Sovereign indifference: Junger's Anarch and the appeal of the small.

Author:Farrugia, James
Position:Report
 
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When I mount the scaffold at last these will be my farewell words to the sheriff: Say what you will against me when I am gone, but don't forget to add, in common justice, that I was never converted to anything. --H.L. MENCKEN ABSTRACT:

Pericles' boast that 'the man who takes no part in politics [is] not unmeddlesome but useless' underscores a fundamental principle in any anthropocentric system: that any individual human being is a composite of an indefinite totality, to wit, historical humanity. Carl Schmitt's and Giorgio Agamben's formulations of sovereign power, the state of exception and bare life are relevant here; yet both thinkers are compromised by the supremacy of the political and human totality. The same, it will be claimed, also ultimately holds true for a great number of classical and contemporary anarchist thinkers. What makes Ernst Junger's 'anarch' different is precisely his indifference to the sovereign claims of any human totality, and the assertion of his own sovereignty: 'the monarch wants to rule many, nay, all people; the anarch, only himself. One of the key differences between more communal conceptions of the anarchist and Junger's anarch is that the latter does not believe that 'human nature is intrinsically good'. More crucially, the anarch recognises that he lives in a world which he cannot 'take seriously'. Underlying all this there is an implicit appeal for the small, the limited and the concrete. In a time of increasingly global compacts and formulations, this is worth investigating.

Keywords: anarchy, indifference, sovereignty state

In his 1977 novel Eumeswil, Ernst Junger came to the final formulation of a figure he had been tinkering with since after the First World War: the anarch. Suffice it to say, this paper will revolve around what Junger called the 'possibility', rather than the 'position', of the anarch. (2) Before we explore the anarch's relation to sovereignty, state, anarchy and indifference, it would be useful here to provide one of the many concise summations offered by the protagonist of Eumeswil, the historian and night steward Manuel Venator, of some of the anarch's major inclinations in these regards:

The anarch is no individualist [...] He wishes to present himself neither as a Great Man nor as a Free Spirit. His own measure is enough for him; freedom is not his goal; it is his property. He does not come on as a foe or reformer: one can get along with him nicely in shacks or in palaces. Life is too short and too beautiful to sacrifice it for ideas. (3) The ubiquitous space which the anarch--with great consequence--'does not take seriously' is that populated by humanity in its various supra-individual and historically-bound trajectories. Indeed, the choice of the word 'space' arises from the difficulty in imagining a properly concrete or unabstracted humanity. For Alexander Herzen, a collectivist, the 'word "humanity" is most repugnant; it expresses nothing definite and only adds to the confusion of all the remaining concepts a sort of piebald demi-god'. (4) There is, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, a stench emanating from the workshops where abstractions are fabricated--a stench of lies. (5) The abstraction 'humanity' is no different except for the fact that it signifies a totality of abstractions: it is all workshops, all workers, and all those worked upon. It is present in our lives in the same way that God is claimed to present in the furrowed absence of via negativa. In other words, we cannot even escape its absence, regardless of whether that absence is typified by violence, collusion or withdrawal. Junger's anarch, as we shall see, is different precisely because of his indifference to the sovereign claims of any human totality, and the small and limited assertion--because it only concerns his concrete existence--of his own sovereignty.

At the centre of this concept of humanity is not so much humanity itself as much as the relations between individual human beings and humanity as historically and contemporaneously configured in the form of social and political groupings. As we shall see later on, the individual human being referred to here should not be thought of in individualist terms, let alone heroic or emancipatory ones. Rather we should think of any individual human who has one lifetime to live--that is the clear object of this argument, the individual in its barest existing temporal state.

