Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Technology and War" - The View from 1939

I'm currently reading a book entitled The Failure of Technology, written by Friedrich Georg Jünger. It was written during the summer of 1939, but then only published after the war in 1946, since the publisher didn't wish to risk government disapproval, which would have been obvious. An English translation came out in 1947. Friedrich Georg was a brother of the writer Ernst Jünger.

Below is the chapter on technology and war. Notice that there is mention of Clausewitz and a short analysis. Jünger has some interesting things to say about technology and its social effects. I'm working on a post on strategy within a disintegrating society and provide this post/chapter as context for my own upcoming post. This chapter brings up some disturbing questions. One which comes to mind is how would we define "total war" today? Jünger most likely picked up the concept from the writings of Erich Ludendorff.



IT IS AN axiom of the natural sciences that the laws of nature are stable, unchangeable, and of perman­ent mechanical validity. Faith in scientific progress strangely enough presupposes the existence of laws which are completely exempt from any kind of prog­ress. These laws are indispensable to the natural sciences as rigid and dependable substrata. The law of causality, for instance, states that the same causes must always produce the same effects.

The scientist who voices a doubt in the validity of the law of causality is obviously attacking the foundation on which the whole Babylonian tower of scientific knowledge rests. He who raises the question whether all this knowledge is worth know­ing likewise attacks these foundations. This very question is outside the scientific field, for we are breaking through the sacred precincts of science if we are not content with its obvious and wonderful results. We undermine these foundations if we ask what insights really are gained by scientific dis­ coveries, what good they do us, and where mankind will be once science has achieved its goal.

Here we approach the ultimate illusion which attaches to scientific progress. Obviously the strive­ing for rationalization must come to an end at some time . Obviously it attains its end once that state of perfection has been reached for which it is striv­ing so untiringly. For the idea of unending progress is absurd and inane, because the infinite motion that rapIdity and forcefulness of technical rationalization it presupposes is contradictory. It is exactly the rapidity and forcefulness of technological rationalization which indicate that we are approaching a finale, an ultImate stage of technology where everything tech­nical attains the same degree of perfection long since achieved in the tools of handicrafts. Perhaps the moment when this will come about is not far off,
but it would be idle to speculate on this.

In any case, this is the great moment which is the main theme of the utopists, the moment upon which they concentrate their hopes. We often meet with the idea that all of mankind's sufferings, all the sacrifices that must be endured for the sake of tech­ nical progress will be compensated for at the end. Such theories of reward, however, while quite right and proper to homo religiosus, have nothing to do with technology. It is not the beginning but the end that has to bear the burden. It would be more fitting to see in these sacrifices and sufferings, the price of man's thirst for power.

The absolute notions of harmony with a state of technical perfection or to suppose a political and social idyll where it can never be found is sheer pipe­ dreaming. Those dreams of leisure, freedom, and wealth created by technical progress are utopian, and so are the ideas of peace, well-being and happiness in future times. They are utopian because they combine what cannot be combined. The ma­chine is not a godhead lavishing cornucopias of happiness, and an era of the machine does not lead to a peaceful and charming idyll. At all times the power proffered by technology has exacted, and for­ever will exact, a high price; the price of the blood and sinew of human hecatombs who in one way or another get caught in the cogs and wheels of that vast engine. The price is being paid by the leaden monotony of factory and business life that is now reaching its peak; by mechanical work for one's living; by the operator's dependence upon the auto­matic tool. The price is paid by the devastation of spiritual life which grows in step with mechanization. We would do well, indeed, to say good-bye to all illusions about the blessings forthcoming from technology, but most of all to that illusion of peaceful happiness it is supposed to bring. Technology has not the wherewithal to bring back Eden.

Indeed, the shape of things to come is vastly different. Since technology is based upon the mining of resources and since its progress spells the progressive pillage of the earth, it is obvious that in a state of perfection it will practice the most complete and the most intensive exploitation on a planetary scale, a mining of all its resources in the most ra­tional manner. This sapping and mining is bound to produce losses which must become increasingly unbearable. The devastations of this pillage are not limited to the exhaustion of mines, of oil wells and other resources. Neither this nor the reckless exhaustion of the topsoil which spreads erosion and the sinking of water tables will be decisive in them­selves, although - in America, for instance - these warning signals are already looming big.

What will spell the end is rather the total char­ acter of these losses which include the human beings within the technical organizations. It becomes con­ stantly more evident that the sum total of the tech­nological efforts and investments overtaxes human capacities, that the sheer weight of the mechanical burden is getting too heavy, that once technology has reached perfection, it will not be long before modem man collapses. Symptoms of this over­burdening are already evident in the mental and the physical spasms of this day and age, the contortions of which betray the high pressure under which we live. Everywhere in the world we see forced, over­ taxing efforts. They are bound to be followed by the reaction that invariably comes after excesses of will power and nervous overstrain: exhaustion,­ apathy, and dull depression.

In this overstraining we also find the key to an understanding of the ideas and plans for total mo­bilization and total war. Whatever their opponents may object, these ideas make perfectly good sense, inasmuch as they outline with precision the situation in which we find ourselves. For this reason they deserve an attention and a respect demanded by any momentous thoughts which do not shrink from logi­cal consequences no matter how grave they may be. The objections raised against total mobilization and total war significantly fail to hit at the crux of the matter.

What is the meaning of total mobilization and total conduct of war? How does total war differ from other wars? Clausewitz, the leading war theorist of the nineteenth century, never described such a war. True, in his definition of war he remarks that there is a tendency toward the extreme use of force and that there are no inherent limits to such use. He mentions specifically three reciprocal elements in war as conducive to extremes. But in the same breath he also speaks of the forces which modify and moderate the extreme and absolute concepts of war; the human relations, for instance, which actually continue between the belligerents even in war. His ideas of war, in other words, show plainly that they belong to a time which could have no clear concepts of the colossal growth of technical organization. The Napoleonic wars could still give no hint of this potential. What Clausewitz assumes as basic in waging war is the use of limited means for limited ends. But total war presupposes total technical organization. By its very concept, total war rejects all limitations of means and purposes. Its total not only in its preparation, its strategic and tactical means and ends; it is total above aU in its mentality of ruthless extermination which no longer recognizes any barriers.This destructive mentality is the counterpart of technological progress. It develops in the exact proportion in which technology itself breaks down all barriers of space and develops a destructive potential which is unJimited.

Even total war, however, has its modifications; even its inherent trend toward the extremes of vio­lence is subjected to limitations and restraints. One such limitation lies in the fact that a war which is waged by every means must lead also to the exhaus­tion of every resource, provided that a certain bal­ance of strength exists between the opponents. By definition, total mobilization or total war abolishes all and every reserve since no reserve remains un­touched. There are neither stores nor funds that remain intact or inviolate, nothing immobile even that does not get mobilized, no inalienable owner­ship that does not get disowned.

For proper understanding of these developments, we must consider the over-all situation of modem man. What characterizes the situation in the mechanized war of the industrial worker or the soldier who is, in fact, a worker, as is everybody who lives in a state of advanced industrialization?

The situation of the worker is signalized by his dependence on machinery and organization. It is signalized by the absence of reserves on which he could fall back. He is reduced to the sale of his bare working capacity, and he must sell it unceas­ingly and unstintingly if he wants to live. He has no funds to guarantee him peace of mind, leisure, or even an extended vacation. This already existing pattern of so-called normal, civilian life, simply gets incorporated into the pattern of total war. In it all human and material resources are drafted, mobilized, and brought into action. Plainly, there is a reverse side to this process, namely, the total consumption caused by total war. Such a war is by no means a spontaneous, voluntary mass uprising where enthusiasm makes up for primitive technical equipment. It is a struggle between technically highly developed organizations which show all the mechanical, automatic features characteristic of an advanced stage of technology. That is why the most important goal of modern war is to smash the technical potential of the opponent.

Technical progress and conduct of war today are merging. We have reached a state of affairs where the technical potential of a state is the determining factor in the event of war. Superior technology means victory, inferior technology means defeat; that is the briefest possible formula to which a definite phase of technical progress can be reduced. This equation forces all modem states, with relent­lessly increasing mechanical compulsion, to support, to speed up, and to push to the utmost the drive for technical perfection. For its own self-preservation, the modern state has to promote, and subject every­thing possible to, technical automatism . Since the technical potential is decisive in war, it is actually a form of armament. Technical progress now drops the economic mask it had been wearing in the early days of technical organization. Technically organized work becomes preparation for war; its connection with war becomes constantly more unmistakable.

Nothing can prevent this. It is conceivable that war can be prevented in a specific case. But it is inconceivable that, in the event of war, the state would refrain from using to the full its technical potential. The incessant pointing to this potential, the propagandist efforts to make it look formidable and terrifying, are parts of modern political tactics even in so-called peace. It also becomes clear why states depart more and more from the old law of nations which requested a formal declaration of war. The stigma of being termed "aggressor" is outweighed too far by the advantage of high preparedness coupled with surprise attack made possible by the technical potential.

