Part 1 of 8
Translated by Greg Johnson
Portuguese translation here
Armin Mohler, author of the classic The Conservative Revolution in Germany, 1918–1932, wrote regarding Ernst Jünger’s The Worker (Der Arbeiter) and the first edition of The Adventurous Heart: “To this day, my hand cannot take up these works without trembling.” Elsewhere, describing The Worker as an “erratic bloc” in the midst of Jünger’s works, he states: “The Worker is more than philosophy, it is a work of poetry.” The word is apt, above all if we admit that that all true poetry is foundational, that it simultaneously captures the world and unveils the divine.
A “metallic” book—one is tempted to use the expression “storm of steel” to describe it—The Worker indeed possesses a genuinely metaphysical quality that takes it well beyond the historical and especially political context in which it was born. Not only has its publication marked an important day in the history of ideas, but it provides a theme of reflection that runs like a hidden thread throughout Jünger’s long life.
Ernst Jünger was born on March 28th, 1895 in Heidelberg. Jünger went to school in Hannover and Schwarzenberg, in the Erzgebirge, then in Brunswick and finally in Hannover again, as well as the Scharnhorst Realschule in Wunstorf. In 1911 he joined the Wunstdorf section of the Wandervogel. That same year published his first poem, “Unser Leben,” in their local journal. In 1913 at the age of 16, he left home. His escapade ended in Verdun, where he joined the French Foreign Legion. A few months later, after a brief sojourn in Algeria, where his training began at Siddi bel Abbes, his father was able to persuade him to return to Germany. He resumed his studies at the Hannover Guild Institute, where he became familiar with the works of Nietzsche.
The First World War broke out on August 1st, 1914. Jünger volunteered on the first day. Assigned to the 73rd regiment of fusiliers, he received his marching orders on October 6th. On December 27th, he left for the front in Champagne. He fought at Dorfes-les-Epargnes, at Douchy, at Moncy. He became squad leader in August 1915, sub-lieutenant in November, and from April 1916 underwent officer training at Croisilles. Two months later, he took part in the engagements on the Somme, where he was twice wounded. Upon his return to the front in November, with the rank of lieutenant, he was wounded again near Saint-Pierre-Vaast. On December 16th he received the Iron Cross First Class. In February 1917, he became Stosstruppfuehrer (leader of an assault battalion). This is when the war bogged down while the human costs became terrifyingly immense. The French prepared Nivelle’s bloody and useless offensive on the Chemin des Dames. At the head of his men, Jünger fought hand to hand in the trenches. Endless battles, new wounds: in July on the front in Flanders, and also in December. Jünger was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Oder of the Hohenzollerns. During the offense of March 1918, he again led assault troops. He was wounded. In August, another wound, this time near Cambrai. He ended the war in a military hospital, having been wounded fourteen times! That earned him the Cross Pour le merite, the highest award in the German army. Only twelve subaltern officers of the ground forces, one the future Marshal Rommel, received this decoration during the whole First World War.
“One lived for the Idea alone.”
Between 1918 and 1923, in the barracks at Hannover, Jünger began to write his first books, inspired by his experiences at the front. In Storms of Steel (In Stahlgewittern), first published in 1919 by the author and in a new edition in 1922, was an immediate success. There followed Battle as Inner Experience (Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis) (1922), Copse 125: A Chronicle from the Trench Warfare of 1918 (Das Wäldchen 125) (1924), and Fire and Blood (Feur und Blut) (1925). Very quickly, Jünger was recognized as one of the most brilliant writers of his generation, even though, as Henri Plard points out in “The Career of Ernst Jünger, 1920–1929,” in Germanic Studies, April–June 1978), he first became known primarily as a specialist in military problems thanks to articles on modern warfare published in Militär-Wochenblatt.
But Jünger did not feel at home in a peacetime army. It no longer offered adventure of the Freikorps. In 1923 he left the Reichswehr and entered Leipzig University to study biology, zoology, and philosophy. On August 3rd, 1925 he married the 19 year old Gretha von Jeinsen. She gave him two children: Ernst in 1926 and Alexander in 1934.
