For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Technology and modernity: Spengler, Jünger, Heidegger, Cassirer"

by Roberts, David (2012)


In the crisis scenarios of modernity which flourished in the Weimar Republic, technology is typically seen as destiny or fate. Thus Oswald Spengler and Ernst Jünger both construe the coming struggle for world power in terms of the integration of production and technology in the industrial-military complex. Martin Heideggers critique of Jüngers blueprint for total mobilization in Der Arbeiter (1932) springs from his reading of modernity as nihilism. Just as the crisis of Western history is reaching completion in modernity, so equally metaphysics reaches completion in modern technology. Heideggers essay ?The Question Concerning Technology written after the Second World War, is contrasted with Ernst Cassirers essay Form and Technology (1930), directed against Spenglers regression to irrationalism, in terms of two fundamental relationships to the world: Heideggers Greek-oriented ontology of world disclosure and Cassirers modern ontology of construction (the possibilization of the world) with reference to technology and art.

Key Passage

Power, in Junger’s Nietzschean reading, is inherently totalitarian. The Worker mobilizes the world through technology, a process that declares war on all historical systems and religious institutions and reaches its conclusion with the destruction of all nation-states. They will all be swept away by the revolution of the Worker, which installs itself as the superior race. The machine, we may say, ends as with Spengler by emancipating itself from its masters because the Worker, the self-enslaving representative of power, ‘transcends’ the distinction between masters and servants, even if Junger (like Hitler and Himmler) accords a privileged role to military orders as the vanguard of the Worker’s revolution. Since totalitarian power is its own end, Junger can only escape the self-destructive cycle of the struggle for power by making the end purpose of planetary rule the bringing of history to an end through the transformation of chaotic conflict into the timeless order of space. The world, mobilized by technology, supplies the material setting on which an unchanging Gestalt is to be impressed. The enormous significance Heidegger accords Junger’s writings is evident in his interpretation of The Worker. Just as Machiavelli’s Prince stands at the beginning of the modern age, so The Worker represents its completion through its unconditional extrapolation of the Will to Power as the reality of the modern world. The Worker thus stands as key witness to the present as the completion of the historical crisis of modernity. Heidegger understands the Will to Power as the ultimate logic of the foundation of modern metaphysics in the subject, whether it appears as the ‘individual’ in liberalism, as ‘community’, nation or ‘people’ in nationalism, or as ‘mankind’ in communism. Hence the reciprocity of the definition of man, power and work in Junger. Work defines man in terms of the work-process of self-mobilization, just as world-mobilization is defined in accordance with the elevation of work to the inmost necessity of the world. (p.24)


Junger, Heidegger, Spengler, Cassirer, Technology, Modernity, Nihilism


On Jünger, Technology, On Heidegger

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