Just as a technically organized economy becomes more and more a war economy, so technology de­velops more and more into a war technology; it reveals ever more clearly its armament character. In our dynamic age, technology steps up its pillage of world resources; but while it devours material for war preparation, it reduces at the same time our living standards. It shakes off all fetters of economic laws and finances its organization by methods which constantly increase the burdens on the workers.

The question of just what is gained by total war is, not limited to specialists. That question is raised by the consideration that the total consumption demanded by a total war may well consume whatever gains result even from the winning of the war. What must be anticipated is a condition where there is neither victor nor vanquished, but only general exhaustion. Are we still in a position where we can hope for a gain? Or is the call for total war proof in itself that the fight for sheer survival has begun? In other words: Has technical progress reached a stage where its consumption has grown so tremendous that of necessity it must radically change the territorial and political organization of all states?

Friedrich Georg Jünger, Spring 1939


  1. On the issue of science and technologys, I cannot but attest Jünger some degree of naivete. Decades earlier already, when Max Planck declared he wanted to study physics, he was told that was a bad choice as physics was largely "done" and little new was to be expected - it was not the least Planck himself who proved that view naive. As a scientist, I know all too well that every new answer we find comes with scores of new questions attached. And while we occasionally get the feeling that we might be on to something and soon, a lot of things would become much easier -such as in the sequencing of the human genome- as a matter of fact, we mostly find out that things are yet a wee bit more complex than we possibly could have imagined. Also, where he sees some kind of possibly linear approach to understanding the universe, I see a more asymptotical approach, where we will come ever closer to a full description without ever getting there.

    But let's set that aside for the topic of more concern to the blog, that of total war. Written in 1939, and published in 1946/1947 one might, at that time, have been tempted to see the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as evidence for his hypothesis. However, writing in 2012, that argument becomes null by the sheer fact that we have to point at events over 60 years in the past - meaning no such use has happened since. And despite the fact that even their development was furthered, both in range and extent of damage, outside of tests they were never used. Which begs the question whether in contrast to Jünger's theses, at least when it comes to the massive and immediate destruction of warfare, mankind is wise enough to recognize a course of action leading to exctinction as not a valid political or military goal. The problem seems rather to be on other fronts, where the destruction might come more gradual and over periods that makes it not as drastically visible as a nuclear mushroom cloud.

    Fire and Ice

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I've tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice
    (Robert Frost)

  2. Seydlitz -

    I’m not sure where to begin with this. You are right about the disturbing questions Junger asks. And of course I agree with the premise that technology can be a horrific factor in war. I do not agree with Junger's extrapolation of CvC's thoughts on 'total war'. I have a few other comments (or snivels if you will) on his essay, although for 1939 he does seem prescient.

    The concluding sentence in his opening paragraph: "The law of causality, for instance, states that the same causes must always produce the same effects" is incorrect IMHO. It is certainly not the law of causality that I learned in physics 101. But maybe he is being more philosophical and was influenced by Schopenhauer? He has the same pessimism.

    Junger’s statement that: ” … total mobilization or total war abolishes all and every reserve since no reserve remains un¬touched.” seems to contradict Clauswitz.

    And then later Junger states: "Superior technology means victory, inferior technology means defeat; ...". Now while that has a grain of truth in history, I would consider it pure dribble if applied to all conflicts. You would think that should have been as evident in 1939 as it is today. But then his entire argument probably comes from his experience in the first world war where machine guns, poison gas, tanks, and 'dicke bertha' ruled the battlefield. Or maybe he was reacting to Douhet? Wiki notes he served in Flanders where it is said that more infantrymen drowned in the muddy shell craters and collapsed trenches than sailors drowned in the North Sea. That must have been 'total war' to all veterans of that time.

    I am flummoxed on a way to answer your specific question of how to define todays "total war". Junger claims CvC did not leave any historical case studies of total war. But you would think final Punic War would have been a good example, where every Carthaginian man, woman, and child was killed or enslaved and the fields were sowed with salt?? Would our Civil War have qualified? WW2 did I believe, more on the Soviet part and possibly the US part than on Hitler’s part. Certainly the North Vietnamese practiced ‘total war’ in the 60s and early 70s. What if any is the difference between ‘total war’ and CvC’s ‘absolute war’ or what some have termed his concept of ‘pure war’??

    I would have to answer your question as a child of the beginning of the cold war. I started 2nd grade the same month Truman announced the Soviets had tested their own version of 'Fat Man'. My classmates and I learned to duck and cover before we learned the multiplication tables. Before then, in the late 40s, my father and other WW2 vets who had stayed in were trained not to be overawed with nukes and that combat had not changed substantially. The answer was supposedly just a twist on fire and maneuver - better dispersion to maneuver around our own nuclear fires, better comms and better transport so that they could mass when needed (they even taught some of that doctrine in the early 60s). Would the 1950s strategy of massive retaliation aka Mutually Assured Destruction qualify if it had been implemented?? Probably not as the people were left out of the equation and eventually renounced that concept. As commented just above mine, wiser heads prevailed.

    Junger does in a weird way remind me of Pynchon rather than Frost:

    "There once was a thing called a V-2,
    To pilot which you did not need to--
    You just pushed a button
    And it would leave nuttin'
    But stiffs and big holes and debris, too.

    Ja, ja, ja, ja!
    In Prussia they never eat pussy!
    There ain't hardly cats enough,
    There's garbage and that's enough,
    So waltz me around again, Russky."

    Google the rest of his limerick for a great satiric putdown of hi-tech, launcher erectors, warheads, course-gyro batteries, guidance transmitters, venturi nozzles, et al.

  3. Seydlitz,

    Is there a bibliography ? I am wondering if Junger was influenced by Thorstein Veblen. I see echoes of Veblen's ideas regarding the concentration of mass production capitalism and " mechanical" organization intersecting with ppl who's behaviors remain social, affliative and primitive, and thus " out of sync"

  4. I wonder if Junger is confusing science with philosophy? At the time he wrote this, there is no question that there was an air of "absolute certainty" in the dogma of Nazi Germany. Indeed, Jacob Bronowski addresses this danger, especially at Junger's time, in his magnificent work, "The Ascent of Man".

    Science and technology are disciplines which clearly address such issues as "precision" and "accuracy" and accept the limitations inherent in such. In short, the "discipline of science" does not incorporate any notion of "absolute certainty", if only due to the admission that measurements are limited to the accuracy and precision of the measuring instrument. Yes, we are able to slice the salami thinner than ever before, but it is still a slice of salami, still has two sides, etc. Only a fool would think you can slice it so thin it would only have one side.

  5. Thanks for your comments gentlemen. My reason for posting is that I need to provide some context to my upcoming post which is so broad as to be in danger of being incoherent. So context is necessary, and Jünger's chapter here provides a view from an earlier time which is at the same time quite different and yet recognizable from our own. I think the questions which come up from reading it will be invaluable for laying the ground work for the next post, so that's my motive here.

    With that in mind, let me start off by saying that this is very much a "philosophical approach" or what my youngest daughter describes as "getting to the basics of what the discussion is all about", or simply what fits where and why. So an exercise in abstraction, but abstraction which must be clearly based in specific categories and not mixing unlike "things". I think this approach necessary, although perhaps not the only approach applicable, to dealing with such broad social realities as social disintegration, which will come up in the following post.

    So what will follow is a brief outline of Jünger's argument in this chapter along with some responses to your excellent comments. I also disagree with Jünger's take on Clausewitz, which is connected with Zen's recent post, but will get into that later . . .

  6. seydlitz,
    As for technology-think uw/gw.
    Think VC/nva/taliban etc..
    technology isn't exactly frying those potatoes. Past or present.
    Some societies don't need technology to fight those that do. All they need is the willingness to absorb casualties, which they usually do rather well.
    My point- the German tanks were quality but not quantity like the Sherman and t34. Did German technology or philosophy have any effect on a big bite war?
    The japs were defeated even b/f we lit them up.
    I understand your point but war is not always about nation states, except when it is.
    We should be better at picking our enemies.

  7. Seydlitz,

    Interesting historical find - thanks for posting it. I guess I had about the same reaction as Al regarding technology and specifically thought of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. It was around for about a decade before this chapter was written but probably wasn't widely known outside specific circles in science.

    My other reaction is that it reflects, obviously, its time and it touches on many different philosophical trends from that period.

    Lastly, there is the question of total war, which kind of ties in with Zen's recent post. IMO, nuclear weapons really changed the game. Until something like the Death Star is created, nukes are the ultimate destructive force and are available at a relatively low cost. One can utterly wipe out an enemy with no need for mobilization. I think nukes, for the time being at least, make total war obsolete.

  8. OK, here's my outline of Jünger's argument. First, this is all about Rationalization which I have since linked to the first use of the term in paragraph three. It's a Weberian concept and it's absolutely essential to understand this concept to understand Jünger's argument. Please feel free to comment on anything you may think I've left out or misinterpreted. This is just an attempt to outline Jünger's view, not to critique, which will come later . . .

    1. Science requires "laws" of causality - the first two paragraphs.

    2. Science cannot answer questions as to ultimate meaning.

    3. Paragraph 3 introduces the real topic which is Rationalization.

    4. Endless "progress" (as defined in terms of Rationalization) is absurd in a reality of finite resources.

    5. Utopian notions of a bright future through Rationalization are "pipe dreams" since our very humanity (the spiritual life, meaningful human relations) is destroyed by the relentless advance of Rationalization.

