In connection with Gordon Marino’s interesting mention of Kierkegaard in his article on ethics featured on LRC today, I just wanted to make some comments on Kierkegaard who, I believe, has an unfair reputation among many of my Christian and libertarian friends. Due to the 20th century existentialist movement, certainly influenced by him, he is vaguely associated with the atheism, nihilism and leftism of many modern existentialists.
But to dismiss Kierkegaard due to Sartre or Camus would be a great mistake.First of all, it must be understood that Kierkegaard was a thoroughly orthodox Christian (or as orthodox as you think a Danish Lutheran could be), who above all desired that his readers attain salvation and closeness with the Lord. I have often used his marvelous Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses as meditation material, (each rather accessible though dense discourse is a meditation on a single verse of scripture that will make you feel that you’ve never really seen what the scriptures were saying before).
Another theme of Kierkegaard’s is freedom. An excellent guide to Kierkegaard on this subject is the conservative Catholic Greg Beabout of SLU, (a friend of mine), whose brief (192 pages) account in Freedom and Its Misuses: Kierkegaard on Anxiety and Despair is remarkable for its clarity and extremely satisfying for libertarians.
Kierkegaard was also rather astute in regards to politics. He thought the relationship of the Danish Lutheran church to the Danish state was very damaging to the church… That there were certainly people who pretended to be Christians in their pursuit of political power, thus muddying the waters for everyone.
For a short but powerful taste of Kierkegaard read his anti-Hegel meditation on the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, Fear and Tembling.
How is it that the 20th century secular existentialists were influenced by such a man? To sum it up perhaps too briefly, he challenged his readers who had rejected God to stop being hypocrites and stop only going halfway… Rejecting God but trying to hold on to the things that flow from God, like meaning and morality. He said that if there was no God then life was absurd and meaningless and one ought to just face it. Sartre and Camus took him up on this challenge.3:13 pm on February 19, 2004 Email Stephen W. Carson