For most of his life, Ernst Jünger, one of Europe's leading twentieth-century writers, has been controversial. Renowned as a soldier who wrote of his experience in the First World War, he has maintained a remarkable writing career that has spanned five periods of modern German history. In this first comprehensive study of Jünger in English, Thomas R. Nevin focuses on the writer’s first fifty years, from the late Wilhelmine era of the Kaiser to the end of Hitler’s Third Reich. By addressing the controversies and contradictions of Jünger, a man who has been extolled, despised, denounced, and admired throughout his lifetime, Ernst Jünger and Germany also opens an uncommon view on the nation that is, if uncomfortably, represented by him.
Ernst Jünger is in many ways Germany’s conscience, and much of the controversy surrounding him is at its source measured by his relation to the Nazis and Nazi culture. But as Nevin suggests, Jünger can more specifically and properly be regarded as the still living conscience of a Germany that existed before Hitler. Although his memoir of service as a highly decorated lieutenant in World War I made him a hero to the Nazis, he refused to join the party. A severe critic of the Weimar Republic, he has often been denounced as a fascist who prepared the way for the Reich, but in 1939 he published a parable attacking despotism. Close to the men who plotted Hitler’s assassination in 1944, he narrowly escaped prosecution and death. Drawing largely on Jünger’s untranslated work, much of which has never been reprinted in Germany, Nevin reveals Jünger’s profound ambiguities and examines both his participation in and resistance to authoritarianism and the cult of technology in the contexts of his Wilhelmine upbringing, the chaos of Weimar, and the sinister culture of Nazism.
Winner of Germany’s highest literary awards, Ernst Jünger is regularly disparaged in the German press. His writings, as this book indicates, put him at an unimpeachable remove from the Nazis, but neo-Nazi rightists in Germany have rushed to embrace him. Neither apology, whitewash, nor vilification, Ernst Jünger and Germany is an assessment of the complex evolution of a man whose work and nature has been viewed as both inspiration and threat.