February 17, 2021

Between Order and Disorder: Ernst Jünger on the Marble Cliffs - by Francisco Carmo Garcia

(From VoegelinView, 16 Feb 2021)

There are several examples that help us grasping that particular zeitgeist lived in the first half of the 20th century. A book such as Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain gives us a description of the moral and spiritual decomposition of the then bourgeois society. At this time, in the bashed and defeated post-war Germany, nihilism had turned to be a dominant moral disposition. Oswald Spengler announced the decline of the West amidst the hubris of the Great War; Nietzsche’s will to power was convincing posthumously a younger generation of German intellectuals; and Heidegger was caught exasperating at the end of philosophy. This aura of decadence marked the period, and to that faith in the inevitable progress of humanity so specific and characteristic of the 19th century there followed an intellectual and existential despair. Ever since the moment when the idea of progress was contested by the destruction caused by the war, that a sense of moral disorientation had necessarily to follow.

It is this crisis of the idea of progress that we can feel all over Ernst Jünger’s oeuvre, from his famous diaries of his experience in the Great War (In Stahlgewittern), to his “prophetic” work Der Arbeiter and his late novels. But one book of his in particular allows us to penetrate in the nihilistic zeitgeist of the inter-war period: his Auf den Marmorklippen, published at the zenith of Hitler’s power, in 1939. This little book – On the Marble Cliffs, in English –, forgotten in the same way which its author is neglected by the intelligentsia, tells us more about our own times – which are also times of crisis – than several of the “scientific” works that are widespread today, and which denounce a supposedly evident return of fascism. In this jüngerian tale, the despotic figure of the tyrant appears in its most violent essence, as the result of a cosmological disorder that hits society in all of its foundations. On the Marble Cliffs is a book that needs to be remembered, the meaning of which seems today almost as intelligible – and appropriate – as when it was first published.