For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Politics and Ontological Difference in Heidegger"

by de Sá, Alexandre Franco (2014)


This is the first English translation of the seminar Martin Heidegger gave during the Winter of 1934-35, which dealt with Hegel's Philosophy of Right. This remarkable text is the only one in which Heidegger interprets Hegel's masterpiece in the tradition of Continental political philosophy while offering a glimpse into Heidegger's own political thought following his engagement with Nazism. It also confronts the ideas of Carl Schmitt, allowing readers to reconstruct the relation between politics and ontology. The book is enriched by a collection of interpretations of the seminar, written by select European and North American political thinkers and philosophers. Their essays aim to make the seminar accessible to students of political theory and philosophy, as well as to open new directions for debating the relation between the two disciplines. A unique contribution, this volume makes available key lectures by Heidegger that will interest a wide readership of students and scholars.

Key Passage

During the 1930s, Jünger talked about a new relationship between humanbeings and the world, and, in this context, about a new meaning of work. ForJünger, the consequences of the First World War had shown that a new and posthumanistworld was emerging. Liberal and Marxist thought understoodhuman being as the fundamental value and the center of all human activities.According to them, work implies a transformation of the world in order to placeit at the behest of humans, rendering it more and more comfortable and livable.However, for Jünger, the tragedy of the World War had shown that the essence ofthe world’s transformation through work did not put it at the service of humanfreedom and security. Far from having human being as its goal, Jünger argued,work consisted essentially in the unstoppable development of an automaticprocess of dominating the world. In this process, humanity increased its poweronly by placing itself at the service of the world’s mobilization through work.By doing so, the human became the “worker.” Th e worker, therefore, is not anindividual anymore, but the singular actualization of the form of the worker( Gestalt des Arbeiters ). In a world more and more determined by the “total characterof the work” ( totaler Arbeitscharakter ), humans become workers in theiressence, that is to say, they become the expression of the world’s increasingdomination through work.Jünger baptizes the increasing domination of the world through work, theworld’s “total mobilization”, with the term coined by Nietzsche: the “will topower.” Th e Nietzschean “will to power” is not the human will, but an automaticand endless will for increasing power. Work, in its turn, is the expression of this“will to power,” an elemental force that does not belong to humans, but ratherappropriates and mobilizes them. Human freedom resides not in extricatingourselves from “total mobilization” but in belonging to the elemental force thatconstitutes our essence as workers and in taking part in it. Th e more a humanbeing becomes “the worker,” the more he or she becomes free and empowered. Itis precisely our belonging to the form of the worker that interests Heideggermost. For Heidegger, too, the human is no longer a substance, which could beconsidered either as an individual or as a collective subject, but a relationship, abelonging to a mobilizing process that appropriates us.In his adhesion to National Socialism, Heidegger clearly tries to interpret theNazi movement from the standpoint of Jünger’s notion of the work, which alsoentails an explicit refusal of ethnocentric politics and biologist racism. In 1933, the references to Jünger’s conception of the worker are constant in Heidegger’stexts. In his rectorship address of May 1933 titled “Th e Self-Assertion of theGerman University,” alluding to Plato’s Republic without mentioning it, Heideggerexhorts the students to lend themselves to three essential services: the laborservice, the military service, and the knowledge service. Th ese services exhortthose who join them to assume the impotent and fi nite essence of Dasein, as wellas its belonging and exposure to the “superpower” of Being. In his address as arector, Heidegger speaks about the service (especially, at the university—theknowledge service) as an appeal to the students to assume their fi nitude anddeliver themselves to a belonging: their belonging to the superpower of science.Science should mean for students the mobilizing elemental force, to which theyshould deliver themselves, assuming, as Jünger’s workers, their belonging to thesuperpower of Being.Aft er his inaugural address, Heidegger gave another speech before a studentaudience in Freiburg under the title “Th e German Student as Worker.” In it,Heidegger insisted on the idea that work did not mean the exposure of the worldto human domination, regardless of the consideration of human being as anindividual or a collective substance, but the belonging of humans, as a fi niteessence, to a world, a will, and a mobilizing process that comes over them as a“superpower.” As Heidegger put it: “Man places himself, as worker, before thewhole of Being. [. . .] Work displaces the people and articulates it with the fi eld ofaction of all the powers of Being. Th e articulation that appears in work and asthe work of ethnic existence [ völkisches Dasein ] is the state. Th e National Socialiststate is the state of work.” 11It is mostly in his seminars on Jünger’s Th e Worker that Heidegger explicitlyrejected ethnocentric thought as a way of thinking that proceeds from liberalindividualism, i.e. a way of thinking that is based on subjectivity and that placesthe world before the “subject” as an object to be dominated. “Human being,”Heidegger states, “is not less of a subject, but becomes it more essentially when itis conceived as a nation, a people, a race, as a self- established humanity.Particularly, we should note that racial thinking becomes also and especiallypossible on the basis of subjectivity.” 12 “Th e subject,” Heidegger adds, “can also bea people, a ‘nation’ that establishes its own vital interests and its ‘patterns’ [. . .]Th e subject can also be the humankind of the whole planet, a new race. Race: apurely subjective concept.” 13 Based on Jünger, Heidegger unequivocally rejectsethnic- and race- centered thought. He appropriates Jünger’s description ofthe human as worker precisely in order to reject the nationalist establishment of the people as the center of beings, or the racist establishment of the race as thehighest value. It is by doing so that he characterizes the nationalist and racistworldview as the extreme possibilities of the modern metaphysics of the subjectand, therefore, of liberalism.Nevertheless, if Heidegger takes Jünger as the basis for the development of hispolitical thought, in the search for an alternative politics that would not rely onthe liberal social contract and on the ethnic- and race- centered society, this doesnot mean that he does not depart from Jünger and starts to see his concept ofthe worker in a more distant and critical way. Jünger’s thought largely dependson Nietzsche. And one might say that, according to Heidegger, Jünger should beplaced side- by-side with Nietzsche, occupying the same metaphysical position.Nietzsche symbolizes the reversal of Platonism, inverting its dualism whileremaining committed to the dualist structure of metaphysics. According toHeidegger, Jünger, in line with Nietzsche, rejects both liberal individualism andnationalist and racist collectivism, but remains bound to their common essence(the metaphysics of subjectivity) insofar as he puts the worker in the place ofa sovereign subject as the mobilizing force of the totality of beings. By doingso, Jünger still dwells in the dualist metaphysical scheme of subordinatingthe totality of beings to an absolute sovereign being whose mobilizing poweroccupies the place left empty by Being. (p.57)


Heidegger, Hegel, Schmitt, Junger, Twentieth Century, National Socialism, Continental Philosophy, Political Theory, Philosophy Of Right


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