Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Sovereign Indifference: Jünger's Anarch and the Appeal of the Small 1

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Sovereign Indifference: Jünger's Anarch and the Appeal of the Small 1

Article excerpt

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.


In his 1977 novel Eumeswil, Ernst Jünger 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 Jünger 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. Jünger'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. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.