Transformation of Ernst Junger’s alternative to the bourgeois individual

Olena Semenyaka
National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”


Ernst Jünger’s personality and writings have always been surrounded by heated debates between his admirers and haters. Quite expectedly, the main source of this passionate attitude lays in Ernst Jünger’s biography, namely his undeniable ideological commitment in the development of National Socialism (1). Although in philosophical-political relation he is a foremost member of the Conservative Revolution, the later is equally arguable phenomenon because of its historical connectedness with the totalitarian regimes.

However, the reason why the Conservative Revolution is also called “The Third Position” or “The Third Way” (2) is the impossibility to refer it to some kind of a right or left ideology. The same is sound in Jünger’s case for his political beliefs have never walked hand in hand with those of National Socialism. This difference became the most explicit in the post-war writings of Jünger. Our research will focus on the transformation of Jüngerian alternative to the bourgeois individual as the gradual crystallization of the genuine conservative-revolutionary ideal of a human. Moreover, we will argue that namely postideological “end of the history” warrants the possibility to testify unchangeable since the Weimar Republic or whatsoever else essential core of the phenomenon. Therefore, starting with Jünger’s journalism during the Weimar years resulted in the Conservative Revolution manifesto “The Worker: Domination and Gestalt” (1932), we will proceed to his far later work, that is the futuristic novel “Eumeswil” (1977).

Accordingly, we will explore the shift from Jünger’s central pre-war concept of the Worker, which corresponds with the supposed substitution of the liberal individual by the new human type, to his post-war much more individualistic but still non-liberal concept of the Anarch. The latter, absorbing some traits of the “type,” still will be taken as the fullest explication of that ideal.

What is worth mentioning, Jünger himself has never spoken of the type in terms of the ideal. Moreover, he has never applied the syntagm “conservative revolutionist” to indicate his philosophical-political attribution. He used much more laconic title “nationalist.” Although his famous tract “The Worker: Domination and Gestalt,” written in 1932, is highly estimated as an exact prediction of the coming military-industrial world, in the preface Jünger insists that he makes nothing but a direct description of the current observable history. He does not prescribe what should be or assume what is going to be; he reflects what exists here and now. Hence we will summarize his most valid for our research observations presented in his text “The Worker.”

The Worker

Death of the individual

First, Jünger proudly admits that the Germans have never succeeded in being proper bourgeois. Consequently, the near downfall of the bourgeois order here is extremely welcome. Nevertheless, not only Germany but the whole world will witness soon the overthrow of the regime. The sign of the new times can easily be seen in the bourgeois’ being sentenced to death, whatever form they take upon — that of the individual or of the mass. Jünger affirms that humans are no longer individuals or persons. Likewise, the mass is not a sum of individuals or their calculable multiplicity. Even if the pretext of people gathering, instead of duties, business or profession, is policy, entertainment, and spectacles, it is impossible to overlook these changes. Everywhere can be noticed specific passion for the uniform and for one rhythm of senses, thoughts, and movements. Death of the individual varies from the exhaustion of the poet and artist whose works now border on absurdity to countless anonymous perishes of starvation. The individual with the familiar journal and coffee, with unique feelings and ideas became an endlessly provincial figure.

The raise of the type

Second, Jünger contends that ruin of the individual implies the change of domination. The bourgeois individuals do not vanish without leaving a trace — they are compulsory replaced by the new human “type” which manifests its will to power now. This type is the Worker. Here Jünger makes a series of crucial remarks. He emphasizes that, unlike the bourgeois, the Worker is not an estate. Jünger believes that namely bourgeois are responsible for the destruction of the ancient phenomenon of estate which is now nothing but a mask covering somebody’s interests. Neither is it a class in a sense of the revolutionary dialectic of the XIXth century. What makes Jünger’s position rather special, the Worker should not be confused with the proletarian. He claims that it is necessary to forget the legend about the economic quality as the main feature of the Worker. No wonder that the Worker uses bourgeois vocabulary and sets the questions in outmoded notions for the rebellion of workers was prepared in the school of the bourgeois thought.

