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

Two recurring topics related to the Arbeiter are commonly cited throughout Der Arbeiter, art and technology. Ernst Jünger focused more on the role of technology as being the defining characteristic of the Arbeiter as a Figure than art. Clearly, the Arbeiter is the Figure best-suited to operate machinery and advanced technologies by dint of training and experience in the state of Total Mobilization. The Arbeiter is self-aware of its own “Dasein” (Existence) within Total Mobilization and its “Being-towards-Death” (to quote Heidegger’s Being and Time).

The very notion of death does not necessarily faze the Arbeiter or dissuade from doing what is expected; the Intent matters more than the Incentive. When facing the mortality of its own Dasein, the Arbeiter acknowledges that workspace injuries and deaths will never go unnoticed and there will always be replacements to continue what he had started. An inward sense of experiencing “Being-towards-Death” in the Heideggerian sense is what concerns the Arbeiter even more the risk of an actual clinical death. Dasein reminds the Arbeiter to stay true to its Figure within the present moment, stressing the Individuation of the Self to achieve Synchronicity between the achievements of the past and those that have yet to be achieved someday. The Arbeiter realizes this with awareness of its purpose in Life by lamenting the misuse and abuse of technology and their own Dasein by Liberal Capitalism.

The technologies which the Arbeiter deploys to mobilize the world are far more than just mere tools for economists and financial analysts. In the right set of hands, those technologies can potentially become the harbingers of wars and revolutions. A “revolution” for Jünger is not necessarily a full-blown conflict like the American Revolutionary War following the Seven Year War (known in the US as the “French and Indian War”), the French Revolution (preceding the Napoleonic Wars) or the Russian October Revolution (during World War I).

Wars are the continuation of revolutions; revolutions are the continuation of wars. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and the Information Revolution that made the Internet feasible are revolutions in their own right, and thus wield the potential to spark future wars. The Industrial Revolution enhanced the scale of wars of the 19th century and the far bloodier World Wars of the early 20th century. The Information Revolution of the late 20th century have given way to the electronic warfare, cyberwarfare and information warfare capabilities of the early 21st century.  

Jünger also alluded to an increasingly relevant side effect of Total Mobilization with regard to technology. The insistence of economists to advocate for technology to boost economic productivity and overall growth of Liberal Capitalist regimes have achieved a different kind of carnage. It matters very little if it happens in peacetime or wartime. This is the mass rape of the environment for the mass exploitation of natural resources to fuel ever-growing mass production for mass destruction, mass creation for mass consumption. The need to accumulate more and more Kapital has realized the justification to ensure a “Creative Destruction” of older Kapital to create newer Kapital within the “Business Cycle.” The growing abstractions of Kapital since the death of Bretton Woods has made this process easier, from the rise of Cryptocurrencies to the financial crises caused by Subprime Mortgages in the Great Recession of 2008.

For the Arbeiter, the Liberal Capitalist push to expropriate its technologies is being done for the sake of greater economic efficiency at a cost of economic sustainability. A Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or a Gross National Income (GNI) is measured in Kapital. The untold body count of deaths caused by overwork in Japan or the cases of “Burnout” within the Western world pose no real bearing on whether Kapital’s Price depreciates or appreciates in Value. Total Mobilization under those conditions no longer becomes the Intent by which to provide the means to achieve the flourishing of the Totality. Rather, Total Mobilization becomes a sort of “Perverse Incentive” with horrendous Unintended Consequences foreseen by Adam Smith.   

There is a certain point in the existence of a Liberal Capitalist regime where its Market or Mixed Economy undergoes three stages: “Progressive,” “Stationarity,” and “Decline.” Adam Smith identified this particular trend within Liberal Capitalism in The Wealth of Nations. Such economies will accumulate large sums of Kapital as economic growth during their Progressive stage, the economic growth eventually diminishing before finally settling into the Stationarity stage.  Unlike the Decline stage, where there is only economic contraction, the Stationarity stage has little or no economic growth whatsoever and becomes observable from different fields.

