I’ve now read virtually everything by Ernst Juenger that’s been translated into English, except for the last half of The Adventurous Heart (1938), which I’m still reading, and Copse 125: A Chronicle from the Trench Warfare of 1918 (1925), which arrived in the mail today. Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD, had this to say about The Adventurous Heart at the beginning of a chapter in his 1980 book LSD – My Problem Child describing acid trips he took with Juenger in 1951 and 1970:
Radiance is the perfect term to express the influence that Ernst Jünger’s literary work and personality have had on me. In the light of his perspective, which stereoscopically comprises the surfaces and depths of things, the world I knew took on a new, translucent splendor. That happened a long time before the discovery of LSD and before I came into personal contact with this author in connection with hallucinogenic drugs.
My enchantment with Ernst Jünger began with his book Das Abenteuerliche Herz [The adventurous heart]. Again and again in the last forty years I have taken up this book. Here more than ever, in themes that weigh more lightly and lie closer to me than war and a new type of human being (subjects of Jünger’s earlier books), the beauty and magic of Jünger’s prose was opened to me — descriptions of flowers, of dreams, of solitary walks; thoughts about chance, the future, colors, and about other themes that have direct relation to our personal lives. Everywhere in his prose the miracle of creation became evident, in the precise description of the surfaces and, in translucence, of the depths; and the uniqueness and the imperishable in every human being was touched upon. No other writer has thus opened my eyes.
On the other hand, after reading Juenger’s Preface to Copse 125 this morning, only now do I finally understand why Juenger’s reputation remained so controversial throughout his long lifetime, and why in certain circles he was vilified as the godfather of German fascism. My reading of Storm of Steel (1920) did not explain this judgment, nor did my reading of Total Mobilization (1930), and I had begun to suspect that Juenger had simply been misrepresented and slandered. Here, for example, is a representative passage from the latter work:
The Kremlin’s old chimes now play the Internationale. In Constantinople, schoolchildren use the Latin script instead of the Koran’s old arabesques. In Naples and Palermo, Fascist police regulate the pace of southern life as if directing modern traffic. In the world’s remotest, even legendary lands, houses of parliament are being ceremoniously dedicated. The abstractness, hence the horror, of all human circumstances is increasing inexorably. Patriotism is being diluted through a new nationalism, strongly fused with elements of conscious awareness. In Fascism, Bolshevism, Americanism, Zionism, in the movements of colored peoples, progress has made advances that until recently would have seemed unthinkable; it proceeds, as it were, head over heels, following the circular course of an artificial dialectic in order to continue its movement on a very simple plane. Disregarding its much diminished allowances for freedom and sociability, it is starting to rule nations in ways not very different from those of an absolute regime. In many cases the humanitarian mask has almost been stripped away, replaced by a half-grotesque, half-barbaric fetishism of the machine, a naive cult of technique; this occurs particularly where there is no direct, productive relation to those [pg 138] dynamic energies for whose destructive, triumphal course long-range artillery and bomb-loaded fighter squadrons represent only the martial expression. Simultaneously, esteem for quantity [Massen] is increasing: quantity of assent, quantity of public opinion has become the decisive factor in politics. Socialism and nationalism in particular are the two great millstones between which progress pulverizes what is left of the old world, and eventually itself. For a period of more than a hundred years, the masses, blinded by the optical illusion of the franchise, were tossed around like a ball by the “right” and “left.” It always seemed that one side offered refuge from the other’s claims. Today everywhere the reality of each side’s identity is becoming more and more apparent; even the dream of freedom is disappearing as if under a pincers’ iron grasp. The movements of the uniformly molded masses, trapped in the snare set by the world-spirit, comprise a great and fearful spectacle. Each of these movements leads to a sharper, more merciless grasp: forms of compulsion stronger than torture are at work here; they are so strong, that human beings welcome them joyfully. Behind every exit, marked with the symbols of happiness, lurk pain and death. Happy is he alone who steps armed into these spaces.
