Athens and Jerusalem \  Part II  \ In the Bull of Phalaris


     Even more clearly than in Nietzsche does the strict bond that exists between knowledge and freedom or rather, the loss of freedom, appear in the shattering fate of Kierkegaard. Nietzsche called himself the anti-Christ and deliberately fought against Socrates. Kierkegaard regarded himself as a Christian, considered the Bible revelation, and said that he had nothing to learn from Socrates since Socrates was a pagan. In reality, however, he never succeeded in escaping from the power of the Socratic ideas. I should even say that the more he fought against Socrates, the more he became entangled in his nets. Strange as it may appear, something drove this Lutheran, this candidate in theology, away from Luther. By his own admission Kierkegaard had read almost nothing of Luther. "I have never read anything of Luther," he notes in his Journal. And this is certainly no accident: the modern man cannot help but seek lux legis (the light of law) and he fears above all else tenebrae fidei (the darkness of faith).

     It must be said frankly at the risk of arousing the indignation of many of Kierkegaard's admirers: Kierkegaard's Christianity brings us what Socrates, in his first and second incarnation, had already offered - the virtuous man will be happy even in the bull of Phalaris. In a discourse entitled "To Suffer Once, To Live Forever" Kierkegaard compares men to criminals from whom one cannot wrest an admission of their crimes by sweetness and good words and whom it is therefore necessary to submit to torture; and he declares, "Hope, in the eternal sense, is conditioned by a horribly painful interior tension, and the natural man will never resolve to take this on himself of his own free will." Also, "the Christian consolation leads, by human reckoning, to a despair more terrible than the worst terrestrial sufferings, than the worst temporal misfortunes. And it is here alone that edification, Christian edification, begins."

     Anyone who has read Kierkegaard must recognize that all his writings, all his thoughts, reflect the same spirit as the lines I have just quoted. The very titles of his works - Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Dread, The Sickness Unto Death, The Thorn in the Flesh - testify to the sufferings and anxieties with which his life was filled to the brim. In his Journal he writes: "When I am dead, Fear and Trembling alone will suffice to make my name immortal. People will read the book, they will translate it into foreign languages. Men will shudder at the frightful pathos with which it is permeated" (II, 89). A year previously he had already noted, "It seems to me that I have written things that must move the very stones to tears" (I, 389). And again, "Can men imagine how much I have suffered, how much I constantly suffer, and with what atrocious suffering my existence is bound up" (II, 142). Near this we find the following testimony: "In eleven months I finished Either/Or. If anyone in the world knew what provoked the appearance of this book! My God, a work so immense! Everyone imagines that I was impelled to write this book by some deep sentiment, but in reality it relates entirely to my private life. And my purpose - if people knew what my purpose was, they would declare me stark mad" (I, 183).

     Such confessions - and the Journal is filled with them - give us, in a way, a key not only to Kierkegaard himself but also to the extremely complex philosophic problems bound up with his work, which is unique in the orientation of its thought. It is beyond doubt that what Kierkegaard lived through, and of which he tells us in his books, was so horrible that the very stones would have had to pity him. But it is no less certain, on the other hand, that if men had known for what reason Kierkegaard raised such a storm, they would have laughed at him or shut him up in a madhouse. Moreover, despite the many passages of the Journal which permit us to divine what it was that made Kierkegaard suffer, he himself remains persuaded that no one will ever know the cause of his torments and where the "thorn in the flesh" of which he speaks so insistently was driven in.

     Furthermore, he solemnly forbids anyone to try to discover the concrete circumstances that broke his life and informs us that, for his part, he has taken all necessary measures to bewilder and confound the curious who would gain possession of his secret. In this he partly succeeded. Some believe that the wishes of a dead man must be respected; others recoil before the complexity of the Gordian knot in which Kierkegaard deliberately interwove truth and falsehood. It seems, then, that we shall never succeed in determining exactly what it was that happened to Kierkegaard, even if we believe that the wish he expressed while still living in our world no longer binds anyone now that he has left this world almost a century ago. One may, indeed, assume that what torments Kierkegaard in the other world is the thought that he did not have the courage while alive to proclaim his secret openly in the face of all, and that if there were now someone to pierce his secret and reveal it, he would deliver the dead man's soul from a great burden and at the same time render an immense service to all who seek and think.