    6. The "end" of Rationalization will not be utopian but a devastated planet and humanity.

    7. Rationalization does not make for less work, but ever more work in that humans are forced to "operate" at even increasing and in the long term unsustainable speed.

    8. What is the meaning of "total mobilization" and "total war"? Clausewitz never described either.

    9. Clausewitzian theory describes three tendencies towards extremes but then quickly modifies them in practice due to social factors.

    10. Clausewitz belonged to a "time which could have no clear concepts of the colossal growth of technical organization". Thus he assumes the use of limited means to limited ends.

    11. Total war is "ruthless extermination which no longer recognizes any barriers", which makes it essentially anti-Clausewitzian.

    12. Total war is subject to the same contradictory reality as Rationalization in that it must operate in a world of finite resources.

    13. Soldiers and workers (soldiers are simply specialized workers operating specific machines) are all part of this rationalized reality. The distinction between war and peace, or rather war and the time before and after specific wars becomes blurred.

    14. Total war, or rationalized war, shows all the "automatic features" of advanced technology.

    15. The most important goal of either side in a total war is to smash the other side's technical potential. Technical potential in turn is decisive in war.

    16. Rationalization is thus unmasked as the modern means of waging total war, the two are actually parts of the same whole.

    17. Total wars will employ technology to its full potential and during peace, propaganda will promote/present this view.

    18. Rationalization, in the guise of Total War, may call all existing political and economic orders into question.

  9. Now for my comments:

    Several of you brought up Jünger's view of science. I have to admit that reading Jünger brought to mind Thomas Kuhn's description of scientific paradigms as influencing research, transforming it into a "strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education", that is a paradigm. See "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", page 5. So my question would be, is not the basis of a specific scientific paradigm based on a series of assumed casual relationships which can be replicated, measured and studied? If Jünger is wrong, how can Kuhn be right? We're talking about the intellectual assumptions that go behind science, not science itself . . . I also see a tie in here with Nietzsche's famous third essay in the Genealogy of Morals, which apparently influenced Jünger as it did many others.

    And sorry Zen, no bibliography, at least not in the English edition. Jünger does mention a few names in the text, but most of them classical thinkers. I do sense a strong Weberian element in Jünger though there is no mention of him.

  10. Andy-

    Did nukes alone change the game, or did the massive devastation of WWII deliver a strong message? At least to those nations that suffered devastation. We were fully able to fire bomb Japan and inflict nuclear level destruction. The Bomb was just dramatic enough to get them to quit earlier.

    But, the nuke does offer a weapon of mad abandon to those mad enough to consider it. Just have to pick you target carefully, lest madness result in MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

  11. Al,

    Did nukes alone change the game, or did the massive devastation of WWII deliver a strong message?

    I would say...Yes! I don't think it's either-or, both were factors. However, nukes aren't simply a progression in military technology. We could wake up tomorrow to find that some other nation ceased to exist thanks to our arsenal. Before nukes the only way to the equivalent usually required national mobilization. And nukes makes that old kind of total war less likely because of deterrence. So IMO future wars are more likely to be limited wars.


    Nice outline - I'll have some more thoughts a bit later.

  12. Andy-

    I've got something to say about nukes in connection with Clausewitz's concept of Absolute War, but will save that for later . . .

    Nice to have you back commenting again.

  13. Andy: Before nukes the only way to the equivalent usually required national mobilization. And nukes makes that old kind of total war less likely because of deterrence. So IMO future wars are more likely to be limited wars.

    I tend to agree. Nukes make full scale mobilization somewhat useless. To do what? Occupy a radiation soaked wasteland? I remember the whole business of "tactical" nukes and how one could not get around the residual radiation issue, until the era of the "neutron bomb".

    MAD offers nothing more than a double Pyrrhic victory, if that.

  14. I think the wild card here is the human facility for assuming optimum results.

    Think; how many times can you look at history and wonder - how the hell could (fill in the blank) have thought that this (fill in the war) would end well? The record is littered with sober, reasonable people who were absolutely, positively convinced that they had outthought all the possible problems, only to find that there was one or more that had eluded them, or were so unforeseeable that prognistication just wasn't possible.

    So while I do believe that the past 70 years have been shadowed by the understanding of the dangerous possibility of nukes entering the "total war" game and ending it with a glassed landscape, I wonder how long that balance is sustainable? How long before some incurable optimist decides to load up the war machine and take it on the road, happily convinced that he or she has got all the angles figured?

    Call me a pessimist, but I can't believe that even the disaster that nuke make of total war has the power to scare the stupid out of the hairless ape...

  15. @seydlitz

    As to how Kuhn can be right if Jünger can be wrong, the answer is already in the quote you give yourself:
    "strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education"
    What Kuhn says essentially is what responsible scientists stress time and time again, boiling down to the old Monty Python quote "It's only a model". Said model describes how professional education can explain CURRENTLY KNOWN observations. As we discover bits and pieces of "nature", we try to fit it into explanations. We also deduce predictions from said models - BUT if we act responsibly, we do NOT do what Jünger does - namely stating that said prediction has to come to pass. Rather, said prediction is a test of the respective part of the model. If the prediction is confirmed, we can take it as a suggestion that there might be something to our explanation. If the prediction is not confirmed, however, it's not a breach of causality - it's an indication that we overlooked something. In essence, the problem with Jünger's statement is already in the title of Kuhn's book - the mere fact that scientific revolutions exist indicates that we should be very careful taking our present knowledge for granted or as being close to everything there is to know...

    Actually, Jünger is already on a pretty problematic path with his emphasis on causality - because even in classical physics, causality only applies "everything being equal", and outside the lab, it is nigh impossible to ensure that everything is indeed equal. And even in systems in which causality applies, i.e. deterministic systems in which the outcome is indeed defined by initial conditions, long-term predictions can be impossible because it is impossible to define starting conditions sufficiently precise. And that's not even talking random effects such as radioactive decay etc... it needs to be added, though, that while chaotic systems were known long before Jünger, their actual in-depth exploration required the advent of modern computers. Still, the fact that life isn't a model should have been understandable for him as well.

  16. And the other part about "scientific" studies is that the utility of the model degrades rapidly as the number of variables mounts.

    So it's not just an issue of getting good data (initial, transient, and final conditions, trends, and quantities), it's that interpretation quickly becomes 6-dimensional chess when you have even 2 indeterminate variables, much less 3 or 5 or more...

  17. Claus-

    I don't really disagree with anything in your comment, but I don't read Jünger the same way.

    Jünger's talking about Rationalization in his predictions, not science per say, although science is obviously part of Rationalization. And his prediction is that Rationalization will continue until it has burned up "the last ton of coal", to use Weber's words, so how is he wrong? What indications do you see of Rationalization and its pillaging of the earth slowing down or even reversing?

    Jünger also condemns simplistic cause and effect relationships, as do you. But do not a set of these basic assumptions form the basis of each individual paradigm in the natural sciences? Are you saying that philosophically a scientist should operate with the assumption that "the conceptual box" that fundamentally formed his education, to which his instruments were designed, what his very world view is, might be wrong? Paradigms aren't something one changes like a shirt. What this sounds like to me is Kuhn's "revolutionary science" and the beginning of a new paradigm . . . which let's admit, doesn't happen very often.

  18. Now, let me show where I think Jünger misreads Clausewitz.

    In Chapter 1 of Book I, Clausewitz introduces the concept of "absolute war". This would involve the unhindered play of the three tendencies to the extreme described in sections 3-5. In Section 6 he recaps what Absolute War would involve: war would be a "wholly isolated act, occurring suddenly and not produced by previous events in the political world"; it would "consist of a single decisive act or a set of simultaneous ones"; and "the decision achieved" would be "complete and perfect in itself, uninfluenced by any previous estimate of the political situation it would bring about".

    So, in other worlds, one massive use of violence from both sides (only one side using force would not be war, remember) without any pause or political context at all. This is necessary since war is a social activity subordinate to politics, but absolute war would be essentially autonomous from politics, with no political purpose influencing its beginning or expected at its finish.

    Jünger equates "absolute war" with his experiences in World War I, just as Clausewitz equated his experiences fighting Napoleon when developing the same concept. But neither actually mirrored this absolute as Clausewitz has narrowly defined it. Political purposes were always present and pauses in violence did occur. The levels of passion in Napoleon's wars were matched by the passion and technological efficiency of the First World War to achieve what had been in both instances, up to that point in time, incomprehensible levels of destruction, political disruption and loss of life.

    In Zen's post on "Bitter-enders" he compares the end of World War II with the concept of Absolute war as well.

    OK, one can do that, obviously if Clausewitz himself did it in On War, but that is not exactly how the concept is defined, and by looking at the definition once again we see that it actually tells us some interesting things about post-1945 strategy, something Clausewitz would not have anticipated . . .

