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

So it follows that in order to see the word ‘work’ in its transformed meaning, we need new eyes. This word has nothing in common with any moral sense, as expressed in the saying ‘by the sweat of your brow’. It is perfectly possible to develop a morals of work; in that case, concepts of work would be applied to concepts of morality, but not the other way around. Just as little is work that kind of work sans phrase16 as it appears in the systems of the Nineteenth Century, as the basic standard of an economic world. That economic evaluations are very wide-ranging, indeed, perhaps absolutely comprehensive, accounts for how work can also be explained economically, but does not mean that work is synonymous with economy. Rather, work rises much more powerfully over everything economic, over which it is not singly, but multiply, decisive – and so over a field which in the explanation of work records only limited results.Finally, work is not a technical activity. That our technology indeed delivers us decisive capabilities is indisputable, but it is not them that transform the face of the world, but rather the specific will which stands behind them and without which they are nothing but gadgets. Through technology, nothing is saved, nothing is simplified, nothing is resolved – it is the instrumentarium, the projection of a particular way of life, for which work is the simplest expression. Thus a worker driven to a desert island will nevertheless remain a worker, just as much as Robinson remained a bourgeois. He could not connect two thoughts, nourish a feeling, or even behold a thing in his surroundings, without his specific character being reflected back in them. [95]Work is thus not mere activity, but rather the expression of a specific being, which seeks to fulfil its space, its time, its legitimacy. (p.58)


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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