The spiritual path of Jünger found its salvation in writing and voyages.
Robert Steuckers is the author of a reference work, “La Révolution conservatrice allemande (2014),” that compiles biographies and selected texts from this great intellectual movement of which he is a recognized specialist. He is at the head of the movement Synergies européennes after having left GRECE in 1993. We interviewed him about an emblematic figure of the German Conservative Revolution, Ernst Jünger, as well as a personality less known by the public, Armin Mohler, great theorist of the Conservative Revolution.
PHILITT : You distinguish many currents within the German Conservative Revolution. Which one does Jünger belong to?
Robert Steuckers: Ernst Jünger belongs, surely, in the National-Revolutionary vein of the “Conservative Revolution,” almost from the start. It’s a current necessarily more revolutionary than conservative. For what reasons does Jünger fall into this revolutionary nationalism rather than another another category of the Conservative Revolution? Like many of his counterparts, the reading of Nietzsche, before 1914, while still an adolescent, was determinant. We must firstly summarize that Nietzsche, in this era, was read above all on the most controversial fringes of the German left and by Bohemian literati. There reigned a joyous and mocking anarchism in these milieus that tore off the masks of the bien-pensants, that denounced hypocrisies and castigated moralism. It was in the overflowing spirit of the Wandervogel youth movement, in which Ernst Jünger participated from 1911-1912. The discovery of Nietzsche left few written traces in the work of Jünger. Between his return from the Foreign Legion and his engagement with the German Imperial Army, we have few of his personal notes, letters addressed to his parents or friends. His biographer Heimo Schwilk simply notes that Jünger read the Will to Power and the Birth of Tragedy. We can deduce that the adolescent inherited a rebellious attitude from this reading. No established order found grace in his eyes. Like a good number of his contemporaries in the Belle Epoque, where they were bored, he rejected what was frozen. So it’s essentially the Nietzsche they called “critical” and “unmasking” that transformed 18 year old Jünger. It was necessary to think dangerously, according to the injunctions of the loner of Sils-Maria. It was also necessary to make a complete renewal, to experiment in incandescent living in communities of Dionysian ecstasy. This ardent living, the war would offer him. The cataclysm freed him from the boredom, sterile repetitions, hesitant humdrum in educational institutions. The experience of the war, with the daily confrontation with the “elementary” (mud, rats, fire, cold, wounds …) destroyed all the frozen reflexes that a child from a good Belle Epoque family could still harbor in his heart.
Where does the nationalism of Jünger come from?
What made Jünger a “nationalist” in the 1920s, it’s the reading of Maurice Barrès. Why? Before the Great War, they were conservatives, but not revolutionary ones. Henceforth, with the myth of blood, sung by Barrès, they became revolutionary nationalists. The term, rather new at the start of the Weimar Republic, indicates a political and aesthetic radicalization that broke with the conventional right. Germany, between 1918 and 1923, was in the same disastrous situation as France after 1871. The Barrèsian revanchist model was thus transposable in humiliated and vanquished Germany. In following, not inclined to accept conventional political work, Jünger was seduced, like Barrès before him, by General Boulanger, the man, he wrote, “who energetically opened the window, throwing out the babblers and letting fresh air in.” With Barrès, Ernst Jünger not only found the keys to a metapolitics of revenge or an ideal of violent purification of political life, in the fashion of Boulanger. Behind this reception of Barrès there was a mystic dimension, concentrated in a work that Ernst Jünger had already read in high school: Du sang, de la volupté et de la mort. It holds necessary an orgiastic drunkenness, which does not fear blood, in any sound political approach, that is to say in the context of the era, any non-liberal non bourgeois political approach.
The National-Revolutionary camp, within the Conservative Revolution, was thus essentially a camp of young former soldiers, directly or indirectly influenced by Nietzsche and Barrès (often via the interpretation Jünger gave). A camp that very much desired, if the occasion presented itself, to make a coup in the fashion of General Boulanger, this time with the Freikorps of Captain Ehrhardt.
Starting from “The Peace” an essay published in 1946, his work seems to take an individualist turn, maybe even spiritual. Must we see a break with the Conservative Revolution there?
