Another short excerpt from the forthcoming publication of “The Forest Passage” by Ernst Jünger, naturally with the permission of the publisher Telos Press. It will be available from Telos sometime in December – stay tuned!
(… from Chapter 31)
“As we see, predicaments arise which demand an immediate moral decision, and this is most true where the vortex is deepest and most turbulent.
This has not been, and will not always be the case. Generally speaking, the institutions and the rules associated with them provide navigable terrain; what is legal and moral lies in the wind. Naturally, abuses occur, but there are also courts and police.
This changes when morality is substituted by a subspecies of technology, that is, by propaganda, and the institutions are transformed into weapons of civil war. The decision then falls to the individual, as an either-or, since a third position, neutrality, is excluded. From this point forward, a particular form of infamy lies in non-participation, but also in making judgments from a non-participating position.
The ruling powers, in their changing incarnations, also confront the individual with an either-or. This is the curtain of time, which rises perpetually on the same, ever-recurring spectacle. The figures appearing on the curtain are not the most important point – the either-or facing the individual has a quite different aspect. He is led to the point where a choice must be made between his directly bestowed human nature and the nature of a criminal.
How will the individual stand up to this interrogation? Our future hangs in the balance on just this point. Perhaps it will be decided just where the darkness appears blackest. Alongside the autonomous moral decision, crime forms the other option for preserving sovereignty in the midst of the loss, in the midst of the nihilistic undermining of being. The French existentialists recognized this much correctly. Crime has nothing to do with nihilism; on the contrary, it offers a refuge from nihilism’s destructive erosion of self-awareness, a way out of the wastelands to which it leads. Chamfort already said: “L’homme, dans l’état actuel de la société, me paraît plus corrompu par sa raison que par ses passions.” *
This probably also explains the cult of crime that is so characteristic of our times. Its dimensions and extent are easily underestimated. We get a good idea of its significance by regarding literature with this in mind, and not merely the lower genres, such as cinema and comic books, but also world literature. It would be no exaggeration to say that three quarters of it deals with criminals, with their deeds and their milieu, and that its appeal lies precisely there. This indicates how far the law has become dubious. People have a sense of being under foreign occupation, and in this relation the criminal appears a kindred soul. When the bandit Giuliano, a thief and multiple murderer, was hunted down in Sicily, a sense of condolence spread across the land. An experiment in living a free life in the wild had failed; this touched every soul in the gray masses and only strengthened their sense of entrapment. This process leads to a heroizing of wrongdoers. It also creates the ambiguous moral shadow that lies on all resistance movements, and not only on them.
In our present age, each day can bring shocking new manifestations of oppression, slavery, or extermination – whether aimed at specific social groupings or spread over entire regions. Exercising resistance to this is legal, as an assertion of basic human rights, which, in the best cases, are guaranteed in constitutions but which the individual has nevertheless to enforce. Effective forms exist to this end, and those in danger must be prepared and trained to use them; this represents the main theme of a whole new education. Getting those in danger accustomed to the idea that resistance is even possible is already enormously important – once that has been understood, even a tiny minority can bring down the mighty but clumsy colossus. This is another image that constantly returns in history and provides its mythical foundations; enduring buildings may then be erected on this base.
It is the natural ambition of the power holder to cast a criminal light on legal resistance and even non-acceptance of its demands, and this aim gives rise to specialized branches in the use of force and the related propaganda. One tactic is to place the common criminal on a higher level than the man who resists their purposes.
In opposing this, it is critical for the forest rebel to clearly differentiate himself from the criminal, not only in his morals, in how he does battle, and in his social relations, but also by keeping these differences alive and strong in his own heart. In a world where the existing legal and constitutional doctrines do not put the necessary tools in his hands, he can only find right within himself. We learn what needs to be defended much sooner from poets and philosophers.
On another occasion we saw how neither the individual nor the masses are able to assert themselves in the elemental world into which we entered in 1914. However, this does not imply that man as a free and individual being will disappear. Rather, he must plumb the depths that lie beneath the surface of his individuality; there he will find means that have been submerged since the wars of religion. He will undoubtedly emerge from these titanic realms adorned with the jewels of a new freedom. But this can only be won by sacrifice, because freedom is precious and may demand that precisely one’s individuality, perhaps even one’s skin, be offered as a tribute to time. Each individual must know if freedom is more important to them – know whether they value their essential being more than their existential fact.
The real issue is that the great majority of people do not want freedom, are actually afraid of it. One must be free in order to become free, because freedom is existence – it is above all a conscious consent to existence, and the desire, perceived as a personal destiny, to make it reality. At this point man is free, and this world filled with oppression and oppressive agents can only serve to make his freedom visible in all its splendor, just as a great mass of primary rock produces crystals through its high pressure.
This new freedom is the old freedom, is absolute freedom cloaked in the new garments of the times. To lead it to victory, again and again, despite all the wiles of the Zeitgeist: this is the meaning of the historical world.”
* “Man, in the present state of society, seems to me to be more corrupted by his reason than by his passions.” Chamfort, “Maxims and Thoughts”.