From the Substack post on July 6, 2022, by Martin. Translated from German by him. Original by Ernst Jünger.
This was an absolute pleasure to work on. A fantastic essay by Jünger written in 1925, firmly rooted in a Nietzschean "Struggle for life" "worldview." I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Look up to the starry sky during a silent night and try to immerse yourself in those powerful theories of occidental thinking, according to which a glowing primordial mist hurls the worlds out into space like projectiles and the cycle of systems perpetuates itself for infinite time - the wind chimes of the forces inherent in them, until all this is smashed together again into a whirling chaos that holds new worlds in its fiery womb. And then look with an vigilant eye into the world that a drop of water encloses. You will find in it the same laws of tension and balance. You will discover in it beings, light-green or crystal-clear, that move in tumbling and rolling paths, that seek to control their space, and that stretch out their tiny organs to attack or to defend themselves when the other confronts them. Look into the spring green forest that seems to embody life itself, and consider that every single tree and every tiny stalk has grown up in a fierce struggle for light and food. Cast your net into the deepest, darkest abysses of the sea and you will draw out creatures with huge mouths, with searchlights that seek out the prey, and with tentacles that are meant to grab them. Place any object in front of you and make it quite clear to yourself that no other object can stand where this object stands, that it must already affect other existences by the pure fact of its existence, even if it is only that of the air, which it displaces only by overcoming a resistance, which you may not perceive, but which exists nevertheless.
And then look into your own existence. Every step you take is about life itself. Every spoonful of food you eat means the suffering and destruction of a living creature, means the displacement and violation of another's right [the word here is recht, which is hard to translate 1:1 in english, but means something of “lawful claim” or “rights”]. Every cut that the scythe makes, every stroke of the axe that falls in the slaughterhouses, is carried out against the fullness of life. You fear disease and so you boil your drinking water: that is, you condemn innumerable living beings to a slow and agonizing death for the sake of your personal safety. You have become very ill and the doctor injects an antidote into your blood, which means that a decisive battle is to be fought against armies of bacteria. Or you will get well by your own power: the antibodies of your body have destroyed the invading enemy. Do you want to reproach yourself for that? Then go and die. As long as you are alive, you are exerting right[recht], and this inevitably results in the suppression of other, weaker kinds of right.
All life discriminates and is already therefore warlike against one another. In the relation of humans to plants and animals this is immediately obvious, every midday table supplies the irrefutable proof. Life expresses itself, however, not only in the struggle of the species among themselves, but also in the struggle within the species themselves. So too man, whenever and wherever he may be, stands in war as well as in peace in an unceasing struggle against man himself. In every position, in every step that the individual climbs, in every step that he takes, there is the displacement of others, even if it is as imperceptible as the displacement of the air by the object that was just mentioned. It is true, for example, that business is other people's money. Even behind the most seemingly peaceful institutions, such as modern advertising or the police, there is a very relentless will to fight. Through laws, agreements, associations, in short through the social contract, this struggle is made latent and less visible, but how cutting its weapons are, every individual knows. The same is true for the relationship of States between themselves. To claim the opposite would mean to imagine life units that are not subject to the laws of life. These are utopian constructions of theorizing brains without flesh and blood. One could pass over it without losing a word and let the facts speak, if it were not necessary to keep the results of the mind uninterruptedly in harmony with the reality. It is therefore gratifying, and probably indicative of a new turn in all spheres, that a book by a modern philosopher, Freyer, has appeared in these days, in which it is proved in a very witty way that all measures of politics are consciously or unconsciously calculated for war. Covenants, treaties, international agreements, all these are feelers, tactile threads and preparations of absolute power. And when a picture recently appeared in Simplizissimus with the caption that "before and after war, diplomats tend to breakfast together," it is a truth in the version of grim humor. The guns are not always firing, but they are always talking. Schopenhauer would also apply here with his fable of the society of porcupines, which usually keep themselves close enough to maintain an middling temperature, but such distance and demarcation is only maintained by the pointed quills and their sensitive stings.
What the social contract does within the states, regulation of the tensions between the individuals, is done by politics in the relationship of the states amongst themselves. These are all truisms, whose validity, however, the mind wants to test through new questions, as always in times of great shocks, so also in ours. Formulas of all kinds are, of course, already available ready-made. Communism claims to have found the great remedy against the tensions within the state itself, internationalism against the tensions between states, and pacifism against war in particular.
That the front-line soldier cannot be a pacifist is self-evident. But he has the duty to concern himself with pacifism and to take a stand against it, because it directly attacks his moral attitude. First, an important distinction must be made clear, that between love of peace and pacifism. Basically, every decent person is a peace lover, and even the front-line soldier does not count himself among those ruffians who are particularly disgusted by being beaten up. But pacifism sets peace as its highest goal, while the front-line soldier believes that there are values that must be fought for with all means and for which every sacrifice must be made. Both attitudes spring from certain wills, and both, of course, build their ideological framework on the foundations of these wills. Perhaps, in this limited space, we should simulate a conversation, as it will happen often in our time.
