For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Work as total reason for being: Heidegger and Jünger’s Der Arbeiter"

by Hemming, Laurence Paul (2008)


This article examines Heidegger’s reading of Ernst Jünger’s 1932 Der Arbeiter by making appeal not only to Heidegger’s remarks on the work (and its associated text “Die totale Mobilmachung”) scattered in various texts, but by concentrating on Heidegger’s now-available seminar notes and marginal notes to his actual copy of the text. Heidegger held two seminars on Der Arbeiter, one shortly after its publication and one in 1938, which show his close confrontation not only with Jünger’s reading of Nietzsche, but also Heidegger’s own Nietzsche examination. The article shows how Heidegger distinguishes himself from Jünger by, on the one hand, seeing Der Arbeiter as very much a product of its time and, on the other, identifying a prescience in Nietzsche of a Europe and planetary phenomenon (globalisation) yet to come. This is accomplished in the naming of the triad of Bolshevism, fascism (Nazism), and Americanism metaphysically as the singularity of “world democracy”, and as an entirely nihilistic phenomenon. The article therefore relates the confrontation of these two thinkers with the third (Nietzsche) to issues of the demand for justice, democracy, and the will to power in contemporary economic and political developments, as well as to wider themes in Heidegger’s thought of the end (or consummation) of metaphysics, the will to power, and valuation. The event, in which a new form has announced itself, the form of the worker, brings to expression a particular mankind, presents itself in relation to a mastering of the world as the emergence of a new principle, which should be defined as work. (Jünger 1941, p. 85)

Key Passage

Heidegger became intrigued by Jünger’s work after the publication of “Die totale Mobilmachung” and he refers in several places to discussions he organised on Jünger’s Der Arbeiter both shortly after its publication (with Heidegger’s Assistent Werner Brock and a small circle) and again in 1939/1940 (Heidegger 2000a; cf. Heidegger 2000b, p. 375), until, he says, “one was, however, not surprised that an attempt to elucidate ‘Der Arbeiter’ was watched and finally forbidden” (Heidegger 1996, p. 390).6 This remark was itself made in the context of Heidegger’s final confrontation with Jünger, in the 1956 version of his essay “Zur Seinsfrage” (“On the Question of Being”), which had first appeared in 1955 under the title Über “die Linie” (“Concerning ‘The Line’”; Heidegger 1955; cf. Heidegger 1996). This was a clever pun and a modification of Jünger’s own title for a contribution to a Festschrift for Heidegger five years earlier, on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday: “Über die Linie” (“Crossing the Line”; Jünger 1965c). Heidegger’s mischievous modification of the title transforms the meaning from “crossing the line”, by which Jünger had meant crossing over from nihilism to the thinking of being, to “concerning ‘the line’”, and indicating that the “crossing” in question can never be a conscious decision, never an act of the willing subject. (p.234)


Heidegger, Junger, Der Arbeiter, Mobilisation, Technology, Military, Bolshevism, Nazism, Democracy


On Jünger, On Heidegger

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