For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Twilight of Man : Alienation, Liberty, and Hegel's Problem in Karl Marx and Ernst Jünger"

by Tralau, Johan (2002)


This thesis is about the problem of alienation, that is, the fact that man can experience society, nature and his fellow human beings as something strange and even threatening. One way of dealing with this dilemma was envisaged by Hegel, who held that alienation could be superseded when the alienated person discovered the alien object as part of himself. This book explores a radicalised version of this path. In the utopian society of the young Karl Marx, man is supposed to overcome alienation. Here, a new interpretation is presented. In contradistinction to what generally has been claimed about the Marxian Utopia, it is argued that the supersession of alienation entails not only abolition of the state and of the division of labour, but complete unity with society, nature and other men, and hence annihilation of individuality and dissolution of the human being. The Worker‘s Utopia of Ernst Jünger suffers from the same problem. This new interpretation claims that a secret doctrine can be found in Jünger‘s work, namely, that man is completely subjected to technology, to a totalitarian state, and to the nihilistic destruction of all values. However, it is possible to make this alienating process bearable by portraying it as the mobilisation of the world by a metaphysical force that makes man, nature and technology merge. According to this interpretation, then, this attempt to overcome alienation is a myth that turns the complete loss of independence into an aesthetic phenomenon. The supersession of alienation thus meant the end of individuality. It is therefore claimed that alienation is a prerequisite of human liberty. A concept of liberty is developed that is neither exclusively determined as the absence of repression and social bonds, as it is in some liberal and anarchist theories, nor as the supersession of the alienating boundaries between the human being and the world. It is argued that the former is incompatible not only with human nature, but with negative liberty itself. Furthermore, on the basis of the Aristotelian insight regarding the nature of pleasure, it is claimed that the latter, and indeed any utopian attempt at superseding alienation inexorably fails – for the experience of non-alienation cannot be continuous or final.


Political Science, Alienation, Liberty, Individuality, Political Theory, Subject, Self, Utopia, Hegel, Karl Marx, Ernst Jünger


On Jünger, On Hegel

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