9 April 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.


Stanislaus Turba said...

I hope this blog is still active as it is one of the best online sources on Jünger and one of the deepest approaches to his foundations.

Karl Fraser said...

Hi Stanislaus and thanks for the compliment! I'm still here, just busy with other stuff. Will be back shortly.

PS You might like to join the Juenger mailing list here:


Lots of good quality discussion on Juenger, and recently mostly in English.