Demographically, the population grows and wages shrink in size to ensure everyone has their share of Kapital. Technologically, the economy has grown stagnant and a new technology capable of starting a new industry could increase economic growth overall. Geopolitically, the economy may consider entertaining Free Trade, conquest and exploitation of natural resources in other lands (or, in the case of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, other planets), or perhaps finding ways to boost economic growth like Monetarism and Supply-Side Economics. The unparalleled economic growth that lasted from 1945 to 1973 was about as wasteful as it was gaudy over the longer term and to assume that Kapital is able to repeat the false prosperity remains naïve.

For it was not until the 1970s, the death of Bretton Woods, that Deindustrialization emerged among Liberal Capitalist regimes and allowed Economic Globalization to become necessary. To Liberal Capitalists, the Stationary phase is a fate far worse than whatever gruesome death the Arbeiter may experience at the workspace. Their one-sided race to find all sorts of technologies to mass produce new Kapital has demonstrated an utter disregard for whether the Arbeiter will be allowed to maintain an Authentic Dasein through his own Arbeit.    

All of these factors figure prominently into the concept of a “Steady-State Economy” in the ecological economics research of Herman Daly. It refers to the notion that an economy, particular a Market or Mixed Economy, cannot sustain economic growth and curtail environmental degradation at the same time. A Steady-State Economy pertains more so to the impact of human economic activities on the environment. The capacity by which humanity is capable of mass production for mass destruction, mass creation for mass consumption has become increasingly efficient to the point of inflicting untold degradation of the environment.  Where technology has made it possible for any nation-state to marshal immense resources for wartime efforts like in the two World Wars, technology has also made it possible for the nation-state to marshal those same resources for peacetime efforts.

All wars and revolutions do end at some point. The technological breakthroughs achieved during them will continue marching onward into the future through peacetime applications. Much like Heidegger or even Russell Kirk, Daly understood those implications of Total Mobilization and the Arbeiter’s handiwork within his own writings. Unlike Jünger, he followed the conclusions of John Stuart Mill and sought to argue a case for why Total Mobilization must pursue some form of demobilization vis-à-vis ‘economic degrowth’ for “Sustainable Development.” But in doing so, Daly was only able to articulate his arguments in terms of abstract and Neo-Malthusian negations by ignoring the fact that Kapital is ill-suited for Total Mobilization.

Conversely, a similar argument could also be made regarding the concept of a “Post-Scarcity Economy.” It suggests that scarcity and availability, as dialectics of the Incentives of Supply and Demand, would no longer pose an issue after meeting the basic needs of the nation-state. Similar to the Steady-State Economy concept, a Post-Scarcity Economy bases its argumentation on the notion that technologies will realize it on its own without the Arbeiter. The goal is not to ensure that goods and services can be provided to everyone more fairly, but to provide them so cheaply or freely that one cannot help but notice the potential for chronic shortages.   

Assuming one has not yet pieced this jigsaw puzzle together, what Ernst Jünger was also describing in metaphorical terms is the environmental impact of technology in the form of Climate Change. Although Climate Change or even “global warning” does not appear anywhere in Der Arbeiter, it is in the language being conveyed that such a connection becomes feasible. The possibility of any overuse or misuse of Total Mobilization inflicting ecological damage is more apparent when conducted across international borders on a planetary scale. This explains why the Arbeiter was consistently depicted as a Nietzschean-like Promethean with a Marxist-like mask: technology itself bears the Arbeiter’s Will-to-Power to radically revolutionize the world in its own image. That sort of power can be open to potential misuse by the wrong people. Environmental degradation, resource depletion, the displacement of the workforce by Deindustrialization, the disregard for the sanctity of human life, and the impact of Globalization on Climate Change must always be taken into consideration.  



Categories: Compendium, Philosophy, Politics, Technology

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