Jünger, Ernst

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Ernst Jünger (1895–1998) was a German soldier and a controversial author who was best known for his militarism and prophetic descriptions of a new world being created by the interplay of nationalism, industrialization, and advances in technology. Born in Heidelberg on March 29, Jünger served on the western front in World War I. During the interwar years he studied entomology, contributed to several right-wing journals, and criticized both the Weimar Republic and the National Socialists. Although politically opposed to many aspects of Adolf Hitler's regime, Jünger served as an officer in the German army in World War II. After the war he continued to write novels, including prescient depictions of dystopias, and pioneered the prose style now called magic realism. His work was independent and dispassionate, indifferently observing and commenting on historical and social developments. A longtime friend of and influence on the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Jünger died in Wilflingen, Germany, on February 17.

World War and Mobilization

World War I left a lasting impression on Jünger. Three characteristics of that conflict shaped his view of the world: the destructive power of the new armaments, their lethality, and the consequential subordination of individual courage to the power of machines. In the end whoever made the best use of the war industry would be victorious. The new weapons changed the character of killing and dying because violence was inflicted at a distance and on a massive scale. The person who falls is not seen, his last breath is not heard, and his blood does not splatter the aggressor. At a distance death is wrapped in indifference and anonymity. The slaughter becomes more sudden, massive, and above all reciprocal.

Jünger's first book, In Stahlgewittern (1920), is a memoir of his four years on the western front. In this work he showed his ideological embrace of technology even as he struggled with the tension between human will and the power of mechanized warfare. His interpretation of the larger meaning of the war is presented in Die Totale Mobilmachung (1931). The title refers to the fact that the mobilization of all forces, including industrial and productive capacity, becomes decisive in the definition of conflicts. Jünger read these phenomena as signs of a historical transition. A new reality was emerging, dominated by the "figure of the worker."

In his single most influential work, Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt (1932), Jünger developed his vision of a radically antibourgeois future based on total mobilization. This work often is interpreted as a totalitarian or authoritarian rebuttal of the bourgeois conception of freedom, the market economy, and the liberal nation-state. In it Jünger envisioned the "worker" as the destiny of the coming age, to be characterized by technocratic control in place of the anarchy of liberal individualism. The bourgeois individual will be replaced by the worker "type" in an "organically constructed" political order. Freedom will become identical to obedience. Individuals will be folded into the unity of the whole. Both this metaphysical substructure, or gestalt, of the worker and Jünger's political philosophy of detachment deeply influenced Heidegger.

Der Arbeiter also is predicated on Jünger's concept of "heroic realism," which seeks out the danger that bourgeois reason domesticates by making all risk calculable. In opposition to bourgeois concerns for comfort and convenience, modern technology has an inner destructive character as "the way in which the gestalt of the worker mobilizes the world" (Junger 1932, p. 156). The conversion of all activity into some kind of work is a manifestation of the predominance of this work character. Indeed, the term worker does not so much designate a class or social affiliation as it defines a Lebenstand, or "state of life," to which Jünger attributed the formative power emerging in history. Jünger thus disassociates his conception from the proletariat of Marxism. It is indicative of Jünger'spolitical complexity that Der Arbeiter was regarded by the right as communistic and by the left as fascist.

Total mobilization and the predominance of the worker express a new reality in which the efficacy of an action has priority over its legitimacy. In this sense Jünger's philosophy is aligned with Friedrich Nietzsche's (1844–1900) "active nihilism" and Heidegger's "empire of technics." In fact, Jünger's greatest influence on Heidegger stems from this metaphysical analysis of technology as an essential way of being in the world.

Outside National Socialism

Jünger's Auf den Marmorklippen (1939) is a covert criticism of National Socialist tyranny. A poetic and obscure book that seems to aestheticize violence, it presents types more than concrete characters and in that way achieves a general critique of totalitarianism. Indeed, by the time of the 1938 Krystall Nacht (the Nazi attack on Jewish businesses in Germany) it was evident to Jünger that the National Socialist regime was essentially the same crude form of proletariat totalitarianism as the Bolshevik regime in Russia.

Gläserne Bienen (1957) raised the moral dilemma of the use of technology in society and foreshadowed modern developments in robotics and nanotechnology, presenting a world where "even the molecules were controlled." The novel questioned how people might retain a sense of place and identity in light of the accelerating pace at which the old is replaced by the new. It also expressed a growing contempt for both an impersonalized, bureaucratized society and the scientific, materialistic worldview that discredits meaning and purpose and cosiders humans to be lowly cosmic accidents.