However, now the Worker’s primal task is to quit thinking, feeling, and existing in the old bourgeois forms. Jünger carefully separates this gesture from the romantic disobedience. Society renews itself by artificial self-attacks, incorporating all its contraries as the ‘manifestations of freedom.’ That is the reason why the term “radical” gained the unbearably bourgeois shade. Besides, the bourgeois, irrespective of their approval or disapproval, have always treated the worker movements as movements of the slaves. However, Jünger’s central point that now it is undoubtedly the movement of the masters. After the Workers left behind their anarchic roots, their demands can be fulfilled only by novel aristocracy.

Gestalt of the Worker

Third, Jünger’s prophetic-like sketch of the forthcoming tendencies grounds on his vision of what he regards as gestalt of the Worker. The latter turns his widened philosophical-political essay into the metaphysical tract. For Jünger the ability to comprehend gestalt equals to the revolutionary act insofar it allows to recognize the unity of being beyond all the moral, aesthetic, and scientific evaluations. Gestalt, similarly to Platonian ideas, is the whole which exceeds the sum of its constituents. Thus the more the individuals feel their involvement into the world of work the more they apprehend themselves as representatives of gestalt. The inference is not that they disappear or have some kind of meaning merely as members of the corporations, communities, and unities of the highest order. Gestalt is embodied in a separate human, too. Accordingly, the Worker is represented both by those superior forms of the individual which are covered by Nietzsche’s image of Übermensch and by all those “ant gatherings” where any encroachment on independence is nonsense.

Total mobilization

Further, Jünger alleges that work is not activity solely. In the same way, it is not opposite to leisure time which is now organized in a rather special manner. Regardless of whether it takes the form of celebration, of entertainment or, what is the most symptomatic, of sport, it does not differs much from work itself. The projection of work as a particular way of life is technology. As one of the most cited formulas from “The Worker” declares, technology is means by which the gestalt of the Worker mobilizes the world.

This corresponds with the new state of society which Jünger calls the state of total mobilization in his essay with the same heading. It means that all domains of life all over the world fall under character of war prepared by the rapid development of technology. As Alain de Benoist remarks,

At the same time as war becomes a technical undertaking, the traditional distinction between combatant and non-combatant breaks down. Even the notion of war and peace gives way to the reality of permanent global conflict. Even the pacifist has to be ready to fight for his beliefs! The decisive aspect of the new state of affairs is the fact that all are potentially involved in war and all are available for mobilization.

Similarly, the type of the Worker displays far more militant sides than those of bourgeois individual. It is notable for much easier treatment of death. It is close to the elemental. And it is endowed with radically different sense of freedom which leads to new hierarchy. The type is ready to act at a command without the odd “what for?” and “why?” It loses false and gains original autonomy. In other words,

The individual whose demise Jünger so joyously proclaims is not altogether identical with the individual person; rather it is the bourgeois individual, the Individuum, born of the philosophy of the Enlightenment, a creature struck from its roots, from its heritage, is in contrast with the Einzelne, the individual person, whose identity is situated in an “organic environment.” The Individuum is “most charming invention of bourgeois sentimentality... a part of the mass, which is the contrary of a people.” So the individual is just “mass” in smaller letters (De Benoist).

The Anarch

This enables us to link Jüngerian type of the Worker to his post-war figure of the Anarch in spite of the cardinal change of the historical landscape. At a glance it is an absolute inversion of the type for the Anarch means nothing but a sovereign individual. There are no commands from above for there is no hierarchy the same as there is no gestalt to be mobilized by. Still Jünger does not rehabilitate the bourgeois individual.

Quite the reverse, he tries to overcome its persistence. Both the Worker and the Anarch satisfy the negative definition “the antipode of the bourgeois.” But they oppose the bourgeois in a different way, taking into account that “time of the great ideologies” is over. While the Worker lays claim to planetary validity, the Anarch has to resist the tyranny of modern political nihilism. The point is that now there is nothing to be mobilized for, except of the “petty functionary.” Nevertheless, as Jünger states in “Eumeswil,” the Anarch always remains aware of his essential freedom.

