In The Worker (1932), Ernst Jünger wrote, “The peasant who begins to work with horse power instead of horses no longer belongs to any ‘estate’. He is a worker in particular conditions” Henceforth the peasant on his tractor, or the soldier using his machine gun no longer belongs to any “estate.” They personify the seizure of power by a new type of man: the Worker.
The Worker is a piece that the German author never reworked, contrary to his habits. He would agree to re-release this piece for the first time in 1964, but he added “complementary notes” to it, which would form the volume Maxima-Minima, an update comparing the Figure of the Worker to that of Titans like Antaeus, Prometheus, and Atlas. The Worker appeared in this piece as a telluric and mythic figure, a son of the earth and an enemy of the gods. Thirty years later, Jünger noted the irrefutable character of his analyses: the contemporary world henceforth solidified the domination of the Figure of the Worker.
By “Figure” Jünger means a spiritual reality reality that confers a meaning. The Figure is “a whole that encompasses the sum of its parts.” By assuming the Figure of the Worker, the individual inserts himself into a great hierarchical order of Figures. He becomes a symbol, a representative of a superior order, of a vocation, and of a destiny. The notion of Figure is a resurgence of the Platonic “Idea”, a kinship that Martin Heidegger would address during a seminar in 1940. Jünger, who didn’t appreciate this comparison, preferred to compare his Figure to Leibniz’s monad, or Goethe’s “Urpflanze” [Translator’s note: archetypal plant].
“Technology is the art and the manner by which the Figure of the Worker mobilizes the world”, Jünger notes in The Worker. It’s not a neutral power. Technology inevitably delivers the means of power that permits the domination of the Worker, the only Figure capable of utilizing it. The replacement of the lamp by the perpetual presence of the electric light-bulb highlights a universe henceforth foreign to religion. The writer remarks accurately that the instinct of Christian preachers to equate the empire of technology with the empire of Satan is far from lacking sense.
This new domination leads to the replacement of the “individual” by the “type.” The “worker” is not irreplaceable. Actually, every dead one can be immediately replaced by another “worker.” Bourgeois constitutions are replaced with a “work plan”, liberal democracy replaced with the democracy of labor or the state. Total mobilization renders the distinction between wartime mobilization and peacetime mobilization moot, like the distinction between “combatant” and “non-combatant.”
Jünger also notes in a striking manner the change in the physiognomy of his contemporaries, whose faces assume the appearances of masks, devoid of traits and giving a metallic impression. “The bone structure thrusts markedly forth, the features are sparse and taut. The gaze is quiet and fixed, trained in the contemplation of objects that are captured in situations of high speed.” He also notes the increased role of masks in daily life, whether it’s masks protecting the face in sports and from high speeds or protective masks for people working in zones that have become too dangerous.
The replacement of the bourgeoisie by the Figure of the Worker
In The Worker, Jünger mentions the replacement of the bourgeois by the Worker. The Great War constituted a decisive experience, accelerating the advent of new type of man, a new Figure. The resurgence of deep, telluric forces, in the deserts of fire in the material war permitted the advent of a new human type, whose mode of action was “total mobilization” of life through technology. This new type no longer belonged to an association or a party, but to a group of partisans. He forms a New Order, silent and invisible, a new aristocracy whose slogan is “heroic realism.” For him, the sacrifice of life is the ultimate good, and the supreme art of command “consists of showing purposes worthy of this sacrifice.”
In the epoch of mass revolutions, crowds of individuals flowed into the streets, followed by determined commandos, seizing the vital centers of cities with precise technology. The targets are no longer the personal representatives or individuals of the state, but communication centers, broadcasting antennae, or factory warehouses. If the mass is no longer capable of attacking, nor defending itself, the police henceforth effectively possess sufficient means to crush a revolutionary crowd in a few seconds.
The Worker is distinguished by a new relation to the elementary. The term “elementary” designates profound forces, those of faith, struggle, and passion, but also the four original elements: fire, water, earth, and air. The combatant youth experienced the elementary on the front, thanks to the extreme proximity with death, fire, and blood. They experienced the pleasure of absolute offerings, the maximal satisfaction of action. They passed through anarchy, through the destruction of old bonds. They crossed the zone of combat without being destroyed itself, and consequently possessed a new power. There is an ideal continuity uniting the combatant youth of the Great War with the figure of the Worker.
On the contrary, the bourgeois appears as someone who tries to escape danger by seeking refuge in a would be utopian security, that of glass walls and asphalt. The bourgeois forms the race of the defeated, the race that believed elementary power could be mastered by the old order, excluding it from danger in fortified enclosures, its secured citadels. Its slogans like “order and peace” or “pacifism” are equally slogans reflecting its weakness withing the new order.
New aristocracy or the terminal phase of civilization?
According to Julius Evola, the advent of the Worker is not the advent of a new aristocracy, but it further symbolizes a phase of leveling and dissolution. In the traditional model, spiritual aristocracy, warrior aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie correspond to different types, different “estates” and the Worker doesn’t escape this rule. Jünger’s Figure confirms the “Fourth Estate’s” seizure of power and the suppression of other castes by a new form of civilization.
In this twilight world that is the ultimate stage of advanced civilizations, all human activity is effectively transformed into “work.” Within this landscape of work sites, Jünger admits that generations of Workers will not leave behind savings or monuments, but only “a certain level, like a tide-mark of mobilization.” Nevertheless this Figure, who henceforth possesses an unequaled technical arsenal of surveillance, repression, and propaganda in its service, is more redoubtable than ever.
In The Crisis of the Modern World (1927), Guénon reminds us that he who invokes the brutal forces of matter must necessarily perish by these same forces, forces of nature or forces of the human masses. It is always the laws of matter that crush anyone who believes he could dominate them without elevating himself beyond matter. It is written in the Gospel: “Any house divided against itself cannot stand”; this quote perfectly applies to the world forged by the Worker, which can only, in essence, incite conflict ad division everywhere.
In the Treatise on the Rebel, Jünger mentions two other figures who will come to add themselves to the first. Firstly the unknown soldier, bearing the burden of the sacrifice of his life on the front, to the benefit of the Worker’s domination. Finally, the Figure of the Rebel, the Figure of resistance to the domination of technology, and the refusal to accept its consequences. He is someone who holds his own against the propaganda forged by fear, particularly fear of death. The Rebel is consequently capable of overthrowing giants, whose strength is terror.
If the twilight Figure of the Worker can justifiably provoke fear in some people, it is interesting to reread these lines from the philosopher and jurist Walter Schubart: “It’s not in the balance of the bourgeois world, but in the thunder of apocalypses that religions are reborn.” (Europe and the Soul of the East). Actually, according to René Guénon, everything indicates that we are henceforth in the final phase of the Kali-Yuga, in the darkest period of this “dark age.” If a restoration must happen, it will not be a simple recovery, but a total renewal, a rebirth.