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‘Stupidity Sits Forever in Judgment’
The Retreat into the Forest by Ernst Junger
© 2014 James LaFond
APR/20/14
1951, reading from an anonymous 1954 translation, 5,791 words, reprinted by North American New Right on 4/29/2013
I have read this essay three times during the course of the past three weeks in which I have doubted my ability to do it justice in the form of a review. I am now convinced that Ernst Junger might have possessed the keenest insight into the human condition to survive humanity’s most destructive era. The nightmare war that broke the minds of hundreds of thousands and atomized the bodies of many millions seems to have honed his mind’s eye to a keen edge. His subsequent entombment as a war hero during the Nazi period seems to have forged his soul. Subsequently Junger found himself practicing art in a postmortem society, where the State had come to be mistaken by its host population as their own culture, rather than as the predatory superstructure it is.
Junger’s Retreat into the Forest is an essay on how one might resist the global mindfuck through a journey within, by communing with the timeless sense of being possessed by humanity, a sense of being that the modern State is designed to suppress and erase. Junger admits to be walking in the footsteps of Socrates—who he defines as the prototypical savior [A good case can be made that what Christians believe about Jesus Christ is more than likely a grafting of Socrates and his notions upon the career of the Hebrew iconoclast.] Junger makes his case in three threads, which are bound together into a sublime revelation by the end of the essay.
‘Automism and Anxiety’
Junger contends that man’s habit of limiting “the scope of his decisions in order to ease his fate by technological means” is in fact the insidious source of the modern person’s rampant anxiety. It might be said that true science-fiction [that which departed from technological gee-whiz adventure into the introspection of writers such as Orwell, Junger and Dick; a literary stream that came together in our time with the movie The Matrix] begins with this automism/anxiety dichotomy. Junger strikes in plain language at the moral side-effects of the seduction of technological means, and reminds us that technology—like some sentient consciousness—ultimately makes cruel demands of its beneficiaries.
“Life has become gray” but will be preferable to what the denatured techno-slave sees as “the absolute black of utter darkness” that appears to be the only alternative. Alienation, ostracism, systemic minority persecution, police rule, and simple peer pressure are acknowledged by Junger to be key facets of this State-Individual duality that masquerades as culture and community. However, what sets him apart from other observation-based thinkers is his introspective reach. He notes that planning and rationalism [what most of us would number as things that make us human and separate us from animal kind] are the root of this evil, when he concludes, “the fact that rational thinking itself is cruel and that this cruelty then enters into the process of planning.”
‘The Men Who Cause Millions to Tremble’
Just as Barbara Tuchman noted during the same post WWII period that our ‘great men’ are all mediocre or worse, Junger notes that modern times are essentially “the intertwining of significant events with insignificant representatives… Wherever in our period power is essential, it is attracted by the individual in whom the insignificant is coupled with the strong.”
Junger assigns great menace to those with the gift of amoral strength most suited to assuming the reigns of technology-based power. I believe that his contemporary Tolkien, worked this into his Middle Earth fantasy construct when he wrote of the Nazgul, the ‘nine wraith kings’ and ‘their Dark Lord;' ‘undead’ rulers of the living.
Junger warns against resisting the State as resistance triggers State action. As one of the symptoms of a non-cultural and purely predatory government that we might recognize today, he writes of leading politicians, “The opponents come to resemble one another to such an extent that it is easy to recognize them as disguises of the very same power.”
Easy for Ernst Junger to recognize the ‘heads of state’ for the hood ornaments they are. Most people are incapable of going against their indoctrination to the point of clarity, and therefore walk witlessly up the meat chute of life.
‘Supratemporal Being’
As Joseph Campbell did in his mythological studies, and science-fiction authors like Phillip K. Dick, Alice B. Sheldon, and most recently Andy Nowicki, have done with their fiction, Junger promotes the idea of living a deeply rooted masked life within the 'primordial forest' of the human mind, rather than existing in ‘the rapidly moving vehicle’ of temporal anxiety. He reminds those of us who would embrace a life of the mind over a life of the belly that we bear a moral burden to combat the menace that thoroughly enslaves those around us, in such a way as to not increase the pretext for tyranny by open action. In the end, after reminding us of our duty to ‘struggle’ and ‘protect’ he puts it touchingly enough to bring the reader back to the material world, “This is the token of the aristocratic* being, and it shines forth in the guard who secretly gives a piece of bread to a prisoner. Such actions can never cease, for the world subsists on them. They are the sacrifices on which it rests.”
If you live in your own mind, rather than on a social media page, or some version of a team roster, than you owe it to yourself to read Ernst Junger.
*Junger takes his terms straight from the ancient Greek. So when he says aristocrat he does not mean the rich parasites that usurped the title, but the few ‘best-thinking people’ among the mass of unthinking slaves.
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Ishmael     Jun 28, 2015

James, thanks for the link. Ishmael.
James     Jun 30, 2015

I'll be reposting more Hunger stuff. He is awesome.
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