April 21, 2008

Personal happiness and the anarch

"It is no coincidence that precisely when things started going downhill with the gods, politics gained its bliss-making character. There would be no reason for objecting to this, since the gods, too were not exactly fair. But at least people saw temples instead of termite architecture. Bliss is drawing closer; it is no longer in the afterlife, it will come, though not momentarily, sooner or later in the here and now - in time.

The anarch thinks more primitively; he refuses to give up any of his happiness. "Make thyself happy" is his basic law. It is his response to the "Know thyself" at the temple of Apollo in Delphi. These two maxims complement each other; we must know our happiness and our measure.” Eumeswil, page 192.

In this quote, Jünger discusses one of the anarch’s basic goals in life, personal happiness. He begins with an observation that illustrates where most people, in contrast to the anarch, look for happiness. When religions still breathed real life, when gods still had credible forms, man looked for his final happiness through their means and methods. As belief in the gods declined, so man began to look for happiness in the mundane world, through the non-transcendent means of politics. Politics, with the aid of technological progress, began promising personal happiness in the material here and now. In a similar manner to his ineradicable illusion that social progress is about to outlaw war forever, so is man reassured and continues to believe, despite ever-repeating disappointment, that his personal happiness is also around, if not this, then the next corner. Politics thus capitalises on one of man’s chronic ailments, the all-pervasive disease of “tomorrow”.

But on this point, we should not conclude that the anarch is necessarily on the side of the gods, for as Jünger says, they, or at least their cultic representatives in religions, also promised man happiness in the hereafter, while treating him unfairly in the present. The anarch is not automatically on anyone’s side, but decides for himself when and to whom he gives his allegiance. “No god above me”, as Manuel states elsewhere in Eumeswil. (Touching on the anarch’s relationship to art, Jünger comments that at least the gods brought more attractive forms along with them, art instead of machines, temples instead of termite mounds.)

The anarch, in contrast, keeps thing simple – he looks to no external providers or guarantors of happiness but makes himself responsible for it. He is thus untouched by the promises and failures of religions and regimes; he neither hopes in nor is disappointed by what worldly powers or gods offer him. “Make thyself happy” - and to the degree that he also knows himself, understands his own measure, he knows how to make that happen.

Again, the self-reliance of the anarch is emphasised. He does not look outside himself - to religions, regimes, or insurance companies - for his happiness and security, but finds them within and creates them for himself without.

April 18, 2008

The anarch: own ideas vs popular ideas

Martin Venator, or Manuel, the protagonist and exemplary anarch of Ernst Jünger’s novel Eumeswil often compares his own attitude and conduct with that of his father and brother. Both relatives are historians like Martin, but neither are anarchs. In the following passage, Jünger contrasts Martin’s attitude to public and personal opinion with his father’s, in order to illustrate the intellectual independence of the anarch.
“I can count my dear old dad among the eunuchs, the speechifiers. It is impossible for us to have a conversation about facts without his puffing it up with social and economic platitudes and spicing it up with moralisms he derives from them. Saying what everyone else says is a delight for him. He comes out with things like, ‘ I am simply expressing the public opinion.’ And he actually plumes himself on such things. A journalist, even though he disagrees with the current editorials. ‘ He is controversial’ – for him, as for all eunuchs, that is a put-down. The exact opposite of an anarch; God bless him – but why is he a historian?” (Eumeswil, page 246)
As opposed to a “speechifier” like Martin’s father, an anarch does not judge himself morally in relation to society, in relation to what “they” think and say. An anarch stands on his own two feet practically, intellectually and, as far as possible, spiritually. He creates and lives by his own understanding of the world, which may or may not coincide with public or popular opinion. Unlike spiritually and intellectually impotent eunuchs like his father and brother, it is perfectly irrelevent to anarchs like Martin whether his views are controversial or unpopular – except in as much as their public expression may jeopardize his physical safety or interfere with personal goals, in which case he may need to disguise them or express them selectively. Above all, he is concerned that his views are truly his own, even if this means he stands alone and unknown in this position. As quoted earlier, the anarch can live alone, as opposed to the anarchist who needs society - and of course the normal citizen who has no independent own-view and thus automatically shares the common view. Being popular is of no concern, being true to himself is everything to the anarch.
Although he is not opposed in principle to popular views, his own independently and organically evolved world view will often be in opposition to them, partly by the simple logic that what is popular reflects the lowest common denominator, and partly by the fact that any truly individual understanding of the world will naturally have its own unique life and form and thus at least partially be in opposition to other views, especially popular ones. Indeed, when the anarch perceives that one of his own ideas closely mirrors a popular perception, he will doubt the authenticity of his own view, will suspect that it may derive from foreign contamination of his being, and he will thus subject it to a rigorous examination.
As far as possible, the anarch deals in facts, he attempts to live in a real and not an imagined world, however unanimously believed those common illusions may be. Although for reasons of personal security and intellectual growth he attempts to understand and stay abreast of the particular world view by which his society lives, he does not believe in that view and, practically speaking, goes along with it only as far is that essentially foreign line of behaviour benefits him.