I think that the “individualist” turn, as you said, and the spiritual and traditionalist attraction operated surreptitiously since the very effervescent political period, from 1918 to 1926, ceased to animate the German political scene. The treaties of Locarno and Berlin brought appeasement in Europe and Germany signed more or less satisfactory treaties with its neighbors to the East and West. We can no longer speak of a revolutionary period in Europe, where everything would be possible, like National-Bolshevism from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The futurist and Barrèsian dreams were no longer possible. The Bolshevik up-welling, it too faded, and the USSR tried to stabilize itself. Jünger made the first of his voyages, leaving Germany, with a scholarship to study marine fauna in Naples. The encounter with the Mediterranean was important: its landscapes calmed the Nordic soldier coming from the Hells of Flanders and Picardy. The treaties and the trip to Naples certainly did not interrupt the editorial activities of Ernst Jünger and his brother Friedrich Georg. They both participated in the most audacious journals of the little nationalist, National-Revolutionary, or National-Bolshevik sphere. They were resistant towards the advances of Goebbels, Hitler or Hess: above all because the two brothers remained “Boulangists.” They did not want to participate in political carnivals, they placed themselves under the sign of a nationalism born from war and the refusal of the implications of the Treaty of Versailles. Since the advent of National-Socialist power in 1933, the retreat of the Jünger was accentuated. Ernst Jünger renounced any position in the literary academies brought to heel by the regime. Sitting in these controlled academies would lead to a sterile, even quietist, humdrum life rather than a Nietzschean one, he could not accept. It was also the time of the first retreat to the rural zone, in Kirchhorst in Lower Saxony, in the region of Hanover, the cradle of his paternal family. Then a few voyages to Mediterranean countries, and finally, uniformed sojourns to Paris in the occupation army.
It is an aging Jünger who expresses himself more in this individualist tone?
The abandonment of the entrenched positions of the years 1918-1933 certainly came with age: Ernst Jünger was fifty when the Third Reich collapsed in horror. It also came from the terrible shock of the death of his son Ernstel in combat in the marble quarries of Carrare in Italy. At the moment of writing The Peace, Ernst Jünger, bitter like most of his compatriots at the time of defeat, stated: “After a likewise defeat, we do not rise like they could rise after Jena or Sedan. A defeat of this extent means a turning point in the life of all people that it subdues; in this phase of transition not only do innumerable human beings disappear but also and above all many things that would move us more deeply in ourselves disappear.” Unlike the preceding wars, the Second World War brought the destructive power of the belligerents to paroxysm, to dimensions that Ernst Jünger qualified as “cosmic,” especially after the atom bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our author understood that this destructive excess was not longer comprehensible in the usual political categories: in fact, we enter into an era of post-history. The defeat of the Third Reich and the victory of the allies (the Anglo-Saxon and Soviets) had rendered the pursuit of historical trajectories inherited from the past impossible. Technical means had lead to mass death, the destruction of entire cities in a few minutes, even a few seconds, which proved that modern civilization, as his biographer Schwilk wrote: “tends irremediably to destroy everything that underlines the natural, traditions, organic facts of life.” It’s the post-historic age of “poly-technicians of power” which began everywhere, and above all in ravaged Europe, forming the world to its standards.
The 22nd of September 1945, Schwilk recalls, Ernst Jünger wrote in his journal: “They know neither Greek myths nor Christian ethics nor French moralism nor German metaphusics nor the poetry of all the poets in the world. Before the true life, they are only dwarfs. But they are Goliath technicians – thus giants in every work of destruction, where they ultimately conceal their mission, that they ignore as such. They have a clarity and unusual precision about everything that is mechanical. They are confused, stunted, drowned, by all that is beauty and love. They are titans and cyclops, spirits of darkness, negators and enemies of all creative forces. Those who can reduce millions of years of organic development to nothing by a few meager efforts, without leaving anything behind that could equal the least spring of grass, the least grain of corn, the smaller wing of a mosquito. They are far from poems, wine, dreams, games, hopelessly lost in fallacious doctrines, articulated in the manner of pretentious professors. Nevertheless, they have their mission to accomplish.”
Are those the words of a disillusioned man?
