Are Nietzsche vs Junger really ideologically distinct philosophers, or are they one and the same? This is a serious question that highlights the existential work of two great thinkers. Or, perhaps are they one great thinker, merely separated by time, technology, and battlefields? One thing is certain. The diagnosis of the sickness of modernity that these two great thinkers brought into the world will forever shape the conditions of contemporary practical philosophy. The following is a reflection on two of modernity’s most prophetic figures.
Born 15, October 1844 in Prussia, Nietzsche was raised in a conservative, Lutheran family. Early on, Nietzsche attended a school for young boys in line with his conservative upbringing. After his father’s death, Nietzsche was able to attend Pforta, a pristine monastery in Naumburg, due to his father’s status as a social worker.
Nietzsche would embark upon a life of academia, studying at the university of Leipzig, and eventually becoming a professor at the university at Basel. It is from then on that Nietzsche’s philosophy would be developed. By this time, began to be influenced by Schopenhauer, and had lost his faith in God. For most of the duration of his time writing, Nietzsche would philosophize independently. So on, and so forth…
Nietzsche is a controversial figure. His name bears a lot of weight on the minds of contemporary people, yet remains one of the most influential philosophers of all time. He was a heretic at the height of the spread of secular, liberal values throughout Europe, yet is considered by many to be a prophet of modernity. However, what sets Nietzsche apart from the thought of his time was the positive rejection of contemporary values; values that Nietzsche thought of as fruitless, and dried up of any real value.
Nietzsche’s perspective was directed toward constructing new values that would facilitate a more transcendent way of life. That is, facilitating the agency of man to posit goals for himself and overcome them; an agency that is on the decline.
That is to say, that Nietzsche had examined the social and cultural conditions of contemporary Europe, and diagnosed what he see with a case of existential nihilism. He saw in the age the devaluation of all values, and the increasing inability for man to posit goals for himself. Nietzsche saw before him a decline in what gave real meaning to life, so tragically evoked in his quote: “God is dead!”
It should be noted that by this, Nietzsche wasn’t invoking a deicide. Rather, it was the loss of an existential grounding in which mankind could fulfill higher potential; to make the most of a life.
For Nietzsche, the answer to the existential question faced by mankind after the death of god lies not in reviving god; propping back up the traditional moral traditions; but rather in accelerating it to the point where we end up on the other side of this nihilism; by overcoming it.
The existential significance in the death of god lies in the decline of the agency man had in being able to set goals for himself and overcome them, and therefore an intermediate stage.
The modern era is the age of instrument, technique, and technology. A secular world was growing out of the old one, yet the result thereof had been a stifling of man’s creative will because of his inability to reconcile his spirit with the speedy change of “progress.”
As such, the struggle to find meaning in Nietzsche’s worldview meant establishing new values that would forge a new individual, overcoming the existential nihilism of the time. To overcome the passive nihilism of the age meant the inculcation of a positive nihilism into our lives, which would lay ground to a flourishing human will, and life.
This flourishing will, is completely foreign to the concept of “free will” or the “free spirit” that has dominated Europe upon the blossoming of the enlightenment. Rather, life and being are subjected to a universal will-to-power. That is, that it is the will-to-power that is the precedent of command. For the Neech, existence itself was under the command of will.
Nietzsche diagnosed the modern, liberal purveyors of “the free spirit” as such:
“In all the countries of Europe, and in America, too, there is something that abuses this name (The Free Spirit): a very narrow, imprisoned, chained type of spirits who want just about the opposite of what accords with our intentions and instincts”… And so forth: “They belong, briefly and sadly, among the levelers – these falsely so called “free spirits” – being eloquent and prolifically scribbling slaves of the democratic taste and it’s “modern ideas”… “What they would like to strive for with all their powers is the universal green-pasture happiness of the herd, with security, lack of danger, comfort, and an easier life for everyone; the two songs and doctrines which they repeat most often are “equality of rights” and “sympathy for all that suffers” – and suffering itself they take for something that must be abolished.” (Beyond Good and Evil, The Free Spirit, 44).
Nietzsche rejected the metaphysicians and contemporary philosopher’s categorical and moralizing tendencies. He once referred to contemporary philosopher’s as “wily spokesmen for their prejudices which they baptize as “truths.” (Beyond Good and Evil, On the prejudices of philosophers, 5). In Nietzsche’s mind, these moralizing tendencies reflect the vainglory attempts of contemporary “thinkers” to impose their prejudice and bias upon people’s minds as a means for social control.