That does not sound fascistic to me. But in Juenger’s Preface to Copse 125, published five years earlier, we find reflections on WWI such as these:
Those frightful landscapes were our daily surroundings where destruction ruled over all and nothing stood except the might of the soul that no force can subdue. In one thing alone we were great — in our aims that dwarfed the individual and made his life and fortunes of no account. Thousands died for an acre of ground, for a bit of trench, for a copse or a village — and rightly; for the shaping of a world still hidden in the future was bound up with the gain or loss of scraps of ground like these. And the length of the war only heightened its intensity.
To stand thus, night and day without a breathing space, always on the alert; to answer the great and utmost question of fate by the offer of one’s own life — must not that be an education that goes deeper and lasts longer than any other? And over and above it all to see the tangible success, the hoped-for and well-earned reward sunk in shipwreck utterly unforeseen — this is the severest trial that can be laid on a people, as on any single person who feels himself in heart and soul bound up with it. He who can pass a test like this shows that he is born for command and is fit for the exercise of power.
Certainly no one who is not carved out of the hardest wood goes on unshattered from such a schooling, and it is only in the day of distress that a nation can tell whether it has men at its disposal. We, too, have no lack of those who, like the Frenchman, Barbusse, regard war as a material affair and, turning its negative side outwards, endeavour to run up on the other a temple of peace and happiness. They give as their reasons devastated towns and frightful sufferings — as though our highest duty was the avoidance of pain. They have no mind to accept the responsibilities that demand sacrifice of such corruptible treasures as life and property when a nation’s greatness and its ideas are at stake. It is here, though, that the greater moral strength lies, and there is no doubt on which side the materialists are to be found.
An Amazon customer review of Copse 125 I found helpful remarked:
If you simply follow Junger, you’ll also be interested in this, because it’s exactly the sort of thing he was trying to disavow in his later years.
. . .
While I’m a fan of the man and everything he accomplished in a long and storied life, he was a pretty slippery character. That was true before the concept of the ‘anarch’ had been fully developed, and it’s definitely on display here.
. . .
This is Junger before he got burned by the ascent of the Nazis. This book amply documents why he was able to do what he wanted in occupied Paris, and why On the Marble Cliffs wasn’t banned by the Nazis. I don’t mean to smear him as a true-believer, but he did sow the seeds for the ascent of the NSDAP through his contributions to the post-war marketplace of ideas. He was definitely pro-Germany, pro-military, and anti-democratic. He wasn’t a loyal Nazi, but he was definitely a Right Wing intellectual who was proud to wear these attitudes on his sleeve when it mattered.
In Juenger’s partial defense may be offered Albert Jay Nock’s book about the causes of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, The Myth of a Guilty Nation (1922).
Incidentally, Storm of Steel, while brutally honest, is not quite the cold and pitiless chronicle of war it’s sometimes made out to be. In includes, for example, this passage:
It was a relief to me, finally, to have the foe in front of me and within reach. I set the mouth of the pistol at the man’s temple — he was too frightened to move — while my other fist grabbed hold of his tunic, feeling medals and badges of rank. An officer; he must have held some command post in these trenches. With a plaintive sound, he reached into his pocket, not to pull out a weapon, but a photograph which he held up to me. I saw him on it, surrounded by numerous family, all standing on a terrace.
It was a plea from another world. Later, I thought it was blind chance that I let him go and plunged onward. That one man of all often appeared in my dreams. I hope that meant he got to see his homeland again.
The occupants of a row of dugouts along the side of the path also ran away. I encountered one such as he was just about to leave the last one. . . . Outside it lay my British soldier, little more than a boy, who had been hit in the temple. He lay there, looking quite relaxed. I forced myself to look closely at him. It wasn’t a case of ‘you or me’ any more. I often thought back on him; and more with the passing of years. The state, which relieves us of our responsibility, cannot take away our remorse; and we must exercise it. Sorrow, regret, pursued me deep into my dreams.
