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Kierkegaard from the point of view of the political.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2005
<mark>Journal</mark>History of European Ideas
Issue number1
Volume31
Number of pages26
Pages (from-to)35-60
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

This article considers Kierkegaard's contribution to our understanding of the political. Building on previous scholarship exploring the social dimensions of Kierkegaard's thought, I argue that for Kierkegaard the modern understanding and practice of politics should be understood as ‘despair’. Thus, whilst Kierkegaard's criticisms of politics might have been produced in an ad hoc fashion, this article argues that there is an underlying principle which guides these criticisms: that politics is subordinate to, and must be grounded in, spiritual or religious selfhood. In this way the modern phenomena of democracy, liberalism, the press, and the crowd can all be seen as representative of a form of community which falls far short of the potential that human beings can and should achieve. Such a community would see individuals recognising themselves and each other as spiritual beings, and taking responsibility for themselves and others. That modern politics fails to understand the human being as an essentially spiritual entity related to others through God can only lead us to conclude that, from Kierkegaard's point of view, modern politics suffers from the sickness of despair. Whilst Kierkegaard might be criticised for failing to provide us with a more detailed picture of a polity shaped by the religious contours he promotes, he clearly offers an intriguing and suggestive contribution to our understanding not only of the limitations of politics, but also the relationship between a normative human and political ontology, with the former providing the basis for the latter.