He can get away at any time, not just from the train, but also from any demand made on him by state, society, or church, and also from existence. He is free to donate existence to Being, not for any pressing reason but just as he likes, whether out of exuberance or out of boredom (154-155).

This non-collectivistic disposition veiled by the image of type in “The Worker” became the very definition of the Anarch in “Eumeswil.” In order to avoid confusion, let us at once assert in Jünger’s terms that although concept of the Anarch depends on Stirner’s thought, the Anarch is to the anarchist, what the monarch is to the monarchist. Moreover, Anarchs’ state is the state that all Anarchs carry within themselves. The difference is that the monarch desires to rule many or even all people, whereas the Anarch wants to rule only himself. Besides, on the contrary to anarchist, the Anarch is capable of leading a lonesome existence. Unlike the anarchist, the Anarch sees little difference between regimes and will not fight against the system. According to Abdalbarr Braun,

It is not his goal to be dialectically resistant to the tyranny, rather he is observant as if following the Confucian code: “Attacking false systems merely harms you.”

At first sight, this posture is hardly compatible with the image of the Worker. On the other hand, Jünger believes that the Worker easily can do without dictatorship for freedom and obedience here are the same. Dictatorship is a transitional form necessary for the destruction of the bourgeois world obsessed with the insurance of safety. Similarly, as predecessors in the Weimar years, the Anarch sees no point in the denial of authority.

I am an anarch — not because I despise authority, but because I need it. Likewise, I am not a nonbeliever, but a man who demands something worth believing in. On this point, I am like a bride in her chamber: she listens for the softest step (Jünger 97).

Furthermore, like the Worker by contrast to bourgeois, the Anarch has intrinsic relation to the elemental which is synonymous to the “anarchic.” Accordingly, for Jünger love is anarchic, marriage is not; the warrior is anarchic, the soldier is not; manslaughter is anarchic, murder is not; Christ is anarchic, Saint Paul is not. After all, the Anarch’s assessment of work is already more than familiar.

I can barely distinguish between work and leisure. I like them equally. This is consistent with my principle that there can be no empty time, no minute without intellectual tension and alertness... What causes the feeling of being constantly on vacation? Probably the fact that the mental person liberates the physical one and observes his game. Far from any hierarchy, he enjoys the harmony of rest and motion, of invulnerability and extreme sensitivity.

Regardless of historical background, Jünger tends to lay stress on the necessity to cultivate the same abilities and values for a human to reach the rank of Overhuman forwarded by Nietzsche. And it is still unknown whether objective tone of “The Worker” attains the aim faster than highly aphoristic fiction like “Eumeswil.”


To sum up briefly, despite the fact that both the Worker and the Anarch are the expressions of the conservative-revolutionary subject, the concept of the Anarch is still the purest model of the latter. As far as one can see, the Anarch loses the “totalitarian” colors visible in the Worker yet. Thomas Nevin links it to Jünger’s personal experience as a citizen in his research “Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945.”

His memoirs of the Great War, for example, attempt to buttress individual valor in an age of fierce and whelming mechanization. Then, confronted with the steel­faced standardization of life which communism and Nazism alike ensured in the twenties, Jünger turns to the dreamworld of a very private bourgeois sensibility (237).

At the same time, Jünger himself was far from being an exemplary bourgeois. As it was shown, Jünger persuasively revealed collective nature of the bourgeois individual for the conservative revolutionists are perfectly sensible for all sole imitations of what they understand under true individualism. At any rate, Elliot Neaman in his article “Ernst Jünger’s Legacy” contends that

...One should never lose sight of the fact that he never abandoned his anarchist animus against the liberal order of Europe.

Altogether, most of the changes heralded by Jünger in his tract “The Worker: Domination and Gestalt” took place subsequently indeed. What did not undergo desirable changes is the prevailing nihilism. Therefore, the concept of the Anarch offers the fruitful method of preserving inner freedom for those who treasure the authentic individuality. At last, this elitist position has always been the distinctive mark of the conservative revolutionists who openly admit that the reality is godless but never yield to nihilism (3).


