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An Exchange on Ernst Jünger

In response to:

The Anarch at Twilight from the June 24, 1993 issue

To the Editors:

In his review, or rather in his calumnious ramblings under the guise of a review [“The Anarch at Twilight,” NYR, June 24], lan Buruma not only demonstrates that he does not understand Ernst Jünger and does not wish to, but also betrays an appallingly feeble command of pertinent literary, political, and military history. He underscores his ignorance with a smug, often snide tone that makes his presentation all the more offensive. It is not honest analysis or cogent argument that we get from Mr. Buruma, but a hodgepodge of sophomoric quips, ad hominem slurs, shallow generalizations, and tired gossip. Innuendo and the old smear tactic of guilt by association are his only resources.

Typical of Buruma’s straw man approach is the way he deals with my translation of A Dangerous Encounter. Having at best only breezed through the novel, he is guilty of a number of misreadings upon which he then builds his case. For example, it is his own misconstruing of Inspector Dobrowsky that furnishes ammunition for his attack on Jünger. In one of the passages describing Dobrowsky, Buruma chides a non-existent mistake in translation. He suggests that I rendered the German word “Rassen” (races) with “faces” (“Gesichter” in German, scarcely to be confused with “Rassen“). Suspecting a misprint, I checked the book as well as the galleys and found that each read correctly as intended: “many races leave their traces….” Thus it was not my oversight, but Buruma’s hallucination—who then brazenly cites this sentence as evidence of Ernst Jünger’s “monumental snobbery.” Dobrowsky is in fact not “a technical man” or “an Arbeiter” at all. Here Buruma clearly confounds him with a character named Leprince, who resembles “an engineer or…a traveling salesman in technical articles” (p. 99). Rather he is a romantic figure and criminological genius who has won his spurs in the Old Port of Marseilles. Nowhere does Jünger write condescendingly or disparagingly about Dobrowsky. His ungroomed appearance is meant as an ironic foil to his almost magical acuity. On the contrary, Jünger’s focal character, Etienne, whom Buruma does not mention, expresses affection and admiration for him. Nowhere does Jünger use the pejorative word “mongrel” to describe Dobrowsky, nor imply that he is one, but in fact refers unequivocally and positively to Dobrowsky’s Jewishness (p. 129).

Mr. Buruma has made several other mistakes in his discussion of A Dangerous Encounter: (1) Ducasse does not “contrive to arrange a tryst in an exclusive house of pleasure,” but inveigles Gerhard into sending the Countess flowers and formulates the note for him, (2) Gerhard is not “sent to Paris to complete his sentimental education,” but is an attaché at the German Embassy there, (3) the Rittmeister is not gladdened or “revived” by the prospect of the duel, but deeply alarmed at it—it is he who dispatches the note to the Cité to warn the police and prevent the duel.

As scant as his regard for the story’s details is Mr. Buruma’s familiarity with Jünger’s works and career. Buruma refers erroneously to the First Battle of Ypres, which took place in the autumn of 1914—at a time when Ernst Jünger was still receiving combat training in Germany. The battle in which Jünger participated was the Third Battle of Ypres (or Passchendaele) fought there three years later, between 31 July and 10 November 1917. Whether we are talking about the First, Second, or Third Battle of Ypres, the fighting was never waged in only one location, but in a series of attacks along ten twenty-mile fronts, over the entire Ypres salient and beyond. What is more, according to my sources, the town mentioned in Buruma’s footnote is actually written “Bixschoote,” and hence is as Flemish a word as “Langemarck” (see The New International Year Book, New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1917).

Furthermore, Mr. Buruma obviously does not know who Theodor Körner was if he refers to him as “one of the official celebrators of that battle”—Körner died fighting in the War of Liberation against Napoleon on August 26, 1813. And the “Bundeslied vor der Schlacht” appears in the posthumous collection Leyer und Schwert (1814).

While it is incontestable that Jünger sent Hitler an inscribed copy of his World War I Diaries (Feuer and Blut is not an “essay,” as Buruma states) in the mid-1920s (see K. O. Paetel: Ernst Jünger in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, p. 59), it is inconceivable that Ernst Jünger, who was never a member of the Nazi Party, could have written “to our national leader Adolf Hitler” and it would indeed have been weirdly premature eight years before Hitler’s seizure of power. Does Buruma have access to the dedications in Hitler’s personal library? Where did he learn this? And why no footnote?