They are the sentiments that Ernst Jünger wanted to communicate to his readers immediately after 1945. Schwilk, in my eyes the best biographer by far, explains the meaning of the gradual evolution that occurred in the spirit of our author: Everyone is guilty in this Second World War that was the “first collective work of humanity.” And a work of destruction! Political projects could no longer be national, reduced to small or middling nations alone. It was necessary to create Europe, Jünger thought immediately after the war, where the peoples could recognize that the war had been simultaneously won and lost by all. This Europe must renew the principles of tranquility of the Middles Ages or the Ancien Regime: he clearly renounced the concepts that he forged in from 1920-1930, those of “total mobilization” and the “Worker” that had formed the quintessence of his National-Revolutionary philosophy just before Hitler’s rise to power. These concepts, he stated in 1946, no longer lead to anything positive. They called to push humanity into horror.
Thus Jünger became the prophet of “deceleration” (die Entschleunigung), after having been the prophet of paroxysmal acceleration (die Beschleunigung) in the 20s, like the Italian Futurists gathered around Marinetti. Jan Robert Weber released a biography of Ernst Jünger in 2011 centered around the notion of “deceleration:” he explains there that the spiritual and “individualist” progression (I would say the progression of the anarch) was deployed in two principle phases: the retreat to writing, claimed as a refuge to escape the work of the titans and cyclops or the degenerating throes of post-history; then voyages to Mediterranean refuges which, very soon, would become victims of voracious modernity and its strategies of acceleration themselves. Jan Robert Weber: “It calms me as a man who travels across the world in post-history.”
Armin Mohler was the secretary of Ernst Jünger and worked to make the German Conservative Revolution known. Could you tell us more about his role?
It’s evidently not so much a rupture with the Conservative Revolution (which has too many facets to be able to reject entirely) but with his own National-Revolutionary postures. Armin Mohler wrote the first laudatory article on Ernst Jünger in Weltwoche in 1946. In September 1949, he became Ernst Jünger’s secretary, whose first task was publishing a part of his war journals in Switzerland, under the supervision of the moderately existentialist and Protestant philosopher Karl Jaspers, from whom he retained a cardinal idea: that of the “axial period” of history. An axial period creates the perennial values of a civilization or geo-religious great space. For Armin Mohler, very idealistic, the Conservative Revolution, by rejecting the ideas of 1789, from English Manchesterism and all the other liberal ideas, laid the bases for a new battery of values to regenerate the world, to give it a new solid course, through the efforts of audacious elites, following the idea of amor fati formulated by Nietzsche. The ideas expressed by Ernst Jünger in the National-Revolutionary journals of the 1920s and in The Worker of 1932 were the “purest,” the most purified from all regressive baggage and all compromises with one or another aspect of pan-liberalism of the “stupid 19th century” which Daudet spoke of, it would be necessary that these ideas triumph over post-history and revive the dynamism of European peoples in their history.
The sustainability of these new values’ founding ideas would sweep away the lame ideas of the Soviet and Anglo-Saxon victors and surpass the very caricatured ideas of the National-Socialists. Armin Mohler wanted to convince the master to return to the struggle. But Jünger had just published The Wall of Time, whose central thesis was that the era of historical humanity, steeped in history and acting within it, was definitely over. In The Peace, Jünger still evoked a Europe unified in sadness and reconciliation. On the threshold of a new decade, in 1960, “national empires” and the idea of a unified Europe not longer enthused him. There was no other perspective than that of “universal state,” the title of a new work. Modern humanity was delivered to material forces, to endless acceleration of processes what aimed to seize the entire world. This planetary fluidity, also criticized by Carl Schmitt, dissolves all historical categories, all peaceful stability. So to reactivate them has no chance of leading to anything one way or the other. In order to complete a National-Revolutionary program, as the Jünger brothers imagined, they needed willing citizens and free soldiers. But this liberty had faded from every regime around the globe. It was replaced by obtuse, cumbersome, instincts like those that guide insect colonies.
So the attitude of the anarch described by Jünger is an alternative, a new perspective for this era. How it is defined?
Before the extent of this anthropological catastrophe, the anarch must try to escape the Leviathan. His will of independence, calm and no longer rowdy, must espouse the “will of the Earth,” that seeks to smother the Goliaths and titans. For Armin Mohler, Ernst Jünger renounced the heroic ideals of his youth. He didn’t accept it. Corresponding with German language journals in Paris, he regularly addressed mordant and ironic reproach to Ernst Jünger. It was their rupture. The criticisms and recriminations were: Mohler wrote that Jünger had aligned himself with the “democracy of the occupiers.” Worse: he accused the second wife of Jünger, Liselotte Lohrer, of being responsible for this reversal; she ensured that her husband, “took the ideas that forged their destiny from his own disciples.”