(1) Ernst Jünger held the highest military awards for his endurance in the two World Wars. During the period of the Weimar Republic he not only rejected ‘Western’ parliamentary democracy but also published articles in the far-right militarist journals. Besides, there is evidence of his positive estimation of Hitler’s revolutionary role and policy at certain period of time. A copy of his “Feuer und Blut” was dedicated to “dem nationalen Führer Adolf Hitler” However, Jünger’s relationship with the Third Reich turned to be not very simple. He openly insulted Goebbels, rejected a place on the NSDAP electoral list, and refused to enter the Dichterakademie in 1933. After Ernst Niekisch was officially dismissed by the Nazis, Ernst Jünger demonstratively supported his family. Besides, his treatment of the “Jewish question” and the racial theory presumably will disappoint the convinced Nazi. At last, a post-war essay “The Peace” was Jünger’s contribution to the July 1944 conspiracy aimed at assassination of Hitler. Finally he departed from the direct political activity through inner migration.

(2) Although the Conservative Revolution ideology agrees with rightists in rejection of the Enlightment and the French Revolution heritage, it is not aimed at preservation of the pre-revolutionary social order. But unlike leftists, who also insist on fundamental fallacy of the pre-revolutionary monarchic system, conservative revolutionists refuse to provide unlimited embodiment of the principle “Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood.” Deriving “revolution” from Latin substantive “revolvere,” that is “return to the starting point, to the source,” they glorify not yesterday but the day before yesterday. So they are more right than far-rightists in the extent of their conservative vision and more left than far-leftists in their critic of the demoliberal capitalistic regime. Thus the Conservative Revolution movement is opposed both to the old conservatives and communists in its denial of liberalism.

(3) According to Alexandr Dugin, generalizing attitude to the conservatism allows to distinguish between four major types of the conservative ideology which can be divided into such social-political categories as the fundamental conservatism, the liberal conservatism, the social conservatism, and the revolutionary conservatism. According to the fundamental conservatism, or the traditionalism, the more religious, social, political, and economic institutions are ancient, the better they are. The past is sacred. However, they tend to preserve status quo due to the conviction that all the same tomorrow will be worse. The liberal conservatism is a reasonable balance between “yesterday” and “tomorrow.” Its followers are the moderate progressists. Their motto is “The disposition to preserve and the ability to improve, taken together.” The social conservatism strives for the building of the utopian society which consists of the best from the past and the best from the dream about future. The final goal of the social conservatism is justice for the “simple people” of the certain nation. The revolutionary changes are more preferable than evolutionary ones. At last, the revolutionary conservatives believe that the day before yesterday everything was really perfect, yesterday everything was quite bad, and today everything is unbearable. Starting from the fundamental conservatism, they rather quickly end with the total rejection of status quo and all of its representations. They openly admit that the reality is godless but do not yield to nihilism. They are creators of new gods and values. Despite the mentioned differences, all kinds of the conservatism have something in common. As Arthur Moeller van den Bruck said, “by the conservative’s side stays eternity.”


1. Benoist, Alain de. “Between the Gods and the Titans.” 31 Aug. 2005. 1 Jan. 2010.
2. Braun, Abdalbarr. “Warrior, Anarch, Waldgaenger.” 14 Feb. 2002. 28 Feb. 2010.
3. Dugin, Alexandr. “Conservative Revolution. A short history of the Third Way ideologies.”
4. Dugin, Alexandr. “The Logic of Eternity.” Political Journal. Political Journal, 6 Oct. 2008. 20 May. 2010.
5. Neaman, Elliot. “Ernst Jünger’s Legacy.” 7 Jan. 2002. Jünger's Legacy.doc. 18 Feb. 2010.
6. Nevin, Thomas R. Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.
7. Jünger, Ernst. Worker: Dominion and Gestalt: And, Maxima-Minima: Additional Notes to the Worker. New York: State University of New York Press, 1992.
8. Jünger, Ernst. Eumeswil. New York: Marsilio, 1993.

© 2010

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