Translation of an interview with French historian Dominique Venner, which (as ever) appeared in
. Translated from German
Model of a European Renaissance.
The French journalist Dominique Venner sees in Ernst Juenger the last, and first, European of the future.
Herr Venner, your 2009 book, “Ernst Jünger. Un autre destin européen” intends to make him more accessible specifically for French readers. Why?
Venner: Juenger always had a special relationship to France. From childhood, he could read and write French. He was as well versed in French literature as in German. And, from 1941 to ’44 he was stationed in the Parisian headquarters of the German occupation forces. At that time, he became friends with numerous French writers. With the appearance of his works “Auf den Marmorklippen” (“On the Marble Cliffs”) and “Gaerten und Strassen” (“Gardens and Streets”) in French translation, he was finally recognised as a great writer.
Beforehand, however, he had distinguished himself as a soldier in the First World War against France and as a representative of the “Conservative Revolution in Germany”.
Venner: Yes, but as he was also an opponent of Hitler, without renouncing his fatherland, he is highly thought of. Even a socialist like President Francois Mitterrand repeatedly expressed his admiration for Juenger. Many French intellectuals, who abhor what the author of “Storms of Steel” stood for, are nevertheless fascinated by him. Things they would reject in their countrymen, they accept in Juenger. In all, the relationship between Juenger and France is multifaceted. Moreover, he embodies the reconciliation of the two Carolingian “brotherlands” after their forced separation through the war of 1870.
What does Ernst Juenger represent for you?
Venner: In my youth, my admiration was for the soldier, who was wounded seven times and was awarded the “Pour le Mérite”; the author of “Battle as Inner Experience”. Later, much later, after I had gathered my own experiences on the stormy seas of political adventure, Juenger appeared to me as somebody, who, with unprecedented audacity, trod new paths. His books contain the answers to creating sense in a bleak and uncertain world. He appreciates spiritual energy as superior to the universal dominance of matter and technology.
Does he stand for a now lost Europe?
Venner: His books help to recognise that we aren’t dealing with a political crisis, but much more with a spiritual shock (upheaval), a shock to civilisation, which demands something completely different than a political solution. My correspondence with Juenger began after the publication of my first book (“Baltikum” 1974) and ended with his death. In the course of his long life, Juenger lived through all the dangers of a century of iron without once besmirching himself. Endless lessons can be drawn from his life regarding the European dramas of this time. His chivalrous spirit and composure were indestructible. He expressed his spiritual attitude through his bearing. To have composure also means to maintain distance: distance to the lower passions… Juenger was not merely content with writing; he lived what he wrote. I see in him a model for renewal, a renaissance.
What sort of Renaissance?
Venner: Nobody could have been able to imagine how Europe and the world would look after 1919, 1945 or 1990. In order to understand our epoch, once must first know how to interpret the history of the 20th century. Until 1914 a “European Order” ruled in the heart of out continent, a dynamic and capable civilization, which was capable of reconciling tradition and modernity. The war destroyed this order, which the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian nobility had created. After 1917 the trench generation made powerful efforts to create a restorative revolution: fascism and National Socialism. In their brutality and promethean voluntarism they failed and triggered catastrophes, which were even worse than the previous ones. This battle lasted until 1945.
As such the “second Thirty Years War” came to an end, as Churchill said.
Venner: Yes and it proves that this Thirty Years War ended with the overwhelming victory of two messianic great powers, which were hostile to both the aristocratic and folk traditions of Europe. The conflict produced only two real winners: the USA and USSR, who met in Yalta in order to divide Europe, take its independence and impose their ideology. Since then, Europe, whose backbone was broken by half a century of violent madness, has been in a state of sleep.
Do you look on the old continent with hope or despair?
Venner: Hope goes further than dark thoughts. It is a question of spiritual hygiene. Anyone who experienced the collapse of communism, which all sides had believed would last eternally, and the current decline of the American system along with the revival of strong identities - now that dispels any defeatism. If there is a rule in history, it is the unexpected.
However, when you look around Europe today, you can’t see any government, which does not give itself the values that Juenger always opposed.
Venner: This will come to an end. Europe currently gives off a deceptive appearance. Everywhere the generous promises of adverts and victory dependent politicians are still to be heard – but for how long? The USSR is long gone and the Russian Nation resurrected. The USA is crippled by its internal problems and a “Clash of Civilisations”, which it faces helplessly despite its power. The decline of the US-utopia will enable the rebirth of Europe. Like Homer’s Odysseus, we must be patient and prepare for the awakening, while avoiding the mistakes of our fathers.