April 9, 2008

The anarch's relationship to society and authority

Here is a particularly rich quotation from Ernst Jünger´s novel Eumeswil to continue the exposition of the anarch which we began here and continued here. In this quote, Jünger further explains the anarch’s role within society, his relationship to other individuals, to personal freedom, and to authority and external causes.

“I tend to distinguish between other people’s opinions of me and my own self-assessment. Others determine my social status, which I take seriously, albeit within certain limits. Nor am I dissatisfied with it. In this respect, I differ from most Eumeswilers, who are dissatisfied with their positions or their standings.

I could just as easily say that I neither am satisfied with my position nor take it seriously. That would obtain for the overall situation of the city, the absence of any center, which puts every office under obligation and gives meaning to every action. Here, neither oath nor sacrifice counts any longer.

Nevertheless, when anything is possible, one can also take any liberty. I am an anarch – not because I despise authority, but because I need it. Likewise, I am not a nonbeliever, but a man who demands something worth believing in. On this point, I am like a bride in her chamber: she listens for the softest step.” (Eumeswil , page 97

In the first sentence, we see that the anarch consciously distinguishes between others’ judgments of him and his own judgments on himself. He does not altogether reject others’ opinions of him, but relegates them to their correct place, as practical indicators of how society sees him. As an anarch, it is important to remain socially integrated and to keep one´s essential outsider status a secret; hence an anarch needs to know what society thinks of him, where it currently slots him into its mechanism. This may have practical implications for his security or the success of his private projects: if he perceives that society is becoming aware of his outsider status and may begin imposing limits or paying dangerous attention to him, perhaps he will need to adjust the external impressions he makes, alter the role he is playing. As a last resort, he may have to abandon society and become a forest-fleer. (But this is a weaker position, one ideally avoided but not outright rejected by the anarch. If the reader is interested, this figure is extensively and explicitly developed in an earlier Jünger book, “Der Waldgänger“ or “Forest Fleer”.)

Since the anarch views his social role as unrelated to his essence but personally useful, he is unlike the average citizen who judges his self-worth on the basis of his social position. An anarch could never be satisfied with the position, in the literal sense of ful-fill-ment, of filling all his needs. Necessary perhaps, but not sufficient. And since it is unessential, he does not take it overly seriously; it is a role in the Shakespearean sense: “all the world’s a stage and all the people players”.

Moreover, in the post-historic state of Eumeswil, social positions have only relative value and no absolute value, as may have been true, or imagined to be true, in earlier societies. Every position is as good as any other, there is no higher central position such as a king or the church, around which, or below which all other social positions are arranged. One no longer sacrifices oneself for or swears an absolute allegiance to state or king. In this sense, the state of society in Eumeswil is actually advantageous to the anarch, for it has become easier not to believe in ephemeral external causes, such as political changes.

On the other hand, in a world where anything is possible, there is also the possibility to act in full liberty, assuming the prerequisite internal freedom. Unlike the anarchist, the anarch is already conscious of this latter freedom and does not need to struggle with authorities to repossess something he already possesses. On the contrary, as an anarch, he requires authority. Firstly, in the higher sense of self-rule, of ruling over his own inner state of nature, the anarchic wilderness within himself - which is to say, authority as forms of self-mastery and self-regulation.

Secondly, in a social sense, he requires the external regulatory forces that give the world consistency and structure, within whose predictability and around whose obstacles and difficulties a free man can chart and navigate a personally meaningful and enriching course. In a state of pure anarchy, this would be more difficult and probably less rewarding.

