Actaeon Press: It would be essential to reintroduce a theological concept of man if there is to be anything like the Conservative Revolution today-II

The second part of our interview with Actaeon Press (Micheal Halfpenny)  on Jünger. It will be eye-opening for those who want to get an idea of the concept of conservative revolution and Jünger’s works and ideas. Click to read the first part.

Throughout his life as a writer, Jünger used many figurations in his novels. Soldier, Labourer, Rebel, Anarch, etc. What did Jünger essentially look for in these different characters? Which problems of the age did he develop these figurations in response to? Are these characters different from each other, or are there determinants common to all of them? What were his real thoughts and instincts?

 This is also part of your last question, which I may not have answered sufficiently. But we should perhaps take a step back for a moment. You use the term “labourer” for one of the figures. It is important to make a distinction here, as Jünger understood the difficulties in how this figure would be received. The “worker” introduces great problems of space and power, and these problems are increased because of both the Marxist connotations and the non-Germanic reception of the term. Particularly in regards to the French “labour”, which is etymologically a term of toil and suffering, or in “travail” which goes back to the Latin “tripalium”, an instrument of torture. Such a genealogy colours our image, and is then opposed to any idea of dominion or the will to power. The German “arbeit” can be traced back to inheritance, as Jünger tells us, through the Gothic “arpeo”. The etymology was central to Jünger’s thinking, so much so that he was hesitant to ever allow the publication of Der Arbeiter in French. For us, we should remember that the idea of nationalism and the declining fatherland is at the core of Jünger’s worker.

We may also consider the broader question of the conservative revolutionaries. I generally see this as an event rather than a grouping. In Schmitt’s terms it is an exception of nation and sovereignty. The Conservative Revolution is more broadly an exception in the European and German political landscape, and we should remember that there was a Left and Right Conservative Revolution. An important thinker from the Marxist side is Jünger’s close friend Ernst Niekisch. One of the problems they discussed, and Jünger would spend decades thinking about this, is why the Left never played a significant role in the history of Germany. We may ask the opposite question also, why did the Right never play a significant role in the history of Germany? Or at least, why was it never able to to bring its political ideas to completion? This is more important to Jünger than any grouping and one might see his proximity to Schmitt’s decisionism here. Either completion of the revolution or counter-revolution, it was essential to establishing a German dominion that it consolidate the principles of 1789 or be rid of them. Otherwise, the German would remain in an “intermediate field” between these principles.

This is effectively a lens through which we can begin to see the problem of the Conservative Revolution, which is far too broad to answer in a short interview. Otherwise, we may look to the “object-character” imposed upon Germany with Versailles. This object-character, this parasitism, takes on a particular form through the bourgeois man. In part, this is the revolution of Europe imposing itself on German lands and the German man who had not yet lost the estates. This is Jünger’s theological revolution, equal to the Prussian austerity towards war when faced with the dangers of modern warfare.

This is essential, the figures speak to what is more than political, and it is even more true of our own era when everything has been so heavily politicised (what Schmitt will call depoliticisation). There is a nomos of the earth and there is the struggle of the individual man against planetary power. One acts upon his fate, or perhaps we might say that he gives his fate character, a form. But this form is already predetermined to an extent, like the moves assigned to pieces on a chessboard – the pawns are nothing without context, and the jump of the knight is nothing without a strong opening. In other words, one must create his style. The figures are the form and shape (Gestalt) to which a style must be applied.

This may focus too much on the aesthetic, and add confusion after an already difficult discussion. But we see such leaps in Jünger’s thinking, a type of art for art’s sake – which is a misunderstood concept in our time. As I said, the artistic man can all too easily be determined by the needs of the scientific, and today one is all too satisfied with copies. This is to be avoided in discussing the figures.

Should I risk adding more here?

The figures are the eternal form of man, they are what is given shape from out of the primordial material. We may compare the figures to the three estates, which, as I said, still existed in Germany but were becoming one due to the European Revolution. In classical terms we may consider this upheaval in light of the Myth of Metals in Plato’s Republic. There is a power that precedes us, we did not participate in the great revolutions, yet they shape us, and their judgement is ongoing. In this sense, Gestalt or Form, which is part of the subtitle of Der Arbeiter, may be compared to the will. It is the bondage of the will, the limits are there even if we do not see them.

With the totalisation of the estates there is only one figure, the worker. And we cannot ask, as Socrates did, what is to be made of man. It is a mystery to us that technology is everything and yet can never be employed to change man’s character. Man exceeds his own creation, it is only a minor part of his world-conquering power.

