The European Crisis Of 1848

The forced but peaceful transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in Denmark in 1848, together with the violent political revolutions in France and Germany that same year, confirmed in Kierkegaard's mind the validity of his diagnosis of the sickness of the present age and his predictions about the future articulated two years earlier in Two Ages (JP iv. 4167; BA 315-16). Personally, he regarded this event as something to weep over, as to him it represented the victory of irrationality

13 It also undergirds the proper relation of the individual and the state, which in Kierkegaard's view was given ideal expression in Plato's Republic, in which the state is not higher than the individual but constructed 'for the individual, unum noris omnes' (JP iii. 3327).

and the 'rabble tyranny' of the crowd over rational government and the possibility of any stable government at all, since the same forces of levelling that brought down the old government could be expected in turn to overthrow the new one as well (JP iv. 4127, 4134, 4149; BA 319-20). At a deeper level, Kierkegaard saw the political change as an expression of the same demoralization and internal disintegration that Denmark and all of Europe were undergoing as a result of the lack or loss of spirit or true religiousness in the individual and society (JP iv. 4127, 4149; vi. 6255). In his view, the root corruption or evil was not the government but the crowd, which with the aid of the liberal press had established itself as the authority, truth, and god, equating its will with the will of God and pantheistically confusing vox populi (the voice of the people) with vox dei (the voice of God) (JP iii. 2933, 2942; vi. 6255).This is not to say, however, that the crowd altogether lacks validity, as Kierkegaard admits that 'with regard to all temporal, earthly, worldly goals, the crowd can have its validity, even its validity as the decisive factor, that is, as the authority', but it 'becomes untruth when it is carried over into the realms of the intellectual, the spiritual, and the religious' (PV 106 n., 109).

The crisis of 1848 also helped Kierkegaard to understand his own position and purpose better and to discern more clearly what the age needs and where it is heading (BA 228-9). Theologically, he concludes that 'The conflict about Christianity will no longer be doctrinal conflict' between orthodoxy and heterodoxy but about 'Christianity as an existence'—a conflict occasioned not only by the political crisis of 1848 but also by the socialist and communist movements of the time (JP iv. 4185). In his view, the crisis of 1848 was the introduction to a new era that would not begin until 'this convulsive seizure', as he called it, had run its course, which was likely to take a generation or two, and until the age had come to understand 'what the question is about' (BA 229-30). 'Europe as a whole .. .has worldly lost its way in problems that can be answered only divinely, Kierkegaard contends, especially the problem of human equality, which in his view is 'the problem which confronts the whole generation' (229; JP vi. 6340). People have wanted to solve this problem in the medium of worldliness, whose essence is difference, whereas, as pointed out in Works of Love, Christian equality is not the same as worldly similarity, which cannot be achieved in the temporal realm. Consequently, as Kierkegaard sees it, what appears to be a political question in the present age is really a religious question that can only be answered by procuring a new point of departure from above, that is, from God, rather than from below via the crowd (BA 317). Inversely to the Reformation, which in his view seemed to be a religious movement but turned out to be a political one, Kierkegaard predicts that when the real question underlying the catastrophe of 1848 became apparent, what appeared to be a political movement would turn out to be a religious movement instead (JP vi. 6256).


Due to the advance of civilization, urbanization, centralization, and the rise of the press as the means of communication that 'corresponded to all this and essentially produced it', Kierkegaard was convinced that personal existing had vanished and daily life had been given a wrong direction in the modern age (JP iv. 4166). Insofar as there was any reform, it had been directed one-sidedly against the government by the press and its minion, the crowd. But no one had thought of reforming the crowd, which in his view 'is what it really means to reform' and where 'the real scene of martyrdom' takes place (ibid.). 'In order to recover eternity,' he writes in 1848, 'blood will again be required, but blood of another kind, not that of battle victims slain by the thousands, no, the more costly blood, of the single individuals—of the martyrs', who conquer not by putting others to death but by being put to death themselves (BA 234; cf. JP vi. 6395). Even though in Two Ethical-Religious Essays, which was written in 1847 but not published until 1849, the theological conclusion had been reached that Christians do not have the right to make others guilty by allowing themselves to be put to death for the sake of the truth, Kierkegaard predicts that only martyrs will be able to rule the world at a critical time in the future because 'no human being will any longer be able to rule the generation at such a moment; only the divine can do it, assisted by those unconditionally obedient to him, those who are also willing to suffer', namely the martyrs, who would not rule secularly but religiously by suffering (BA 235; cf. JP iii. 2649). But unlike previous martyrs, who needed only the immediacy of faith and courage to risk their lives, these future martyrs or missionaries will possess superior powers of reflection that will enable them to diagnose the specific sickness of a particular age, how it is to be healed, what kind of mistreatment and persecution they must be exposed to, whether they will fall or not, and ifso, where it will happen, so that the survivors are wounded 'in the right spot' by their deaths ( JP iii. 2649). Contrasting such martyrs to tyrants, especially tyrants in the form of the masses or the crowd, Kierkegaard suggests that, while there is an infinite difference between these two types of rulers, they have one thing in common: the power to constrain others. But whereas the tyrant constrains others by using force to rule over them in an egotistical and inhuman fashion, the martyr constrains others by his own sufferings out of love for humankind, thereby educating them in Christianity and 'converting the mass into single individuals' (ibid.; cf. JP i. 187).