    An all out, "out of the blue", thermo-nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR, say circa 1986, would have come very near close to, maybe even achieved, Absolute war, more so than all the other examples, for the basic reason that it fits with the concept as it is narrowly defined. This also indicates why such nuclear exchanges have not in fact occurred. That being that such war would be essentially autonomous and would be dangerously likely to become so very quickly and thus would have no conceivable political purpose, not to mention the unknowability of the possible end state . . . Which is why nukes are ideal weapons of deterrence, but not very useful in applying force.

    The first use of nukes since 1945, is something no political leadership particularly wants to place on itself. So there is that element as well, a weapon whose use supports no coherent political purpose, at least so far . . .

    . . .

  19. So, where was Jünger wrong? He's right about what Clausewitz could have comprehended from the context of his time, but Clausewitz is not limited to his own times, since he developed a general theory of war. As long as the theory - and what has been built on that sturdy foundation since 1831 - is able to adequately describe war, then there is no need to replace it. Assuming that something "old" has to be replaced by something "new"(especially with some connection with technology/technological thinking) is part of the Rationalization mindset that Jünger rightly (imo) condemns.

    What we actually see at the end of World War II, that is in Zen's post, is not so much absolute war, but the application of the concept of the "absolute enemy" which is very much a political concept, and one very much in use today . . .

    I've written on this before:

    An "absolute enemy", the Leninist concept as presented by Carl Schmitt in The Theory of the Partisan I introduced in my last thread would conflate these subjective and "objective" perspectives, actually conflating a, b, c, and d, making the enemy an existential threat to the political community/nation as a whole as if it were an individual. The distinctions between individual, political community, nation and state were lost. What makes this a totalitarian concept is that one side essentially has to exterminate the other, the other portrayed as an existential threat, but falling far short of such a reality, or in some cases constituting no actual threat at all. It should be noted that Lenin's original concept of "absolute enemy" pertained only to civil - that is revolutionary - wars, but was expanded after 1917 to include not only wars within political communities, but between political communities.

    Any comments?

  20. The quote on what I commented on the "absolute enemy" should be in "".

    So an important question remains, how would we define "total war" today? Notice that I have added some background information from a post I did years back on Ludendorff's concept of "total war" which is where Jünger most likely got it . . .

  21. FDChief-

    " . . . How long before some incurable optimist decides to load up the war machine and take it on the road, happily convinced that he or she has got all the angles figured?"

    Which is what I think essentially Ludendorff provided the theoretical basis for in the 1930s with his concept of "Total War". The Nazis simply took it from there. It was also based on a perverted view of science on some lock-step deterministic road to "human improvement" defined in racist terms.

    But the social cohesion necessary to wage such a total war, according to Ludendorff was "spiritual" not something that could be imposed from above, so this is where he broke with the Nazis. No amount of propaganda and drill could transform modern industrial workers into the required "warriors" (I use the term deliberately) since they lacked the spiritual component to endure the type of war he contemplated. Japan was the society he had in mind when developing the concept . . .

    The Nazis attempted to get around this dilemma by various propaganda projects, such as "returning to the soil" and "Lebensraum" and such, but how do you get a largely urbanized mass to do that? So we see something of the confused nature of their war aims, they being actually part of the propaganda necessary to mobilize for war, "Lebensraum" as the presumed requirement for "das Volk", but something that the people weren't really going to respond to. Who was going to leave their comfortable apartment in Frankfurt - for example - to farm in the Ukraine?

    These were some of the oddities that Jünger was responding to . . .

    Getting back to your comment, is that not exactly what we saw in 2002-3?

  22. mike-

    "I am flummoxed on a way to answer your specific question of how to define todays "total war". Junger claims CvC did not leave any historical case studies of total war. But you would think final Punic War would have been a good example, where every Carthaginian man, woman, and child was killed or enslaved and the fields were sowed with salt??"

    This is a very good question. Why did CvC not deal with ancient history?

    The answer is in his concept of critical analysis. One needs a certain "critical mass" of source material to be available. Sources from ancient times are many times limited, untrustworthy (Herodotus and his numbers of troops for example) and also diluted by later interpretations which could change what the originals had communicated . . . this of course deals with the time before the printing press . . . So, while undoubtedly there are lessons to be learned from ancient wars, but there is also the problem of original sources.

    This is a point that van Creveld uses against Clausewitz in his polemical The Transformation of War (TTW) as well, while imo knowing at the same time the reason behind CvC's avoidance of analyzing ancient wars . . .

  23. jim-

    "Some societies don't need technology to fight those that do. All they need is the willingness to absorb casualties, which they usually do rather well."

    Good point. But what exactly are the political goals of the conflict in question? Germany's in WWII was to redefine the world order, quite a radical goal . . . North Vietnam's was to unify the North and South of Vietnam, a very understandable goal. Afghanistan's, if we can even speak of a collective political entity here, was/is to expel foreign influence . . . So the type of war waged will reflect the political purposes and characters of the political communities involved . . . Germany in 1939 was fighting against technologically advanced states. North Vietnam had little technological capacity, but could count on essentially unlimited support from the USSR and China, whereas the US was fighting a very limited war. Afghanistan . . .

    All these wars fit within the intellectual framework of Clausewitz's general theory . . .

  24. He who raises the question whether all this knowledge is worth know­ing likewise attacks these foundations. This very question is outside the scientific field, for we are breaking through the sacred precincts of science if we are not content with its obvious and wonderful results. We undermine these foundations if we ask what insights really are gained by scientific dis­coveries, what good they do us, and where mankind will be once science has achieved its goal.

    Reading this again reminds me of some quotes from RJ Oppenheimer:

    "But when you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values."


    "We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world. We have made a thing that, by all standards of the world we grew up in, is an evil thing. And by doing so, by our participation in making it possible to make these things, we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man, of whether it is good to learn about the world, to try to understand it, to try to control it, to help give to the world of men increased insight, increased power. Because we are scientists, we must say an unalterable yes to these questions; it is our faith and our commitment, seldom made explicit, even more seldom challenged, that knowledge is a good in itself, knowledge and such power as must come with it. "

    Regarding Rationalization vs morality & tradition, I think, like most things, there has to be a balance. Personally, I think things are a lot better today than in in the 1930's.

  25. Andy: I think things are better - in the physical sense, for a lot of us, here in the developed West. I'll be the first to say I like the progress we've made in things like pharmacology, surgery, nutrition, electronics. I like what we can do with artificial fibers, with metals, ceramics, biochemicals and genetics.

    I like the fact that we have reduced the number of people killed in barbarian invasions, slavery, and epidemics.

    So I agree; a lot of things are better...

    But I think we have to caveat that with the caution that some things are more frightening, worse, in the sense that we are capable of doing things, may in fact now be doing things, that are more dangerous and damaging than we could in the 1930's. Anthropogenic warming, factory farming and fishing, massive urbanization, as well as our capacity for widespread nuclear destruction - those things aren't so much better.

    Other than AGW and resource depletion, though, much of the increased risk today-vs-1930 is potential rather than actual, so I don't think it concerns us; we don't see the immediate damage, say, from overfishing made possible by modern technology, the way we can look around and see the benefits from carbon fiber technology...

    So I think right now we lack the perspective; would that we could peek ahead at 2112 to see if we're smart enough to use all the innovations we've made since 1930 to head off the problems we may also have created and are creating...

  26. Seydlitz; No argument that our boy C-Minus Augustus and his merry crew of Wanna-be Reality Creators had jumped the shark. But the impact was purely local. One of the real reasons I think they managed to skip off and start a land war in Asia is because the stakes were so low for the U.S.

    However, I honestly believe that at some point - when, I have no idea - someone or a group of someones will get the same idea only involving another nuclear power. And that may not end even as well as Iraq did. Which is a sobering thought.

  27. Since, we're talking fantasy, why not if we could only have the world of 1939 with what we know about the environment today . . . ?

    Europe's better off than in the 1930s. The US, overall, I'm not so sure . . . Perhaps as Chief implies what we're missing the most is the worldview that Jünger and his generation shared, a knowledge of the period before the First World War, where society could be understood as a whole . . . they simply thought differently then. I've said before that we've never got beyond the political questions of 1917: how exactly does one ensure "democracy", even of the minimal quality, or simply "the rule of law" in a mass state? To me, at least for the US, the answer seems clear, we couldn't. We have been betrayed on so many different levels.

    For instance, consider Rationalization's influence on how we look at the world. Is not much of what you see as better today, Andy, based on this perspective? A perspective which is essentially unsustainable, right?

    Think also the amount of trivia that surrounds us, that supposedly supplies us with "meaning", while actually distracting us from the real problems, which we as a society would rather ignore anyway, have been conditioned to believe we can ignore . . .

  28. Chief,

    Anthropogenic warming, factory farming and fishing, massive urbanization, as well as our capacity for widespread nuclear destruction - those things aren't so much better.

    I agree in part, but we have an environmental movement now, born from the excesses of industrialization 100 years ago, that tempers most of those trends. Additionally, we wouldn't understand those problems or perhaps even recognize them AS problems were it not for advances in science and technology. That understanding allows us the opportunity to deal with those problems without becoming Luddites.