Here we see that the classical problem is reversed, one can no more ask what justice is than he can limit questions of power to city and state. Even the nations have been surpassed in power, and the worker is mobilised with greater destructive force than the soldier. This is the context in which the worker comes to power, as a world-conquering will, a form without the old states and laws. He is an anarchistic and annihilating force in the shadows of the monarchies. But one cannot question his power, whether morally or aesthetically, his appearance is a truth we can only give shape to, a judgement that can only be given dominion. Otherwise we are limited to the dangers of class analysis, the materialism of the socialists which acts through the primordial but never over it.

As for the other figures, I will suggest here that Jünger’s thinking is close to the Parmenidean, to Goethe’s Primal Words and Schiller’s Three Words. The figures are the primordial law of man, they are part of his metamorphosis – again, the transitory becomes everlasting. It is essential for Jünger that the heroic form persist in this unheroic age, he is more transitory than ever before, but this may be the very source of his power.

The figures are not only a question of heroism and the great man however, they are just as much a question of the fate of the common man. The heroic persists without need of the will. This is one of the conflicts in Jünger’s work, he begins to see Herder’s question rather than Nietzsche’s, that “the will of man appears so small and frail in the face of the surrounding invisible might. The moment rushes past him.’m” And in time we see that Jünger’s soldier responds to the totalisation of the estates in hope, faith, and love (Schiller’s Three Words). Finally, the anarch, who is essentially an anti-figure, tries to holds onto these laws in an age where it has become dangerous to even speak of them, in an age when it is dangerous to reveal one’s figure. ‘One faces the event by freeing it from the accident and deception of the epoch.’

This is a lot to consider after my previous synoptic answer.

Jünger’s relationship with the Nazis has always been a controversial subject, just like Heidegger. Was Jünger a Nazi admirer or a Nazi opponent? How should his turbulent relationship with the Nazis be viewed?

I believe his notes for On the Marble Cliffs are most revealing here. Jünger refers to the night he conceived of the novel’s first images. He was staying at a vineyard with his brother Friedrich Georg and a few friends. He had gone to bed when some visitors arrived, and what struck him about the conversation that followed was not the words or their meaning but the “growing intensity”. This seems to be part of Jünger’s surrealist and romantic influences, what follows is a dream and a nightmare. It is in this sense that we may consider his critique of national socialism in aesthetic terms: a growing intensity within the world order.

It is of course significant that the figures of destruction that terrorize the idyllic world of On the Marble Cliffs are both an image of national socialism and communism. And one might add liberalism here as well. Carl Schmitt says that the head forester is one of the “guests of the last festival.” As guests we have to imagine that the destruction supersedes their efforts. “Hitler was a criminal, but neither the greatest nor the last.” That one continues to live from the fight against the ‘great dead man’ speaks to his importance to democracy.

What Jünger will see with The Worker is the end of the democratic movements and methods of organising, the final conflict of the bourgeois and worker in the formation of planetary power. This is where the mass and individual come to an end, and the organic-construction replaces the organising power of man; in short, man is organised as if automatically by technological power. Here national socialism and democracy meet in their demands, and one can even say that national socialism is only a particular strand of democracy.

As early as 1927 Jünger had developed a critique of Hitler and the national socialists: ‘they had only a vague idea about their own goal and therefore made mistakes in the forming of its alliances.’ This is where a strain of nationalism forms out of the lumpenproletariat, the hidden regions of the technological world. It is thus a state replaced by the unwanted of democracy.

Ernst’s brother Friedrich Georg wrote a poem, Der Mohn, a few years later that would result in a house search and interrogation, no doubt catalysing their criticisms. In it he describes the histrionic displays of the masses, a drunken orgy of destruction, the tribune which flees into foreign lands, and, with it, all that remains of the nobler man. Coriolanus figures.

It is revealing that Schmitt will also describe Hitler as entirely foreign. One adopts the clothing of unknown powers. The Right today will use this argument against communism but not see it anywhere else.

 What are the main ideas of Ernst Jünger? How did his ideas evolve over time? Have his ideas undergone changes? Are there different Jüngers? What tensions exist between the young Jünger and the old Jünger, between the dionysian war hero of In Storms of Steel and the entomologist Jünger? Can it be claimed that his conversion to Catholicism towards the end of his life shifted his thinking from a warlike to a more peaceful reading of the world?

There are an overwhelming number of questions here, a sort of bombardment that first has to be endured before the pieces can be picked up. This speaks to how much there is to know about Jünger’s life and work, as well as what readers hope to know of the man. I can perhaps offer only a minor glimpse here, as I am not at all a scholar or biographer. I will say that this image has stuck with me:

“During the First World War I was still a complete atheist. I remember that one day I found myself in front of a trench that was sustaining brisk fire. I had to get across it, and I mused that a prayer would be appropriate. But I told myself: “No, if I didn’t care about the Good Lord when everything was going well, it would be awful to ask for his help now!””

