Please note that this short article should be read as an appendix to “From Subculture to Hegemony:
Transversal Strategies of the New Right in Neofolk and Martial Industrial”
Ernst Jünger published in 1951 a small book called “Der Waldgang” where he conceptualizes a “Gestalt” (figure) of the Waldgänger. The one I have on hand is the 6th edition from 1986. I don’t know if it is an unchanged or edited version of the original text. Jünger sees the Waldgänger as a third “Gestalt” after the “Arbeiter” (worker, after his 1932 programmatic text of the same title) and the “unknown soldier”. The Waldgänger is the person who disappears into the forest, goes underground (Wald = forest). He conceptualizes this figure as a kind of (spiritual?) partisan in a totalitarian context.
In this small book there is a lot of talk about elections under totalitarian regimes, where the state-conformist majority achieves results at around 98% and the no-votes lie only at around 2%. This has been interpreted as a reckoning regarding the Nazi regime, even as it is also an indictment against his own blindness or cowardice which prevented him from consequent resistance against the tyranny of the “third reich”. This may be a legitimate starting hypothesis, but there is very little evidence for this in the text itself. In fact, one of the outstanding characteristics of the book is its apparent historical vagueness.
At the same time there can be no doubt that Jünger is writing from a concrete historical/political standpoint. He wants to intervene in the (then) current discussions in a defining manner, just as he did with “Der Arbeiter” and “Die Totale Mobilmachung” around 20 years earlier. Although times have changed considerably, Jünger astonishingly holds on to the main theses of “Der Arbeiter”, and just appends them a little (as he did with another small book “Maxima – Minima” in 1964, but I’m only treating “Der Waldgang” here). Keeping this in mind and recognizing the few concrete political references in the text it becomes clearer what is his agenda.
In addition to this it is safe to assume that he has a readership in mind that he can trust to decipher his often somewhat foggy formulations. I think it is far more probable that, when going on (and on) about elections, he is referring to elections in the so-called peoples democracies, and not about the Nazi times. This is why he clarifies “that behind this word there is no anti-eastern intention”. Quite on the contrary: “the Russians and the Germans have a lot to say to each other”. One paragraph above this, he warns his reader in the context of the Waldgang from a “limitation of the word to the German freedom struggle. Through the catastrophe Germany has gotten into a situation that requires a new alignment of the armed forces (Heeresneuordnung)”. Here the soldier and national bolshevik still speaks to a readership who understand the defeat of Germany in WWII as a “catastrophe”.
Jünger, once a vocal proponent of the “ideas of 1914”, still declares in 1951 that the “concepts of freedom of 1789” are “decrepit”. To voice his point of view in an unapologetically revanchist manner he declares: “The peace of Versailles already included the second WW. Founded on open violence it gave the gospel that corresponded to any act of violence. A second peace after this blueprint would last even shorter and would include the destruction of Europe.” – This is the defiant threat of someone traumatized by the “catastrophe”.
Not that the text is free of distancing against the Nazi regime, as even armed action against it is positively referred to. However, that one passage is strangely embedded in an attempted exculpation of the Germans, and on the other hand in a strange Bakuninism which is present in the text several times. A determined minority of Waldgänger – so it is suggested – could bring about the fall of the tyrannies.
In other meditations Jünger turns to theology and poetry: “language is weaving around silence, like an oasis is placing itself around a fountain. And the poem confirms that the entrance into the timeless gardens has succeeded. On this, then, time lives.”, he says on the last page of the tract.
Thus it remains unclear what the Waldgänger is (supposed to be) – a sovereign individual under dictatorship? A mystical poet? Or an organized partisan/guerilla fighter? Furthermore, what is new about any of these concepts? And, what is the aim? Let’s look at the meaning by examining the political pamphlet buried “right underneath the surface” of “Der Waldgang”. Jünger writes, “The true problem lies rather in the fact that a large majority doesn’t want freedom, that it even fears it. You have to be free to become free, because freedom is existence – is above all the conscious compliance with existence and the desire, felt as destiny, to realize it. Because man is free, and the world filled with constraint and means of coercion must serve to make freedom visible in its full sheen, just as the great masses of primary rocks create crystals through their pressure. The new freedom is the old, is absolute freedom in its contemporary form; because again and again and against all ruses of the zeitgeist to lead to its triumph: This is the meaning of the historic world.” What he actually means with freedom remains abstract and unclear.
Moreover, at first sight the next paragraph seems to have no relation to what was just written. Interestingly it is one of the most concrete sweeping blows of the little book. Jünger makes the claim: “As is well known (!) the basic feeling of our epoch is hostile to property”. He speaks out against land reform and socialization, at first in a rather abstract fashion, but then he gets more concrete: “The German had to think about it. After his defeat, the intention to disenfranchise him forever, to enslave him, to exterminate him through division, was tested on him. This test was harder than the one of war, and one may say that he stood it, stood it silently, without weapons, without friends, without a forum in this world. In these days, months and years he made one of the greatest experiences. He was thrown back to his property, to the layer which eluded the extermination. Here lies a mystery, and such days are more associational than decisive battles that are won. The wealth of the country lies in its men and women who have made extreme experiences that in the course of many generations only approach man once.” One has to appreciate the monstrosity of these lines. Published in 1951 it was only six years after that the German project to exterminate the Jews was thwarted by the Allies. Jünger doesn’t have a word to say about it. Quite on the contrary, for him it is the Germans who were enslaved and on whom extermination was tested. Considering the fact that the Germans had already turned Europe into a slaughterhouse for the second time in half a century, the treatment they received was rather lenient. Only a few main war criminals were taken to account, while most of the perpetrators of some of the most heinous crimes humanity had yet seen were integrated in post war society. Both halves of Germany were integrated into the new bloc constellation as quickly as possible. The displacement of Germans from east of the new borders surely was combined with great suffering, but in no way it can be described and portrayed as an “extermination”.
For Jünger, the defeat was a “catastrophe”, a most “extreme experience” creating the mystical union of the Germans. Now only one thing – or one man – is missing: “(Mankind) is afflicted with an ineradicable monarchic instinct (…) If power is taken anywhere, always great hopes are attached to it, even with enemies. (… the peoples) never lose the hope (…) for a prince, whose mission is announced by a constellation in the sky. They sense that myth lies as a trove of gold right beneath history, right beneath the measured ground of time.”
It becomes clear that despite rejecting Hitler (as a ‘false messiah’?), Jünger believes that a better “Führer”, a real “prince” would come along as a saviour of the Germans – who had “stood their test”, and that the function of the “Waldgänger” was to prepare for his appearance.