    So, it's definitely a two-edge sword, but in aggregate I think the human condition is better - at least in industrialized nations.


    Perhaps as Chief implies what we're missing the most is the worldview that Jünger and his generation shared, a knowledge of the period before the First World War, where society could be understood as a whole . . . they simply thought differently then.

    I'm not sure I agree that "society could be understood as a whole" in the US before WWI. We were still a nation with a relatively weak federal government and where "society" was decidedly local and very diverse. I'm not sure an "American society" existed at all. The common thread was, I think, commerce - it was the one thing pretty much all Americans agreed on.

    how exactly does one ensure "democracy", even of the minimal quality, or simply "the rule of law" in a mass state? To me, at least for the US, the answer seems clear, we couldn't. We have been betrayed on so many different levels.

    Well, our government structure was never designed to be a "mass state." Since 1917 the idea of a mass state has grown and so has the power and authority of the federal government compared to the states. But the basic structure hasn't changed and so the states are still technically sovereign. As a result, many of the fundamental questions about our democracy revolve around the question of federalism and sadly, it seems to me that the two dominate ideologies in the US seek to gain power in order to try force their particular solutions and values down everyone's throats. To me, that's a big problem. Federalism seems to be dying as a solution to issues where there isn't national consensus and it seems to me we will never have a "mass state" until the constitution is change to turn states into subordinate political divisions of the federal government. But I have to wonder if, when and under what circumstances the people of the US would agree to that and if it is even possible to govern the US as a mass, centralized nation-state.

    For instance, consider Rationalization's influence on how we look at the world. Is not much of what you see as better today, Andy, based on this perspective? A perspective which is essentially unsustainable, right?

    Sure, we are all victims of our circumstances which inform our perspectives. We all have a different idea of what is "better" and we do not (as a nation) share a common vision of what a "better" future would look like. What concerns me is that so many do not consider the perspectives of others to be legitimate, which drives demonization of others in our political community and reinforces the effort to "put them in their place" via control of the political system and disenfranchisement.

  29. "That understanding allows us the opportunity to deal with those problems without becoming Luddites."

    First - I think we're agreeing on the main point; a middle-class/wealthy person - especially a white person - living in a developed country is a huge damn sight better off in 2012 than in 1932...or 1832 and so on. And our technological/industrial and, yes, even political, innovations have done that.

    I would still caveat that,largely because I am something of a techno-pessimist. I think that we've run way further ahead with our technology in terms of exploration, exploitation, and production than we have with both our understanding and our abilities to do anything about that. And by "anything" I mean everything from technic assessment, analyses, diagnoses, and remediation to the political process of actually understanding and applying all of that technical information.

    As individuals and small groups we tend to be terrific; we have people and groups in both scientific research and applied science that are capable - and doing - a terrific job of all the above.

    But, as people en masse, as polities, as governments, we're terrific at NOT understanding that science (because as the saying goes it's important to our livelihoods or our outlooks not to understand it), or, even if understood, at not applying it.

    Look at something as simple as tobacco. The science is unequivocal and simple to understand; use it and begin to kill yourself. But people - a fairly shocking large number of people - start and continue smoking despite the enormous amount of public information out there that tells them that they're addicting themselves (or addicted to) something that's killing them.

    So I guess I'm not optimistic that, while there ARE probably technologic solutions to technologic problems, humans will be able or willing to actually employ them before the problems are too large, too complex, and too intractible to solve.

  30. Chief: But, as people en masse, as polities, as governments, we're terrific at NOT understanding that science (because as the saying goes it's important to our livelihoods or our outlooks not to understand it), or, even if understood, at not applying it.

    Very central aspect of the topic of discussion. Thinking that one has arrived at "ultimate knowledge" of a given issue is sort of a take off on that over worked line from the movie "Love Story". "Having ultimate or complete knowledge means never having to say you were wrong." Sort of like the protracted nut roll over the WMD issue in Iraq, where every twist of human illogic was applied after the fact to make being wrong sound like they were right in concept, just off a bit in application. After all, Saddam could have had WMD, and if Saddam had possessed WMD, they would have been right, wouldn't they?

    Sadly, far too many people cannot grasp the notion that being proved wrong presents a learning opportunity. The fear of being proved wrong is probably the most profound barrier to learning there is. More so than mental incapacity.

  31. @seydlitz

    Sorry, couldn't reply for a couple of days, so I'll skip over some points

    "For instance, consider Rationalization's influence on how we look at the world. Is not much of what you see as better today, Andy, based on this perspective? A perspective which is essentially unsustainable, right?"

    Is it? There were fears of that once, but I think they are long overcome. The skies over the Ruhr area are no longer darkened by smoke, and even Japanese car manufacturers have learned that robots aren't everything. And compared to 150 years ago, when employees had to bring their own coals to provide heating at their workplace, we've moved quite a bit. Occupational health and safety? Clean air act? Heck, in Europe, we're long producing significant parts of our power with renewables. Jünger was writing, perhaps prophetically, on the brink of a war that would devour millions. And not the least, he was writing against the background of a regime which would apply rationalization even to the extermination of those it deemed unworthy, or even to secure sufficiently high numbers of racially pure offspring. It is here that Jünger saw the illusion that any problem could be "solved" through rationalization and effective use of technology. At the same time, he was a seriously conservative person, and as such, technologization and the radical change it brings was suspicious to him anyway, in a way probably similar to how many people are suspicious of the changes the internet and mobile phones bring to our lives.

  32. First it was single-purpose machine tools and fixtures and adjustment limits for universal tools. And more recently CAD/CAM has made metal forming almost automatic. Machine operators have become spectators, but with the proviso that intervention may, on rare occasions, be necessary. These people would not by employable in a 1920s shop, where machinists were the sole interface between raw metal and finished products, some of which demanded tolerances on the order of +/- 0.001 in.

    Commercial aircraft pilots have been reduced to a similar role. In the normal mode of operation, Airbus fly-by-wire systems do not permit second guesses on the part of the pilot, who is onboard for the ride. Pilots can, in theory, opt for what the system terms “alternate law,” which surrenders some control back to the human, but that choice is amounts to a kind of technological treason. It has been reported that alternate law has yet to be invoked on any of U.S. Air’s 17 Airbus 330’s. Boeing has a different philosophy and permits the pilot by dint of muscular exertion to override the automatic controls. Airbus argues that the average pilot has neither the skill or experience of an “engineering test pilot,” and should be restrained from making stupid choices. The implication of this work is that progressively dumber people fly airplanes.

    Paradoxically, technology has opened venues for excellence among the few that escape routine, machine-dominated jobs. These are judged, however imperfectly, by their knowledge and skill. Children of the Enlightenment, they exist in an exhilarating world of pure functionality.

  33. Hi all,

    I'd like to thank all for commenting, the discussion has been interesting.


    "I'm not sure an "American society" existed at all. The common thread was, I think, commerce - it was the one thing pretty much all Americans agreed on."

    Disagree. If you read T Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" speech from 1910 I think you'll get a good idea of what national politics required 100 years ago and I think you would also be surprised as to what the main threat was seen as . . . The whole Progressive movement had very much a national agenda that a broad mass of Americans supported. In the election of 1912, Progressive presidential candidates received 77% of the vote, with Debs, the Socialist candidate for President receiving 6% nationally.

    Here's a link to TR's speech . . .

  34. Claus-

    Don't share your optimism regarding the environment. Europe is something of a model regarding renewables, but with China and India rushing to industrialize, any benefit due to Europe is more than offset by fossil fuel burning elsewhere. The US burns 19 million bbl/day and Germany burns 2.4 million bbl/day, but now China burns 9.4 mill bbl/day, India 3.1 mill bbl/day and Brazil 2.0. With 350 parts per million of CO2 being the upper limit, we're now at 392 and climbing.

    Awareness of global warming is actually declining in the US. The air quality back home where I come from has never been worse, and we have also poisoned a significant portion of our groundwater . . .

    There is no reduction in our use of fossil fuels, rather consumption continues to rise . . . which is unsustainable . . .

    Jünger's a conservative in the real sense of the word, nothing to compare to the right-wing nihilists running wild in the US today, this is the reason I linked to Rauschning and my earlier posts on his thought. Jünger had many people of like mind in the Southern agrarian movement of his time. Something that personally I sympathize with.

    At the same time, I'm a believer in Rationalization as a process to assist humanity, but not has a process that we allow to control us, as is seemingly currently the case.

  35. Do you think the real difference between 1912 and today is the lack of all the "noise" that they had to deal with . . . the phenomenon behind the reason why the sinking of the "Titanic" was and remains such a sensation?

    Hundred years ago today.

  36. seydlitz-

    Your mention of "noise" is spot on. There is so much material (I can't elevate it to "data", no less "information") flying about that it's damn near impossible for the general population to reach informed conclusions.

    Part of it is "innocent" enough, in that it is the propagation of incomplete or misunderstood representations over and over again via the wonder of mass communications to include the internet. Once enough sources are making a statement, no mater how unsupported, it can easily rise to the status of "fact".