A: "How can you call me a pest? Don't you see that I only want the best? How can moral demands be harmful at all? Demands that have been exposed to the greatest of dangers? I mean, of course, the real and essential history of mankind, the history of reason and culture, and not that of warlike madness, which runs like a bloody stream through the ages, and through which, unfortunately, thinking and feeling are poisoned from childhood on in almost all our schools. You, too, belong to that uncritical mass, which has been raised and brought up to be cannon fodder. Learn to think, try to cast off the spell of your innate prejudices! The moral man is on the march. In the past, people believed just as firmly that there were witches who rode on broomsticks as they now believe that there must be war. There doesn't have to be any wars! Remember that it is the sons of mothers who shoot each other down. Be honest and admit that you, too, feel in the depths of your soul that it is immoral and barbaric to kill, blind or silence people - people of whom you are one."
B:" If I wanted to admit that in the sense you mean, I would have to call myself a criminal. I personally killed people in the last war, I considered it my duty and I still don't blame myself for it. But we must not base our conversation on the changing standards of morality. Our striving for objectivity, which has increased to the point of relativism, has convinced us for almost a hundred years now that morality, too, is not something absolute, but rather that it is a function of very different forces, which stands in a very definite and changing relationship to the broad degrees, the people and their time. They defend an idea, the pacifist one, and I suppose that they consider their idea greater and more powerful than their own person, that they have the will to make any sacrifice to it, so that they would draw the consequences, for example, if the state were to punish severely pacifist activity, which is too open in its own interest. On the other hand, they would also consider it right if the supporters of the war were prevented by force from what they call a madness? Well, I am quite in the same position, only that my idea is the national one. So we could close the discussion, which could not lead to any result.
A: But dear friend, don't fob me off so cheaply! Of course, an idea is more important and valuable than an individual. But only a real idea! Not an idea that is dusty and mothballed like the old flags hanging in the armories! You will not demand that someone should be shot to death for the idea of Schöppenstedt, for example. What you call the national idea is as obsolete today as small-scale statehood; it has become a kind of traffic obstacle that the progress of modern means of transport will sooner or later have to eliminate. I will admit that there is no absolute morality, that even the trial of witches was necessary in the medieval landscape, that wars also had their justification, but we no longer live in the Middle Ages. Think biologically and follow how the units of life merge into ever larger complexes. The united states of europe are a biological necessity, the idea of the league of nations is the first, imperfect step towards this goal, which in turn will lead to the united states of the globe. Think, furthermore, economically of the war as an immense waste of energy, which already the last time did not bring any success, even for the victor, which would correspond in the least to the amount of capital consumed, not to mention other valuable assets which can never be replaced. Can you restore the eyesight of even one person? No, today the war is not even a business!"
B: "With the best will in the world, I cannot find anything outdated in the idea of the nation, any more than I can find anything outdated in the idea of the family, for example, which the Enlightenment has been trying to tamper with long enough. You speak too rationally about circles into which one is born. One has to come to terms with the fact that the citizen can no more objectively oppose his country than they can perhaps stand in opposition to their mother or another person to whom they are emotionally attached. And since you have touched the biological field, you will do well to see in it a biological fact, confirmed in the last war by many millions of deaths of all warring nations."
A: "Who have fallen for a terrible error."
B: "Error or not, in any case the fact is certain that man of every nation went into this war with everything he had and was. Also the fact that they owe their questioning to this event, and that the people's union, which they greet in such a way, would have been unthinkable without the preceding war. Biologically, struggle is the form of life from the beginning. And if, in purely intellectual terms, I can perhaps imagine larger units than the nation, it is quite inconceivable to me that they should not be subject to the laws of power, which always goes to its utmost limits. Every power possesses only a sense of opposition. Even the League of Nations has foreseen war in its statutes, and if the union of the whole earth was to take place, it could only lead to a gigantic decay like that of the Roman Empire, when no power was left to oppose it. An existence without tension and struggle is an existence without meaning. It is possible that at the end of every culture there will be a great, superior empire, but this already indicates the end. You see in war only the destruction, not birth. Nor can the question of cost play any role: there are things for which no price is too high, not even the greatest heroic death!"
A: "Don't talk about heroism and personal courage! Those times are over. Read General von Schönaich, who, as an old soldier, has an understanding of things, the book on war until 1930, from which you will see how the progress of scientific developments, especially gas war, must lead to a senseless mutual destruction and to a purposeless suffering that no imagination can conceive." [This seems to be a reference to the book “Vom vorigen zum nächsten Krieg” - From the previous to the next war.]
B: "I have read them, but I cannot see what technical progress has to do with morality. Of course, every war is fought with the means of its time, and a race that builds machines will also make use of its technical arsenal in battle. Since war has always included the possibility of complete destruction, it cannot be assumed in the future that consideration of its horrors, however great they may be, will hold back a determined people. There is nothing in the realm of possibilities that could not be expected from man.
Moreover, if you want to make the progress of pacifism dependent on the progress of moral knowledge, you must admit that it is precisely the advanced peoples who must weaken themselves against the less advanced. If, therefore, you compare the enforcement function of the League of Nations with that of the police, you must first explain to me why the police have not yet abolished crime. Your League of Nations will wage its wars in the consciousness of absolute right and after the application of a certain formalities- but we were already that far in 1914."
A: "I see you are hopelessly mired in your militaristic ideology."
B: "I have been careful to stick to the facts."
A: "The facts are determined by the mind/spirit [geist]."
B: "The mind/spirit [geist] will always seek to realize itself by any means."
A: "So will pacifism."
B: "So you want to declare war on war?"
B: "Now that’s something to be heard!"