In suggesting that martyrs or missionaries will become the leaders or rulers of the future, Kierkegaard reflects his religious roots in Moravian piety, which was noted for its missionary zeal and dedication, especially in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in which foreign missions became 'the hallmark of the Moravian community around the world' and many missionaries lost their lives witnessing to the truth in this way.14 But whereas their efforts were directed towards the conversion of non-Christians, Kierkegaard envisions the missionaries or martyrs of the future as being deployed to reintroduce Christianity into Christendom (PV 123-4). At this point he does not elaborate further on this apocalyptic vision of a movement from worldliness to religiosity, leaving it to a future philosopher-poet who will see close at hand what he has 'only dimly imagined will be carried out sometime in a distant future' (JP iii. 2649). The following year, however, he returns to the idea that the present political crisis will turn out to be a religious movement, suggesting this time that Christian pastors will be needed to bring it about: 'There is where the battle will be; if there is to be genuine victory, it must come about through pastors. Neither soldiers nor police nor diplomats nor political planners will achieve it' (JP vi. 6256, 6257). This comes as a surprise in light of Kierkegaard's general disdain for the Danish clergy, who in a later journal entry are explicitly blamed for the social breakdown of 1848: 'When a society goes to pieces the way it did in '48, it is not the fault of kings and nobility—but is essentially the fault of the clergy' (JP iv. 4193). The kind of Christian pastors Kierkegaard has in mind to lead this religious movement, however, must measure up to some stringent qualifications: They must be educated but also practised in 'spiritual guerrilla skirmishing', 'doing battle not so much with scientific-scholarly attacks and problems as with the human passions'; they should be 'powerfully eloquent', if possible, but 'no less eloquent in keeping silent and enduring without complaining'; they must 'know the human heart' but refrain 'from judging and denouncing'; they must 'know how to use authority through the art of making sacrifices' and be 'disciplined and... prepared to obey and to suffer' in order to 'be able to mitigate, admonish, build up, move, but also to constrain— not with force, anything but, no, constrain by their own obedience, and above all patiently, to suffer all the rudeness of the sick without being disturbed ... For the generation is sick, spiritually, sick unto death' (JP vi. 6256). Although Kierkegaard does not use the term 'martyr' with reference to these pastors, they clearly fit that description. Perhaps he means to

suggest, then, that Christian pastors should be the martyrs who will lead the modern age to a genuine religious awakening.

Another reason why genuine Christian pastors will be sorely needed to lead the religious movement of the future is to counter the greatest danger with respect to a religious movement, namely the introduction of a demonic religiousness through the rise of 'demonically tainted characters' who 'like mushrooms after a rain' will appear on the scene and presumptuously lay claim to being apostles on a par with the biblical apostles, 'assuming the task of perfecting Christianity' or perhaps becoming 'inventors of a new religion which will gratify the times and the world in a completely different way from Christianity's "asceticism" ' (JP vi. 6257). Communism in particular, Kierkegaard suggests, possesses the strength and demonic potential to establish a foothold and prevent the development of true religiousness.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Transcend the Power of Words

Transcend the Power of Words

Finally, The Secrets Of Affirmations Unrevealed... Who Else Wants The Ultimate Guide To Affirmations And Witness Its Magic To Change Your Life Forever? Discover How Ordinary People Can Live Extraordinary Lives Through Affirmations!

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment