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

A consideration of the worker from the perspective of form could build on both phenomena from which bourgeois thinking had already derived its concept of ‘worker’, namely on ‘community’ and ‘individual’, whose common denominator resided in the idea of man characterising the Nineteenth Century. Both these phenomena change their meaning if a new image of man is deployed.It would thus be worthwhile to pursue how the ‘individual’, in his heroic aspects, appears, on the one hand, as the unknown soldier obliterated on the battlefields of work, and, on the other, as master and steward of the world, as the commanding type possessing an absolute power hitherto {41} only dimly suspected. Both appearances belong to the form of the worker, and this is what unites them most profoundly even when they size each other up in mortal fight.Similarly, the ‘community’ also appears, on the one hand, as suffering to the extent that it has to bear the weight of a work of such force that even the highest pyramid resembles the mere point of a needle; whilst, on the other, it appears as meaningful unity whose sense depends on the very existence or absence of this work. Therefore, it tends to be a matter of dispute among us as to what kind of order there should be in which the work must be both served and mastered, while [48] the necessary character of this work itself pertains to destiny and is thus beyond question.Among other things, this is evident in the fact that even in previous labour movements, work has never been denied as a fundamental fact. It is an aspect which must fill the mind with respect and confidence that even there, where within the school of bourgeois thought such movements had already taken power, the immediate consequence was not a reduction, but an increase in work. This relates on the one hand, as will be explained further, to the fact that the category “worker” can mean nothing else than an attitude which recognises in work its order and thus its freedom. On the other hand, however, what appears very clearly here is that the essential driving force is not oppression, but a new feeling of responsibility, and that the true workers’ movements must not be understood as slave movements like the bourgeois has done, regardless of whether he affirmed or denied them, but as movements of masters in disguise. (p.27)


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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