as conceived by leftist groups themselves, is but revolutionary in appearance, and thus insignificant, and we take for principle that the figure who, according to Jünger, would characterise the new era, belongs to a different sphere. It is thus inevitable: inside this world of exploiters and the exploited, there remains no room for any greatness that is not decided by the supreme authority of the economy. There are here two kinds of man, two kinds of art, two kinds of moral – but one does not need any deep insight to see that they both flow from the same source. It is one and the same progress invoked as justification by those who support the economic struggle: they find themselves amidst a fundamental conviction, claiming for themselves the role of agents of prosperity; and they believe it possible to upset their opponents position to the degree they succeed in refuting its pretention to play that role.” (p. 57) Jünger concludes: “Enough! Any participation in this discussion is the same as facilitating its pursuit. What is important to discern is the existence of a dictatorship of economic thought in itself, which engulfs any possible dictatorship and thus limits its decisions. Inside this universe, it is impossible to even budge without stirring up the troubled waters of interests, and there are no positions from which to accomplish a breakthrough. No matter which of these parties manages to seize the disposing power, it will depend on the economy as the disposing power. At the same time, Jünger clarifies this important point: “by denying to the economic world the status as a power apt to determine life, and thus, as a force of destiny, we challenge its rank, but not its existence. For the goal is not to turn the spirit away from all economic struggle; and it would even be desirable that the economic conflicts are of the “utmost harshness”.” (p. 58) However, this does not happen if the economy determines the rules of combat; it must be subordinated to “a higher law of combat.” (ibid.) The overcoming of the bourgeois world demands “a declaration of independence by the Worker in relation to the economic world” (ibid.), a declaration which “does not mean some renunciation of this world, but its submission to the demands of a more global submission.” (ibid.)
For the moment, these ideas are only exposed by Jünger in order to illustrate that the reduction of all revolutionary authority to the economic sphere is one of the tactics employed to keep alive the principle of “society”, to reinforce, in spite of everything, the world of the Third Estate.
The irruption of the elementary in the bourgeois world
The concept of the elemental plays a central role in Jünger’s book. As with other German writers, Jünger does not use the term ‘elemental’ in the sense of ‘primitive’; instead, he uses it to mean the deepest forces of reality that escape the rationalist-moralist intellectual structures, and that are characterised by an either positive or negative transcendence with respect to man: in essence, it consists of the elemental forces of nature. In the inner world, it refers to those forces that may burst forth into personal or collective life from a deeper psychic layer.
When Jünger speaks of the exclusion of the elemental from the bourgeois world, it is obvious that he is here joining the controversy started by various strands of contemporary thought; from irrationalism, intuitionism, the religion of life, to psychoanalysis and existentialism, against the rationalist-moralist view of man that has predominated until recent years. We shall see, however, that Jünger’s position is original; he conceives of the relationship between man and the elemental in active, lucid, non-regressive forms, which differentiates his view from the problematic approach taken by the aforementioned tendencies.
The constant concern of the bourgeois world has been to “hermetically seal the space in which it lives against the irruption of the elemental” (p. 79), “to erect a barrier to protect itself”. Safety has been a demand of this world, one that the cult of reason has had to consolidate and justify: a reason that “goes so far as to confuse the elemental with the nonsensical” (p. 47). To integrate the elemental, along with all the problems and risks that that implies, has seemed inconceivable to the bourgeois; an aberration that must be prevented by adequate educational methods. Jünger writes: “The bourgeois will never feel the need to willingly challenge fate in the midst of combat or danger, for the elemental is beyond his sphere, it is irrational, and thus, immoral. He will always keep a safe distance away from the elemental, whether it appears to him as power and passion, or as the four original elements of fire, water, earth and air.”
“Seen from this angle, the large cities of the turn of the century appear as the ideal bastions of safety, the absolute triumph of the wall that, for over a century, abandoning fortified castles to the past, now grips life into a hive-like structure, with its blocks, asphalt and glass, penetrating into its most intimate organisation, so to speak. The victory of technics is here a victory of comfort, and the entry of the elements [into this world] is regulated by the economy.” (p. 80)
However, for Jünger, the abnormal nature of the bourgeois era has less to do with the desire for security, “than with the exclusive nature of the means by which this security is reached. This is due to the elemental being here considered as absurd, and that the surrounding wall of the bourgeois order seems to coincide with that of reason.” (ibid.) It is within this perspective that Jünger’s anti-bourgeois critique lies. He distinguishes the rationality of the cult of reason and challenges the view that order and a rigorous formation of the personality might only be possible, or even conceivable, within the rationalist system, by sealing off existence from the elemental. One of the tactics used by the bourgeois is “to unmask any attack against the cult of reason as an attack on reason itself, and thus to condemn it as irrational.” (p. 80-81) In fact, both attacks may be identical, but only from the perspective of the bourgeois world, following “a specifically bourgeois reasoning characterised by its incompatibility with the elemental”. This antithesis cannot be considered as valid by a new type of man: furthermore, it does not apply to such characters as “for example, the believer, the warrior, the artist, the navigator, the hunter, the criminal, and also… the worker,” (p. 80), characters for whom, without even considering the second-last one, the bourgeois has a distinct aversion, because “they carry the whiff of danger round with them on their clothes, right into the heart of the city” (ibid.), because they represent, by their sole presence alone, an indictment of the cult of reason.
