The Sovereignty of the Individual in Ernst Jünger’s The Worker
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The Sovereignty of the Individual in Ernst Jünger’s The Worker

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Abstract

Individualism and nationalism are often held to be competing or even mutually exclusive concepts. Hannah Arendt, for instance, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, argues that a focus on the rights of the individual could have provided an antidote to the kind of racist nationalism established by the Nazis. According to this logic, the more firmly individual rights are defended, the less dangerously nationalist the resulting society will be, because individuals’ goals and desires will not be subordinated to those of a larger group. Studies of the work of Ernst Jünger have confirmed this assessment of the importance of the individual as a defense against nationalist forms of repression. Critics who have alleged the complicity of his work with the rise of National Socialism typically point to the ways in which his work eradicates the individual. Yet, the status of the individual subject, both in Jünger’s work and within the cultural history leading up to National Socialism, may not be so clear-cut. The critique of the subject, leading to a recognition of the limitations of the individual, is a broader phenomenon that is arguably the fundamental unifying basis of European modernism and not just an element of right-wing movements. At the same time, the defense of the individual may actually be compatible with Jünger’s nationalism, indicating that individualism and nationalism might in fact be linked projects within a larger process of identity construction.

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