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Fruitful Death: Mircea Eliade and Ernst Jünger on Human Sacrifice, 1937–1945

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Mircea Eliade, the writer and historian of religions, and Ernst Jünger, the hero of the Great War, novelist, and essayist, met in the 1950s and co-edited twelve issues of the periodical Antaios. Before they met and cooperated, however, and while the German writer knew about Eliade from their common friend, Carl Schmitt, they both dealt with the subject of human sacrifice. Eliade began to do so in the thirties, and his interest in that theme was at least in part an aspect of his political activism on behalf of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, or the Iron Guard, the nationalistic and anti-Semitic movement lead by Corneliu Codreanu. Sacrificial ideology was a central aspect of the Legion's political theories, as well as of the practice of its members. After the Iron Guard was outlawed by its allies, and many of its members had been killed, and while the Romanian regime of Marshal Ion Antonescu was still fighting alongside the National Socialist regime in the Second World War, Eliade turned to other aspects of sacrificial ideology. In 1939 he wrote the play Iphigenia, celebrating Agamemnon's daughter as a willing victim whose death made the Greek conquest of Troy possible; and as a member of the regime's diplomatic service in Lisbon he published a book in Portuguese on Romanian virtues (1943), in which he presented what he called Two Myths of Romanian Spirituality, extolling his nation's readiness to die through the description of the sacrificial traditions of Master Manole and of the Ewe Lamb (Mioritza). Jünger's attitude to sacrifice ran along lines that were less traditional: possibly already while serving as a Wehrmacht officer, in his pamphlet Der Friede, the German writer attributed sacrificial status to all the victims of the Second World War, soldiers, workmen, and unknowing innocents, and saw their death as the ransom of a peace "without victory or defeat." In this article, the sacrificial ideologies of the two intellectuals are compared in order to reflect upon the complex interplay between traditional religious themes, more or less freely re-interpreted and transformed, political power, and violent conflict, in an age of warfare marked by fascisms and by the terrible massacre some refer to by the name of an ancient Greek sacrificial practice.


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