But “battle is for the warrior an event that occurs in a supreme order, conflict is for the poet a state in which he might seize with particular clarity the meaning of life”; a lucid rationality might manifest itself in delinquency, “the believer takes part in the greater sphere of a meaningful life. Thanks to misfortune and danger, thanks to a miracle, fate places him directly into a more powerful form of action… The gods like to manifest themselves in the elements, in the incandescent stars in thunder and in lightning, in the burning bush that the flame never consumes.” (p. 81) The crucial point to recognise is that “The relations between man and the elemental may be of a higher or lower degree, and there are many levels in which safety and danger are included in one and the same order. On the other hand, the bourgeois must be considered as the man for whom safety is the supreme value that determines the course of his life” (p. 81). “… the state of ideal safety towards which progress tends forcefully consists in the world Domination of the bourgeois reason that seeks not only to reduce the sources of danger but also to eliminate them completely. The form of this undertaking consists in showing the dangerous act to be, under the light of reason, an absurdity, stripped of any pretentions to reality. What matters in this world is to see danger as absurd, vanquished from the moment it appears as an error in the mirror of reason.” (p. 82)
“This may be demonstrated in detail within the factual and intellectual order of the bourgeois world,” (ibid.) continues Jünger. “Generally, this consists of an effort to consider the State built on hierarchy as a society whose fundamental principle is equality and which is based on an act of reason. This consists in the elaboration of an ample system of guarantees by which the risks of both external and internal politics, but also those of private life, might be fairly divided with a view to making them subordinate to reason – in an attempt to substitute probabilities to destiny.” Furthermore this consists in various complicated attempts to reduce the life of the soul to a series of causes and effects, and thus to render the unpredictable predictable, and to include it under the domain of the Domination of consciousness.” (p.81-82) In all fields, the tendency is to avoid conflict, to demonstrate that conflict is avoidable. But as conflicts do happen, all the same, for the bourgeois, “it is important to prove that this was the result of a mistake, one that can be avoided in future thanks to education and the light of reason.” (p. 83)
All of this would be but a world of shadows, and the philosophy of the Enlightenment would overestimate its power, thinking it can maintain itself. In reality, “danger is ever-present, like a force of nature eternally attempting to break down the dykes surrounding order. According to an incorruptible and secret mathematics, it is all the more threatening and devastating insofar as it has been excluded from this order. This danger not only wants to participate in order, it is also the father of the supreme safety that the bourgeois will never be a part of” (p. 82). As a rule, if we can eliminate the elemental from a certain type of existence, “there remain nonetheless precise limits to this process, given that the elemental not only belongs to the external world, but also constitutes part of the existence of each ‘individual.’” (p. 83) Man lives according to the elemental insofar as he is at the same time a natural being as well as a being that is spiritually driven by deep forces. “No syllogism can replace the beating of a heart or the function of a kidney, and there is no greatness, were it reason itself, that does not stoop to the low or proud passions of life” (p. 84). Finally, on the subject of the economic world, Jünger notes that “no matter how subtle the calculation of happiness may be, there will always be a remainder that eludes all definitive solution and which manifests itself in the human being in the shape of renunciation or a growing desperation.” (p. 61)
Thus, the elementary has two sources. “On the one hand, they are to be found in the world that remains dangerous, like the sea that contains the danger within itself, even during moments of perfect calm. They are to be found, secondly, in the human heart that aspires to daring and adventure, to love and hate, to triumph and dizzying falls, that feels just as much a need for danger as for safety, and to whom a state of basic safety appears as an imperfect condition.” (p. 84) It is obvious that Jünger is here referring to a human type different from the one on which the bourgeois world is based, and which, in turn, it produces.
