Ernst Jünger

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We do not escape our boundaries or our innermost being. We do not change. It is true we may be transformed, but we always walk within our boundaries, within the marked-off circle.

Ernst Jünger (29 March 1895 – 17 February 1998) was a German author, highly decorated soldier, philosopher, and entomologist, who became publicly known for his World War I memoir Storm of Steel.


Storm of Steel (1920)[edit]

  • We had come from lecture halls, school desks and factory workbenches, and over the brief weeks of training, we had bonded together into one large and enthusiastic group. Grown up in an age of security, we shared a yearning for danger, for the experience of the extraordinary. We were enraptured by war.
  • Habent sua fata libelli et balli [Books and bullets have their own destinies]
  • Throughout the war, it was always my endeavour to view my opponent without animus, and to form an opinion of him as a man on the basis of the courage he showed. I would always try and seek him out in combat and kill him, and I expected nothing else from him. But never did I entertain mean thoughts of him. When prisoners fell into my hands, later on, I felt responsible for their safety, and would always do everything in my power for them.
  • These moments of nocturnal prowling leave an indelible impression. Eyes and ears are tensed to the maximum, the rustling approach of strange feet in the tall grass in an unutterably menacing thing. Your breath comes in shallow bursts; you have to force yourself to stifle any panting or wheezing. There is a little mechanical click as the safety-catch of your pistol is taken off; the sound cuts straight through your nerves. Your teeth are grinding on the fuse-pin of the hand-grenade. The encounter will be short and murderous. You tremble with two contradictory impulses: the heightened awareness of the huntsmen, and the terror of the quarry. You are a world to yourself, saturated with the appalling aura of the savage landscape.
This was the home of the great god Pain, and for the first time I looked through a devilish chink into the depths of his realm. And fresh shells came down all the time.
  • This was the home of the great god Pain, and for the first time I looked through a devilish chink into the depths of his realm. And fresh shells came down all the time.
  • At the sight of the Neckar slopes wreathed with flowering cherry trees, I had a strong sense of having come home. What a beautiful country it was, and eminently worth our blood and our lives. Never before had I felt its charm so clearly. I had good and serious thoughts, and for the first time I sensed that this war was more than just a great adventure.
  • In war you learn your lessons, and they stay learned, but the tuition fees are high.
  • When once it is no longer possible to understand how a man gives his life for his country – and the time will come – then all is over with that faith also, and the idea of the Fatherland is dead; and then, perhaps, we shall be envied, as we envy the saints their inward and irresistible strength.
  • Trench fighting is the bloodiest, wildest, most brutal of all […] Of all the war's exciting moments none is so powerful as the meeting of two stormtroop leaders between narrow trench walls. There's no mercy there, no going back, the blood speaks from a shrill cry of recognition that tears itself from one's breast like a nightmare.

Our Politicians (1925)[edit]

  • Politics is a continuation of war by different means.
    • p. 63
    • A reversal of Carl von Clausewitz's famous line "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means."

On Pain (1934)[edit]

  • There is only one world-view that is worthy of us, and which has already been discussed as the Choice of Achilles—better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without substance. The danger is so great, for every individual, every class, every people, that to cherish any illusion whatsoever is deplorable. Time cannot be stopped; there is no possibility for prudent retreat or wise renunciation. Only dreamers believe there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice. We are born into this time and must courageously follow the path to the end as destiny demands. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost post, without hope, without rescue, like the Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. […] The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.
Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are!
  • Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are!
  • Man's relation to pain changes with every significant shift in fundamental belief. This relation is in no way set; rather, it eludes our knowledge, and yet is the best benchmark by which to discern a race.

On the Marble Cliffs (1947)[edit]

Originally published as Auf den Marmorklippen in 1939. Translated from the German by Stuart Hood. [1]

  • There are periods of decline when the pattern fades to which our inmost life must conform. When we enter upon them we sway and lose our balance. From hollow joy we sink to leaden sorrow, and past and future acquire a new charm from our sense of loss. So we wander aimlessly in the irretrievable past or in distant Utopias; but the fleeting moment we cannot grasp.
    • p. 25

The Forest Passage (1951)[edit]