A great deal is in this single moment, all of the strongest forces of war and God. If one wants to know the life and tensions of Ernst Jünger, his Nietzscheanism and Catholicism, one should begin here. The question of his conversion asks a great deal, but I can only say it is a last word, an answer when it was no longer necessary to ask for help.

What is the situation of conservative revolutionary movements today, especially in Germany? Are they able to resist the impositions of liberalism?

 I cannot say much about the German situation as I am not German. My influence here comes from the Counter-Enlightenment in which foreign nations are something incomprehensible to us. To take something of a risk however, I will suggest paying attention to what happens with the AfD in the next year, this will tell us if it is possible to move from questions of identity to being.

As for the Conservative Revolution, I do not believe there is anything like it today, even if our situation shares much in common with the object-character and parasitism of that era. There is some interest in the idea of exploring the ideas of this period, which is nice to see, but it is mostly a sign that everything today serves only as a beginning, as an introduction to events which can hardly be touched by the norm of the dominant political ideas. The volatility we see in today’s discourse is a result of this, although we might consider a positive aspect here: the greatest events in history pass by the democratic man as if unnoticed. At the least this means he can no longer bring greater ruin through them, he has isolated the destruction to his own efforts. Everything has become foreign and we approach a point where the noble form can no longer be touched.

There are many positive signs like this, but as I have said if there is a historical nerve that connects us to the Conservative Revolution it is in the nature of our defeat. This defeat is total, and will have to be grasped as such if the old millennium is ever to be left behind. For this reason it is essential to begin from the question of defeat, what is more inescapable than the worst betrayal or a “stab in the back” moment – here too we see the image of man who refuses his situation.

The character of man in our time is a difficult and neglected question, one finds only surface images of masculinity being discussed, the Right is close to feminism in this sense.  It would be essential to reintroduce a theological concept of man if there is to be anything like the Conservative Revolution. This man, we may first think of him in the context of the last man or titanic man, is opposed to any acknowledgement of the situation in its depth, that is, in defeat. This places him at odds with the Conservative Revolution, even the conditions that made such a movement possible.

To see this in perspective one only has to remember that the condition of occupied Germany has become the condition of every nation in the West. It is difficult to imagine such a catastrophe, but it is the norm and is only ever treated as comedy, even by those who announce their opposition to it. This is in the reverse sense of Goethe’s proposal that comedy is an appropriate aesthetic response to ugliness. Comedy has become the form of ugliness itself, and is systematized as cheap mockery. It serves as the last defense of the democratic character, a last effort of the right to free assembly. The reactionary has come to reinforce the object-character of society against the state.

Here we might imagine the current organisational form in relation to the national socialists who had ‘only a vague idea of their own goal and therefore made mistakes in the forming of alliances.’ A nationalism in which only the characteristics of liberalism that have survived the destruction now act as a guide for reactionaries. This is fitting given that liberalism has been dead for at least a century. That the conservative and reactionary sentiments turn towards liberalism, merely to survive in organisational form, speaks to a crisis similar to the parliamentary crisis of the last century.

Here too we may speak of the great defeat in war, the end of the American Empire, the end of the colonial and neutralising empire – without this power the empire has turned inward against its own people. Democracy has become its own enemy.

Today all law and mores speak to this power. I believe this is one of the reasons why even nationalists have become so thoroughly immersed in questions of liberalism and democracy. The extent of the catastrophe is too great, so they have retreated into the oldest type of security. Nietzsche referred to the atavism of the conservatives, and this is what has taken hold – the late ghosts of all that has come before, without any sense of tempo.

We cannot speak of movements or even organisations, which is one of the important points made by Jünger in The Worker: liberalism died with the wars and technological catastrophes which gave birth to the last century. Of course, this is where we face philosophical and theological questions rather than the political or ideological. The crises of the past two centuries are only roughly approached through the illusions of atavism and anarchism. No one wants to face this, so we remain a world apart from the Conservative Revolution. They are as distant from us as the ancient Greeks or Egyptians.

The simple fact of the millennium, which should have apocalyptic power for any conservative thinker, has already been forgotten. For us it would be as difficult to face as the wall of time, another image of Jünger’s which speaks to the impossibility of history rather than its end. Prehistory now continues its form. This is what I mean when I say that questions are becoming less political and more philosophical, even mythological, and this happens automatically, beyond the will of man and his organisations.

Some may be confused by this, but it is essential that the end of democracy coincides with an absence of political questions. One may say that amnesty will be granted to all those failed efforts of the political will.

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