We can thus measure the extent of the domination of bourgeois values “from the distance that the elemental seems to back off to”. Jünger says “seems”, because the elemental, using many masks, always finds a way to hide within the very centre of the bourgeois world, undermines the more or less rational order, and appears as soon as a crisis occurs.” For example, Jünger recalls the bloody wedding between the bourgeoisie and power in the past, under the sign of the French Revolution. Danger and the elemental have asserted themselves. “Still, the danger is always present and triumphs over the most cunning plans to catch it out; it even goes so far as to implicate itself in these plans, to take on their mask, which gives a double face to moralism – the close relationship between fraternity and the scaffold, between the rights of man and the murderous battles, are only too well known.” (p. 46) It is not that the bourgeois himself wishes for such a contradictory situation, because when he speaks of rationality and of morality, he takes himself terribly seriously: “all this resembles a terrifying sarcasm of nature when subordinated to morals, a furious celebration of blood at the expense of the spirit, once the prelude to the lofty speeches is over” (p. 47). On the other hand, what merits attention is that “it is here that we fully encounter the elaborate art of his concepts and his politics, and the entire universe itself are for him a mirror where he expects to find anew a confirmation of his virtue. It would be instructive to observe him untiringly filing away at the edges of words, to remove the rough necessity of their coinage, until appears, implicitly, a morality of the universally binding kind.” (p. 49) This attitude is clearly visible, for example, on the international level, “it identifies the conquest of a colony to a peaceful penetration, the annexation of a province to the right of auto-determination of the people, or the pillaging of the vanquished to compensation.” (ibid.) It is obvious that further examples may be added to those provided by Jünger. Among the most typical cases, we could mention the new “crusades”, victors’ tribunals, “aid to developing countries”, and so forth.
In the same order of ideas, Jünger is right to point out that it is precisely during the era in which the bourgeois values of “civilisation” are officially and noisily propagated that we have seen the kind of events taking place that we would not have thought possible in an enlightened world: acts of violence and cruelty, organised delinquency, the unleashing of instincts, massacres. All these events represent “the manner in which the utopia of bourgeois safety pushes its consequences to absurdity.” (p. 317) Jünger gives as an example the effects of Prohibition in the United States: this moralising tendency, advocated by the literature of a social utopia, seemed to be a clear example of a safety measure; in actual fact, it only served to stir up the most inferior of all elemental forces. There where the State, strictly following the bourgeois principle, refers to the categories of the abstract, the rational, the moral, and eliminates the elemental, it allows, in fact, the elemental to intensify itself outside of its frame. As morals and the rational are not “original laws, but laws of an abstract spirit, says Jünger, any Domination that would seek to base itself on these categories is but an apparent Domination in which the utopian nature of bourgeois safety will soon manifest itself.” (ibid.) It would be difficult to challenge the reality of this dialectic, even in the period of time immediately following the writing of “The Worker”. It is linked to one of the prime factors of the crisis of the bourgeois world, and to the other side – formless, dark and dangerous – of modern social structures, which, ordered in a superficial manner, have no more a superior sense than they have roots in deeper psychic layers.
During the period when “The Worker” was written, following the First World War, it became clear that the application of these principles, in particular the bourgeois concept of abstract freedom, had provoked a backlash on the international level: insofar as the principle of national democracy has been accorded a universal and absolute validity, it has contributed towards worldwide anarchy by creating new causes of crisis within the old order, as in the case of the uprisings by the colonial peoples as well as those forces, in Europe and elsewhere, who were accorded a right to self-determination, even when they consisted of ethnic groups and peoples “who until then we may have read about in works of ethnography but not in the histories of great States. The natural consequence is the irruption of purely elemental forces into the historic sphere” of “greatness that has less to do with history than with natural history” (p. 305). Today, more than ever, is this true.
We consider it more important to examine the crisis of the system under its spiritual aspects. Jünger especially writes of the mechanisms of defence or of compensation that have arisen on the fringes of bourgeois society with the romantic phenomenon. “There are eras when the relations between man and the elemental come to light in the shape of a romantic disposition where the breaking point has already been foreseen. Fate will decide whether this rupture will take shape in a distant decline, drunkenness, madness, utter misery or death. In any case it consists of forms of escape where the individual gives up, having sought an exit in vain in the spiritual and corporal realms. Sometimes this surrender may appear as an offensive, in the way a sinking vessel may blindly loose forth a last salvo.” (p. 86)
“We have once more learned to recognise the value in these guards who have fallen occupying hopeless positions,” continues Jünger. “There are many tragedies attached to great names, but there are others, anonymous, where entire classes have succumbed as though asphyxiated by poisonous gases which have deprived them of their life’s breath.” (ibid.) The next part, of an autobiographical nature, reflects those experiences of youth to which we have alluded: “The bourgeois had almost managed to convince the adventurous soul that danger did not really exist and that an economic law regulated the world and its history. Those young people who, in the night and fog, leave their family homes; their feelings tell them that they must go further afield in search of danger, beyond the oceans, to America, to the Foreign Legion, to those countries where pepper plants grow. Thus we find characters who barely dare speak their own language, superior though it may be, whether that of the poet who compares himself to an albatross whose powerful wings, built to weather the storm, evoke nothing but curiosity in a foreign environment where the wind has fallen; or that of the born warrior, who comes across as a good-for-nothing because the life of a shopkeeper fills him with disgust.” (ibid.)
