The following essay was printed in Svein Olav Nyberg’s egoist journal non serviam in August, 2002.
Ernst Jünger (1895-1998) was one of the most controversial figures in twentieth-century Germany.
At eighteen he ran away from home and joined the Foreign Legion.
Brought back by his father, at nineteen he became an infantry officer at the outbreak of the first World War. He was wounded several times and was awarded Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest medal for bravery.
After the war ended he wrote several books about his battle experiences in which he glorified the warrior as the new elite.
He became a “conservative revolutionary,” was active in the nationalist movement and was invited by Adolf Hitler (who greatly admired his war books) to join the National Socialists. Jünger refused.
When the National Socialists came to power he withdrew from politics, maintaining a detached attitude as an “internal emigrant.”
In 1939 he wrote his perhaps most famous work On Marble Cliffs, an allegorical story of the triumph of barbarism. It became a bestseller before the National Socialists, much alarmed, suppressed it. Jünger, however, remained unharmed due, it is said, to Hitler’s explicit instructions.
The second World War saw him back in the army with the rank of captain. He took part in the invasion of France, won another Iron Cross and spent most of his time as a staff officer in occupied Paris. Here he met many of the literary figures of the time.
Although he took no part in the plot to kill Hitler in 1944, he was on friendly terms with some of the conspirators. For this he was dismissed from the army.
When Germany fell to the victorious Allies he was regarded with suspicion by the British occupying powers and his books were banned. Undeterred he continued to write and refused to appear before a de-Nazification tribunal on the grounds that he had never been a Nazi.
Once the ban on the publication of his works was lifted, he produced a steady stream of novels, essays and journals.
By now he had evolved far beyond his erstwhile political militancy, becoming more and more content to be an observer.
At eighty-five he wrote one of his last major works: Eumeswil. Although described as a novel it is difficult to fit into this category.
It is set in an unspecified future. Nations have disappeared, giving way to world government. This in turn has collapsed and been replaced by empires and city state.
Eumeswil is one of the city states and is ruled by a benevolent tyrant called the Condor. Its narrator is a young historian named Martin Venator who is also night steward at the tyrant’s citadel, the Casbah. Here he records the observations of the tyrant and his entourage and develops them into reflections upon power and history.
Venator embodies Jünger’s concept of “the anarch”, whom he carefully differentiated from “the anarchist.” The anarch is a self-owner, who is liberated from all ideologies, and intent on protecting himself from their blandishments.
Throughout the book there are echoes, varying in strength, of Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, together with some sometimes puzzling attempts by the author to distinguish his views from those of Stirner. “Puzzling” because these take the form of criticisms he does not clarify.
Several pages of Eumeswil are devoted to Stirner himself, and here Jünger displays a rather curious ambivalence. He writes, for example, that Stirner’s life “was banal … misspent in profession and business, a failed marriage, debts, a regular tavern table with the standard blabber preceding the German revolution, a high-level philistine – the usual stuff.”
Yet he remarked about Marx and Engels labelling him “Saint Max” “all derision contains a speck of truth … the characteristic feature of great saints – of whom there are very few – is that they get to the very heart of the matter. The most obvious things are concealed in human beings, nothing is harder to evince than what is self-evident, Once it is uncovered or rediscovered it develops explosive strength. Saint Anthony recognized the power of the solitary man, Saint Francis the power of the poor man, Stirner that of the man alone. At bottom everyone is ‘solitary’, ‘poor’ and ‘alone’ in the world.”
And: “the discoverer has his delights – what had touched me so deeply?”
As a work of art, as a philosophical meditation, as a reaction to the “explosive power” of The Ego and His Own, Eumeswil is well worth reading.