21 May 2008

Human equality

“When in the course of my work at the Luminar, I was reviewing public law, from Aristotle to Hegel and beyond, I thought of an Anglo Saxon's axiom about human equality. He seeks it not in the ever-changing distribution of power and means, but in a constant: the fact that anyone can kill anyone else.
This is a platitude, albeit reduced to a striking formula. The possibility of killing someone else is part of the potential of the anarch whom everyone carries around inside himself, even though he is seldom aware of that possibility. It always slumbers in the underground, even when two people exchange greetings in the street or avoid each other. When one stands atop a tower or in front of an oncoming train, that possibility is already drawing closer. Aside from the technological dangers, we also register the nearness of the Other. He can even be my brother. An old poet, Edgar Allen Poe, grasped this possibility in “Descent into the Maelstrom”. In any case, we watch our backs. Then comes the thronging in the catastrophe, the raft of the Méduse, the starving in the lifeboat….
I want to indicate this only insofar as it concerns my service. In any event, I brought this knowledge into the Condor’s range, into the inner sanctum that Monseigneur described as his “Parvulo.” I can kill him, dramatically or discreetly. His beverages – he especially likes a light red wine – ultimately pass through my hands.
Now granted, it is unlikely that I would kill him, albeit not impossible. Who can tell what astrological conjunctions one may get involved in? So, for now, my knowledge is merely theoretical, though important insofar as it puts me in his level. Not only can I kill him; I can also grant him amnesty. This is in my hands.
Naturally, I would not try to strike him just because he is tyrant – I am too well versed in history, especially the model that we have attained in Eumeswil. An immoderate tyrant settles his own hash. The execution can be left to the anarchists; that is all they think about. Hence, tyranny is seldom bequeathed; unlike the monarchies, it barely endures beyond the grandson. Parmenides inherited tyranny from his father “like a disease.” According to Thales, the rarest thing he encountered in his travels was an old tyrant.
That is my basic attitude in performing my job, and perhaps I do so better than any number of others. I am his equal; the difference lies in the clothing and the ceremonies, which only blockheads despise; you doff your clothes only when things start getting serious.
My awareness of my equality is actually good for my work; I am free enough to perform it lightly and agreeably – as if dancing. Often it gets late, and if things have gone well, I pat myself on the back before closing the bar, like a performer whose act has succeeded. "
Eumeswil
, Page 44-45
COMMENTARY:
I am unaware of where Ernst Jünger found the “Anglo Saxon’s axiom about human equality” to which he refers in this quote, yet I find it a remarkably powerful concept. We are fundamentally equal because we are all equally mortal; we are thus equally vulnerable to the reciprocal power we hold over each others’ life and death, however unequal our lives may be in the things of this world. Our equality is based on this equally tenuous relationship to existence itself and on the fact that we can potentially end this relationship for another – as they can for us. In the end, no-one can do no more to you than take your life, and since the same is true in reverse, an equality exists.
In the absolute last resort, when the pretensions of one mortal over another become intolerable, equality can be restored, psychologically by remembering that the other’s life is potentially in one’s hands, practically by taking their lives – as Jünger says, one may grant them amnesty, or not.
Naturally, in almost all cases we reciprocally grant each other amnesty, and the possibility remains in the realm of the theoretical. Nevertheless, to be psychologically effective, the individual must understand the reality of this possibility, it must be an actual possibility which he has consciously thought about and understands to possess. It is unlikely that most people have realized this consciously, we are mostly too frightened, too moral, to look at these hard, nasty truths. Yet they can free us within – not least from egalitarian illusions that men are, or can be made equal in the things of this world and even of the spirit.

12 comments:

beowulf1723 said...

I don't know where Jünger got this idea of "an Anglo-Saxon axiom about equality", but one thing comes to mind.

The A-S concept of "innocent until proven guilty" is diametrically opposed to the European idea that the accused is guilty until proven innocent. The A-S legal system is accusational, the European inquisitional. Thus the A-S system is more amiable to the Anarch than the European one.

The modern US system is a combination of both; a penal law system founded on the A-S principle, and bureaucratic -- i.e., executive -- law system founded on the European principle. There was a major clash of these in Texas recently.

Jünger wrote:

"Hence, tyranny is seldom bequeathed; unlike the monarchies, it barely endures beyond the grandson."

Richard Cromwell's failure to continue his father's dictatorship is the prime example from English history.

Athos said...

Dear Karl, I came across your blog just today for the first time. It seems to me you share my same opinion about the Junger way of life and thinking. I'll definitely read all old posts, and keep in touch for the news, posting comments as much as possible for me. I'm seeing that one of the crucial books for fixing Junger's Anarch character, Der Waldganger, is quite impossible to find in english. What do you know about it? Did you find the way to read it? Did you read it in German?
P.S.: sorry for my english, not properly an Oxford's english...

beowulf1723 said...

Athos,

The lack of translations of Jünger's books into English is a real vacuum. My reading knowledge of German is fair, and I've started on Heliopolis, primarily because of his clear description of the "smart phone" and related systems. The promised translation by the fellow who did Eumeswil has yet to appear.

Der Waldgang is indeed another book of his that needs immediate translation. I really wish my German was up to it, but I've found , for whatever reason, that Heliopolis is an easier read.

