Jünger the Pious
By Lennart Svensson
Author’s Note (November 2014): The Australian imprint Manticore Press has published an Ernst Jünger biography that I’ve written. Ernst Jünger — A Portrait is the name of the book. This post from earlier this year is a chapter of that book.
Throughout his life Ernst Jünger (1895-1998) was inspired by religion. He was a pious esotericist in his own right, a stout free-thinker and at the same time drawn to the power of organized religion. Maybe the motto extra ecclesiam nulla salus – “without the church no salvation” – affected him. However, with or without organized religion, Jünger above all warned against atheism. And in this he was rather unique as a 20th century author.
The Impression of Brazilian Monks
In the 1930s, Jünger went to Brazil. He wrote about it all and eventually, after the war, published it as Atlantische Fahrt. A central episode in the book is a visit to German monks in a Benedictine abbey, the brethren impressing the visitor with their joy in spite of having relinquished life and all its pleasures. Strange indeed – isn’t the cloister life supposed to be about hardships and suffering…?
Jünger is amazed. At the same time he can relate to it like in the subservience, with monks obeying the monastic rules like a soldier obeying his orders, the monk life becoming a sort of spiritual body-building and the abbey a training camp for the inner mind. There’s order and joy here, what more to ask for…?
At this stage in life Jünger himself had moved away from titanism and militarism, areas where order was ever present but joy in a lesser degree, so this rendezvous with religion was rather significant. His conversion would take another 60 years. But that event in itself isn’t so important in my book. What’s more important is the Jünger preoccupation with spiritual attitudes that sometimes touch upon those of conventional religion: he was a free-thinker and an esotericist, playing the role of prophet and catalyst, along with and sometimes in opposition to organized religion.
The chief contribution by Jünger in the discussion at hand is this: his warning against atheism. In the novel Eumeswil (1977) and the late diary he is crystal clear on this issue. Atheism is a vice, a mental sickness. One may object and say that faith in God and/or gods isn’t everything in the esoteric realm, with for instance Taoism and Buddhism being somewhat atheistic in nature. The answer to that is: no they aren’t, they don’t deny the existence of gods. Buddhism, in putting the emphasis on the personal spiritual development, doesn’t state that gods for that matter are totally non-existent. Gods exist on a higher level than we, however still subjected to the laws of karma. That’s the Buddhist theology in nuce [“in a nutshell”].
Of course, everything isn’t solved by automatically starting to worship gods. That’s not what Jünger means. But he means that the central ontological foundation of Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and shamanism is true. The existence of God is an ontological reality, there are gods out and about, the divine presence in reality is real. The atheist, on the other hand, is like a ship without anchor, the mind of him (and the current culture as a whole) being the victim of a kind of cross-section paralysis, a total lethargy of the intellect leading out into a sterile desert.
That’s Jünger’s basic message as I see it. Then it’s not so important if he himself was or wasn’t the epitome of piousness, faith and charity. He understood like no one else the ills of our culture. And by not being steeped in the common parochial and sanctified language his message came across more pregnantly.
Start the Day By Praying
The hero of Eumeswil, Manuel Venator, warns against atheism. And he himself, without being a Bible beater or a church goer, lives his life with some pious foundations. Like when he talks about his starting the day by praying, remarking that it’s a central human incentive, even stronger than the sex drive. Both have to be cultivated and released, not suppressed, because if suppressed horrifying things will ensue. Jünger here comes forth as a strong advocate for the pious life, stronger than any latter-day church person I’ve met.
Jünger-Venator is an Anarch. And there is something religious about this, something esoteric, something meditative and in a state of trance, something like saying I AM like the Christ of St. John’s Gospel (“I am the true vine,” “I am the door,” “I am the light of the world,” etc.). Alright, the “I am” dictum isn’t mentioned in the novel. But Uwe Wolf (in Figal and Schwilk’s Magie der Heiterkeit: Ernst Jünger zum Hundertsten, Wolf’s chapter being called ”Dichten, danken, beten”) calls the condition of this Anarch Gottesunmittelbar, i.e., “in direct connection with God.” And that’s a central Christian idea, advocated by St. Paul and Martin Luther as well as Christ himself, the idea of man not needing a priest as mediator between himself and God, not any more than reason or other systematic means are needed. They can’t do the trick here. You meet God by wanting to do so, by realizing your freedom (and limitations) as a man and by letting your intuition guide you. That’s being Gottesunmittelbar, and the Jünger speaking as Manuel Venator to me seems to embody that life form.
Wolf moreover has a keen eye for Jünger’s role as a spiritual author. Wolf states that churches and priests are needed as vehicles for the Word and for Tradition, for continuity and for keeping the flame burning, but additionally we need desert prophets and free spirits to come with impulses, new interpretations and reminiscences of forgotten usages. Jünger, spending most of his author life as an agent free from ties to any organisation, in Wolf’s eye played this role. And I agree with that. Jünger to me represents the eminent free-thinker, a pious but independent prophet helping us to see the religious concepts in a new light.
Jünger, Ernst: Atlantische Fahrt. Verlag der Arche, Zürich 1947.
Jünger, Ernst: Eumeswil. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1977 (in English on Marsilio Publishers, 1993).
Wolf, Uwe in Schwilk, Heimo och Figal, Günther (eds.): Magie der Heiterkeit: Ernst Jünger zum Hundertsten: “Dichten, danken, beten”. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1995.
Svensson, Lennart. “Jünger the Pious.” Svenssongalaxen, 7 April 2014. < http://lennart-svensson.blogspot.se/2014/04/in-english-junger-pious.html >.