Mr. Buruma then quotes a lengthy passage from Jünger’s 1930 essay “Die totale Mobilmachung” that he excerpted from the 1960 edition of Jünger’s works (an edition that is considered unreliable for an understanding of Jünger’s early political writings—see Armin Mohler, Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918–1932, Darmstadt, 1989, p. 331). He fails to mention, however—perhaps he does not know—that this very passage, from the ninth and last section of the essay, has been stricken from the definitive 1980 edition and replaced by a “Ruckblick” (retrospective view), in which Jünger elucidates his historical standpoint.

Buruma claims that “during the 1930s” Jünger “finally” became disgusted with National Socialism and sought refuge in the army as in an ivory tower. This is simply wrong. Jünger did not volunteer for the army; in fact he refused an invitation to do so with the remark: “An army in which a Goering is general is no place for me” (see K. O. Paetel, p. 66). On the eve of the outbreak of the war, in late August 1939, Jünger (wounded not three, but seven times in the Great War and recipient of the Pour le mérite) was reactivated as captain and in November sent to take up duty on the Siegfried line. Mr. Buruma is shaky on other facts as well: the term is not “inner immigration,” but “inner emigration,” and was not coined by Gottfried Benn, but allegedly by Frank Thiess, in November 1933. Benn, who joined the army in 1935, is said to have referred to it as “the aristocratic form of emigration.”

With characteristic spite, Buruma suggests that Jünger was only vacationing in wartime Paris, without acknowledging the fact that Jünger and other anti-Nazi officers around General Heinrich von Stülpnagel were engaged in a deadly tightrope walk in an atmosphere of denunciation and intrigue. The Gestapo and its informers were ubiquitous, and Jünger himself was under constant observation (already in 1933 subjected to repeated house searches) because he was considered in Nazi circles to be one of the most “dangerous” men in von Stülpnagel’s entourage, the other being Pastor Damrath. General Keitel at Army Headquarters had warned General Speidel against having Jünger on his staff, and Jünger had to hide the manuscript of his essay “Peace, an Appeal to the Youth of Europe and to the Youth of the World” (drafted in 1941, at a time when German arms were most successful) in a reinforced steel safe to avoid detection. This essay, in which Jünger denounces Nazi war crimes and calls for the punishment of their perpetrators, was secretly passed from hand to hand, induced Field Marshal Rommel to take part in the 20th of July conspiracy, and would have served, had their coup d’état been successful, as the new leaders’ official platform of foreign policy.

Mr. Buruma’s assertion that Ernst Jünger did not oppose the Nazis before 1938—“or at least not openly”—is easily disproved. Twice, in 1927 and 1933, Jünger rejected a NSDAP seat in the Reichstag: on November 16, 1933, Jünger refused membership in the nazified Prussian Academy of Writers. On June 14, 1934, Jünger wrote his famous “letter of rejection” to the Volkischer Beobachter, Organ of the Nazi Party, in which he requested that nothing by him be published in it. Jünger also refused to speak on Goebbels’s radio. He was one of the few “nationalist” authors whose name was never to be found on the then commonplace declarations of loyalty to Hitler. Not only did Jünger decline with provocative words to enter the army voluntarily, he and his brother Friedrich Georg quit the “Traditionsverein der 73er” (veteran’s organization of the Hanoverian regiment they had served during World War I) when its Jewish members were expelled. An attack on Jünger appeared in the Bavarian “Volkischer Beobachter” of October 22, 1932, with the title “Das endlose dialektische Gesprach” (the endless dialectical discussion), and except for the differences in chronology and political couleur, it might well have been written by Mr. Buruma himself. The critic, one Thilo von Trotha, takes Jünger to task on a number of grounds. Jünger, he says, is not an adherent of the Blood and Soil doctrine (“Blut und Boden,” cf. Mr. Buruma’s reference to “Blubo”), but an intellectualist. “What is Jünger’s view on the fundamental question of all existence, on the problem of blood and soil? The answer can only be: none at all.” Von Trotha denounces Jünger for not subscribing to the Nazi theory of race, and then goes on to accuse him of being a liberal.

Even Jünger’s antagonists would be hard pressed to deny that his masterpiece, On the Marble Cliffs, constitutes a brave and unequivocal denunciation of the Nazi regime. That Mr. Buruma should call the novel’s narrator “an entomologist like Jünger himself” is just one more of Mr. Buruma’s convenient errors. He also misses the point that the Mauretanians, to which the narrator and his brother once belonged, are not an invading army but a secret order, from which they resigned in renunciation of violence. Moreover, there is nothing neronian about the protagonists’ (both the narrator and his brother are botanist-philosophers) devotion to intellectual pursuits. In fact, in the very paragraph from which Buruma wrenches from context the sentence about “how the universe must plunge into flames to be born anew” (hardly a sign of cold-hearted “being above it all,” but rather the Stoic doctrine of Heimarmene), the narrator explicitly states his and his brother’s reason for retiring from the Mauretanians: “we had never acquired the faculty of looking down on the sufferings of the weak and anonymous like senators glancing down into the arena from their seats of privilege” (p. 54 of Hood translation).

