Ernst Jünger’s Der Arbeiter (Pt. V of VII)

When one thinks of “Prussia,” does one conjure images of Prussian militarism? Where one thinks of “Bolshevism” (or if one wishes, “Leninism”) does one conjure images of the Soviet Union? Or, as Ernst Jünger dared to claim, are Prussianism and Leninism physical manifestations of the Arbeiter as a Figure?

When one internalizes Vladimir Lenin’s “‘Communism’ is Soviet power and the electrification of the whole country” (Communism = Soviet Power + Electrification of the Nation), was Lenin himself arguing in favor of Marxism and thus “Marxism-Leninism?” Or did Lenin really mean ‘Total Mobilization by the State equals the Will-to-Power of the Arbeiter and the Electrification of the Totality’ (“State = Self + Totality” or State = Totality + Self)?          

These questions were posited by Jünger and later studied by Martin Heidegger in his own reading of Der Arbeiter. The Figure of the Arbeiter is best summarized as this: “The more Prussian, or the more Bolshevist one’s life can be lived, by the way, the better off life will be.”  

Barring Heidegger (and Russell Kirk, who was also arriving at very similar conclusions about technology despite never reading Der Arbeiter), none of these important questions surrounding the Figure of the Arbeiter were taken seriously by anyone since the book’s publishing in 1932. All kinds of people have read Der Arbeiter and have projected their own preconceived identities onto the Arbeiter without realizing its significance. The list of historical figures run the whole ideological gamut. From various Liberal Capitalists and Marxists to Joseph Goebbels and Julius Evola, all kinds of people had projected their own identities onto the Arbeiter, as if the Arbeiter was meant to be an ideological subject of their own designs. The Arbeiter never advocated for the Totalitarianism of the Enlightenment: the Arbeiter was exploited by ideologies to further their opposing agendas in the World Wars of the 20th century; the Cold War was only a legal continuation of World War II under a different name.

There is something to be inferred from these distortions of the Arbeiter. The Figure of the Arbeiter contends with the existences of countless identities that arose from the emergence of inauthenticity due to improper applications of technologies. This historical fact, preposterous and ridiculous as it may seem, has been ridiculed by all kinds of people during and shortly after the Cold War 1945. In the 21st century, it is now increasingly evident again in the growing instances of “Political Tribalism” and “Identity Politics,” as technological changes give rise to growing inauthenticity for scores of people worldwide.

The need for authenticity is great everywhere as is the need for more time devoted to self-realization. In this day and age, it has become so easy to be presented with a deluge of limitless choices and never have the time to discuss any of them, let alone pursue a single choice with enough certainty. Far too much time is being spent on the mundane matters of everyday life that it is too easy to lose sight of oneself, one’s sense of Dasein. Countless people today are blank slates with an internal void. That void tends to cause existential problems in the middle of their adult years because their human senses of inward freedom and inward security are being curtailed by the identities of others.

True authenticity is fading in the midst of Total Mobilization, as the Western world and the rest of humanity grow increasingly dependent on the technologies, but never the Figure, of the Arbeiter. Nobody wants to emulate the Figure of the Arbeiter when it stresses “the more Prussian or the more Bolshevist one’s life can be lived, by the way, the better off life will be.” Instead, everybody is more enchanted by the Arbeiter’s technologies to make their lives more comfortable and painless, living out the sort of Utopian Dystopias or Dystopian Utopias promoted by Science Fiction. Since nobody knows who and why they exist, where and when they are, it becomes impossible to know what everybody wants and how ‘certain’ they are of their choices in Life. Uncertainty is a recurring phenomenon within economics and finance that it affects the decisions of everyone, partly because nobody has the time and the authenticity to know themselves.     

Rather than provide the Marxist promise of technology providing more leisure time or the Liberal Capitalist promise of technology providing greater returns on investment–two forms of offering the most pleasure for the least pain–what has happened since the publishing of Der Arbeiter is the opposite. Humanity is now swamped by a growing number of complex problems, from dealing with Climate Change to the consequences of Globalization. The Coronavirus Pandemic is just the latest episode in the history of the 21st century. Time that could have been spent on personal self-realization is wasted on problems created by countless people seeking the technologies of the Arbeiter without being fully self-aware of the consequences.