Jünger did not produce a systematic philosophy, but his complex, inconsistent, and fierce independence often captured an emerging technoscientific world in an indifferent but therefore critical gaze. Jünger disdained any nostalgic form of antitechnology but refused to hail a world of sustained technological progress culminating in rationality and moral decency. His heroic realism is a qualified yes that comes out of an encounter with the emerging: It is as useless to attempt to avoid the power of modern technology as it is naive to ignore its enormous potential for destruction.


SEE ALSO German Perspectives; Heidegger, Martin.


Jünger, Ernst. (1920). In Stahlgewittern. [Storm of steel]. Translated into English by Basil Creighton. (1929). Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Storm-Troop Officer on the Western Front. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Jünger, Ernst. (1931). Die Totale Mobilmachung. Translated into English by Joel Golb and Richard Wolin. (1993). "Total Mobilization." In The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader, ed. Richard Wolin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jünger, Ernst. (1932). Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt. Sections 44 through 57 are translated as "Technology as the Mobilization of the World through the Gestalt of the Worker" in Carl Mitcham and Robert Mackey, eds. (1983). Philosophy and Technology: Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Technology. New York: Free Press.

Jünger, Ernst. (1939). Auf den Marmorklippen. Translated into English by Stuart Hood. (1947). On the Marble Cliffs. London: John Lehmann.

Jünger, Ernst. (1957). Gläserne Bienen. Translated into English by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Mayer. (1960). The Glass Bees. New York: Noonday.

Jünger, Ernst. (1977). Eumeswil. Translated into English by Joachim Neugroschil. (1993). Eumeswil. New York: Marsilio.

Nevin, Thomas. (1996). Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss 1914–1945. London: Constable. A biography that covers the first half of Jünger's life.

Ernst Jünger

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Ernst Jünger

The German author Ernst Jünger (born 1895) was one of the most original and influential German writers and intellectuals of the 20th century.

Ernst Jünger was born on March 29, 1895, in Heidelberg, the son of a druggist. At the age of 16 he ran away from school and enlisted in the Foreign Legion. Extricated by his family, he volunteered for war service in 1914; wounded 14 times, he was decorated in 1918. Subsequently Jünger studied botany and zoology at Leipzig and Naples. His war experience and his scientific experience are the two poles of his life, his subject matter, and his vocabulary and imagery.

Jünger first wrote a series of essentially autobiographical war diaries, In Stahlgewittern (1920; In Storms of Steel), Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (1922; Battle as Inner Experience), Das Wäldchen 125 (1925; Wood 125), and Feuer und Blut (1926; Fire and Blood). He blends stark realism— indeed brutality—of detail with a language that is often intoxicated, highly stylized, or apodictic; he glorifies the primacy of instinctual life and imputes to Western democracy "the metaphysics of the restaurant-car."

Involved in politics in the late 1920s, in 1931 Jünger published Die totale Mobilmachung (Total Mobilization) and in 1932 Der Arbeiter (The Worker). His concept of the total mobilization of society and his view of the worker as a mere integer in a technological world have an antihumanistic and indeed totalitarian cast. Analogies with fascistic doctrines may be easily discerned in these works that define freedom as total identification with the mass will. But Jünger was not a member of the Nazi party; a group with which he had connections, the National Bolsheviks, was broken up by the Gestapo in 1937. He himself, however, was protected by his high military friends.

Jünger's novel Auf den Marmorklippen (1939; On the Marble Cliffs), his best-known work, shows an evolution of attitude and is generally regarded as an allegorical critique of Hitlerism and of the totalitarian state. The book appeared in December 1939 and was suddenly banned in the spring of 1940. Auf den Marmorklippen portrays the violence with which a peaceful culture, reflected in the secluded lives of two practicing botanists, is overrun and destroyed by the hordes of a tyrant known as the Head Forester. The language is highly colored, recondite, strange, and brutal. The apostrophe of "Spirit," of science and humanism, which seems to be the message of the book, is perhaps somewhat belied by the exultancy with which the violence is described.

Jünger served in the German army once more, from 1939 to 1944. His subsequent novels, Heliopolis (1949) and Gläserne Bienen (1957; Glass Bees), restate the central issue of the conflict between reason and instinct, contemplation and action. He also published several volumes of essays and diaries.

Further Reading

Joseph Peter Stern, Ernst Jünger (1953), is an excellent, penetrating analysis of Jünger's strengths and weaknesses. Good short discussions may also be found in Jethro Bithell, Modern German Literature (1939; 3d ed. 1959), and in H. M. Waidson, The Modern German Novel (1959). □

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