  • The spectacle of great, passionately aroused masses is one of the most important signs of our entrance into a new era. Within these hypnotic spheres there reigns, if not unanimity, then certainly a single voice—because to raise a dissenting voice here would lead to uproar and the destruction of its owner. A single person seeking to make his presence felt in this manner might as well opt to attempt an assassination—it would lead to the same thing.
    • Ch. 3
  • [...] man restricts his own power of decision in favor of technological expediencies. This brings all manner of conveniences—but an increasing loss of freedom must necessarily also result. The individual no longer stands in society like a tree in the forest; instead, he resembles a passenger on a fast-moving vessel, which could be called Titanic, or also Leviathan. While the weather holds and the outlook remains pleasant, he will hardly perceive the state of reduced freedom that he has fallen into. On the contrary, an optimism arises, a sense of power produced by the high speed. All this will change when fire-spitting islands and icebergs loom on the horizon. Then, not only does technology step over from the field of comfort into very different domains, but the lack of freedom simultaneously becomes apparent [...]
    • Ch. 13
  • Whether our modern instance represents a very unusual kind of fear or whether it is simply the return of one and the same cosmic anxiety in the style of the times—we will not pause on this but will rather raise the opposite question, which we think of crucial importance: Might it be possible to lessen the fear even as the automatism progresses or, as can be foreseen, approaches perfection? Would it not be possible to both remain on the ship and retain one’s autonomy of decision—that is, not only to preserve but even to strengthen the roots that are still fixed in the primal ground? This is the real question of our existence.
    • Ch. 13
  • Where the automatism increases to the point of approaching perfection—such as in America—the panic is even further intensified. There it finds its best feeding grounds; and it is propagated through networks that operate at the speed of light. The need to hear the news several times a day is already a sign of fear; the imagination grows and paralyzes itself in a rising vortex. The myriad antennae rising above our megacities resemble hairs standing on end—they provoke demonic contacts.
    • Ch. 13
  • Myth is not prehistory; it is timeless reality, which repeats itself in history. We may consider our own century’s rediscovery of meaning in myth as a favorable sign.
    • Ch. 15
  • The numbers of those wanting to abandon ship is growing, among them sharp minds and sound spirits. This would amount to jumping off in mid-ocean. Then hunger, cannibalism, and the sharks arrive—in short, all the terrors of the raft of the Medusa. It is thus under all circumstances advisable to stay on board and on deck, even at the risk of being blown up with everything else.
    • Ch. 17
  • This objection is not directed at the poet, who, in his works and in his life, manifests the vast superiority of the world of the muses over the technical world. He helps people find the way back to themselves—the poet is a forest rebel.
    • Ch. 17
  • The teaching of the forest is as ancient as human history, and even older. Traces can already be found in the venerable old documents that we are only now partly learning to decipher. It constitutes the great theme of fairy tales, of sagas, of the sacred texts and mysteries. If we assign the fairy tale to the stone age, myth to the bronze age, and history to the iron age, we will stumble everywhere across this teaching, assuming our eyes are open to it. We will rediscover it in our own uranian epoch, which we might also call the age of radiation.
    • Ch. 20
  • At all times, in all places, and in every heart, human fear is the same: it is the fear of destruction, the fear of death. [...] To overcome the fear of death is at once to overcome every other terror, for they all have meaning only in relation to this fundamental problem. The forest passage is, therefore, above all a passage through death.
    • Ch. 21
  • The great solitude of the individual is a hallmark of our times.
    • Ch. 21
  • In our present age, each day can bring shocking new manifestations of oppression, slavery, or extermination—whether aimed at specific social groupings or spread over entire regions. Exercising resistance to this is legal, as an assertion of basic human rights, which, in the best cases, are guaranteed in constitutions but which the individual has nevertheless to enforce. Effective forms exist to this end, and those in danger must be prepared and trained to use them; this represents the main theme of a whole new education. Familiarizing those in danger with the idea that resistance is even possible is already enormously important—once that has been understood, even a tiny minority can bring down the mighty but clumsy colossus.
    • Ch. 31
  • Anyone who has lived through the burning of a capital or the invasion of an eastern army will never lose a lively mistrust of all that one can possess in life. This is an advantage, for it makes him someone who, if necessary, can leave his house, his farm, his library, without too much regret. He will even discover that this is associated with an act of liberation.
    • Ch. 32

The Glass Bees (1957)[edit]

