Christian Love versus Communism

In distinguishing Christian equality from external or social equality, Kierkegaard sets himself squarely against two budding egalitarian social movements of the time: communism and the emancipation of women. Although he does not explicitly mention Marx in any of his works or journals, he possessed and apparently read a book published in 1843 by the left-wing Hegelian Arnold Ruge that contained a short article by Marx written under a pseudonym.27 That Kierkegaard was familiar with communism at the time Works of Love was written, however, is evident from a journal entry of 1847 in which he mentions that one of its deliberations is 'rightly turned against communism' (JP iv. 4124; cf. 4111). But more than one deliberation, if not, according to one commentator, the whole book, is clearly polemical towards communism.28 Kierkegaard's knowledge of socialism/communism (they are synonymous to him) at this point appears to have been gleaned mainly from Copenhagen newspaper accounts of French socialists of the time, although he was aware as early as 1834 of the Saint-Simon movement, an early socialist sect which, long after its demise in the early 1830s, had a strong ideological impact on Young German left-wing Hegelian sociopolitical thought in the 1840s (EPW 4).29 There were also a few lonely voices crying in the wilderness over social problems,

27 Malantschuk (1980: 76-82); Rohde (1967: no. 753); Marx (1972: 23-5).

28 Malantschuk (1980: 8-9).

29 Ibid. 11; Breckman (1999: 18, 106-7, 214-20, 151-64, 282-4).

particularly the plight of the poor, in Scandinavia in the 1830s and 1840s, most notably Niels Treschow (1751-1833) in Norway and Frederik Dreier (1827-53) in Denmark, the latter being an openly avowed socialist who founded a society for relief of the poor in 1847.30

The first edition of Marx's Communist Manifesto appeared in 1848, a year after Works of Love was published. That same year Kierkegaard recorded in his journal: 'The idea of genuine equality, essential equality, has been given up; equality has now become a political question discussed throughout Europe', and he specifically refers to communism as leading to a new form of tyranny—the fear of men or the crowd (JP iv. 4131). In a preface to A Cycle of Ethical-Religious Treatises' (also written in 1848) he predicts the disintegration of European society into anarchy or 'a world of atoms' in which no one would be able to rule except God—a circumstance which in his view would actually constitute an advance inasmuch as the deity would then become a schoolmaster who 'watches over everyone, each one individually' (BA 236). But Kierkegaard has no idea what concrete shape the world would assume in the event of this impending disintegration, readily admitting that:

Here thinking halts. The shape of the world would resemble—well, I do not know to what I should compare it—it would resemble an enormous Christiansfeldt [a small Danish town in south Jutland founded by the Moravians], and then the two most powerful opponents would be present, contending with each other over the interpretation of this phenomenon—communism, which would say: This is secularly right; there must be no distinction whatever between persons; wealth and art and science and scholarship and government, etc. etc. are of evil; all people should be alike as workers in a factory, as the inmates in a workhouse, dressed alike, eating the same food (made in one enormous pot) at the same stroke of the clock, in the same measure, etc.—pietism, which would say: This is Christianly right; there must be no distinctions between persons; we should be brothers and sisters, have everything in common; wealth, position, art, science, scholarship, etc. are of evil; all people should be alike as once was the case in the little Christiansfeldt, dressed alike, praying at specified times, marrying by drawing lots, going to bed by the clock, eating the same kind of food out of one big dish in a definite rhythm, etc.

Whether communist or pietist in organization, then, a society based on worldly similarity would be virtually the same, ironically resulting in a loss of individuality But in Kierkegaard's estimation neither form of social organization would be equivalent to Christian equality, which affirms our common humanity and spiritual equality in the context of individual and social dissimilarities.

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