For Jünger , the breaking point was the onset of the First World War. “In the enthusiasm with which the volunteers welcome it (Jünger writes, clearly referring to his own experience), there is something greater than the deliverance of those hearts, to which, from one day to the next, was revealed a newer, more dangerous life. There is also hidden therein a revolutionary protest against the old values, whose validity is now permanently outdated. Since then, a new trace of the elemental has coloured the flow of thoughts, feelings, and acts.” (p. 87) But the most important is to notice how, by force of circumstance, a new attitude has begun to form. Jünger also notes the part played by the enthusiasm, ideals, and values of a conventional patriotism linked to the bourgeois world, and how they have been adopted by the fighting youth, dragged into the complexity of this war. But it became rapidly clear that this war demanded reserves of strength of a very different nature from that to be found in these sources: and that this difference was precisely that which existed between the enthusiasm of troops leaving for the front, and their subsequent actions among the funnels in a battle of equipment.” (p. 88) It is at this moment, a kind of trial by fire, that is revealed the extent to which the romantic rebellion is justified. This protest, writes Jünger, “is condemned to nihilism, insofar as it is only an escape, a simple opposition to a dying world to which it is thus inextricably linked. But inasmuch as a genuinely heroic heritage is hidden within, inasmuch as love is hidden therein, it leaves the romantic space to accede to the sphere of power.” (ibid.)
Thus is sketched out the central theme of “The Worker”: to cross a zone of destruction without being destroyed. The same experience had completely different effects on members of the same generation: “The war broke some of them, while the close presence of death, gunfire and blood endowed yet others with a hitherto unknown good health.” This difference may be explained by the fact that some were relying solely on the bourgeois values based on the individual and a rejection of the elemental, while the others were capable of living a new form of freedom. Jünger could have applied to this first group the words with which Erich Maria Remarque prefaces his famous novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”: “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession… It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.” The others prefigure what Jünger calls the “type”: a man who is standing because he enables himself to an active relationship with the elemental, combined with superior forms of lucidity, consciousness and self-mastery, disindividualisation and realism; because he rejoices in total engagement and in the maximum of action coupled with the minimum of “Why?” and “What for?” “Here intersect the lines of passion and of mathematics” (p. 93); a landscape where the enlarged consciousness reigns makes possible “a mutual exaltation of the means and the forces of life in such a way that has been as yet unsuspected and unknown.” (p. 92)
“It is here that we encounter, writes Jünger, in the centre of those secret powers from whence comes the mastery over the zone of death, a humanity which has developed due to the constraints of new and unusual demands” (p. 147). “In this landscape where the individual is difficult to discover, fire has consumed all that does not possess the character of an object.” (ibid.) The nature of the mechanisms at work are such that any attempt to put them into accord once more with romanticism or individual idealism lead directly into the absurd. To overcome “the force of inertia of those few hundred metres over which rules the magical power of mechanised death” (ibid.), abstract moral or spiritual values, free will, culture, enthusiasm, or the intoxication of the disdain for death, are not enough. A new, precise energy is needed, while the fighting strength of the individual “is of a functional, not individual, value”. (p. 148) Furthermore, we discover correspondences between the moment of destruction and the spiritual summit of an existence; it is here that the absolute person becomes conscious of itself. The relationship to death becomes modified and “the individual suddenly encounters destruction at those precious moments when he is subject to a maximum of demands on his life-force and spirit” (p. 148). All this eventually naturally becomes an integral part of a new style of life, one that has been willed in advance. At last appear “the images of a supreme discipline of heart and nerves… evidence of an extreme coldness, one that is objective, and so to speak, metallic, that allows the heroic consciousness to consider the body solely as an instrument, one that can be made do, beyond all instinct of self-preservation, all sorts of complex manoeuvres. In the whirlwind of flames of shot-down planes; in the water-tight compartments of a submarine sinking to the bottom of the sea, is accomplished a task, which, in truth, is beyond the circle of life, and which no reports mention at all” (p. 148). The two factors that are thus combined in this “type” are the elemental in action – both within and without oneself – and discipline, extreme rationality, extreme objectivity, that is to say, an abstract and absolute control over the total realisation of the self.