It is again sheer ignorance of the field (which comprises writers such as Blunck, Stehr, et al.) that leads Mr. Buruma to confuse an expression of traditional piety and reverence for the unbroken legacy of culture (detested by the revolutionary Nazis and Jacobin prigs alike) with the vulgar kitsch of Blubo. Buruma cannot forgive Jünger for deploring Nazism from a conservative point of view.

Still playing the sophomoric deconstructionist, Mr. Buruma takes Jünger’s expression of sympathy and shame at the sight of three Jewish girls wearing the yellow star in the Rue Royale (the date here is June 7, 1942, and not 1943!) and tries to discredit it. Indeed, in order to stigmatize Jünger by implication as an anti-Semite, Buruma stoops to the lowest in his considerable repertoire of mendacities, claiming that while Jünger otherwise included all his prewar writings in later anthologies, he deliberately suppressed one article of which “he felt properly ashamed.” As it turns out, all Jünger’s prewar writings are not included in postwar anthologies. Far from having a complete collection of Jünger’s early publications (1920–1930), one of the foremost difficulties posed Jünger scholars is their very inaccessibility. (See Mohler, Erganzbd, p. 36.) As for the article itself, which our erudite critic has clearly never read, hoping to incriminate Jünger by mere dint of its title, it contains nothing of which Jünger need be ashamed. It appeared in the Suddeutsche Monatshefte no. 27 (1930), as part of a symposium entitled “Die Judenfrage” (The Jewish Question). As distasteful as it may sound to us now, evoking all the horrors of the Holocaust, this expression meant something completely different in 1930; it was the universal term for an issue that preoccupied intellectual circles in Germany at that time, including the Jewish Community, which was itself divided between the Assimilationists and the Zionists. The editor of the journal, Paul Nikolaus Cossmann, was Jewish (he later died in Theresienstadt), as were half the contributors to the symposium, among them Rabbi Leo Baeck. Nothing Jünger says in the article can be construed as anti-Semitic. Emphasizing the distinctiveness of the Jewish people—as had several of the Jewish contributors—is not to be equated with hostility. The horror Jünger felt at the fate of the Jews is well-documented throughout his journals (see entry on Lodz for October 16, 1943).

Quite apart from the many instances of intellectual fraud, Mr. Buruma is guilty of treacherously abusing the Jüngers’ hospitality. Pretending to be an admirer, he gained access to Ernst Jünger for an interview, then performed a hatchet job on him. His cruel personal caricatures of his host and hostess, where he describes them as “barking” and “snorting,” are particularly noisome. Indeed, Buruma displays the manners of an unhousebroken mutt.

Ernst Jünger writes in On the Marble Cliffs: “Tief ist der Hass, der in den niederen Hertzen dem Schonen gegenuber brennt.” (Deep is the hatred that burns in base hearts in the presence of beauty.)

Hilary Barr

Heiningen, Germany

Ian Buruma replies:

Mr. Barr’s objections to my piece concern facts and interpretations. Facts first: I am grateful to Mr. Barr for pointing out my errors. Of course the term is “inner emigration,” not immigration. Incidentally, it was Jünger himself (in his interview with Frederic de Towarnicki) who said the phrase was coined by Benn. And it is indeed true that Jünger fought near Langemarck in the Third Battle of Ypres, three years after the first slaughter. The point here was, however, that whether he was there or not, the first battle was crucial to his analysis of the war. It was at Langemarck that the new order of Arbeiter was born, technical heroes with steely faces, who would replace the flabby bourgeoisie, which in turn had replaced the old aristocratic order.

Characteristics of the Arbeiter elite were a complete lack of class, in every sense of the word, a specialized technical proficiency, and a moral detachment. These characteristics fit the detective Dobrowsky, which is why I saw him as a kind of proto-Arbeiter. What matters here is not the typo in the galleys of A Dangerous Encounter, which had “faces” instead of “races.” The significant thing is that the dedicated detective had an “anonymous” face, so common after the “invention of the railroad,” a face in which “many races leave their traces”—what else is this but a mongrel? What matters is that Dobrowsky, the professional, could “never have been able to judge the value of a painting, only its authenticity.” Dobrowsky is in harmony with his time. The Rittmeister, by contrast, is of another age. The prospect of the duel offers the brief illusion of harmony restored—which is why he felt good about himself. He only gets panicky when he realizes the duel will be a one-sided murder.