At same time, his political ideas matured thanks to the veritable cauldron of agitation among the factions of German public opinion: the disastrous Treaty of Versailles, which the Weimar Republic had accepted without batting an eye at any of its clauses, was everywhere felt to be an unbearable Diktat. In the space of a few months Jünger had become one of the principal representatives of the national-revolutionary movement, an important part of the Conservative Revolution which extended to the “left” with the National Bolshevik movement rallying primarily around Ernst Niekisch.
Jünger’s political writings appeared during the central period of the Republic (the “Stresemann era”), a provisional period of respite and apparent calm which ended in 1929. He would later say: “One lived for the Idea alone.”
Initially, his ideas were expressed in journals. In September 1925, a former Freikorps leader, Helmut Franke, who has just published a book entitled Staat im Staate (Berlin: Stahlhelm, 1924), launched the journal Die Standarte which set out to “contribute towards a spiritual deepening of the thought of the Front.” Jünger was on the editorial board, along with another representative of “soldatic nationalism,” the writer Franz Schauwecker, born in 1890. Initially published as a supplement of the weekly magazine Der Stahlhelm, the organ of the association of war veterans also called Stahlhelm, directed by Wilhelm Kleinau, Die Standarte had a considerable circulation: approximately 170,000 readers. Between September 1925 and March 1926, Jünger published nineteen articles there. Helmut Franke signed his contributions with the pseudonym “Gracchus.” The whole anti-revolutionary young right published there: Werner Beumelburg, Franz Schauwecker, Hans Henning von Grote, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz, Goetz Otto Stoffregen, etc.
In Die Standarte Jünger immediately adopted a quite radical tone, very different from that of most Stahlhelm members. In an article published in October 1925, he criticized the theory of the “stab in the back” (Dolchstoss), which was accepted by almost all nationalists, namely that the German army was not defeated at the front but by a “stab in the back” at home. Jünger also emphasized that certain revolutionaries of the far left had fought with distinction in the war. Remarks of this kind caused a violent uproar. Quickly, the leaders of Stahlhelm moved to distance themselves from the young writer who had agitated their side.
In March 1926 Die Standarte was closed. But it was revived a month later under the abridged name Standarte with Jünger, Schauwecker, Kleinau, and Franke as co-editors. At this time, the ties with Stahlhelm were not entirely severed: the old soldiers continued to indirectly finance Standarte. Jünger and his friends reaffirmed their revolutionary calling. On June 3rd, 1926, Jünger published an appeal to all former front soldiers to unite for the creation of a “nationalist workers’ republic,” a call that found no echo.
In August, at the urging of Otto Hörsing, co-founder of the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot Gold, the Social Democrats’ security force, the government, using the pretext of an article about Walther Rathenau, banned Standarte for five months. Because of this, Franz Seldte the leader of Stahlhelm “decommissioned” its chief editor, Helmut Franke. In solidarity, Jünger quit, and in November the two, along with Wilhelm Weiss, became the editors of another journal, Arminius. (Standarte, under different editorship, continued until 1929.)
En 1927, Jünger left Leipzig for Berlin, where he formed close ties with former Freikorps members and with the young “bündisch” movement. The latter, oscillating between military discipline and a very firm esprit de corps, tried to reconcile the adventurous romanticism of the Wandervogel with a more hierarchical, communitarian mode of organization. In particular, Jünger was closely connected to Werner Lass, born in Berlin in 1902, who in 1924 had been the founder, with the old leader of the Rossbach Freikorps unit, of the Schilljugend (a youth movement named for major Schill, who was killed during the struggle for liberation against Napoleon’s occupation). In 1927, Lass left Rossbach and lauched Freischar Schill, a bündisch group of which Jünger rapidly became the mentor (Schirmherr). From October 1927 to March 1928, Lass and Jünger collaborated to publish the journal Der Vormarsch, created in June 1927 by another famous Freikorps leader, captain Ehrhardt.
1. Preface to Marcel Decombis, Ernst Jünger et la “Konservative Revolution” (GRECE, 1975), 8.
2. The son of Ernst Georg Jünger (1868–1943), a chemist and assistant to research chemist Viktor Meyer. He had one sister and five brothers, two of whom died very young.
