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THE CRISIS AND CRITIQUE OF MODERNITY
Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55)

 

A. Diagnosis of Modernity

Modernity is a spiritless age plagued by the social-political, religious, and philosophical dissipation of the existing individual through a reductive leveling of spiritual tensions essential to authentic selfhood.

“…to be lost in spiritlessness is the most terrible thing of all.”

1. Social-political dissipation: the leveling crowd

Dominant social currents exercise an abstract power over the individual; sweeps everyone toward a negative equality or leveling (Nivellementet) that absorbs any sense of personal uniqueness into the social totality.

·        universality over particularity
·        abrogation of passionate disjunctions
·        evaporation of self-responsibility
·        mass, herd, crowd, race, public, they (anonymity, impersonality, bloodless     abstraction, numerical or statistical mode of being)
·        dissolution into the race (essential, substantial); single individual as inessential, accidental (animal definition of man)
·        depersonalization through process of industrialization
·        totalitarian potential of modern state
·        conformity to, or identification with, socially defined roles; self-repression of distinguishing idiosyncrasies; goal to become nobody; self-forgetting
·        single individual as ghost, mirage, shadow, living dead, number in the crowd, an imitation, nameless one, etc.
·        mass media: molds public opinion, directs conduct, mitigates personal responsibility
·        bourgeois social institutions with primary role of stabilizing human relations into a comfortable, cozy, homey unity

2. Religion and self-alienation: oppression of objectivity (Christendom)

             ·        confusion or conflation of the sacred and secular
                ·        dead, objective, formalistic, empty, bourgeois religiosity
                ·        lifeless formalism and externality of nominal believers with no inward transformation; mechanized doctrinal conformity
                ·        Christendom: bourgeois social institution that tranquilizes, domesticates, and anesthetizes restlessness of human spirit by providing an illusory sense 
                  of security, certainty, and harmony to mundane existence (betrayal of faith)
                ·        Danish clergy: urbane philistinism masquerading as devout piety
                ·        believers stripped of spiritual tension (either-or) or passionate disjunctions; transformed into socially stable, robotic “talk-machines” who recite 
                  dogmatic propositions as expressions of “faith”
                ·        paradox vs. mediation

3. The Dissipating Effects of the Reflective Philosophy of Objectivity

             ·        Hegelianism as theoretical dissolution of the individual in the absolute system
                  Harmonization of all opposites and tensions in the speculative unity of reason 
                ·        Hegel’s mediation of all distinctions absorbs all passionate disjunctions of the existing individual (homogenous uniformity)
                ·        Hegel’s philosophy as reflective, objective, speculative, abstract, pagan, unhappy
                ·        Spectator attitude: disengaged, dispassionate, disinterested pursuit in which subjective passion evaporates; reflection has goal of universally valid 
                  truth which views the particularity of subjective interests and passions as impediments
                ·        paradox vs. mediation

B. Radical cure for the present age

The present age needs to reestablish oppositions, rediscover contradictions, and reaffirm existential / spiritual tensions leveled by bourgeois Christendom and its philosophical expression in Hegelianism. In direct contrast with Hegel, Kierkegaard stresses the need for:

             ·        distinctions
                ·        eternity
                ·        differentiation
                ·        individuation
                ·        separation
                ·        particularity
                ·        bifurcation
                ·        passionate either-or
                ·        spiritual tension or restlessness
                ·        essentiality and intrepidity of religiousness

 


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