    Let's use the noise about noise as an example. A Vespa riding friend posted an article from about traffic noise in Europe, especially the exhast noise from motorcycles and motorscooters, which he found particularly offensive. The author included the following quote from another seemingly reputable source (

    One recent study by CE Delft found that 50,000 people died prematurely and 200,000 suffered from cardiovascular disease each year in the EU because of traffic noise.

    So we are dealing with a quote of a quote of a quote.

    At first blush, one finds that CE Delft is a fairly respected think tank. On closer look, however, one finds that CE Delft has no real in-house medical expertise. And, on even closer look, one finds, by reading the report itself, that it is not a "study", but merely a review of the literature, extrapolating the less than conclusive, and occasionally contradicting literature from three EU countries out across the entire EU population to estimate possible impact. Within the report itself is an admission that more research is necessary.

    And, to cement the AmericaBlog author's issues with motorcycle noise, the CE Delft report does indeed address the suspected incidence of EU noise level approved exhaust systems being replaced by systems without approval, even though there is no concrete data about the resulting noise level.

    The problem I had with the report was that is began with the a priore conclusion that environmental noise can contribute to ill health. And there is probably a solid basis to suspect that. However, the available literature they rely on is so clearly lacking in scientific controls (which they admit, although in much more indirect terms) as to render the work to date only as a clear indication that more properly structured work is required to reach even the slightest of reliable identification of cause and effect relationships.

    An example of lack of control that jumped out at me was that the main study compared daytime urban noise by location with the incidence of heart disease in males whose residence was in such location. However, no mention was made of the hours of exposure to that daytime noise, and since males tend to be employed, it is the residence that is exposed, not the male who is away at work. Further, no correlation was found between residence noise levels and females suffering heart disease. CE Delft did say that it would be worthwhile to look at night noise levels to see if they resulted in sleep disruption, which also is shown to influence the odds of heart disease. In short, at least to the standards applied to my graduate research, the data is meaningless, except for the incentive to do a proper study.

    Unfortunately, the "data noise" surrounding the general population has led to a complete inability to discern between "correlation" and "causation", and the two radically different relationships are applied as if both were absolute proof of causation.

    So here we are, being bombarded by "noise" from every direction, and trying to make sense out of the world around us. Is it no wonder that people tend to simply accept that which reinforces existing pre-dispositions, without regard to veracity? There is a huge difference between a "search for truth" and a "search for answers".

  37. And don't forget that there are large, and often wealthy, stakeholders with a huge incentive to increase "noise" if it helps obfuscate the issue; AGW is just one case where public confusion is "helpful" to those organizations whose profits would be curtailed if their CO2 and other emissions were restricted.

    So they have a powerful motive to, at the very least, introduce as much confusion and contradiction into the public debate as possible.

    And part of what helps, I think, is the historically recent "neutralization" of information media.

    Seydlitz talks about 1912; prior to WW2 the U.S. "news media" was often openly factional. You had two or three daily newspapers in a major city; often one was "pro-business" while the other was "pro-labor". Plus you had the out-and-out Red scandal sheets that hammered on the "bosses", and the "Progressive" house organs that did the same only more gently.

    But between about 1960ish and the end of the Fairness Doctrine we had the "professionalization" of the major networks and the big newspaper syndicates. Ostensibly their reports were pure "news" without partisanship. Most Americans of my generation grew up with the notion that the television news had no partisan bias; that was the genius of FOX - it took most Americans' assumption that what came out of the boob tube was just "facts" without either noise or slant and turned it on its head.

    So let's throw the generally wretched state of the news organizations into this mixer, too; no scientist can use data that contains a systematic bias, is under- or un-reporting certain sectors, or contains too high a noise-to-signal ratio. And that's what we have, and will for the foreseeable future...

  38. "So an important question remains, how would we define "total war" today?"

    Well, let see...since the discussion hovers around nuclear weapons, I feel compelled to frame my answer to the centralized subject.

    And herein is the lark.

    Tactical nukes.


    Since I was part of the programs that built the vehicles that would deliver the package this is what I can say about nuclear weapon, regardless of size, popped off on any target, be it airfield, dockyard, military base, railway yard, or some remote, Siberian gulag of meaningless military value would escalate to "total war."

    And by total war I mean "Your city. On that cute, cuddly little hill. Overlooking that gorgeous bay. Is going to be five feet below sea level when we're done with it."

    I think, and this is the main thing that I suspect Junger didn't grab hold of because he probably only knew of it tangentially, if at all, is that nuclear weapons deployment in the mid-to-late 40's was viewed mostly as a "This here boys is one big ass block buster!"
    There was no, "Well, Joe, I think if we use this thing the fucking Genie will certainly be out of the bottle then."
    So...when we did use the bombs, not once, but twice, we, and Japan, got a first hand look at, "oh, holy fuckmeintheass, what the fuck did we just unleash?"

    You see, the scientist only knew, and thus related to the military, " ooh, yeah, coolness, our mathematical model shows a compression wave following the topography, with some heat in the middle of the explosion."
    And the military was only interested in one thing, "will it make a big bang?"
    To which the scientists said, "Um, yeah. Big bang, sure, why not call what our model indicates is a possible fuckmeintheass weapon a 'big bang'."

    So, I think that if Mr. Junger could rewrite his thesis in lieu of the new nuclear paradigm, or, well, relatively new paradigm, he would say, "yeah, btw, that thesis I wrote prior to WWII, yeah, that one, forget it. You fucks just changed the entire nature of war, politics, and strategy."

    Why do I say this...because nuclear weapons, once deployed, cannot be called back. Once that lil baby is out and about, it's over. The only thing left is human nature, and that nature is a vengeful, spiteful, cruel little bitch that will be merciless and heartless in it's response.

    Nuclear weapons are the very definition of total and absolute war.

  39. Interesting comments gentlemen.

    As to "noise" I was thinking about something else, although Al's concept says as much or more than the one I had in mind. I was thinking "noise" as the whole values environment that existed in 1912 or even in 1939, that doesn't exist in anything like the same form today. "Noise" from our perspective would be all that "interfered" with achieving the full consumerist existence, not to mention "fulfillment" that is foisted on us today as "the ideal".

    Btw, I came up with a good definition of "industrialism" which is true to Jünger's meaning I think.

    "By 'industrialism' is meant not the machine and industrial technology as such, but the domination of the economic, political, and social order by the notion that the greater part of a nation's energies should be directed toward an endless process of increasing the production and consumption of goods."

    This from Lyle H. Lanier's essay, "A Critique of the Philosophy of Progress", 1930.

  40. sheer-

    I think there's a distinction between "absolute" and "total" war. The former is modeled, and following Clausewitz's concept, I think well applied by the counterfactual example of an all out nuclear exchange between the US and USSR circa 1986.

    But that is not the same as "total" war which means mobilizing/changing a society/political community to engage in said war. Absolute war would require no mobilization, particularly political mobilization at all, following Clausewitz's concept.

    Total war on the other hand is all about political manipulation and this would be continuous . . .

    In fact I would argue that the current example of "total war" is what has been taking place in the US since 9/11 . . . the deliberate re-organization/structuring of national government - and the law as in the assumed legal definitions common to our society - in terms of endless war to provide total "security" against a poorly defined, projected, yet assumed existential threat . . .

    That's "total war" in 2012 . . . and we do well to study it.

  41. Paul-

    Please define "functionality" . . .

  42. "I think there's a distinction between "absolute" and "total" war."

    Imagine this...just imagine this for a moment...if the US, United States of America did not have nuclear weapons, okay, no nukes, not even nuclear power, just zip-zero-nada on nukes... could we get away with this nonsense of us invading countries on the slimmest of pretexts without another power intervening militarily to shut us down?

    At one time, yes, there was a distinction between Total War and Absolute War, but nuclear weapons have changed that...the two are blended now.

    The only thing that amazes me is that we're still using the word "war" to describe its...jesus...I'm not sure what to call it anymore.

  43. Been away for a few days, part of which was spent at Disneyworld, which is now relatively local for me.

    I don't know whether you all have been to the Magic Kingdom at Disneyworld, but walking down "Main Street USA" I couldn't help but think of this thread. I'm guessing here (I haven't done the research) that Main Street and the Liberty Square area was emblematic of the American small-c conservative values Seydlitz mentions here and in previous threads. Today it feels anachronistic and perhaps more fantastical than originally envisioned. I've been to a lot of small towns in Ohio and in other parts of the so-called "heartland" of the US and it's obvious this part of Disney is modeled on them, but those real places in the second decade of the 21st century are mostly run-down husks, perhaps on their way to becoming the ghost towns that I used to visit growing up in Colorado.

    Anyway, Seydlitz, I understand your point about finite resources and exploitation, and I agree there is definitely a push toward consumerism and "an endless process of increasing the production and consumption of goods." However, I think that is properly described as a force - one of many forces that push in various directions and settling on an ever-changing balance. To me it's plain that Jungers' (sorry for the improper lettering) description, much like that of Marx, did not reach its logical conclusion. I think his mistake was to focus on one force to the exclusion of others and so his vision of the future seems always near, like the end of a rainbow. Therefore, I think we should be skeptical of any prediction which supposes that one force will inevitably triumph over all others and reach its logical conclusion, whether it is communism, consumerism, or industrialism or anything else. Clearly we live in a consumer-oriented, industrial society and yet people have other, opposing, values that are also important.

