(Text adapted from Ernst Jünger’s “The Forest Passage”.)
Heavy floods in Northern Europe have shown that in case of a natural catastrophe, journalists are irrelevant and politicians useless. Faced with a threat, people turn to their heroes. But democratic society doesn’t want heroes, it wants obedient voters.
Democracies as we know them emphasize the confidential nature of casting a vote. Voting is an anonymous act of will without fear of consequences. A sense of security accompanies one to the ballot box. Yet, one can never vote against democracy, no matter how corrupt it has become.
In this way, the corrupt leaders produce proof not only of their support by some anonymous masses but also of an approval grounded in the free will of individuals. Propaganda rests on a situation in which the state enemy, the class enemy, or the enemy of the people has been thoroughly beaten down and made almost ridiculous, yet not altogether eliminated.
Today, this is the fate of ordinary white men, who are blamed for all the problems in the world, and who, forced onto their knees, must sing along with the black national anthem. But they have not yet been eliminated.
A man scraping by, if not in an actual wasteland then perhaps in a wasted zone such as an industrial city, to whom a mere glimmer, a brief whiff of the immense power of Being is imparted—such a man begins to sense that something is wrong in his life. This is the prerequisite for him to start searching.
Now the world is a battlefield for armies of microbes; the apocalypse threatens as it always did, only now as the doings of physics. The old delusions continue to flourish in psychoses and neuroses.
To overcome the fear of death is at once to overcome every other terror. Heroism is, therefore, above all a passage through death. The hero’s journey leads to the brink of death itself. When the line is successfully crossed, the world as a place of life is revealed in all its preternatural fullness.
In his poems, Hölderlin saw Christ as the exaltation of Herculean and Dionysian strength. Hercules is the original prince on whom even the gods depend in their battle with the titans. He drains the swamps and builds canals, and, by defeating the fiends and monsters, he makes the wastelands habitable. He is first among the heroes, on whose graves society is founded, and by whose veneration it is preserved.
Every nation has its Hercules, and even today, graves form the central points from which the state receives its sacred luster. Human greatness must ever and again be won anew. Victory comes when the assault of the ignoble is beaten back in one’s own breast. Here is the authentic substance of history: in man’s encounter with himself, that is, with his own divine power.
What would it now mean for a contemporary man to take his lead from the example of death’s champion, of these gods, heroes, and sages? It would mean that he join the resistance against the times, and not merely against these times, but against all times, whose basic motif has been obedience.
If a man succeeds in overcoming his fear of death, by disobeying with confidence, he will gain freedom also in other spheres that are ruled by fear. Then he will fell the giants whose weapons are terror. This, too, has recurred again and again in history.
It is in the nature of things that education today aims at precisely the opposite of this. Never have such strange ideas prevailed in schools as today. The intention in all systems is to inhibit any metaphysical influx, to tame and train pupils in the interests of the collective. Even in circumstances where the Leviathan finds itself dependent on courage, on the battlefield, for instance, it will seek to simulate a second, even more ominous threat to keep the fighter in check.
How is man to be prepared for paths that lead into darkness and the unknown? It shows a healthy instinct that today’s youth is beginning to show new interest in tradition. Traditional life reveals what was possible in the past, and hence what one may be justified in expecting from the future.
Still more important is the consideration that in many people today a strong need for religious ritual coexists with an aversion to churches. There is a sense of something missing in existence. This is the gullibility of modern man, which coexists with a lack of faith. He believes what he reads in the newspaper but not what is written in the stars.
Giving this man an inkling of what has been taken from him, even in the best possible present circumstances, and of what immense power still rests within him—this is the task of priests.
“Here and now” is the hero’s motto—he is the spirit of free and independent action. Only a small fraction of the mass populace can be counted among this type, and yet these few form a small elite able to resist the automatism on whom the pure use of force must fail.
The resistance of the hero is absolute: He knows no neutrality, no pardon, no confinement. He does not expect the enemy to listen to arguments, let alone act chivalrously. He knows that the death penalty will not be waived for him.
Now it is above all the silence that is conspicuous, particularly the silence of the youth, despite the many extraordinary things they witnessed in the cauldrons and soul-murdering imprisonments of their modern upbringing. This silence weighs more than any development of ideas, more even than any works of art. The youth observed more than just the collapse of the nation-state. They witnessed the fall of man.
The enormous popularity enjoyed by charlatans and miracle workers today is not only explained by the gullibility of the masses; it also reflects their mistrust of the medical industry and in particular of the manner in which it is becoming automated.
In the event of foreign occupation, the hero’s journey presents itself as a possible military tactic. The hero is no soldier. He does not know the military life and its discipline. His life is at once freer and harder than the soldierly one. Heroes are recruited from the ranks of those resolved to fight for freedom, even when the outlook is hopeless. In the ideal case, their personal freedom coincides with the liberation of their land, and of their people.
Also dependent on the hero’s journey are those individuals for whom other forms of existence have become impossible. An invasion is followed by the imposition of measures that threaten large sections of the population: arrests; searches; registration in lists; tracing apps; forced labor; forced medical treatment. This drives people to resistance, secretly or even openly. In this regard, the rebel may not fight according to martial law, but neither does he fight like a bandit. This presupposes strong, self-directing leadership.
The rebel hero conducts his little war along the railway tracks and supply routes, he threatens bridges, pipelines, communication lines, and depots. His presence wears on the enemy’s resources, forces them to multiply their posts. The rebel hero takes care of reconnaissance, sabotage, the spread of information among the population. He disappears into impassable terrain, into anonymity, only to reappear the moment the enemy shows signs of weakness. He propagates unrest, provokes panic. He can lay whole armies lame.
The hero has no access to powerful means of combat, but he knows how a daring strike can destroy weapons that cost billions. He knows their tactical vulnerabilities, the cracks in their armor, where they are inflammable.
The hero is the concrete individual, and he acts in the concrete world. He has no need of theories or of laws concocted by some party jurist to know what is right. He descends to the very springs of morality, where the waters are not yet divided and directed into institutional channels. Matters become simple here—assuming something uncorrupted still lives in him.
Modern man, however, finds himself in the bowels of a great machine devised for his destruction. Only a miracle can save us from such whirlpools. But heroes can make miracles happen.
The origins of aristocracy, the rule of the best, lay in giving protection, protection from the threat of monsters and demons. This is the hallmark of nobility. This cannot be lost, and on this, the world subsists. These are the sacrifices on which it rests.
The real issue is that the great majority of people do not want freedom, are actually afraid of it. One must be free in order to become free, but freedom isn’t won by allowing the dispossessed to vote on how their misery is to be managed by a state bureaucracy.
The West, today, is rich in dispossessed and disenfranchised young men; in this sense, the West holds the greatest riches on earth, for disenfranchisement is a wealth that may be utilized. Great momentum dwells in any movement supported by the dispossessed.
All the people need, now, are the men who wade through flooded lands to find the path that leads to higher grounds. Weak men who have overcome their fear of death shall soon learn that they have become the strong, and that the world, afraid and insecure, is awaiting its heroes’ arrival.