Work on Søren Kierkegaard regarding his contributions on politics, ethics and aesthetics suggests to me he is one of the great thinkers about the historical nature of the concepts involved, though that is certainly not the the limit of his contributions. He can be seen as following on from Hegel in some of this historical consciousness, but his approach is also very distinct. Kierkegaard does not offer a total historical grasp, with everything integrated into the unfolding of consciousness (or logic or right or nature). Kierkegaad’s historical consciousness is expressed in a much more fragmented and dispersed way, with insights scattered throughout his work.
The nearest he comes to a complete historical overview is in his master’s thesis (the master’s thesis of that time was evidently the equivalent of a later doctoral thesis), The Concept of Irony, which must be a strong candidate for greatest ever work written for the purposes of fulfilling the requirements of a higher degree. The Concept of Irony is divided between considerations of irony in the time of Socrates, and largely with regard to Socrates as he appears in Plato’s dialogues; and considerations of irony in the philosophy, aesthetic theory and literature of German Idealism and Romanticism. There is a central contrast around the grounded nature of irony in Socrates compared with the later thinkers. Socratic irony does refer to his personality and the position he has on ethics and knowledge, which has an element of scepticism, but not of the dogmatic scepticism for its own sake that Kierkegaard associates with philosophy since Descartes. Kierkegaard understands the more recent irony to be more self-reflective and detached from the reality of the subject who produces those views, so that any sense of a real subject, the concrete individual (Enkelte) that Kierkegaard centrally values throughout his writing, is lost. However, this is not an absolute distinction, since Kierkegaard finds that the degree to which the reality of subjectivity is lost, and irony becomes pure self-reflective, is different between different thinkers. To some degree he is in sympathy with Hegel on this point, though he is less negative than Hegel about the philosophy and aesthetics of irony.
Kierkegaard’s early account of irony is in large measure an early version of his account of the ‘aesthetic’ which in Kierkegaard is more an aesthetic detached attitude to life rather than a concern with art and beauty, though he does incorporate discussion of the second into discussion of the first. The aesthetic is largely a modern category for Kierkegaard, at least when taken in separation from ethics. The aesthetic, the ethical and the religious are the major stages of consciousness for Kierkegaard, and could be understood as stages of subjectivity, universality and the absolute. The aesthetic at its most intense is self-preoccupation, which includes laughter, anxiety, melancholy, and a fragmented moment-by-moment attitude to life. This does not exist in such a pure form in the ancient world, and we can see part of why Kierkegaard thinks so in The Concept of Irony. Socrates is not preoccupied with a subjectivity so focused on the moment that it loses any substance. He is a participant in city life and civic duties, even if isolated from and critical of its politics. Later writing by Kierkegaard suggests that the ancient city state provides a support for the individual which relieves the individual from the possibility of s melancholic absorption in the changeable natıre of subjectivity. In the ancient polis, religion, ethnic origin and legal-political state all converge to provide a structure within which individuals can live. The effect is to relieve individuals of the burden of complete self-responsibility and self-reference, which allows for a kind of happiness otherwise impossible. It certainly allows a solidity and endurance for the state, so that politics is not an alien sphere in relation to individuality. The split between individual and political sphere does not exist in the way known to moderns, as it is the business of a city state in which public business is the business of everyone in a direct kind of way.
A kind of happiness is possible in antiquity, in the ethical and political spheres, which are more obviously intertwined in the antique world than the modern world, a kind of happiness which is not possible in the modern world. Some of this comes out of previous discussions of the contrast between the world of the ancients and the world of the moderns in the historical consciousness of the Enlightenment and of German Idealism. However, there is a distinct element of Kierkegaard’s argument which is typical of him: Christianity destroyed the happiness of antiquity. Not only has modern complexity undermined the apparently happy possibility of identifying self with city-state, the Christian belief in fall, sin and individual responsibility for the evil deeds of the individual or the the hope for salvation has destroyed happiness. Anxiety and melancholy are really Christian moods. They are moods of alienation from God, but they are moods which must be encountered and experienced deeply to achieve the goals of Christianity. The individual can only be worthy of the greatest possibility integration of self with the absolute through experiencing the emptiness and weakness of the self before the absolute. We can put this in a more sociological or philosophy of history frame, in which the anxiety and melancholy of the modern individual comes from social changes, but Kierkegaard’s argument is one of ideational influence on history. This does not necessarily make him the enemy of history and social science. It was Max Weber, the great sociologist, who argued that the rise of capitalism could only be fully understood with reference to the ideational force of Calvinist Christianity. Amongst current writers, Deirdre McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity is the one I am most ware of who has emphasised that cultural and ethical changes of a kind which cannot be reduced to economics are necessary to the emergence of capitalism.