Category Archive 'Soren Kierkegaard'

10 Mar 2019

Prophecies of Democratic Levelling

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Kierkegaard Monument, Copenhagen

Jacob Howland informs us that Kierkegaard long ago foresaw the damage to civilization and the human destruction that would be caused by ideologies of tyrannical equality.

Søren Kierkegaard considered the primary human good to be individual freedom: the freedom to judge for oneself, to speak and act for oneself, and to come to be oneself in the fullness of one’s concrete particularity. “The good cannot be defined at all,” he wrote in The Concept of Anxiety (1844). “The good is freedom. The difference between good and evil is only for freedom and in freedom, and this difference is never in abstracto but only in concreto.” The goodness of the natural world resides in the harmonious abundance of existing beings—this improbable lily, that joyful bird—each of which earnestly inhabits no more or less than its allotted place and time, spontaneously expressing, within these limits, its own rich particularity. The goodness and meaning of human life similarly consists in the irreducible particularity of individuals and communities—families, congregations, nations—that arise in freedom and are sustained by freedom.

As early as the 1840s, however, Kierkegaard warned that late modernity is animated by a crushing spirit of abstraction that poses the gravest threat to the human good. The Hegelian philosophy that dominated the age’s intellectual culture, he observed in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), was of no use to actually existing human beings; it spoke absurdly “of speculation as if this were a man or as if a man were speculation,” and would perhaps someday find its “true readers” among “inhabitants of the moon.” But such philosophical lunacy was the least of the matter. Long before the revolutionary followers of Marx and Engels brought Hegel’s systematic science down from the heavens and settled it in the cities of men in a malignantly inhuman form—the reductive ideology of dialectical materialism—Kierkegaard prophesied the inevitable destruction of individual character and passion through an inherently reflective social process of “leveling.” The present age, he wrote in Two Ages (1846), is democratically “oriented to equality” and marked not by “the happy infatuation of admiration but the unhappy infatuation of envy,” a “censorious” passion that wants to “stifle” and “degrade” individual excellence rather than to emulate it. A constant bane of human existence, envy is particularly destructive in the present age because “the abstraction of leveling is related to a higher negativity: pure humanity.” Late-modern leveling, Kierkegaard predicted, would destroy all organic structures that mediate between living individuals and the bloodless abstraction of humanity as such. Nothing—no person, institution, or even “national individuality”—will be able to halt what he calls the “spontaneous combustion of the human race.”

RTWT

16 Nov 2011

The Severed Wasp

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Virginia Woolf

David Wemyss takes an anecdote from George Orwell as the title of a thoughtful essay on alienation (which he refers to as “insularity”) as seen in the writings Orwell, Woolf, and Kierkegaard, man’s alienation from his fellow man (particularly those of other classes and conditions) and the alienation of some modern intellectuals from values and self.

Virginia Woolf is treated harshly.

It was a salutary lesson for me that the pellucid beauty of “On Being Ill” led eight years later to “Three Guineas”, with its insistence that Britain in the thirties was a tyranny as bad as Nazi Germany, that all loyalties were false (except those emanating from the virgin forest of course), that all uniforms were evil, and that war was a male desire to dominate brought about by competitive education.

Indeed, not many people realise that Virginia Woolf in 1938 was pretty well recommending the post-1967 British comprehensive school – except that it would have been a university – one so given over to cultural destructiveness that her own books would have fallen out of the syllabus.

Theodore Dalrymple put it characteristically well in the City Journal a few years ago when he said that, had she survived to our own time, Woolf would have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind – shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutal – had triumphed among the elites of the Western world. And if that seems a little harsh on someone who did I think have a considerable gift – Mrs Dalloway is surely a very good novel – just remember that she also wrote the most immitigably stupid book of the twentieth century.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.


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