Resisting Levelling

Because levelling is the product of a superior abstract power or demonic force, in Kierkegaard's judgement it cannot be controlled or halted by any age, heroic individual, assemblage, or national individuality but is here to stay (TA 86-8). Living in an age of levelling can nevertheless be genuinely educative for individuals, inasmuch as the rigorous personal testing to which they are subjected in the process of levelling can serve as the point of departure or inspiration for a higher life in the religious. We can either resist levelling or succumb to it and become part of the crowd. Levelling can be halted only on an individual basis by each person entering into a relation to God, through which the single individual becomes an essential human being in the full sense of equality before God and in relation to other human beings. Kierkegaard thus urges the single individual to make 'the inspired leap of religiousness' over the blade of levelling into 'the embrace of the eternal' (89,108). Every person must make this momentous leap alone, as no one can help others; even women must make the leap by themselves, so that 'God's infinite love will not become a second-hand relationship for them' (108-9).

Although reflection functions as a snare or mental prison that often prevents individuals from deciding and acting on their own in an age of reflection, encouraging them to do only what is prudent and safe like everyone else, Kierkegaard maintains that 'reflection itself is not the evil'; rather, it is 'stagnation in reflection' that is the culprit (96). Indeed, as he sees it, 'considerable reflectiveness is the condition for a higher meaningfulness than that of immediate passion', but an infinite enthusiasm or passion for the religious must intervene in order to persuade the reflective powers to decide and to act (96). For Kierkegaard, therefore, it is not philosophy or a higher form of reflection that is needed to counter levelling in the present age but the passion and essentiality of the religious in the single individual who is reflective enough to perceive what the prudent thing to do is but passionate enough to reject it in order to gain the highest enthusiasm and equality of the religious.

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