     Kierkegaard is neither the first nor the last among men who carried with him to the grave a secret that he would have done better to leave on earth and for the earth. I shall mention, for example, Nietzsche. Nietzsche talks to us incessantly of the "masks" under which human beings hide their innere Besudelung (inward soiling). And, quite like Kierkegaard, he is afraid to call that which torments him by its true name. Socrates likewise had his secret which remained inviolate, and Spinoza also, and even great saints like Bernard of Clairvaux whose pendita vita (abandoned life) troubled Luther so much. One can, of course, speak of ideas without touching the life of the men in whose soul the ideas arose. Setting out from Spinoza's maxim "the true is the index both of itself and of the false," we can assume that for the verification of any philosophic conceptions proposed to us there are available principles that are immanent in them. But here is one of the worst petitio principii that reason, which aspires avidly to universal and necessary judgments, has ever forged. If it is given to men to realize the critique of reason not by means of reason and the principles immanent in reason, we must be prepared before everything else to renounce Spinoza's principle. We must have the courage to tell ourselves that the secret of Kierkegaard, of Socrates, of Spinoza or of Nietzsche must not fear men and hide itself like a thief in the night, that the secret which was so mocked and slandered that it ended up by being ashamed of itself must occupy the first place among the truths.

     Kierkegaard reproached the philosophers for not living in the categories in which they thought. Would it not be more correct to reproach them for not having the daring to think in the categories in which they lived? Kierkegaard himself wishes to believe that he lives in the categories in which he thinks, and it is in this that he sees his "merit." "The explanation that I hide in my inmost being, the more concrete explanation that includes my dread still more precisely - this I do not write down." But, despite his efforts to bewilder us, it is beyond doubt that the "concrete" is his breaking off with his fiancée, Regine Olsen. He could not, of course, hide the breaking off itself. But he did hide the fact that he had broken with the young girl not of his own volition but because he was obliged to do so, obliged not internally by some "higher" consideration but externally - because of a circumstance that was banal, offensive to him, shameful even, and utterly repugnant. This is what he wished to hide, and he did everything in his power to make people believe that he had broken with Regine Olsen voluntarily, that it was on his part a freely offered sacrifice to God.

     Even more, not only did he succeed in making others believe this, he almost succeeded in persuading himself of it. But this was false. It was a "suggestion," not even - it seems - an auto-suggestion. Kierkegaard had not sacrificed Regine; Regine had been taken away from him by force. And it was not God who had taken her away but the obscure powers that had once taken away Eurydice from Orpheus. Not only was Regine taken away from him, everything that God gives to man was taken away from him. What is, then, most terrible, most shaking in Kierkegaard's fate (and also in Nietzsche's), is that he had nothing more to sacrifice. To offer a sacrifice one must have something, but Kierkegaard (quite like Nietzsche) possessed nothing. He was a poet, a thinker. He even believed that he was extraordinarily endowed in this respect. But he had no use for these talents. If at least, he had been capable, like Orpheus, of moving the stones! But we know that when he spoke men laughed and the stones were silent, as they always remain silent. Besides, did Orpheus himself possess this power? Has there ever been a man on earth to whom it has been given to conquer the inertia and silence of this immense universe of which, according to the teaching of the wise, we are all only links? To put it differently, has there ever been a man audacious enough to think in the categories in which he lives and to descend, despite "eternal laws," into the Hades forbidden to mortals?

     Be that as it may, Kierkegaard appears to us now as, in a way, "Orpheus come back to life"; what he loved was taken away from him and since he no longer possessed the power of his prototype, who made himself understood by stones and animals, he had to turn to men. Now men are worse than stones; stones are content to keep silent, while men know how to laugh. Therefore one can tell stones the truth, but from men it is preferable to hide it. It is impossible to tell men that hell must violate the eternal laws of its hellish being for a Søren Kierkegaard and a Regine Olsen (in other words to take account of a particular and consequently insignificant circumstance). Furthermore, one cannot speak to men of hell, especially to the educated men of our time; the word "hell" does not exist for them. They know that there are immutable principles which determine the structure of being, that these principles admit of no exception and make no distinction between an Orpheus inspired by the gods and the least of beggars. It is useless to speak to men of Kierkegaard's "sufferings" when he learned that hell would not restore Regine Olsen to him. In general, it is useless to speak of sufferings: no matter how terrifying they may be, can they shake the "order and connection of things" and the "order and connection of ideas," that is, our thought, that is based on it? Spinoza's non ridere, non lugere neque detestari, sed intelligere (not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand) is as unpitying as the laws of hell. All argument is here vain; we must obey. Nietzsche himself, who "had killed the law," ended with amor fati. What can Kierkegaard do? It is impossible for him to accept the idea that his torments will pass without leaving any traces and will change nothing in the general economy of the universe. But one cannot speak of this; it is "shameful," and one must hide it and act as if it never were. Why is it "shameful"? Why must Kierkegaard not speak of what Orpheus once sang? It will be objected that Orpheus is an imaginary or, in any case, mythical person. Orpheus in the flesh and bone would not have dared fight against hell and would have been content with "justifying" his submission through lofty considerations, i.e., through thoughts about sacrifice, etc.

     Whence shame came into the world no one knows. In Plato's Symposium Alcibiades says that Socrates taught him shame. According to the Bible shame is the consequence of sin: when Adam had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge he was ashamed of his nakedness which heretofore had not seemed shameful to him. In both cases shame is bound up with knowledge and placed in dependence on it. Not knowledge as "pleasure in sensible perception" but the knowledge of universal and necessary truths. Knowledge obliges man to accept the real, that is, "things that are not in our power." And it is knowledge, likewise, which suggests to him that there is at times something shameful in this acceptance. When Kierkegaard speaks of voluntary sacrifice and has nothing to sacrifice - for he has been stripped of everything - he does not even suspect that, following Adam's example, he is hiding his nakedness under a fig leaf. He believes, on the contrary, that he is accomplishing a sublime work, that he is saving 'his soul and helping others save theirs. But it is then precisely that that happens against which both Luther and Nietzsche warned us, the first in saying "for man must distrust his works," and the second "everything that the fallen man undertakes to save himself does nothing but hasten his fall." Kierkegaard concludes that we must live in the categories in which we think - and stretches forth his hand to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil whose fruits, as Hegel has explained to us, became the principle of philosophy for all time. Kierkegaard detested and despised Hegel. A few months before his death he made the following entry in his Journal: "Hegel! Would that I were permitted to think like the Greeks: how the gods must have laughed! A poor professor who grasped the necessity of everything that exists and transformed the universe into a plaything. Ye gods!" (II, 351). But Kierkegaard could never bring himself to renounce the idea that our life must be determined by our thought, to break with Socrates. Even in his moments of highest spiritual tension, as we shall see, he could not resolve to exchange the "light of reason" for "the darkness of faith," to use Luther's language, and turned to Socrates.

     In The Thorn in the Flesh he writes: ...and when mortal dread takes hold of a man, time stands still. To wish to run faster than ever before and not be able to move a limb, to be ready to sacrifice everything else just to purchase an instant and then to learn that it is not for sale, because 'it depends on no man's will or permission but only on God's compassion."' One would think that anyone who had passed through such an experience must forever lose all trust in his "works." What works can a man for whom time has come to a stop accomplish - a man who, like Spinoza's asinus turpissimus (most infamous ass) that is hypnotized by a hostile power, is incapable of making the least movement? But precisely in such moments Kierkegaard always remembers Socrates: nothing bad can happen to a good man, the good man will be happy even in the bull of Phalaris. Even if his will is paralyzed, even if he is condemned to die of hunger between two bales of hay, there still remains to him one "work": he can still "endure both faces of fortune with equanimity," he can still glorify fatum, he can still demand of himself and of all men that they find supreme happiness in the horrors of life. It is not only philosophy, indeed, but all of Christianity that is reduced to Erbauung, to edification.

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