I think that there is a difference between the Waldgänger and the Anarch. The Waldgänger seems more like what is called in American English a "survivalist." Venator's hideaway in the countryside, with rifle and food supplies, fits with this interpretation. (The translator of Eumeswil sidesteps this issue by translating Waldgänger rather literally as "forest fleer".)

To use a religious analogy, the Anarch is like a lay person who is in the world but not of the world. The Waldgänger is a hermit who has completely left civilization. Both the Anarch and the Waldgänger are in opposition to the Anarchist, who insists on involving himself with the State in a rather co-dependent and self-destructive way.

I think that Eumeswil makes the distinction between the three very clear.

Karl Fraser said...

I agree with Beowulf's religious analogies for the Anarch and the Waldgänger. Like also your "co-dependent" relationship of anarchist and society.

Though I´m an English speaker, I'm not sure that survivalist is a better translation for Walgaenger than Forest Fleer. Survivalists to my mind often congregate in groups, they form communities in wildernesses like Montana etc. The Waldgaenger certainly prefers to go off alone - it is safer. (In Eumeswil, there is an account of an Icelandic Waldgaenger who told his servant and brother where he was going - and was betrayed by the servant.)

BTW, I didn't understand your idea of the affinity of the anarch's world view with the A-S "innocent until proven guilty". To my mind, the anarch judges himself, and society's judgement of him only has practical ramifications, not moral ones. Can you explain what you mean?

Athos said...

So, in your opinion Waldgänger and Anarch are two different kinds of human type? I’ve always thought rather they complete each others. I see them as two different answers to different situations, the ways the same human type front the reality in some situations. In Eumeswil Venator himself, very careful to all the signals coming from what surrounds him, thinks for a “Forest Fleering” when he’s feeling a dangerous perspective. Finally, he doesn’t move forever in his new refuge, but only because the situation was not so dark and, on the contrary, disappearing for a long time would make him suspected. But the Forest is a possibility he considered. And in the book “Die Waldgänger”, Jünger says also that the Forest can be a metropolis. The flight is fleeing in a deeper level in the freedom’s perception. When the environment becomes more threatening, the Anarch changes in Waldgänger.
What do you think about this lecture?

Karl Fraser said...

No, I fundamentally agree with you that the two types are complementary, appropriate for different situations. However Juenger explicitly says that the Waldgang is the weaker form, and to be resorted to only when the Anarch's way within society is no longer feasible. I would say that the Anarch's way is more personally profitable and therefore to be chosen whenever possible. Within the world of people one has more potential for learning, about oneself and the world, than alone in the forest.

Venator in Eumeswil only prepares his hideaway for a possible future emergency. In the end he acts right to the end as an Anarch, he never uses his hideout, never makes the Waldgang.

beowulf1723 said...

I think that the reason that the Waldgänger is in the weaker position is that, like a bird that's been flushed out, he is vulnerable. Its not a big step from being a Waldgänger to being declared vogelfrei, i.e. being made an outlaw.

To answer Karl's questions: I think the Anglo-Saxon system, being a bit more "pro-individual" than others, gives the Anarch a little more breathing space. The state is, in theory, at a disadvantage in that it has to prove guilt, and it has to do it "beyond a reasonable doubt". If he doesn't go looking for trouble, it may not find him.

As far as the Waldgänger being more or less equivalent to a "survivalist, I think this is a reasonable comparison. Ted Kazinkski would be considered a "Waldgänger" if he hadn't had the unpleasant habit of sending IEDs to people he didn't like. As it was, he was just an old-fashioned anarchist -- or "4th generation" warrior, if you want to go in that direction. There are certainly communities of survivalists, but I don't think the term should be limited to families (e.g. Randy Weaver) or extended groups. In many ways, a hermit is a survivalist without a gun.

Hector M. Padilla said...

For the Waldgänger, or Rebeld or he who is left to survive on his own, there is no-flight to metaphisical paradise, nor is he different from the anarch, different names to the same freeman. The translation "the Rebel" is not far from what is. The Waldgänger is translated in French and Spanish. Junger was a Rebel, an anarch, his very own.

Karl Fraser said...

No, Hector, there are differences of degree between the anarch and the "rebel" or forest fleer. Both have managed to free themselves from society, but the anarch is able to do this within society while the forest fleer or rebel must leave society to preserve his freedom. The anarch thus remains unnoticed as an outsider, while the forest fleer has been recognized as an outsider and must therefore leave (or risk being neutralized/confined by society).

Hector M. Padilla said...

The Rebel is on a very difficult historical condition for the him, he is not affected by the despot but by dictatorship, his life depends on what desicion he takes, the path is very narrow, it is explained in the Treaty of the Rebel or The Ambushed or Waldgänger, whatever the translation, thus the "Here and Now". He is not recognized as the R, his life depends on it,nor is he an outcast, his freedom does not depend on the enviroment at all. The images used in Eummeswil, The Treaty of the Rebel, On the Marble Cliffs or Radiations are different according to the settings described but the he who works to preserve his freedom is one and the same.

jacques said...

The axiom comes from Hobbes.

Karl Fraser said...

Thanks Jacques. From Leviathan, or elsewhere?