Furthermore, although Juenger’s ideas and those of the National Socialists in the years between the wars coincided in some points, Juenger was never guilty of their anti-Semitism. He wrote in his journal on June 7, 1942, after seeing during a stroll on a Paris street for the first time the newly imposed yellow star worn by Jews: “I consider such events, even within one’s own personal history, as marking a date that cuts deeply into the record. Such a spectacle does not pass without leaving a reaction in its wake — and immediately I felt embarrassed to be in uniform.”
I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the complete text of Total Mobilization online a couple weeks ago, and even more pleased a few days ago to stumble on a substantial online excerpt from Juenger’s The Forest Flight (1951). Juenger’s figure of the Anarch evolved from his earlier figure of the Forest Fleer, described in this essay. Not only the stark contrasts but also the continuities in this essay with Juenger’s thought in Copse 125 are revealing:
New conceptions of authority and great concentrations of power have arisen. In order to resist them, we require a new conception of freedom transcending the anemic abstractions we have come to associate with this term. The first prerequisite for this new awareness is that man must not content himself with being left in peace; that he must be ready to risk his life. In that case, we shall soon learn that even in the states in which the power of the police has become overwhelming, independence is by no means extinct. The armor of the new Leviathan has its chinks which must be constantly sought out, an activity requiring both caution and audacity of a kind hitherto unknown. This suggests that elites are about to begin the struggle for a new freedom which will require great sacrifice and which must not be interpreted in a manner unworthy of it. In order to find analogies we must go back to ages of strength, say, to the period of the Huguenots or of the guerillas as Goya saw them in his Desastros. Compared to these, the storming of the Bastille – an event which still provides nourishment for the current notion of freedom – appears like a Sunday stroll into the suburbs.
. . .
The arguments change, but stupidity sits forever in judgment.
Men were brought before its tribunal first, because they despised the gods; then because they did not recognize a dogma; or again, because they offended against a theory. There exists no great word or noble thought in the name of which blood has not been spilled. The message of Socrates resides in the conviction of the invalidity of the verdict which testifies to a standard transcending the human scale. The true verdict was spoken long before the trial began and took expression in the exaltation of the victim. The trial is perennial, and the philistines who sat in judgment then may be met today on every street corner and in every parliament. The idea that this might end has always distinguished the shallow thinkers. But human greatness must be reconquered again and again. It triumphs whenever man masters the onslaught of vulgarity in his own heart. Therein resides the real substance of history; in the encounter of man with himself, that is to say, with his own divine power. That must be understood if one wishes to teach history.
. . .
In Germany, resistance against authority is, or was, especially difficult because, from the days of legitimate monarchy, the population preserved a modicum of respect for the state. Hence the individual found it difficult to understand why the victorious powers prosecuted him, not merely by means of a blanket accusation of collective guilt, but also as an individual for having, for example, continued in his profession as a conductor of an orchestra or as a public official. Although this state of mind produced some grotesque results, we must not treat it as a mere curiosity. It is indicative of a new feature in our world, in which foreigners may accuse the individual as a collaborator with popular movements, while political parties try him as a sympathizer of unpopular causes. The individual is thus placed between Scylla and Charybdis; he is threatened with liquidation either because he participated or because he failed to participate.
Hence, a high degree of courage is required which will enable him to defend the cause of justice all alone, and even against the power of the state. It will be doubted whether such men can be found. Some will appear, however, and they will be wanderers in the forest (Waldgänger). Even against his will, this type of man will enter the historical scene, for there are forms of coercion that leave no choice.
. . .
Let us assume that a small number of truly free men are left in a city or state. In that case the breach of the constitution would carry a heavy risk. In this sense, the theory of collective guilt is justified, for the possibility of violating a law is directly proportional to the degree of resistance it encounters at the hands of freedom. An attack on the invulnerability and, indeed, on the sanctity of the home would not have been possible in old Iceland, in the form in which it was possible as a purely administrative measure in Berlin in 1933, in the midst of a population of several millions. As an honorable exception we should mention a young Social Democrat who killed half a dozen of the so-called auxiliary police at the entrance of his apartment. He still partook of the substantial Old-Germanic sense of freedom which his opponents celebrated in their theories. Naturally, he had not learned this from the program of his party.