  • Today only the person who no longer believes in a happy ending, only he who has consciously renounced it, is able to live. A happy century does not exist; but there are moments of happiness, and there is freedom in the moment.
  • I came to realize that one single human being, comprehended in his depth, who gives generously from the treasures of his heart, bestows on us more riches than Caesar or Alexander could ever conquer. Here is our kingdom, the best of monarchies, the best republic. Here is our garden, our happiness.
  • All the systems which explain so precisely why the world is as it is and why it can never be otherwise, have always called forth in me the same kind of uneasiness one has when face to face with the regulations displayed under the glaring lights of a prison cell. Even if one had been born in prison and had never seen the stars or seas or woods, one would instinctively know of timeless freedom in unlimited space.
My evil star, however, had fated me to be born in times when only the sharply demarcated and precisely calculable where in fashion. […] "Of course, I am on the Right, on the Left, in the Centre; I descend from the monkey; I believe only what I see; the universe is going to explode at this or that speed" – we hear such remarks after the first words we exchange, from people whom we would not have expected to introduce themselves as idiots. If one is unfortunate enough to meet them again in five years, everything is different except their authoritative and mostly brutal assuredness. Now they wear a different badge in their buttonhole; and the universe now shrinks at such a speed that your hair stands on end.
  • We do not escape our boundaries or our innermost being. We do not change. It is true we may be transformed, but we always walk within our boundaries, within the marked-off circle.
  • A work of art wastes away and becomes lustreless in surroundings where it has a price but not a value. It radiates only when surrounded by love. It is bound to wilt in a world where the rich have no time and the cultivated no money. But it never harmonizes with borrowed greatness.
  • Human perfection and technical perfection are incompatible. If we strive for one, we must sacrifice the other: there is, in any case, a parting of the ways. Whoever realises this will do cleaner work one way or the other.
Technical perfection strives towards the calculable, human perfection towards the incalculable. Perfect mechanisms – around which, therefore, stands an uncanny but fascinating halo of brilliance – evoke both fear and Titanic pride which will be humbled not by insight but only by catastrophe.
The fear and enthusiasm we experience at the sight of perfect mechanisms are in exact contrast to the happiness we feel at the sight of a perfect work of art. We sense an attack on our integrity, on our wholeness. That arms and legs are lost or harmed is not yet the greatest danger.
  • A great physicist is always a metaphysicist as well; he has a higher concept of his knowledge and his task.
  • I had always been man enough to ruin myself without help.

Eumeswil (1977)[edit]

The populace consists of individuals and free men, while the state is made up of numbers.
  • The special trait making me an anarch is that I live in a world which I ‘ultimately’ do not take seriously. This increases my freedom; I serve as a temporary volunteer.
  • Freedom is based on the anarch’s awareness that he can kill himself. He carries this awareness around; it accompanies him like a shadow that he can conjure up. “A leap from this bridge will set me free.”
  • The partisan wants to change the law, the criminal break it; the anarch wants neither. He is not for or against the law. While not acknowledging the law, he does try to recognize it like the laws of nature, and he adjusts accordingly.
  • The anarchist, as the born foe of authority, will be destroyed by it after damaging it more or less. The anarch, on the other hand, has appropriated authority; he is sovereign. He therefore behaves as a neutral power vis-à-vis state and society. He may like, dislike, or be indifferent to whatever occurs in them. That is what determines his conduct; he invests no emotional values.
  • The anarch's study of the history of the caesars has more of a theoretical significance for him – it offers a sampling of how far rulers can go. In practice, self-discipline is the only kind of rule that suits the anarch. He, too, can kill anyone (this is deeply immured in the crypt of his consciousness) and, above all, extinguish himself if he finds himself inadequate.
  • Man is born violent but is kept in check by the people around him. If he nevertheless manages to throw off his fetters, he can count on applause, for everyone recognizes himself in him. Deeply ingrained, nay, buried dreams come true. The unlimited radiates its magic even upon crime, which, not coincidentally, is the main source of entertainment in Eumeswil. I, as an anarch, not uninterested but disinterested, can understand that. Freedom has a wide range and more facets than a diamond.
  • Seen politically, systems follow one another, each consuming the previous one. They live on ever-bequeathed and ever-disappointed hope, which never entirely fades. Its spark is all that survives, as it eats its way along the blasting fuse. For this spark, history is merely an occasion, never a goal.
  • The egalitarian mania of demagogues is even more dangerous than the brutality of men in gallooned coats. For the anarch, this remains theoretical, because he avoids both sides. Anyone who has been oppressed can get back on his feet if the oppression has not cost him his life. A man who has been equalized is physically and morally ruined. Anyone who is different is not equal; that is one of the reasons why the Jews are so often targeted. Equalization goes downward, like shaving, hedge trimming, or the pecking order of poultry. At times, the world spirit seems to change into monstrous Procrustes – a man has read Rousseau and starts practicing equality by chopping off heads or, as Mimie le Bon called it, 'making the apricots roll.' The guillotinings in Cambrai were an entertainment before dinner. Pygmies shortened the legs of tall Africans in order to cut them down to size; white Negroes flatten the literary languages.
  • Compulsory schooling is essentially a means of curtailing natural strength and exploiting people. The same is true of military conscription, which developed within the same context. The anarch rejects both of them – just like obligatory vaccination and insurance of all kinds. He has reservations when swearing an oath. He is not a deserter, but a conscientious objector.
  • I consider it poor historical form to make fun of ancestral mistakes without respecting the eros that was linked to them. We are no less in bondage to the Zeitgeist; folly is handed down, we merely don a new cap.
  • The populace consists of individuals and free men, while the state is made up of numbers. When the state dominates, killing becomes abstract. Servitude began with the shepherds; in the river valleys it attained perfection with canals and dikes. Its model was the slavery in mines and mills. Since then, the ruses for concealing chains have been refined.

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