    I think there are few examples of one force completely dominating all others - maybe the Chinese cultural revolution is an example. More study and thought needed before I coming to any conclusions, I think.


    Interesting comment which reminded me this article I recently read. I've always been a bit suspicious when reading headlines that say, "eating/doing X reduces your risk of cancer by Y percent."

  44. sheer-

    I think we would still be able to throw our weight around even without nukes. We have enough conventional power projection to achieve that. Nukes have not been actually used since ending WWII in 1945 and there is a reason for that . . .

    Nukes best serve as a prop, as the dark room that no one wishes to enter, as the ultimate weapon in the hands of some deranged terrorist . . . which allows for any measure to "stop" them from carrying out their "fanatical and irrational" goals . . . It is the "threat" of nuclear catastrophe, not the actual use by our side, which is sold to the public as the rationale for our current version of "Total War", which is simply a war against an assumed existential threat requiring the entire restructuring of our society . . . which has been going on for over 10 years . . .

  45. Andy-

    "mostly run-down husks"

    Agree, I saw much the same thing driving with my sister who lives now in Germany from Ok City to our family home in NE Texas up close to the Arkansas border a couple of years back. The Oklahoma towns all dated from about the same time, 1890, unlike say in Ohio, or further east where there would be distinctions. They followed an initial boom period, followed by the bust of the Great Depression and then the rejuvenation during and after WWII, then after say the 1960s, down to dust, although the land is very fertile. Why is that?

    Small town life definitely had its good side, but why has it been mostly unsustainable? That is if the forces are "roughly in balance" as you state, why do we see what we see?

    I would answer due to the fact that the forces/values that hold society together, or have done so traditionally, are wildly out of balance and have been so for some time. One doesn't stay on the farm simply because one cannot achieve a consumerist life style as commonly defined working the land, but you could however by driving a truck . . . That of course and how does a family farm compete with industrial farming? But then who says it should have to? The "market", right . . .

    The traditional values linked with working the land, with stewardship (did I actually use that word?) are pretty much lost today. Consider that my mother's family had always worked the land prior to her generation. In mine, none of us do, nor is there much chance that any of the next generation will. A family tradition going back centuries, all the way back to the plains of central Europe, dissolved in one generation . . . and along with it so much more. Essentially we're caught on a relentlessly proceeding Rationalization treadmill and are unable to get off, or even unconscious/incapable of realizing that we are even on it.

    Things are radically out of balance which very much stamps the character of our times.

    As to Main Street USA, I noticed the same thing when we took our kids to Euro-Disney years back, it was based on Walt Disney's ideal of small town America circa 1890 . . . which by the 1930s was even then a fading memory.

  46. seydlitz: "One doesn't stay on the farm simply because one cannot achieve a consumerist life style"

    18.6% of the workforce is employed in producing something tangible - agriculture, mining, construction and manufacturing.

    21.3% of the workforce is employed in hotel, food service, wholesale sales and retail sales.

    23% of the workforce is employed in health care and education. (

    The "growth" employment fields since 2000 have been Healthcare and education, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality. Manufacturing employment has dropped 29% in those years.

    A consumption centered society is more "efficient" if the consumer is aggregated into population centers, making delivery of goods and services easier. Since much of what we consume is cheaper to import than produce domestically, the "need" to produce anything continues to diminish. Cheap goods only provide acceptable profits when mass markets are at hand. Small town USA just isn't "good business", and that's what the US is all about - business.

    Hell, even the US Postal Service wants nothing to do with small town USA.

  47. "I think we would still be able to throw our weight around even without nukes."

    I am challenging that assumption.

    Look at the major powers during the Colonial period. France and England were constantly fighting which drained resources from each nation. The long term consequences were having immediate effects on the short term economies of France, England, the Dutch.

    War is expensive, and I refer to Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, both, both of them counsel, during that period of extravagant expansion of colonial power and buttressing of said power for the betterment of the leeching nation was to beware the siren call of war.

    So, I would say no, without Nuclear weapons, the US would be holding it's own interests, but pressuring other nations through force of arms....not so much.

    With Nuclear weapons, the US can embark on any objective it's heart can the Soviet Union, or China.

    Any country, now, with Nuclear weapons can act upon it's own desire should they feel so inclined...why, because of those two lil bombs dropped on Japan.

    It's just a wonder no one has used them since.

  48. sheer-

    I think you're mixing things here that are difficult to reconcile. Colonialism? Where does Sun Tzu mention "colonial power"? Where does Clausewitz mention "leeching nation" or "colonial power"?

    How often does the US threaten other countries with nuclear weapons? Is there a need to do so? Why, when you have 11 carrier battle groups at your disposal? Not to mention Air Force non-nuclear assets . . .

    The Russians have plenty of nukes, but not so much conventional power projection at this point, so why don't they use them the way that you describe?

    Nuclear weapons actually have a rather narrow range of utility, primarily as deterrence . . .

    And it's no wonder that no one has used them up till now since the political purpose attained by their use is difficult to define . . .

  49. Other than the remote use of a nuke by a terrorist, it's difficult to imagine the "tactical" use of a nuke, as it would most surely result in subsequent "strategic" exchange. Thus, I would tend to agree with seydlitz in that nukes are more of a deterrent than anything else. Even nations without nuclear weapons who might inter into armed conflict have allies armed with them, deterring any opponent from a "tactical" or "strategic" first use. Hell, in 1983, we didn't even discuss tactical nukes in our offensive and defensive corps level war-fighting courses. Now I realize that nukes were never corps level options, but by '83, we weren't really discussing them in terms of battlefield reaction to their employment.

  50. Small town life definitely had its good side, but why has it been mostly unsustainable? That is if the forces are "roughly in balance" as you state, why do we see what we see?

    People live where the jobs are and, increasingly, the jobs are in more urbanized areas. I know I'm not alone in thinking that I live where I do because that's where the work is and not because I really want to live here. Once the wife retires where we eventually settle will depend, in large part, where one or both of us can find work.

    Regarding balance, it's definitely not static. I don't think I said forces were "roughly in balance" - what I meant was that the forces at work will settle on a balance between them all. The balance today is obviously much different from what existed 100 years ago. My point here is to note that rationalization isn't the only force at play and other forces act in opposition to rationalization. Therefore, I don't think the prediction that rationalization will continue unabated is likely to come true and I think history since 1939 has shown that to be true. We have a robust environmental movement opposing endless exploitation of natural resources, we have a lot more regulation on clean air and water and we do have values that aren't compatible with pure rationalization.

    Have you seen the movie "WALL-E"? It seems to me that's the logical conclusion of Junger's vision of rationalization - the earth a used up wasteland while people live lives of complete leisure because all work is done by robots. Of course on critical examination that vision of the future doesn't make much sense.

    It is exactly the rapidity and forcefulness of technological rationalization which indicate that we are approaching a finale, an ultImate stage of technology where everything tech­nical attains the same degree of perfection long since achieved in the tools of handicrafts.

    Are we any closer to that ultimate stage now than we were in 1939?


    A consumption centered society is more "efficient" if the consumer is aggregated into population centers, making delivery of goods and services easier.

    Hmm, I'm not sure about that. Transportation to non-population centers and between population centers is easier than ever. If I live in a small town I can get almost anything delivered to my doorstep within a few days - something that wasn't possible 50 years ago. As stated above, I think the reason we've concentrated into urban areas is because that is where the work is.

  51. Nukes also deter our allies. For example, the South Koreans have made it pretty plain that if it weren't for the US nuclear umbrella and our defensive alliance, then they would build nukes.

  52. "People live where the jobs are and, increasingly, the jobs are in more urbanized areas."

    I think we're getting to the real issue here. They go where the jobs are and where the opportunity is. When I was growing up, there was opportunity in a small town. The local middle class comprised the small shop owners and they were a force to be reckoned with.

    Then Sam Walton came along . . . he was from Arkansas ya know . . .

    "Industrialism" explains a lot . . .

    Even in terms of education. It's almost like we can plot a road map as to where it all went wrong. I would point out that in "Europe" the family farm is protected, and assumed to be a benefit to society as a whole.

  53. Andy: "People live where the jobs are and, increasingly, the jobs are in more urbanized areas."

    If you look at the composition of the labor force, I think you will see that a growing sector is population centered (retail and service industries). Workers making money selling goods and service3s to other workers. A bit of a saprophytic relationship.

    However, small town USA is disappearing because the volume of business that can be sustained by small, removed population groups cannot support retail and service businesses, to include schools and medical care. While a lot of retail consumer goods can indeed be delivered in a few days, milk, eggs, lettuce and ground beef, for example, are not among them. Maintaining retail and food service inventories for small populations is not economically feasible. Thus, small towns slowly die, unless there is a source of other than service and retail sector employment large enough to bring in cash from outside the community. They simply can't continue to exist as a "closed economy".

  54. I think there's a generational thing going on too. A couple of my wife's uncles are small-town farmers in North Dakota. They've done well, but it's not an easy life (especially given the location). I don't think any of their kids are interested in taking over. They'd rather go to college and get a salary.