Did this tension transcribe itself into the reception the “Nouvelle Droite” gave to Jünger’s work?
The French Nouvelle Droite emerged on the Parisian political-cultural scene at the end of 60s. Ernst Jünger first appeared to it in the form of a booklet penned by Marcel Decombis. The Conservative Revolution, more precisely the thesis of Mohler, was evoked by Giorgio Locchi in issue No. 23 of Nouvelle École. Beginning with these texts a diverse and heterogeneous reception emerged: the war texts for the lovers of militaria; the National-Revolutionary texts (little known and little translated) in bits and pieces among the youngest and most Nietzschean; the journals among the silent anarchs, etc. From Mohler, the Nouvelle Droite inherited the idea of a planetary alliance between Europe and the enemies of the Yalta duopoly firstly, then American unipolarity next. It’s the direct heritage of the politics and alternative alliances suggested under the Weimar Republic, notably with the Arab Muslim world, China, and India. Moreover, Armin Mohler rehabilitated Georges Sorel in a more explicit and profound manner than the Nouvelle Droite. In Germany, Mohler received a third of the space in the journal Criticon, directed by the very wise and much missed Baron Caspar von Schrenck-Notzing in Munich. Today, this Mohlerian heritage has been assumed by the publishing house Antaios and the magazine Sezession, directed by Götz Kubitschek and his spouse Ellen Kositza.
Armin Mohler worked in France and had shown himself to be relatively Francophile. However his position on the question of French Algeria contrasted with that of the proponents of the “Nouvelle Droite.” What does this controversy teach about the relation between Conservative Revolutionary thought and the world?
Armin Mohler was effectively the correspondent of various German and Swiss papers in Paris since the middle of the 1950s. He learned the spirit of French politics: a magisterial text (which revived the Jüngerien cult of Barrès a bit …) attests to this enthusiastic reception. This text was titled Der französische Nationaljakobinismus and has never been translated! Mohler was fascinated by the figure of Charles de Gaulle, who he qualified as a “political animal.” For Armin Mohler, De Gaulle was a disciple of Péguy, Barrès and Bergson, three authors that we could interpret and then mobilize in order to re-energize the values of the Conservative Revolution. Regarding the Algerian affair, Armin Mohler reasoned in his text on Gaullisms (in the plural!), Charles de Gaulle und die Gaullismen, in terms drawn from the work of Carl Schmitt (who, at the time, criticized the “stardom” of Jünger, his art of publicity seeking as a “diva;” the criticisms of Mohler could be compared to those formulated by Schmitt…). For the jurist, theorist of “great spaces,” and for Mohler, Jünger had committed the sin of “de-politicization.”
Mohler’s infatuation with De Gaulle is astonishing!
Regarding the phenomenon of “De Gaulle,” Mohler was full of praise: the general had succeeded in decolonizing without causing a big political explosion, a general civil war. He also praised the founder of the Fifth Republic for having begun a great institutional upheaval after the turmoil caused by Algerian independence. Here again, he benefited from the reading of Schmitt rather than Jünger, that said: the Constitution of 1958 was ultimately the work of a Schmittian, René Capitant; it values the political much more than the other constitutions in the West. To which Mohler added that he approved the introduction of direct presidential election, following the plebiscite of October 28th 1962. Ultimately, Schmitt, the disciple of Charles Maurras, Maurice Hauriou and Charles Benoist, was horrified by “intermediaries” between the monarch (or president) and the people. Mohler, inspired by Schmitt, welcomed the presidential suppression of the “intermediaries,” the logical consequence of the new constitutional principles of 1958 and the power concentrated in the person of the president, from 1962. The “Fourth Gaullism,” according to Mohler, is that of “Grand Politics,” of an alternative global geopolitics, where France tried to escape from the American vice, not hesitating to align with “rogue” states (China, for example) and assuming an independent policy with the entire world. This “Grand Politics” shattered in Mai 68, when the “chienlit” demonstrated and began “their long march through the institutions,” which lead France to the big carnivalesque joke of today. Mohler, not so much as a reader of Jünger but as a reader of Schmitt, was Gaullist, in the name of the same principles of his Conservative Revolution. He thought we could only judge De Gaulle on Schmittian criteria alone. He commented on the adventure of the ultras on the OAS along those lines. So Mohler belonged to another political school than the future leaders of the Nouvelle Droite. The German New Right possessed other idiosyncrasies: the convergence between Mohler and the Frence Nouvelle Droite (with the Jüngerian Venner) only came about when the differences of the Algerian War were no longer relevant.
