Compendium: Ernst Jünger’s Der Arbeiter (Pt. I of VII)

It is always a challenge to figure out how best to explore the deeper meanings and the significance of Ernst Jünger’s 1932 book, Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt (The Worker: Dominion and Form). Der Arbeiter was one of Jünger’s least recommended books and has been prone to all kinds of misunderstandings and misinterpretations by all kinds of people since its publication. As the definitive sequel to his 1930 “Total Mobilization” essay, the text throughout Der Arbeiter is vague and even cryptic at times. Jünger deliberately wrote the book in that manner on the basis that whoever read it is able to fully reject Liberal Capitalism through a different thought and decision-making process.

In essence, he wanted the reader to perceive the “Self” as being part of a “Totality” rather than a Cartesian Self (as Rene Descartes intended since the Enlightenment) that is incapable of being anything more than the sum of its parts. By emphasizing the concepts of Total Mobilization throughout the book, the “Typus,” an archetypal personality “Figure,” is introduced as someone well-suited to the conditions of Total Mobilization. The Arbeiter, as the defining character of Total Mobilization, will never be understood by Liberal Capitalist definitions. The Arbeiter is not a Figure who can be categorized or even be capable of perpetuating Liberal Capitalism and the very conditions that made the Enlightenment possible. Such a Figure is more inclined thinking in terms of Gestalt Psychology, of studying and perceiving the world and their surroundings in terms of a Totality.

The Totality as Jünger defined it is similar to how Oswald Spengler described it in Prussianism and Socialism, except it can be understood as an expansion of that term’s meaning. Far more than just the people and their nation-state, Jünger’s Totality is everything and everyone that exists around the Arbeiter. This Totality coexists alongside the “Self” as the Arbeiter and the “State” that governs the political-economic affairs of the nation-state.

Only in that sense does Jünger’s opposition to Liberal Capitalist projections of what the Arbeiter ought to be rather than what the Arbeiter truly is become clearer. Liberal Capitalist philosophy, particularly how it informs Liberal Capitalist political-economic discourse, can only afford to think in terms of abstractions centered around a Cartesian Self as a Subject and their surroundings as an Object. A Liberal Capitalist cannot understand Reality without some form of “Objectification” informed by the personal experiences, personal opinions, and personal expectations of the Subject.   

If this “Objectification” sounds familiar after reading the SMP Compendium’s entries on Theories of Value, it is central to how Liberal Capitalists and Marxists alike interpreted Adam Smith’s “Water-Diamond Paradox” from The Wealth of Nations. The Labor Theory of Value (LTV) and the Subjective Theory of Value (STV) both relied on the premise that diamonds are more expensive than water because the Subject perceived them as ‘socially necessary’ or ‘socially unnecessary’ and ‘scarce’ or ‘abundant’ according to Marginal Utility. Such Objectification is where a Liberal Capitalist can claim, with the Incentives of Supply and Demand, that something can be of a certain Value and in turn have a set Price. For Jünger, the Arbeiter relies on entirely different Values that neither Karl Marx nor Friedrich Engels could have envisaged in the 19th century, but nonetheless open to the possibility in Das Kapital.

For Marx and Engels in Das Kapital, this Objectification by the Liberal Capitalist was best understood to them as “Commodity Fetishism.” A Commodity Fetish is where the Value of goods and services is determined not by the social relationships of the people who created and needed them, but by personal perceptions of those goods and services themselves. The most relevant example is how Gold can be ‘valuable’ by Financial Markets as a ‘safe bet’ against Currency Depreciation, when the Price of Gold per ounce skyrockets during economic crises. To the Liberal Capitalist, it is better for an ounce of Gold to be priced higher because he can receive greater Marginal Utility from the returns on investments by selling it at that Price.

Following this particular conclusion, the Figure of the Arbeiter refuses to tolerate the Commodity Fetishes that Marginality Utility condones. The Arbeiter cannot base any Value on the basis of whether it gives him the most pleasure or the most pain. Thus, the Incentives of Supply and Demand for the Arbeiter are rejected in favor of the Intents of Command and Obedience. In the state of Total Mobilization, everything exists as part of the whole that is the Totality and the State is the entity best-suited for setting forth the “‘rules of combat’” within economic and financial contexts.

With the essences of how Jünger conceptualized the Arbeiter, it becomes feasible to envisage ways in which the mentality and world-feeling of this Figure can be emulated by anyone reading the SMP Compendium. A suitable demonstration of how the Arbeiter perceives and understands the world is by investigating the trend of declining birthrates since the late 20th century.   

To begin, can any argument be made that the birthrates of the Western world and Westernized countries have diminished as a consequence of the Bretton Woods System since the 1960s? Is it possible that, when the Gold Standard ended, birthrates fell at an accelerated rate from the 1970s onward? That the birthrates continued falling as a result of worsening economic conditions in the Western world rather than non-economic and non-financial factors?

We can point to specific historical cases from the period where birthrates fell due of economic conditions:

  • In the United States, the falling birthrates coincided with the death of Bretton Woods and the growing volatility of financial crises consistently accelerated the decline. The 1992 Recession and the Great Recession have demonstrated this trend;
  • In the former Soviet Union, the decline in birthrates coincided with the introduction of Perestroika and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union itself. The number of births in Russia and the other former Republics stayed low throughout the 1990s, only able to pick up whenever there was more Kapital and fewer Economic Sanctions on crude oil and petroleum;
  • And in post-1945 Japan, the birthrates dropped in conjunction with the effects of the Lost Decades in the 1990s as a result of the asset-price bubble following the 1985 Plaza Accord. Naturally, as the initial effects prolonged into the 2000s and 2010s, the birthrates continued to drop further and the signs of population decline became apparent.

If I were to cite a number of policies that will allow birthrates to decline across the board, they are policies familiar to economists and financiers. They are aware of such policies except their analysis of their impact on birthrates can only be understood in abstract terms. The best place to begin is definitely when the Bretton Woods System was active and finally met its demise. Such a conclusion raises disturbing implications that provide justifications for the Work-Standard since a number of other non-economic and non-financial causes have been offered by demographers and theologians as two known examples. Examples from them would include Secularization of the Western world, easier access to contraceptives, the deemphasis on childbearing at earlier ages and raising large families, lower mortality rates and longer life expectancy rates.

On their own, however, none of those explanations are suitable explanations for why birthrates would be able to drop to the point where depopulation is becoming a possibility in the late 21st century. Not to mention why similar effects would occur under regimes where Liberal Capitalism is not the de-facto ideology or leave open the possibility that these conclusions were made with Rene Descartes’ “Cartesian Self” in mind. In essence, rather than encourage deeper thinking beyond the superficialities of Cause and Effect, it is a lot easier to gather evidence and explanations favorable to personal experiences alone. Such thinking can only be done in terms of abstractions where one can speak of an “abstract humanity” in which a million births is only an arbitrary statistic compared to a single birth by a newly-wed couple. One can speak of the decline in birthrates but never begin to understand why the birthrates have declined for decades.

This is a recurring problem with Liberal Capitalist ideology that Ernst Jünger identified in Der Arbeiter insofar as the ideology never thinks of the Totality as being far more than just the sum of their parts. The significance of such a flaw in terms of thought processes will be investigated further in a later entry.



Categories: Compendium, Economic History, Philosophy, Politics, Technology

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