Nietzsche’s “method” so to speak was not to present mankind with a sweeping generalization as an alternative to the decadent nihilism; rather, to lay bare the jurisprudence that is required to see existence for what it actually is: the result of an infinite multitude of subjective multiplicities. And thus, understanding the world as a great space in which the potential of the will-to-power can manifest. Objective claims and sweeping generalizations made by intellectuals, philosophers, and fundamentalists alike are laid to the sword by Nietzsche here. There is only the naked will to power.
Here is what Nietzsche said of philosophy and philosophers, both ancient and contemporary: “It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise. Philosophy is this tyrannical drive itself, the most spiritual will to power, to the “creation of the world,” to the causa prima.”
Nietzsche found the human existence as the subject of a competition of individual wills; that is, of will to power. But the will to power is not relegated to mere perspectivism. Rather, it is both the blossoming of creative power as much as it is the march towards destruction, inherent in individuals, cultures, and civilizations. It is the result of an organic “discharge” of will to power; the will to self-preservation – a cardinal instinct of any organic being.
“What is good? — All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.
What is bad? — All that proceeds from weakness.
What is happiness? — The feeling that power increases — that a resistance is overcome.” (The Antichrist, 1st aphorism).
Thus, the conditions arising from a manifestation of competing wills results in a natural hierarchy. In man’s natural state, there exists hierarchy. And in the pre-moral world, “morals” and social-imperatives were the constructions of the ruling, aristocratic elements of a given society. There are those who are born to command, given their higher spiritual qualities, and for those of an inferior nature, the disposition of obedience. “Independence exists for the very few;..” writes Nietzsche, “it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it with even the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is not only strong, but also daring and reckless. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousandfold the dangers which life brings with it in any case, not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscious. Supposing one like that comes to grief, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that they neither feel it nor sympathize. And he cannot go back any longer. Nor can he go back to the pity of men.” (Beyond Good and Evil, The Free Spirit, 29.)
Nietzsche had declared philosophical war on both contemporary idealists and materialists alike. He had also laid bare the bias and prejudice of the metaphysicians, particularly of the Christian church that Western Europe had “inherited” 1,500 years ago. However, the cultivation of the “soul” – an “ancient and most venerable hypothesis” – was strong within Nietzsche’s philosophical framework. For him, the way was open for refinements regarding a hypothesis for the cultivation of the soul: such as the “mortal soul,” and “soul as subjective multiplicity,” and “soul as social structure of drives and affects.”
Thus, faced with the existential crisis of nihilism, Nietzsche had sought for the means to overcome it and forge a new type of man, the Ubermensch, based off of new values and new meanings. As I stated earlier, his can only be realized if we accelerate the nihilism of the day, breaking through to the other side. This positive nihilism would reclaim the grounds in which man could realize a flourishing, vigorous way of life.
“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame; how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes.” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)
Junger’s Will to Power
Perhaps even more controversial than Nietzsche, is the “stormtrooper of steel” himself: Ernst Junger. Best known for his autobiography, Storm of Steel, where he laid bare the ruthless reality of the modern industrial battlefield. Serving in the trenches of “The Great War,” Junger saw firsthand the titanic changes brought about in the 20th century warfare; never before had whole populations been mobilized by technology and industry in such a massive character.
The existential crisis of nihilism that Nietzsche had diagnosed the modern world with was more acute in the age of Ernst Junger. Thus, new conditions arise and new coordinates are in demand.
Whereas Nietzsche had struggled to find meaning through the the rejuvenation of existential values; critiquing mostly European idealists and metaphysicians, Junger sought to find meaning in today’s existential crisis through the industrial battlefield, automation, mass mobilization, and technology.
Junger writes: “Only he that shatters bourgeois individualism – can correspond to a new age. Technology and work’s time. Simple as it is marvellous. Work and technology are the tempo of hand, thought, and heart. Life, day and night. Work and technology is the atom’s oscillation – and the power that governs the stars and the solar system.
“God is dead. The gods die, but the Titans gain power.”
Like Nietzsche, Junger posited that in order to transcend the nihilism inherent in modernity, we must construct a new meaning for ourselves. This conception is rooted in the will-to-power. However, in Jungers time, the life-depriving forces of modernity were more acute, which lays grounds for development in where this will to power can be directed: ie, in order to overcome nihilism, we must accelerate the very forces ossifying the spiritual and material conditions of the time, to the point where we overcome them.
Translation: to overcome modern, bourgeois-liberalism is to accelerate the destructive forces of modern technology and industrial warfare that are the very predicates of modernity itself.
To see the world through Jungers eyes is to see a world where man is swallowed the titanic and destructive forces of technology. The means to overcoming the nihilistic forces at hand lie in the reconciliation of all contradictory mechanical and spiritual elements into a totality realized through the mobilisation of all forces, above all that of will to power.