The corsair affair and yet another rejection of politics

Volume 13, The Corsair Affair, is a collection of texts (many of which not written by Kierkegaard) that helps readers to understand what came to be known by this volume title.  The Corsair was a satirical journal that took aim at any culturally relevant figure in Denmark.  While the journal was notable and feared for its lampoons Kierkegaard (or Victor Emerita) was first mentioned in praise for work Either/Or.  Kierkegaard (Emerita) responded publicly by asking how he could be so insulted as to be praised in The Corsair.  While there are many layers involved in understanding why this exchange escalated the way it did one aspect was the growing awareness of Kierkegaard as the author of his pseudonymous works.  Once Kierkegaard’s indirect method became engaged directly he was skewered mercilessly for his own personal appearance, affect and mannerisms.  It is said that the phrases ‘Soren’ or ‘Either/Or’ became pejorative terms hurled at him in the streets.  He was also consistently compared to a local known as ‘Crazy Nathanson’.

What interests me is the extent to which this escalation reflects Kierkegaard’s vehement guard against directness.  To what extent was The Corsair taunting him to see if he would show his cards and lose composure.  Kierkegaard it seems never lost his composure though he appears to have been hurt considerably in the process.  I admit that my reading of this volume was a little more superficial as I found the historical understanding more interesting than the texts themselves.  I did however pause over an extended comment by Kierkegaard rejecting any notion that he is interested in changing externals (politics).  It seems as though from the very beginning people were interested in leveraging a political theory out of him.  I thought it worth offering his comments almost in full.

In Ursin’s Arithmetic, which was used in my school days, a reward was offered to anyone who could find a miscalculation in the book.  I also promise a reward to anyone who can point out in these numerous books a single proposal for external change, or the slightest suggestion of such a proposal, or even anything that in the remotest way even for the most nearsighted person at the greatest distance could resemble an intimation of such a proposal or of a belief that the problem is lodged in externalities, that external change is what is needed, that external change is what will help us.

. . .

There is nothing about which I have greater misgivings than about all that even slightly tastes of this disastrous confusion of politics and Christianity, a confusion that can very easily bring about a new kind and mode of Church reformation, a reverse reformation that in the name of reformation puts something new and worse in place of something old and better, although it is still supposed to be an honest-to-goodness reformation, which is then celebrated by illuminating the entire city.

Christianity is inwardness, inward deepening.  If at a given time the forms under which one has to live are not the most perfect, if they can be improved, in God’s name do so.  But essentially Christianity is inwardness.  Just as man`s advantage over animals is to be able to live in any climate, so also Christianity’s perfection, simply because it is inwardness, is to be able to live, according to its vigor, under the most imperfect conditions and forms, if such be the case.  Politics is the external system, this Tantalus-like busyness about external change.

It is apparent from his latest work that Dr R. believes that Christianity and the Church are to be saved by ‘the free institutions.’ If this faith in the saving power of politically achieved free institutions belongs to true Christianity, then I am no Christian, or, even worse, I am a regular child of Satan, because, frankly, I am indeed suspicious of these politically achieved free institutions, especially of their saving, renewing power. . . . [I] have had nothing to do with ‘Church’ and ‘state’ – this is much too immense for me.  Altogether different prophets are needed for this, or, quite simply, this task ought to be entrusted to those who are regularly appointed and trained for such things.  I have not fought for the emancipation of ‘the Church’ an more than I have fought for the emancipation of Greenland commerce, or women, of the Jews, or of anyone else. (53-54)

Kierkegaard continues on in this letter to drive home with all clarity that external institutions and systems cannot essentially hinder or encourage Christian faith.  The question I have with respect to contemporary forms of ‘liberation theology and thought’ is whether this reading and presentation within Kierkegaard’s larger project can truly be said to move towards the liberation of the individual, that is, beyond political/economic (Greenland), gender (women), or religious (Jew) boundaries.

Whether or not Kierkegaard is being completely ironic he concedes space for those who can understand and interpret the larger social systems (different prophets).  I also think it is important that he encourages any who can improve on their surroundings to do so.  I say this is important not because it is a minor concession by Kierkegaard but because it is assumed.  If someone would try to critique him on this level he would likely ask how ignorant that person is in thinking that someone should not improve conditions around them only that something must transcend the quantitative value (and it still is value) that externals can play in life.


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