Kierkegaard on Denmark and on Authoritative Individuals: Reading The Concept of Anxiety. IV

The Dedication, The Preface

There is a fulsome dedication to Poul Møller, the university teacher that Kierkegaard most admired and who was a major influence on him. He was a classicist, philosopher and poet with a theological background. His range of interests coincides with that of Kierkegaard, and his capacities in teaching and personal tutoring seem to have made a strong impression on Kierkegaard, for whom he was a role model. One notable aspect of the dedication is the emphasis on Danish identity and pride. Møller himself spent a long time in Norway as an academic, with great nostalgia for Denmark to which he was happy to return. The Dedication can be compared with ‘A Letter to the Reader’, ‘Concluding Word’ in Stages on Life’s Way which has a tribute to Copenhagen in terms of memory, nature and intimate size (487 in the Princeton University Press edition,VI 452-45 in the standard Danish edition of Kierkegaard). These references to Denmark and Copenhagen should be put in the context of an element of nostalgia in Kierkegaard’s attitude to ancient city republics. The comparison of Møller with Socrates reinforces that attitude. The unity of individual life, ethnic community, city religion, and political community in antique republics offers a ind of happiness lacking in the modern Christian state. Maybe for Kierkegaard, the ancient city republic offers the closest kind of happiness possible in the secular world. The idea of the Christian heaven as a version of the ideal ancient city can be found in Augustine, that is the underlying idea of City of God.

The idea of the imitation both of Møller and of Socrates, whom Møller imitates in Kierkegaard’s understanding, itself related to Kierkegaard’s arguments in The Concept of Anxiety, beginning with the Preface, about the relations between generations, and the relations between Adam and those who sin after Adam. As the Preface suggests, generations are responsible for themselves, individuals are responsible for themselves. No one individual can assume responsibility for a generation, or claim to be typical of it.

In the Preface difficulties also emerge about how to interpret a text which is written under a pseudonym. Vigilius Haufniensis. The Preface partly serves as a warning about this, because it creates a distancing that is lacking in the main body of the book. Haufniensis refers to his tolerance any source of authority. That itself could be a reference to ancient republics, since Haufniensis refers to an authority for a year. That sounds like the two consuls of republican Rome, or the ‘strategos’ of Athens, or the five ephors of Sparta. There isa shift In register from religious to secular, which may confirm that Kierkegaard sees a relation between ancient republics and the city of God.

The republican references are reinforced when Haufniensis expresses his indifference to the forms of appointing authority, whether through lottery, ballot or passing the position between burghers. The last possibility undercuts any grandeur of the republican references since the reference is to representatives on a board of arbitration, so the more everyday and bureaucratic aspects of modern bourgeois society. The use of lottery to appoint member of public bodies was understood to be a more pure form of democracy in antiquity than electing people, which might be understood as a way of conferring aristocratic status, or even monarchical status for the most important elected office. The appointment of someone like a consul in ancient Rome had an element of passing it between different oligarchs in the senate, even if it was not the case that the honour passed between all senators in order. We could interpret that indifference between forms of authority as a nostalgia for ancient republics in which the existence of the republic is important, not its political form. That matches Kierkegaard’s general attitude towards politics, though it also has to be said that he sees something positive in the absolute claims of both monarchs and revolutionaries, presumably as a way of connecting the political sphere with the nature of God, and our relation with God.

The issue of relations between individuals and generations is partly one of deflating claims to represent a generation. It is not those who make a noise about representing the era who are developing the self, so we see Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the single individual (Enkeleten) as the starting point. This also applies to the board of arbitration. Whether Kierkegaard uses irony or seems to speak more directly, the individual is the starting point and is at the centre. The way of not falling into a ridiculous position is to recognise the individual at the centre, and not detract from individuality.

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