But these are questions of interpretation. The fascination of Jünger is that his attitude of detached ambivalence—toward war, technology, the Nazis, the modern age—leaves his writings open to many interpretations. Unfortunately, Mr. Barr utterly misreads my reading of Jünger at every step. Like many stung Jüngerians, he interprets any criticism of his hero as an accusation that Jünger was a Nazi, and thus complicit in the Final Solution.

I said no such thing. I do think Jünger shared many of the Nazi ideals, especially in the 1920s (hence the gift of his book to Hitler). Indeed, Jünger has said in many interviews, including mine, that he agreed with most of Hitler’s aims until 1938 As he told Der Spiegel, he went along with Hitler’s opposition to the Versailles Treaty and his annexations of Austria and the Sudetenland. He only condemned Hitler’s “flagrant injustice after 1938.” It is true that he refused to join the Nazi Party, or the Prussian Academy of Writers. As Jünger said to Frederic de Towarnicki: “I would have welcomed a national, even a nationalist revolution in those days, but not with those people.” He had contempt for Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering, but his refusal to join them hardly made him the active resister Mr. Barr and other Jüngerians make him out to be.

Indeed, he refused to be active altogether. Activism, for or against the Nazis, was not part of his chosen attitude of lofty detachment. I never said he volunteered for the Wehrmacht. But he himself called it a refuge after 1939, since the army, as he told Towarnicki, “assured a degree of security until 20 July 1944.” The circle around General von Stülpnagel, Jünger said, remained “loyal to the chivalrous spirit and values.” Even this, by the way, was relative. It was the same chivalrous Otto von Stülpnagel, who, in December 1941, exploited the attempted assassination of a German officer in Paris to shoot one hundred hostages and deport one thousand Jews (see The Holocaust, by L. Yahil, Oxford University Press 1990, or Serge Klarsfeld’s Le calendrier, Paris, 1993).

Detachment, not resistance is what sets the tone of On the Marble Cliffs. Mr. Barr may call it “a brave and unequivocal denunciation of the Nazi regime,” but Jünger himself does not. He has said at various times that his book was above polities. In his diaries he said the model for the Chief Ranger was not just Hitler, but Stalin, Bismarck, and Goering too. In 1946, he noted (in his diary) that he did not like to see his book “understood as a political polemic even today. The shoe fit many others then, and still does…”

Detachment is certainly the attitude of the two protagonists. The sentence Mr. Barr quotes about not wishing to look down on the sufferings of the weak explains their reason for quitting the Brownshirt-like Mauretanians, not their detachment when the world burns. Jünger’s sentence about “man-made order” having to plunge into flames is followed by a very different one: “We were right, therefore, to keep clear of affairs in which honour was to be won, and to return peacefully to the Marina; there by the sunny banks we would devote ourselves to flowers…”

It was not me, but Jünger who said that in wartime Paris he “had all the free time I wanted to catch up with old friends and make new ones, as well as dedicate myself to literary work and above all to reading.” As for the Neronian aspect of Jünger’s detachment from (not approval of) the barbarism around him, here is Jünger on Nero: “I am always disagreeing with my wife about Nero, whom she doesn’t like. I say: that Nero, what a man! He was a born artist. And now he had to become an emperor, too, poor man. I greatly admire his last words, ‘Qualis artifex pereo.”’

Was Jünger an anti-Semite? In my opinion, which I stated clearly in my piece, he was not. I did not mention Jünger’s shame at seeing the Jewish girls in Paris to discredit him at all. On the contrary, I quoted it as an example of a creditable emotion in so cold a fish. The same goes for his article on the Jewish question. I took the fact that he chose not to have it reprinted after the war as a sign that he distanced himself from its contents. These are certainly not murderous, but still of their time, and, alas, in some quarters, increasingly of our own. Like many Zionists—hence the compatibility of Jünger’s views with those of some Jewish thinkers—Jünger believed that Jews could not live in Germany as Jews. The “characteristic German Gestalt,” he argued, could not be reconciled with the “Jewish Gestalt.” So the Jew had to choose: total assimilation or exile. If this is philo-Semitism, it is of the kind that Jews can do without.

But it is typical of Jünger. He is nostalgic for purity, order, aristocracy, the absolute. And he hates the bourgeois world of contracts, compromise, and liberal politics. This didn’t make him a Nazi. It might even have made him a fine artist. But when the Nazis threatened to destroy first Germany and then the world, Jünger’s combination of fastidious detachment, amor fati, and romantic nationalism was a poor way to resist them.

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