For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Worker: Dominion and Form

by Jünger, Ernst (2017)


Written in 1932, just before the fall of the Weimar Republic and on the eve of the Nazi accession to power, Ernst Jünger’s The Worker: Dominion and Form articulates a trenchant critique of bourgeois liberalism and seeks to identify the form characteristic of the modern age. Jünger’s analyses, written in critical dialogue with Marx, are inspired by a profound intuition of the movement of history and an insightful interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Martin Heidegger considered Jünger “the only genuine follower of Nietzsche,” singularly providing “an interpretation which took shape in the domain of that metaphysics which already determines our epoch, even against our knowledge; this metaphysics is Nietzsche's doctrine of the ‘will to power.’” In The Worker, Jünger examines some of the defining questions of that epoch: the nature of individuality, society, and the state; morality, justice, and law; and the relationships between freedom and power and between technology and nature. This work, appearing in its entirety in English translation for the first time, is an important contribution to debates on work, technology, and politics by one of the most controversial German intellectuals of the twentieth century. Not merely of historical interest, The Worker carries a vital message for contemporary debates about world economy, political stability, and equality in our own age, one marked by unsettling parallels to the 1930s.

Key Passage

From this point of view, the democracy of work is more closely related to the absolute state than to the liberal democracy from which it seems to emerge. It is however different from the absolute state insofar as it has at its disposal forces which are mobilised and unlocked only through the enactment of the general principles. {256}The absolute state grew [273] in the midst of a highly developed world of forms, and the population of this world continued to live on in the form of privileged categories. The democracy of work encounters the broken orders of the mass and of the individual, and it does not find authentic bonds, but an abundance of organizations. There is a great difference between the various forces which come together on coronation day, in order to pledge loyalty, and the employees a modern head of state faces on the morning after the decisive plebiscite or coup d’état. With the former it is a matter of a stable world within its demarcations and its order; the latter is a dynamic world in which authority must be affirmed with elemental means. But even in the latter case it is still a matter of a historical law-like regularity, and not of a volatile separation of forces within a pure elemental space, as occurs for example in the South American republics.The greater freedom to dispose of available power, the increasing overlap of the legislature and the executive do not leave an open space in which formulae such as “Car tel est notre plaisir!”56 are possible. It is rather delimited by a quite specific task, namely that of the organic construction of the state. This construction is not arbitrary; neither can it be the implementation of an utopia, nor may a person or a circle of acquaintances provide it with their personal inappropriate content. The organic construction of the state is certainly determined by the metaphysics of the world of work, and it is decisive to what extent the form of the worker expresses itself in the forces responsible for this construction, that is: the extent to which these forces stand in relation to the total work character. Thus one experiences the spectacle of dictatorships which the peoples impose on themselves so to speak, so that necessity can be come to be ordered – dictatorships whose appearance is marked by an austere and sober work style. In these features is embodied the offensive of the typus against the values of the mass and of the individual – an offensive which reveals itself immediately to be directed against [274] the degenerate organs of the bourgeois concept of freedom, {257} against parties, parliaments, the liberal press and the free economy.In the transition from liberal democracy to the democracy of work occurs the breakthrough from work as mode of life to work as lifestyle. As varied as the nuances in which this transition takes place may be – it has one and the same meaning, namely the beginning of the dominion of the worker, which is hidden behind them.There is in fact no difference whether in the appearance of a party leader, a minister, or a general, the typus is suddenly revealed, or whether a party, a war veterans association, a national or social revolutionary community, an army, or a body of administrators, begin to constitute themselves under the alternative regularity of organic construction. There is also no difference whether the “seizing of power” takes place on the barricades or in the form of a sober taking up of the order of administration. Finally, it is inconsequential whether the acclamation of the mass happens under the illusion of a victory of collectivistic world views, or whether the acclamation of the individual sees in him the triumph of the personality, the "strong man".What constitutes rather a symptom of the necessity of this process is that it takes place with the consent of the oppressed themselves. (p.184)


Ernst Jünger, Der Arbeiter, Weimar Republic, Bourgeois Liberalism, Marx, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Technology, Politics, Political Theory, Political Economy, Twentieth Century, German, Social Contract


The Worker: Dominion and Form [1932]

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