There are four themes that overlap here: sovereignty, state, anarchy and indifference. In the 2014 Russian film, Leviathan, all these themes--but crucially, not indifference--wage against and inside each other in a Hobbesian whirlwind that fulfils its one functional goal: institutional survival and propogation. (6) It is, of course, of little significance that on the shoreline of the Barents Sea village in which the film is set, there are, just where the tides come in, the skeletal remains of a biological leviathan, a whale; indeed, just before one of the characters commits suicide, the last visual is that of another whale, seemingly larger than its skeletal ancestor, slipping in and jutting out of the Barents Sea. (7)

This is a central pattern at the heart of historical occurrence: the repetition of essentially indifferent movements of erosion and accumulation; of systemic inheritances and losses. As Emil Cioran put it, 'history is irony on the move'. (8) One could make this more precise by saying that historical humanity is irony on the move, as it is that which supposedly transcends, or should transcend in its recurring gestations, the limitedness of the human individual caught in his/her three-score years and ten. The insistence upon our shared humanity is ubiquitous--even ISIS believes in a shared humanity, albeit one solely composed of purist Wahabi Muslims fulfilling ancient prophecy. Going back to Herzen then, the problem with the word humanity is that it expresses nothing definite; more worryingly still, it often expresses conflicting definitions that can only be realised politically. The individual is the germ; the problem is actualisation within the grouping; and the grouping's most frequent mode of actualisation is the political--the individual's biggest problem therefore is the actualised political grouping, regardless of that political grouping's ideological inclinations.

An important clarification has to be made here--and which will be further expanded in the next sections--with regard to Junger's characterisation of 'anarchists' and their contrastive relation to the anarch. Junger's clear referent here is classical anarchism together with a number of major anarchist thinkers (classical or otherwise) with collectivist inclinations, as well as related political movements of the kind typified by the Russian nihilist movement of the nineteenth century, among others. In Mutual Aid; A Factor in Evolution, for instance, Peter Kropotkin advanced the idea that there is an 'innate and evolutionary tendency towards mutualism within all living beings', which as Saul Newman says necessitates a view of the human subject as not 'only essentially benign' but also 'inextricably part of the social fabric'. (9) Even if--as Newman says in The Politics of Postanarchism--this view of human nature is in turn not necessarily 'one-sided' or 'naively benign', if it is instead taken to be merely pointing out that 'people are intrinsically and organically part of a social whole, and that their cooperative instincts tend come to the fore in this social context', there remains at the heart of such a thinking a clear collectivist strain. (10) This is an anarchism of amelioration, aimed at recapturing or crafting something better than what currently stands.

Even if most anarchist thinking stands in some stark contrast to socialist and liberal thinking on how to approach questions of 'liberty' and 'freedom', (11) it nevertheless partakes largely in the politics of amelioration, which always have at their centre an unmistakably soteriological nub. Even Newman's comprehensive work on post-anarchism--which takes its cue, in part, from Jacques Ranciere's work--and does not propound foundationalism and the idea that the political subject is 'founded on essentialist conceptions of human nature', ultimately belies a similar ameliorative stance. (12) This is why Junger's anarch will also be contrasted with more contemporary strains of anarchist thought. Therefore, in what follows, strands of anarchist thought such as those described above will be repeatedly contrasted with Junger's own anarchist thought through the figure of the anarch, a figure who inherits a lot of characteristics from Max Stirner's individualist anarchist thought and his figure of Einziger (Only One), as well as some of the principles of Nietzsche's Ubermensch (Superman), if with far less bombastic and more than a touch of quietistic augustness.

SOVEREIGNTY, STATE AND HISTORY

It was Thomas Hobbes--who was fittingly enough born after his mother went into labour out of fear of the oncoming Spanish Armada (13)--who rightly said that it is auctoritas, or authority, rather than Veritas, or truth, which makes the law. (14) Hobbes had a fundamentally pugilistic view of human nature; this later informed Carl Schmitt's own view that 'all genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil, i.e. by no means an unproblematic but a dangerous and dynamic being'. (15) These are views which also inform this work, and ones which are shared by Junger's anarch, who, unlike 'anarchists', does not believe that 'human nature is intrinsically good'; further, he thinks that believing in such intrinsic goodness only serves to 'castrate society', in much the same way that theologians castrate 'the Good Lord' by saying that 'God is goodness'. (16) The parallel is simple: just as a truly benevolent God would be difficult to justify given the problem of evil and the seemingly random capriciousness behind many of His acts (not...

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