Identarian political movements are understood to be on the rise in many parts of Europe, think of the current Geert Wilders phenomenon in Holland. But do these movements really stand for the old Europe of Juenger’s or are they merely another side of modern liberalism?
Venner: Since the end of the twentieth century, the downfall of communism and the start of the “clash of civilisations”, which derails the American project of globalisation, the world has entered a new era. Only the gaze of the historian is able to make out those changes, which escape the ideologues and philosophers. The end of the century of 1914 (the 20th century) opened a new historical chapter, which is now closing again before our very eyes. Without noticing, we have already stepped into a new period of history. It appears that nothing has changes, whilst everything is really changing from the ground up. The appearance of “identity” or “peoples’” movements is an expression of this fundamental shift.
Venner: Instead of abstract concepts like “capitalism” or liberalism, it would correspond more closely to reality; it would speak of a “cosmocracy”. This neologism better describes the character of the globalist oligarchy, which in the course of time made possible the establishment of the international financial system that has its origin in the USA of the late sixties. According to what internal logic does the “cosmocracy” function? What goal does it pursue? As can be read in Adam Smith, it is the individual and financial benefit of those who profit from it. The price, which people and populations pay for it, plays no role. This goal is seen as the highest value, which justifies everything, down to the worst evil, such as mass-immigration to Europe and into its culture. The cosmocratic system is built upon the intoxication of growth and limitless consumerism of useless products.
But why does it appear to you to be heading for collapse?
Venner: It is quite obviously in crisis, because its own excesses have caught up with it. At the same time, we are experiencing the dawn of a violent revolution, which is in no way political, but a revolution of the imagination and behaviour. Here in Europe we are experiencing an incipient refusal of frenzied consumption, and a longing to build a more authentic life, to speak with Heidegger… Ever more people are convinced that one must consume less to live better. This is a profoundly revolutionary thought. We are starting to see that productivity is destructive of every value. This is shown, for example, in a French statistic from 2009 about workplace suicide. The new modes of work and the competition, to which the “Cosmocracy” subjugates human capital, push man to suicide.
Mergers, hostile takeovers, brutal changes to the company structure, the race for numbers, the constant time pressure, which leads to bungling, to betraying oneself and ones work. In contrast to this stands the realization that the rules of good craftsmanship are essential to life. Thus begins a silent revolution, the representatives of identarian demands would do well to pay attention to it.
Even when they grow, identarian movements, which have broken through, remain failures in most countries.
Venner: It is difficult, despite the contempt or even outlawing of the society, with which they must live, to continue. To accept fate without ever denying what one is, without giving in to normalisation, to not succumb to the siren song of the system: this demands heroic courage. This can only be summoned up by one who has a strong awareness of his purpose and an unbreakable loyalty to his values.
In Germany an identarian opposition movement is almost completely missing. Why?
Venner: That is a good question. It would be necessary to initiate intellectual and personal meetings between these movements. Maybe Junge Freiheit could take a leading role here?
What does Europe’s future look like?
Venner: I don’t know how Europe’s political future will look. It depends on uncertainties. But I believe that Europe will always exist as a community of culture and tradition. Allow me a deviation: China had always known how to preserve its identity – until the opium wars from 1839 – 1860. Then it was forced to open its ports to trade and western influence; an experience from which the country emerged traumatised. It was the first time in its long history that China doubted itself and its civilisation. The following generation became convinced that tradition is the source of defeat. From this sprang a series of revolutions. With the impression of the decline of the Soviet Union and influenced by the development of Singapore and Japan, China, under Deng Xiaoping, decided to follow its own path. It took the recipe of market economics from the Americanised west whilst maintaining an authoritarian political system and, on a spiritual level, achieving a return to Confucianism. Albeit blurred, one can see an analogy between the Chinese experience at the end of the nineteenth century and the trauma which Europe has been going through since 1945. The Europeans have lost belief in their values. When we criticise the American model, we emulate it because the freedom is missing to imagine a genuine European future. But this is beginning to change.
Dominique Venner, born 1935, is known in Germany largely for his book “Mercenaries without Pay: The German Freikorps 1918-1923” (Verlag Paul Neff, 1974). Today, the publisher and historian is editor of the journal “La Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire ( www.la-nrh.fr ). His book “Un autre destin européen” (Éditions du Rocher, 2009) has thus far not appeared in German.