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

In the protocols from a seminar session of 1937 on Nietzsche’s Wille zur Macht entitled “The Biological as Economic Basic-Position”, Heidegger notes that “the opposite of what the common herd desire is necessary for the elevating of the typical man” (Heidegger 2004a, §53, p. 66).29 The typical man is in every case the subject as subject, who distinguishes himself in his very self precisely with respect to, and over against, what he perceives to be what the common lot seek out and seek after. We may note in passing that on this account, the typical man is precisely a cultural conservative critic, bemoaning where the common lot are driving themselves off to — but even more, that this reads like a manifesto for a television or magazine advertisement for a luxury good, of the kind you would find in the “How To Spend It” section of the weekend edition of the Financial Times. The quality, character, and provenance of the luxury item in themselves are of no relevance at all, only that in my possessing it I have something which you could never have, and that it is the very opposite of what you already have. The drive to be highest, best, above the herd is experienced not as the assertion of a present (but yet unseen) state, but as a lack, something missing in the subject which is to be attained and, as willed to be made to appear, thereby will be made to appear. Repeatedly, Heidegger speaks of Jünger’s descriptions in Der Arbeiter as the drive for security, for securing the indeterminate self over against its indeterminacy. This “securing over against” is to be attained, for the worker, by technological means, the absolute drive to put to work “the mechanical and the organic” (cf. Heidegger 2004b, p. 96). (p.244)


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


On Jünger, On Heidegger

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