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

Here the fundamental difference between Heidegger and Jünger can also be seen, one that even lets us glimpse Heidegger’s own political understanding, for if Jünger is interested in bringing to description the typus of the worker and relating it to Nietzsche — the essence of the age — Heidegger himself is interested in origination and the “jointure” of beings as such, what lets beings be seen both for themselves and in relation to each other — what the Greeks name as arche, ordering source, the essence of essence (das Wesen des Wesens). The difference is in an ordering to time. Jünger is still preoccupied with the metaphysics of the worker, its essence or “whatness” and its causes. When Jünger says of the type of the worker that “one is forced to encounter a society of primitive souls, an originating race, which has not yet discovered its historical task, and is thereby free for new instructions” (Jünger 1941, p. 81)39, Heidegger’s marginal note adds: “the futural, unconditioned, subject” (Heidegger 2004b, p. 354).40 What for Jünger is an essence, a conditioning cause, is for Heidegger something yet to come, something coming to presence and even only now arriving. The philosophical question here is: do causes predetermine or do they befall us from the future? Depending on how we answer this will determine how we translate Jünger’s term Urrasse (“primal race”, “original breed”, “new order”, “typus”?), emphasised by being underlined in Heidegger’s own copy of the text (p.247)


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


On Jünger, On Heidegger

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