536. Coming to meet (X)
So we have a war in the Ukraine. The radical right likes to celebrate war as such—war the father of all things, as the obscure philosopher said. The Jüngerite sensibility says that war is an aesthetic experience, an opportunity for existential contemplation—a chance, in a machine age, for man to express himself in an individual way. War is Fortune’s domain: its inherently chaotic nature multiplies the opportunities for synchronicities—war is outrageous fortune.
How different from an office where the “on-boarding” seminar enquires as to your pronouns. How different from the world where everything is thermostatically held at soporific levels—the world where “air conditioners are a feminist issue” because, on average, women feel the cold (or the heat) more in the office and so are discriminated against by man’s diabolical mistress, technology. So should men who want an existential challenge set out for the Ukraine? Jünger went to the Foreign Legion as a teenager; and today the Ukrainians call for volunteers. The door is open, so should you answer the call? Does the Ukraine offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the aesthetes of war? Does it constitute a chance to “fuck around, and find out” at last?
I answer in the negative. On Reddit there is enthusiasm to volunteer for the Ukraine—to form a “Reddit Battalion”. Will “Generation Reddit”—much pilloried by the radical right—turn out to be the aesthetes of war? The Redditor jibes: “You talk about the beauty of war and mercenaries…here’s your chance!” Yet the “Reddit Battalion”, if such a thing ever constitutes, would be a purely ideological formation. It would be formed by people whose views came from BuzzFeed; and whose approach would be the civic religion’s Manichaeism à la Star Wars: the Rebel Alliance versus the Empire—“good” versus “evil”. “I’m here to kick Putler’s ass. Inglorious Basterds—for real!!!”
While Mr. Putin has my full support for his war in the Ukraine, as he will doubtless be relieved to hear, when I saw a Russian helicopter shot down I remarked how beautiful it was. Such a remark would be inconceivable for the “Reddit Battalion”; for them, the war is an extension of their moralised mass-media brainwash. It is permissible to say, “BBQ’d Russkies. Fascist scum! Slava Ukraini!” It is impermissible to say, when you see a Soviet-style apartment block blown up, “Nothing of value was lost. Its residents had ugly lives. A UNHCR tent has more dignity.” The Nietzschean view: beauty is her own justification; she does not have a side, she is amoral—just like a beautiful woman, beauty is indifferently cruel; she has no partiality, she is objective. “You can’t say it’s beautiful when the Russians are shot down, that’s ‘your’ side. Reeeee.”
The assassin’s knife slides into your breast, a poppy-like stain forms on your white tunic. You observe the curlicues written in your own blood. You turn to your adjutant and say: “Ah, but it was so artfully done.” This is the aesthetic attitude to war. There is no last-minute Hollywood-style rage, the resentful ideological regimen of revenge—you contemplate your own death as art.
The mercenary is held in low regard, but he has his peculiar honour: he is a professional soldier and—just like your accountant—he will do a professional job. He is not there to “kick Putler’s ass”. The “Reddit Battalion” would be ideologues, convinced to fight for a corrupt regime led by the weak comedian Zelensky; a regime connected, via Hunter Biden, to their own leader’s corruption. Cynical ideologues: a Confederate flag ten miles from a MAGA rally, “Nazis!”; the Ukraine’s NATO-armed neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, “It’s just 600 men out of 160,000. Big deal.” Honour? Reality? “Clever man on YouTube say Putin Nazi.” The Reddit Battalion would be the first to commit actual war crimes: pasty-faced ideologues with a hapless Russian conscript in their clutches would revel in the chance to act out Inglorious Basterds—to revenge themselves on “evil”. Beauty is cruel, yet never so excessive.