    I also knew a surprising number of farming kids when I was in the Navy. All of them joined to GTFO of dodge. The one I keep in touch with is now a physician's assistant. His dad sold the farm and retired.


    I don't have time for research today, but I wonder what labor utilization differences exist between Europe and the US. I would guess that Europe probably has a greater percentage employed in agriculture, but overall it's probably still a small portion of the labor force.

  55. I think the Clif's Notes version of the "dying small town" is "factory farming".

    The image that comes to my mind is tractors.

    I worked in a Ford tractor shop after getting out of the service in the late Eighties. And to see what was happening to farms and farming you could look at the size of the tractors.

    From the earliest Fords to the 9Ns made in the late Forties the things were about the size of a small automobile - a VERY small auto, for the Fifties - with drawbar HP down in the twenties and thirties and weighed a couple of thousand pounds.

    Skip ahead to the Nineties and look at the 8970; that sucker weighs 10 tons and runs over 200HP at the power takeoff.

    Well, same-same with farms and farming overall.

    The industrialization of farming that started seriously post-WW2 meant that a single family could farm what two, eight, ten families farmed in the Thirties and Forties. "Small farmers" just weren't economical. Add to that Andy's note about the improvements in transportation; suddenly you weren't selling your lettuce and plums to the nearest town - you shipped those babies all over the country, or the world. And you could do it with a fraction of the labor you needed in 1945.

    So the little towns that served as loci for all those farmers just weren't needed. And they died, and are dying.

    One other big factor, I suspect, was the changes brought by deep-well irrigation.

    I really should do a post on the settlement history of the U.S. central west, because it's a wonderful story of chicanery, gullibility, hope, and foolishness. But the bottom line is that the grass prairies of the Midwest evolved around cyclical droughts.

    There's no trees there because there's no fricking RAIN there. And the rain, when it comes, comes in sequential years and then - when the long-term upper airflow patterns change - departs again for multiple years.

    So non-irrigated agriculture on the American prairies is impractical. And so it proved.

    But what would happen is that every time the weather patterns changed a passel of poor chumps would homestead, aided by unscrupulous SOBs who insisted on nonsense like "rain follows the plow" and pocketed the development fees. Then the rains would stop, the crops would dry up, and the poor dumb nesters would go bust and move on.

    Until the NEXT wet cycle.

    Irrigation changed all that. But it costs some big $$$ to drill and maintain deep irrigation wells - which helps drive the small farmers out and consolidate the farms into big industrial spreads.

    But - you knew there was a "but" - this only works with a) cheap transport and b) cheap electricity. Raise the real costs of those big-ass tractors and combines, the trucks to haul that produce to markets, and mining that Oglalla Aquifer water?

    Different story. BIG difference.

  56. Andy-

    I don't think what we're talking about is anything new . . . it's been going on for a long time . . .

    In fact the 20th Century can be simply labeled the "industrialization of American society". First, with food production, and latest with education and health care . . all of which indicate the limits of this approach when dealing with people and social systems.

  57. Seydlitz: In fact the 20th Century can be simply labeled the "industrialization of American society".

    Except we are not really industrialized any more. Retail, sales and service dominate the US economy.

    If anything, the second half of the 20th century was a de-industrialization of America.

    In 1963, manufacturing (durable and non durable goods) represented 41.8% of GDP, while the service sector represented 46.4% Manufacturing steadily declined and service steadily increased resulting in 2011's figures being: Manufacturing 28.5% and service 64.6% of GDP.

    America's top company for revenue, by quite a distance, is Wal*Mart. Only 18 of the top 50 companies produce something tangible, another 5 are oil companies, so less than half the top 50 companies are what one might call "industrialized". How can anyone call the US an "industrialized" country when the production of goods is such a minor part of the economy?

  58. OK, I did use the term "industrialization", but consider Lanier's definition of Industrialism once again, which goes along with Jünger's view:

    "By 'industrialism' is meant not the machine and industrial technology as such, but the domination of the economic, political, and social order by the notion that the greater part of a nation's energies should be directed toward an endless process of increasing the production and consumption of goods."

    "Increasing the production" does not require that the goods actually be produced in the US, but rather where the market demands in the endless pursuit of profit. Consumption on the other hand would have to be much more focused on the domestic scene, since consuming is an essential part of the mindset, whereas producing is not . . .

  59. seydlitz

    I would take issue with your interpretation based on the very semantics of the quoted passage.

    "a greater part of the nation's energies should be directed toward an endless process of increasing the production and consumption of goods.

    Number one, the "and" is inclusive and thus connotes that both production and consumption should be increasing. He does not say "and/or". Our production of goods have been decreasing for 50 years. Further, he states that the "nation's energies" should be "directed toward", and our energies have hardly been directed toward production, but more clearly consumption, sales and services. Our "energies" are directed towards where the easy money is, and that is not production of goods. Even Apple is not increasing America's (as in "the nation") production of goods, but China's, and then profiting by selling China's production of goods to Americans (and anyone else in the world).

    I am sure there is a lower limit to the falling level of "production" in the US, but from whence will come the money to consume? If the only jobs are at Wal*Mart like firms, or the healthcare and public sector, can we even support a lower middle class? To the financiers, it matters not how they make their money. Nor do the advertising and PR folks care, as long as there is consumption to promote. To the rest of the population, it most surely will, and in the long run, when more and more of the population do not have the resources to pay for consumption, then what?

  60. Al-

    Agree, that production and consumption should be increasing, but the production does not have to happen "here", whereas the mindset requires that the consumption does. So yes, our energies have been focused on both, the computers Apple makes in its Chinese factories were designed in the US, but the profit motive/Rationalization dictates that the production go where the labor and other costs are cheapest . . . whereas consumption is another matter.

    I think one has to take precedence over the other in terms of national policy. A focus on production to the detriment of consumption would lead to autarky, wouldn't it? Which would lead to less consumption.

    As to the decline of manufacturing in America, when have the elites shown any concern in that regard? During the NAFTA debates? Clinton, with the labor unions in tow, was for it . . .

    I've been thinking. I need to get another concept out there before I do the post on strategy in a dissolving political community. That having to do with Neil Postman's concept of a typographic culture . . .

  61. From observations of the "developing" world, the taste for consumer goods is an acquired one. Poor people, once they have relatively clean water and enough to eat, then look for basic medical care and security in their old age.

    Young people use consumer goods as a means of self-definition. But once families are started, self-definition takes on a more elemental meaning and baubles are cast aside.

    If we believe the studies or our own eyes, people in most parts of the developing world tend, on the average, to be happier and less anxious than North Americans. As I write, children are playing and laughing outside the window.

    Consumer-driven capitalism is, in this old man's opinion, simply another foolishness, on par with pet cemeteries.


    I need more time to think about your query about the possibilities of technology.

  62. Jünger's closing words bear repeating . . .

    "In other words: Has technical progress reached a stage where its consumption has grown so tremendous that of necessity it must radically change the territorial and political organization of all states?"

    A very interesting question.

  63. What follows may be utter nonsense or else obvious to everyone. But for what it’s worth, here goes.

    Seydlitz asked what technology means, what are its benefits and limits. The latter are easier to list, since technology is by definition an abstract. That is, the world technologists inhabit is a game, with artificial rules and rigid boundaries. No designer, whether a degreed engineer or a DIY carpenter, spends much time thinking about the “larger questions” that exist outside the game framework. If what is built works by the rules, then all is right with the world. Consequently, the engineering profession was among the last to waken to the impacts of industrial air, ground and water pollution. (I don’t have the source at hand, but have read that by the mid-19th century others had noted the correlation between higher rates of cancer and industrial production in Coventry.)

    Because they’re engaged in a game, technologists measure winning in terms of self-referred efficiency, which is always gained at the loss of efficiency as calculated by another scoring system. Fuel economy is a case in point. A Toyota Prius is deemed very efficient, returning something like 40 miles per gallon while carrying four people. But ancient Mexican pickup trucks lumber by with eight or ten aboard. These vehicles may only get 12 mph, yet as fuel-economical people movers they certainly beat a Prius. When we figure in initial price and repairability, these overloaded, slick-tired caminetas are even more efficient.

    Military technology provides efficiency as measured in terms of the rapidity at which it kills people. But more primitively equipped armies have the advantage of time. If they can draw out the conflict, the costs, complexity and the needle-like specialization of technology work in their favor. Like an evolving bacterial culture, intelligent men caught in a protracted struggle find ways of outflanking technical solutions. Look at Afghanistan.

    And finally a word on consumerism from Tony Hoagland,

    "And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

    'I was listening to the cries of the past,
    When I should have been listening to the cries of the future.'

    But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
    Or what kind of nightmare it might be

    When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
    And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

    Even while others are drowning underneath you
    And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters."

  64. Paul-

    Nice comments, but you have not defined "functionality" . . .

    Rationalization provides your "artificial rules and rigid boundaries".

    Also the use of drones provides not only speed, but also "painlessness" because we risk no loss - from this perspective - to our side. The losses to the other side can either be chalked up as victories or simply ignored . . .