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

Jünger comments that the contemporary situation, the time of the worker, demands the establishment of a new form of power and rule, which, inasmuch as it is a claim to freedom, is the claim of work. Work produces the legitimation of power, of rule, and of freedom: “every claim to freedom within the work-world is therefore only possible insofar as it appears as a claim of work” (Jünger 1941, p. 65).34 Rule is, however, essentially ordering, it is essentially what orders into hierarchy and distinction, and so difference as such. The appearance of the worker as the form of the age (both the form the age produces, and the form which is how the age is to be understood) transforms the way in which hierarchy and distinction are to be understood. Heidegger’s marginal comment to this passage about “claims” itself declaims: Law-laying! Rank-ordering! Nietzsche, where are the “rulers”? The ruler is — the one who has the means to alter the will to power, and knows that it supplies a courage, which requires neither brutality nor “heroism” in the contemporary sense. (Heidegger 2004b, p. 341) (p.245)


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


On Jünger, On Heidegger

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