3. In 1901, a right-wing student named Karl Fischer organized the students at the gymnasium of Steglitz, near Berlin, into a movement of young protesters with idealistic and romantic tendencies, to whom he gave the name “Wandervogel” (“birds of passage”). This movement, subsequently divided into many currents, gave birth to the Jugendbewegung (Youth Movement) and became widely known. In October 1913, the same year Jünger joined, the Youth Movement organized (alongside the commemoration of the hundredth birthday of the “Battle of the Nations” near Leipzig) a great meeting at Hohen Meissner, close to Kassel. There several thousand young “Wandervogel” discussed the problems of the movement, which was pacifist, nationalist, and populist in orientation. On the eve of the First World War, the Jugendbewegung counted approximately 25,000 members. After 1918, the movement could not regain its old cohesion, but its influence remained undeniable. On the Wandervogel, cf. epecially Hans Bliiher, Wandervogel. Geschichte einer Jugendbewegung, 2 vol. (Berlin-Tempelhof: Bernhard Weise, 1912–1913); Fr. W. Foerster, Jugendseele, Jugendbewegung, Jugendziel (München-Leipzig: Rotapfel, 1923); Theo Herrle, Die deutsche Jugendbewegung in ihren kulturellen Zusammenhängen (Gotha-Stuttgart: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1924); Heinrich Ahrens, Die deutsche Wandervogelbewegung von den Anfängen bis zum Weltkrieg (Hamburg: Hansischer Gildenverlag, 1939); Werner Kindt, ed., Grundschriften der deutschen Jugendbewegung (Dusseldorf-Köln: Eugen Diederichs, 1963); Bernhard Schneider, Daten zur Geschichte der Jugendbewegung (Bad Godesberg: Voggenreiter, 1965); Walter Laqueur, Die deutsche Jugendbewegung. Eine historische Studie (Köln: Wissenschaft und Politik, 1978); Otto Neuloh and Wilhelm Zilius, Die Wandervogel. Eine empirisch-soziologische Untersuchung der frühen deutschen Jugendbewegung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1982).
4. Journal, vol. 2, April 20th, 1943.
5. The Stalhelm association had been founded at the end of 1918 by Franz Seldte, born in Magdeburg in 1882, in reaction to the November revolution. His orientation to the right was intensified the moment the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June of 1919. After the assassinnation of Walther Rathenau, in 1922, Stahlhelm was dissolved in Prussia but the ban was lifted the following year. In 1925, it had around 260,000 members. In 1933, Seldte was named Minister of Labor in Hitler’s first cabinet. The National Socialist regime went on to force Stahlhelm’s integration into the Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Frontkampferbund (NSDFB). Theodor Duesterberg, Seldte’s assistant since 1924, who had immediately abandoned his functions, was arrested and imprisoned in June 1934. In 1935, the “liquidation” of Stahlhelm was complete. Cf. on this subject: Wilhelm Kleinau, Soldaten der Nation. Die geschichtliche Sendung des Stahlhelm (Berlin: Stahlhelm, 1933); Franz Seldte, ed., Der NSDFB (Stahlhelm). Geschichte, Wesen und Aufgabe des Frontsoldatenbundes (Berlin: Freiheitsverlag, 1935); Theodor Duesterberg, Der Stahlhelm und Hitler (Wolfenbüttel-Hannover: Wolfenbütteler Verlagsanstalt, 1949); and Volker R. Berghahn, Der Stahlhelm-Bund der Frontsoldaten (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1966).
6. Ernst Jünger, “Die Revolution,” Die Standarte, 1, October 18, 1925.
7. Cf. Louis Dupeux, Strategie communiste et dynamique conservatrice. Essai sur les difjerents sens de l’expression «national-bolchevisme» en Allemagne, sous la Republique de Weimar, 1919–1933 (Honore Champion, 1976), p. 313.
Source: Alain de Benoist, “Ernst Jünger: La Figure du Travailleur entre les Dieux et les Titans,” Nouvelle Ecole No. 40 (Autumn 1983): 11–61.