Mohler wanted to transpose the Gaullist independent thinking into Germany. In February 1968, he would defend the Gaullist “Grand Politics” point of view at a meeting of a “Euro-American colloquium” in Chicago. This text, released in English and not translated in French, has the merit of a programmatic clarity, it desires to remove Europe from the straitjacket of Yalta, under the banner of a new European Gaullism. If there is a lesson to draw from it, not from this argument but from this intransigent Euro-Gaullist stance, it’s effectively that a Schmittian reading of European political decline (in the era of post-historical decadence) proves itself to be very necessary. And that an exit program from all incapacitating subservience is imperative, otherwise we will sink into a definitive decline. All the ingredients of our disappearance are near.
Is the influence that Jünger exercised on Mohler felt in our contemporaries’ reception of the German Conservative Revolution?
For the most part, yes. Despite the great diversity of aspects and perspectives that the Conservative Revolution takes and adopts, Jünger the National-Revolutionary, the nationalist soldier, doubtlessly fascinates more than than the anarch or the voyager who observes wild worlds more or less still intact or the entomologist who engaged in his “subtle hunts.” However, it is also exactly the central idea of “The Wall of Time” that is not without relevance. We are marinated in post-history through and through; as for Gaullism or a similar Europeanism, we hardly see a trace: Sarkozy and Hollande have liquidated the last vestiges of Gaullist independence. The anti-American stance of Chirac in 2003, at the time of the Second Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, is already a distant memory: rare are those who still invoke the Paris-Berlin-Moscow Axis, defined by Henri de Grossouvre. However, the long list of authors suggested by Mohler in his doctoral thesis advised by Jaspers, inspires numerous intellectual vocations. We can no longer count the theses on these authors, even if they have been ostracized for a long time in the name of a “political correctness” avant la lettre. All these studies do not share the same approach. But beyond history, in the disordered tumults of chaotic post-history, this long buried world of increasingly blurred memories will be reconstructed. In order to make a museum? Or in order to make the premises of a “grand return?”
The figures of the rebel and the anarch are marked by a living aspiration for liberty, which is not without links to a notion of adventure based on the dignity of the human condition with Mohler. Is the free and adventurous individual the archetype of man that the Conservative Revolution idealized?
Yes, the liberty of the writer, the authentic man, the autonomy of the person, are inevitable qualities of the rebel and the anarch. Or better: they are embodied by them alone. Mohler, in a philosophical and theological debate with Thomas Molnar in the journal Criticon, had christened this “heroic realism” by the name of “nominalism.” The Nouvelle Droite, uniquely translating his contribution in the debate with Molnar, reprised his account of the term “nominalism” to express his heroic existentialism, to somehow affirm a sort of primacy of existence over essence, but through very different narratives and features than Sartre. “Nominalism” as defined by Mohler, ultimately has very little to do with the nominalism of the Middle Ages. Not only does the adventurer hero, the absolute Nietzschean, embody it, but also the quiet anarch, the voyager who seeks unsullied worlds, the explorer who defies the traps of virgin nature, the vulcanologist like Haroun Tazieff, captain Cousteau or the observers of grand land or marine mammals or the entomologist, all are equally figures who refuse the conformism of millions of consumers, the bleating flock of post-historic conurbations. In the ranks of the Nouvelle Droite, no one defined the adventurer better than Jean Mabir in an interview he gave with Laurent Schang, today a contributor to Éléments. This interview was published in Nouvelles de Synergies Européennes. Mabire expressed there, like in his literary chronicles collected in « Que lire ? », an authentic existentialism: that which desires rooted (in their physical homeland) but adventurous men and castigates the rootless and timid. In this clear formula, in this limpid distinction (thanks to my friend Bernard Garcet !) the vital program that we must apply to ourselves in order to become true rebels and anarchs is summarized.