The implications of all of these problems were explored by Jünger in subsequent works, namely The Marble on the Cliffs, The Glass Bees and Eumeswil. These three novels dealt with the problem of technology being misused, resulting in either dictatorial rule, deindustrialization and the destruction of the environment, and the postapocalyptic nihilism and meaninglessness that plagues everyday life since the death of Bretton Woods. The 20th century never ended, and the 21st century is only continuing where the previous century had previously left off.

Furthermore, what was the real controversy surrounding Der Arbeiter? Why has there been a consistent critical reception that has invoked the ire of people from various ideological persuasions? Is the reception justifiable or did Jünger never receive the proper reception that this book should have deserved when it was published? Everything points to the conclusions which Jünger had made towards the end of the book, wherein he made a number of bold assertions that remain relevant even in today’s political-economic climate.

Upon conceptualizing and defining the Arbeiter, Jünger described why none of the ideologies from the Enlightenment are worthy of the conditions of Total Mobilization and why Total Mobilization itself will revolutionize the nation-state, from the Self to the Totality and the State. He argued that neither Liberal Capitalism nor “Nationalism” and “Socialism,” the latter of which as they are often perceived by everyday people to be Fascism and Communism, will not survive the 20th century unscathed. Fascism and Communism, like Liberal Capitalism, are ideologies that belong in the 18th and 19th centuries as products of the Enlightenment. The 21st and 22nd centuries, should either or all of the three survive, will eventually meet their demises. It will not be swift as in wars and revolutions, but a gradual, accumulating stagnation, decline and collapse.        

Fascism, as it is well-known, was obliterated in 1945 by the Second World War for never bothering to present a different world order worthy of competing against the ones that later dominated the Cold War. Communism fell apart from its inability to confront Revisionism and Dogmatism, especially when it came to presenting a world order that recognized the nation-state as bearing different Daseins, in 1991. Liberal Capitalism still deceives itself into believing that the Individual will continue to dominate the Totality in the 21st and even 22nd centuries, except it too will eventually meet its own end for never being considerate of the Church, the State, the Classes and the Self as part of the Totality within the nation-state.

Consider the degeneration of Liberal Capitalism in the United States and the escalating inability of the Jeffersonians inside the Democratic-Republican Party to address the challenges of the 21st century. The American Union resembles the final years of the Soviet Union at a slow, agonizingly painful pace, its world order–Thomas Jefferson’s “Empire of Liberty”–unable to forge anything closely resembling a consensus. Today, Americans lash out at themselves by projecting onto themselves the specters of Fascism and Communism with rabid paranoia and unjustifiable rage. Since there needs to be a scientific “Cause” to these “Effects,” it is now normal to resort to conspiracy theories and scapegoating to deal with the uncertainties of Inauthentic Dasein, of never having any time at all to decide on anything.   

And what can be said about “Economic Nationalism” and “Democratic Socialism,” the various attempts to combine “Nationalism” and “Socialism,” or even “National Socialism” insofar as Hitlerism continues to define the latter? Such “Nationalisms” and “Socialisms” are only good for uniting the people around common identities centered on seeking common cause. Economic Nationalism in the West wishes to emulate the “East Asian Economy Model” of the Republic of Korea and Indonesia, whereas Democratic Socialism in the West wishes to emulate the “Nordic Economy Model” of Norway and Sweden. Not even so-called “National Socialism,” this ‘Pan-Germanic Socialism’ that had its ambitions thwarted by Hitlerism, will be the panacea to today’s problems as far as Ernst Jünger was concerned.  

As the Coronavirus Pandemic reaches its inevitable climax, the world stands ripe for change. The world will change for better or worst by the Figure of the Arbeiter and its technologies, and there is very little that the Liberal Capitalists can do except delay the inevitable. In the midst of rapid technological changes, the only hope for humanity in the 21st century is a rediscovery of authentic identities and reject the inauthentic ones that plague whole nation-states.

Nothing here should be seen as bleak or even alarmist. The fact that Modernity itself will end someday is why nobody in the 20th century wants to know of the future which awaits Modernity, that uncertain fog of war that surrounded Jünger in the trenches of World War I. Everyone at the time of Der Arbeiter’s publication had no time to ponder over these questions, let alone know whether or not they knew themselves and what they wanted to achieve in Life. Given these uncertainties, the Figure of the Arbeiter remains obliged to ensure that the nation-state will be more responsible with their technologies, and that begins with the transformation of the State.

Categories: Compendium, Philosophy, Politics

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