Looking back on his life a few years later, Kierkegaard remarked in his journal: 'Then came 1848. Here I was granted a perspective on my life that almost overwhelmed me' (JP vi. 6843). Besides being an extraordinarily productive year in terms of his authorship, it was during this year that the second major event occurred which profoundly affected Kierkegaard's life and the society in which he lived, namely the peaceful political transition from government by absolute monarchy to a constitutional, parliamentary monarchy in the state of Denmark. Absolute monarchy with the right of inheritance was established in Denmark in 1660, followed by a royal law in 1665 that granted ultimate authority over the church to the king and established the Evangelical Lutheran Church as the official state church.75 This political-ecclesiastical arrangement remained in place and unchallenged until the nineteenth century, when a peasant awakening movement in the 1820s brought about a rural religious revival emphasizing individual piety and self-assertion as well as the enactment of agrarian reforms that allowed farmers to own their own land and to elect representatives to estate assemblies and town councils.76 This was followed in the 1830s and 1840s by an urban liberal political movement espousing freedom of the press and, in alliance with the peasant movement, a host of broader economic and political reforms, including the establishment of a representative constitutional government.77 Under threat of a popular uprising, on 21 March 1848 the king agreed to their demands, and the next year a constitution was adopted replacing the Danish absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy based on a representative government elected by universal male suffrage. 78
75 Lausten (2002: 132). 76 Kirmmse (1990: 40-4); Lausten (2002: 226-7).
Technically, according to the new constitution the state church was also abolished, inasmuch as the state no longer officially endorsed a state church as such and did not require members of parliament to belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church.79 However, the constitution did state that 'The evangelical-Lutheran church is the Danish people's church and, as such, is supported by the state.'80 The Danish state church thus became the Danish People's Church (so-called because a majority of the people belonged to it), the only difference being that now one had to be baptized into the church instead of automatically becoming a member by virtue of being born a Dane, as was the case formerly. State support of the people's church consisted in granting it income from church property, tithes, and state budget appropriations, and church governance remained in the hands of the king and parliament, as the church did have not have an independent constitution.81 De facto, then, the Danish People's Church remained a state church.
Kierkegaard's reaction to these political and ecclesiastical changes was somewhat ambivalent, as he was sympathetic towards the monarchy but also a strong supporter of the common folk and human equality.82 As he saw it, the fundamental problem of his country lay not in its form of government, whether that be the old or the new governing body, but in the spiritual demoralization and disintegration of the age which these changes expressed (JP iv. 4149; vi. 6255). In Kierkegaard's view the country had simply replaced the old forms of tyranny with a new one, the tyranny of the fear of men, carried out by the mob rule of the crowd, the majority the public, the people, which 'Of all tyrannies ...is the most excruciating, the most mindless, unconditionally the downfall of all greatness and elevation' (JP iv. 4144; cf. 4131, 4134; PV 19). What the times in the deepest sense needed, he believed, was not political equality, which in his view was not true or perfect human equality, as that is impossible to achieve in the temporal realm, which is characterized by dissimilarity (PV 103-4). Rather, it was the ethical and ethical-religious that should be advanced, since ultimately 'only the essentially religious can with the help of eternity effect human equality... and this is also why... the essentially religious is the true humanity' (PV 104).Thus, while everything appeared to be politics at the time, Kierkegaard regarded the 'catastrophe' of 1848 as indicative of a 'crucial age' in which 'history was about to take a turn' towards the religious (JP vi. 6255). Moreover, he perceived himself as having been singled out by God to be 'that single individual' or extraordinary agent by which an awareness of the religious could be brought about (JP vi. 6843).
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