Let us suppose, furthermore, that the authorities would have had to expect an incident of this sort in every street of Berlin. In that case, things would have been different. Long periods of peace and quiet favor certain optical illusions. Among them is the assumption that the invulnerability of the home is founded upon the constitution and safeguarded by it. In reality, it rests upon the father of the family who, accompanied by his sons, appears with the ax on the threshold of his dwelling. This truth is not always apparent, however. Nor is it to be construed as an objection to the constitution. It is simply that the old saying still holds: the man must vouch for his oath; the oath cannot vouch for the man. The German has been reproached for his lack of resistance to official acts of violence and perhaps justifiably. He did not yet know the rules of the game, and he felt threatened from other directions where there has never been any question of basic human rights. Those who died in a hopeless struggle, unarmed, and in defense of their wives and children, are, as yet, hardly noticed. But their lonely destruction will become known. For it counts as a weight in the scale of history. We, who survived, must see to it, however, that the spectacle of coercion which met no resistance shall never be repeated.
. . .
The great experience of the forest consists of the encounter with the Ego, with the self, with the inviolate core and essence that sustains the temporal and individual appearance. This encounter, so decisive for the conquest of health and for the victory over fear, is also supreme in its moral value. It leads to the primal basis of all social intercourse, to the man whose example defines individuality. In this sphere we will encounter not only community but also identity. This is the symbolic meaning of the embrace: the Ego recognizes itself in the other human being in the saying, ”This is you.” The other can be the beloved, the sufferer, or the helpless victim. In giving help, the Ego helps its own immortal essence and confirms the basic ethical order of the universe.
Countless men are alive today who have traversed the nadirs of the nihilistic process. They know that the mechanism reveals itself as an ever-greater menace, that man has entered into the interior of a huge machine which has been designed for his annihilation. They have learned that every form of rationalism leads to machine-like mechanism, and every mechanism to torture as its logical consequence, a fact which the nineteenth century failed to grasp. A miracle must take place if a man is to escape from such whirlpools. And this miracle has taken place times without number when among the faceless numbers there appeared an individual and gave succor. This was the case even in the prisons and, indeed, especially there. In every situation and in his relation to every man, the individual can become the brother – this is his genuine, his sovereign, trait. The origin of nobility was the task of protection – protection against the threats of beasts and monsters. This is the token of the aristocratic being, and it shines forth in the guard who secretly gives a piece of bread to a prisoner. Such actions can never cease, for the world subsists on them. They are the sacrifices upon which it rests.
. . .
Even if one is prepared to accept the worst case of breakdown, there remains a distinction between light and darkness. Here the way rises into high realms, towards a sacrificial death or to the fate of one who falls fighting; there it sinks into the lowly spheres of slave-camps and slaughter houses where primitives murderously unite with technology. There destiny is absent, and only numbers exist. Having a destiny or being regarded as a statistic: this is a decision that is forced on everyone today, but which has to be taken individually. The individual is just as sovereign today as in any other period of history, perhaps even more so? As collective powers gain ground, the individual becomes separated from the old, established associations and stands alone. He now becomes the opponent of Leviathan, even its conqueror, its master.
. . .
Mention here of individuals refers to true human beings, without the overtones the idea has attracted over the past two centuries. The reference is to the free human being as God created him. This human being is not an exception, does not embody an elite. He is in fact concealed within everyone, and differences only arise out of the degree to which the individual manages to implement the freedom granted to him. As a thinker, a friend, as one who knows and loves, one has to help him achieve that.
It can also be said that man is sleeping in the forest. In the moment when he awakens and recognises his power, order is restored. The higher rhythm of history can generally be interpreted in terms of the human being periodically rediscovering himself. The powers that want to mask this are sometimes totemic, sometimes magical, and sometimes technological. Then rigidity increases, accompanied by fear. The arts petrify and dogma becomes absolute. But the spectacle of man removing his mask has repeated itself since earliest times, to be followed by joy, the reflection of freedom.