Thus, according to Jünger, a new “inner form” has declared itself since the First World War, and we have already noted that he has seen in this “inner form” that which, outside of the warrior-like manifestations and the exceptional achievements we have mentioned, will be decisive for a becoming humanity. For Jünger, the ultimate crisis of the bourgeois world and all the old values is due to the civilisation of technics and the machine, and to all the elemental forms that are linked to it. And the type that, spiritually speaking, presents himself not as the vanquished but the victor, whether on the modern battlefield or in a world completely subjugated to technics, would be identical in substance. The kind of overcoming and inner formation required in both cases would also be identical in substance. Thus is sketched out the outline of what Jünger calls “The Worker”, who is linked by an ideal continuity to the “soldier of the Great War, true and unvanquished.” (p. 92)
(2) The judgements expressed by Ernst Jünger on Hitler varied over the years : “That man is right”, then “That man is ridiculous” or “That man is worrying” or “sinister”. In 1925, Jünger still thought that the figure of Adolf Hitler indubitably recalled, like Mussolini, “the foreboding of a new kind of leader”. After Jünger received from Hitler a copy of his autobiographical programme, Jünger sent him copies of his war books. “Feuer und Blut” bears an inscription dated the 9th of January 1926 : “To Adolf Hitler : Führer of the German nation! – Ernst Jünger”. Later that same year, Hitler announced a visit to Jünger in Leipzig, but the meeting never took place due to a change in itinerary. In 1927 Hitler supposedly offered him a place as NSDAP deputy in the Reichstag. Jünger refused.
The relations between the two men cooled considerably afterwards, especially after Hitler took the “oath of legality” in October 1930 before the Reich’s Court in Leipzig. “I hereby take this oath before almighty God. I tell you that when I legally come to power, I will create State tribunals under the auspices of a legal government so that those responsible for the misfortunes of our people may be judged according to the law.” Jünger criticized Hitler and his movement, as they were not radical enough; a few years later, the writer judged the political condottiere as a “Napoleon of universal suffrage”. Even so, they remained in agreement as to the final goal: the unconditional struggle against the Diktat of Versailles and against liberal decadence, which implied the destruction of the Weimar system. But when a national party really took power, Jünger assumed the right to say yes or no on a case by case basis in the face of what was unfolding in front of him. And that right was accorded to him.
(3) P. Barthelet, Ernst Jünger, Lausanne : L’Âge d’Homme, p. 378.
(4) F. B. Gummere, Germanic Origins : A study in primitive culture, D. Nutt, 1892, p. 171-72. Two types of outlawry are prevalent in the sagas. A “lesser outlaw,” a fjorbaugsmadr, had three summers after the judgment to find passage out of Iceland. He had to ask at least three shipowners for passage each summer; a shipowner who refused was fined three marks of silver. While the outlaw stayed in Iceland, the fjorbaugsgardr, which is best translated as sanctuary, was in effect. It meant that the outlaw was limited to three domiciles not more than a day’s journey apart. He could travel the roads between them, but if people came along he had to leave the road for a distance greater than a spear’s throw in order to remain heilagr, or protected by the sanctity of the law. Once abroad, he had to stay for three years, during which he enjoyed the same rights as other travelling Icelanders. If the fjorbaugsmadr did not leave Iceland after three summers, he became a skogarmadr, or full outlaw. A man could also be declared a full outlaw by a court sentence or a private sentence sanctioned by the Iogretta. A skogarmadr was not to be harbored by anyone, nor could he be helped out of the country. When the settlement was a private one, there were sometimes mitigating circumstances. For instance, a man might be given a certain amount of time to settle his affairs before leaving the country. If the normal skogarmadr did manage to leave Iceland, he lived without the rights of a traveling Icelander and could never return. He could not have a Christian burial and his children had no inheritance rights.
“An outlaw who did not abide by the terms of his outlawry was considered oheilagr (unprotected by the law [literally: “unholy”] and could be killed or wounded with impunity. Similarly, a man could be declared by a court to be, or to have died, oheilagr (ohelgr), literally unholy or profaned. Being in the state of ohelgi meant that an individual’s protection under the law was forfeited and that heirs would be left without the right to seek legal redress.” (J. L. Byock, Feud in the Icelandic Saga, Berkeley and Los Angeles : University of California Press, 1993, p. 219-220).
Everything leads to believe that the Christianisation of the Nordic peoples affected this proscription in its motives (the worship of pagan gods was henceforth one), but not in its execution.