As Jünger says explicitly at the end of the quote, the anarch is not a nonbeliever per se, not a nihilist, but rather someone who understands the value of his own freedom and thus demands something worth the sacrifice of any of that supreme capital of his.

April 8, 2008

Anarch vs anarchist (II)

Last week's post ended by introducing the anarchist as someone who is not anarchic, in contrast to the free human being who is. Now we continue with two quotes which provide an explicit comparison and contrast of anarch and anarchist as conceived by Jünger. The monarch and the historian are also brought into the comparison for illustrative reasons.

“If I were an anarchist and nothing further, they would have easily exposed me. They are particularly geared towards detecting anyone who tries to approach the powerful with mischievous intent, ‘with a dagger in his cloak.’ The anarch can lead a lonesome existence; the anarchist is sociable and must get together with peers.” Eumeswil, pp 41-42

“ The positive counterpart of the anarchist is the anarch. The latter is not the adversary of the monarch, but his antipode, untouched by him though also dangerous. He is not the opponent of the monarch, but his pendant.
After all, the monarch wants to rule many, nay, all people; the anarch, only himself. This gives him an attitude both objective and skeptical towards the powers that be; he has their figures go past him – and he is untouched, no doubt, yet inwardly not unmoved, not without historical passion. Every born historian is more or less an anarch; if he has greatness, then on this basis he rises without partisanship to the judge’s bench.
This concerns my profession, which I take seriously. I am also the night steward at the Casbah; now, I am not saying that I take this job less seriously. Here I am directly involved in the events, I deal with the living. My anarchic principle is not detrimental to my work. Rather it substantiates it as something I have in common with everyone else, except that I am more conscious of this. I serve the Condor, who is a tyrant – that is his function, just as mine is to be his steward; both of us can retreat to substance: to human nature in its nameless condition.” Eumeswil, page 43.
Immediately in these early quotes from Eumeswil, Jünger establishes the anarch as not merely different from the anarchist, but as something more, as a higher and more positive figure.

The anarchist is more conspicuous in society than the anarch, since his malicious intentions give him away to the rulers whose future status is threatened by him and who therefore take special precautions to catch him. The anarch, who need not join any group and who can further his cause alone, remains inconspicuous.

The an-arch is not in opposition to the ruler, the mon-arch, he is rather the individual complement to them, their antipode. As Jünger implies, monarch and anarch are interested in a similar goal, to rule, but on different levels, in different spheres. Hence, unless there is a direct personal conflict, the two can live together peacefully, as long as each keeps to his own domain. But since the monarch could interfere with the anarch’s freedom, he must also stay abreast of the objective reality of his position in order to fight for his freedom, if  need be. He must also maintain his concrete and his emotional distances - to descend to an absolute belief in mere political rotation would restrict his freedom – and freedom is his highest ideal. Hence, the anarch could be, but is not necessarily, dangerous to the powers that be.

The anarch’s interest in and ability to follow the game from an objective, practical point-of-view also makes him a natural historian - "Every born historian is more or less an anarch". The anarch maintains his free status within the society, while he observes the changing of its figures and configurations. 

Indeed, the anarch maintains a normal social position, indistinguishable from the man on the street. He is employed and takes his job seriously, though as a means and not an end.  He shares this normal social role with his fellow human beings, as he also does an inner anarchic core, as explained in the last posting. Within we are all anarchs and, at least potentially, we are free there, but to survive physically and profit spiritually from existence, we do best to live in the world of men, in society. An anarch’s profession is merely a function he has temporarily assumed, be it as a night steward or a tyrant. These are superficial, incidental, unessential, and they can be abandoned without real loss if necessary. The anarch is conscious of his inner freedom and the unessential nature of his social functions, which the man on the street identifies with and the anarchist rebels externally against.

In contrast to the anarch, the anarchist is the natural and sworn opponent of society, in particular of the rulers, who he wants to destroy. He cannot be objective like the anarch, since his relationship with the monarch is not practical but emotional, in a negative sense. He is unaware of his a priori inner anarchic nature and so sees society and his function in it as absolutes. He sees that society restricts his freedom, which is not incorrect, and he thus sets out to destroy it, without realizing the futility of this task and without realizing that he himself needs society for his personal development. Were he aware of his inner potentials, he would have an alternative to this destructive and useless path. But this is to step ahead of ourselves....