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.
SÃ¸ren 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 oneâ€™s concrete particularity. â€œThe good cannot be defined at all,â€ he wrote in The Concept of Anxiety (1844). â€œThe 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.â€ The goodness of the natural world resides in the harmonious abundance of existing beingsâ€”this improbable lily, that joyful birdâ€”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 communitiesâ€”families, congregations, nationsâ€”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 ageâ€™s intellectual culture, he observed in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), was of no use to actually existing human beings; it spoke absurdly â€œof speculation as if this were a man or as if a man were speculation,â€ and would perhaps someday find its â€œtrue readersâ€ among â€œinhabitants of the moon.â€ But such philosophical lunacy was the least of the matter. Long before the revolutionary followers of Marx and Engels brought Hegelâ€™s systematic science down from the heavens and settled it in the cities of men in a malignantly inhuman formâ€”the reductive ideology of dialectical materialismâ€”Kierkegaard prophesied the inevitable destruction of individual character and passion through an inherently reflective social process of â€œleveling.â€ The present age, he wrote in Two Ages (1846), is democratically â€œoriented to equalityâ€ and marked not by â€œthe happy infatuation of admiration but the unhappy infatuation of envy,â€ a â€œcensoriousâ€ passion that wants to â€œstifleâ€ and â€œdegradeâ€ individual excellence rather than to emulate it. A constant bane of human existence, envy is particularly destructive in the present age because â€œthe abstraction of leveling is related to a higher negativity: pure humanity.â€ Late-modern leveling, Kierkegaard predicted, would destroy all organic structures that mediate between living individuals and the bloodless abstraction of humanity as such. Nothingâ€”no person, institution, or even â€œnational individualityâ€â€”will be able to halt what he calls the â€œspontaneous combustion of the human race.â€