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


     Kierkegaard felt himself irresistibly drawn to Abraham, but he "understood" in Abraham only what recalled to him Socrates in his first and second incarnations. He tried in every way to make Abraham pass into a "new" category but did not succeed in this at all. The most extraordinary thing is that, quite like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard comes to the boundary beyond which Socrates' enchantment no longer acts on man and where the freedom for which we passionately long awaits us, but it is impossible for him to pass beyond this boundary and follow Abraham.

     Above all, Abraham is for Kierkegaard a man driven out of the "universal" and deprived, therefore, of the protection of universal and necessary truths. Kierkegaard dares to say, "Faith is the paradox that the individual as individual is above the universal." He even repeats this a page further. But both times he makes a reservation: "He only, however, is as an individual man above the universal who has first submitted to the universal and has become a man, an individual, through the universal."

     This reservation is extremely characteristic of Kierkegaard's thought. He, who so violently attacked and mocked Hegel, nevertheless does not cease seeking everywhere the dialectical movement, the natural development. Hardly does he glorify the Absurd and proclaim that he who wishes to possess faith must renounce reason and thought than it appears that one cannot renounce it, that it is necessary to observe a certain order and rigorous progression. And this at the very moment when reason, which has established all "orders" and all "rigors" no longer has any power over us. "God is the friend of order," he writes, without suspecting that this is equivalent to saying God is the slave of order. In Plato, in those brief moments when he succeeds at the cost of an extreme tension of all the faculties of his soul in delivering himself from the reason which crushes him, there arises always the "sudden" (exaiphnês), as proclaimer of the wished for but far removed freedom. Kierkegaard fears the "sudden" and does not trust freedom, even when it comes from God. Comparing Abraham to the tragic hero, he is ready to envy the latter. "The tragic hero renounces himself in order to permit the universal to express itself; the knight of faith renounces the universal in order to become a particular man... He who imagines that it is quite comfortable to be a particular man can be sure that he is not a knight of faith. The knight of faith knows, on the contrary, that it is a glorious thing to belong to the universal... He knows how pleasant it is to be a man who has his fatherland in the universal, who finds in the universal a sweet refuge where he is gathered with open arms when the desire to enter it takes hold of him. But he knows that above the universal rises a solitary, narrow and abrupt path; he knows how fearful it is to be born solitary, to follow an always empty road without ever encountering a living soul. He knows very well where he is and how men regard him. Humanly speaking, he is a madman and can make no one understand him. "A madman" - the expression is too weak. If people refuse to consider him mad, then he is a hypocrite and the higher he ascends on the path the more frightful a hypocrite he is. The knight of faith knows that it is good to hand oneself over to the universal. This demands courage but brings with it peace, precisely because it is done for the sake of the universal."

     "It is a glorious thing to belong to the universal!" We recognize this thought: Socrates and Spinoza not only proclaimed it, they actualized it in their lives. But we recall also something else: the universal and necessary truths demand of man that he accept aequo animo everything, including the bull of Phalaris, that fate brings him; they demand that he be ready to transform himself from a res cogitans into an asinus turpissimus. Aristotle did not suspect this, but Socrates and Spinoza knew it perfectly well. When Kierkegaard speaks of the tragic, he holds to the Aristotelian point of view: one can envy the tragic hero - the universal and necessary truths take his side. And Kierkegaard even refers to the Aristotelian conception of tragedy. He also quotes, with an indulgence that seems hardly compatible with his character, Aristotle's corrective to Socrates' ethic of which we have already spoken, i.e., that it is necessary for the virtuous man to have a certain minimum of temporal goods. Kierkegaard's indulgence is, of course, explainable. He makes every possible effort to introduce Abraham into another "category" than that which he marked out for Socrates. Thus, when it is a question of the "ethical" or of the "tragic hero," he tends to separate himself in the sharpest possible way from Socrates and, to accomplish this more easily, substitutes Aristotle for Socrates.

     Abraham, as I have already said, is above all, for Kierkegaard, a man driven out of the universal and therefore deprived of the protection of universal and necessary truths. "The knight of faith is completely abandoned to himself, and it is in this that the horror of his situation consists." He decides everything himself and always at his own risk and peril. He cannot take counsel of anyone. He cannot even find any support in the church. "The hero of the church expresses the universal by his acts... There is no one in the church who does not understand him. The hero of faith is deprived of this... Even if a man were timorous and cowardly enough to wish to become a hero of faith at others' risk, he would not succeed. For only the individual man as such can become a knight of faith. It is in this that his greatness, which I understand even though I cannot myself attain it, consists; but it is in this likewise that the horror of the situation, which I understand even better, consists."

     These confessions contain an extremely important truth. We recall that Nietzsche said the same thing but in other terms: when he saw himself obliged to leave the universal, or, as he himself put it, "to kill the law," he almost became mad with horror. But there is in Kierkegaard's case a particularity that is at first sight negligible but produces the effect of a dissonance and is significant. Kierkegaard speaks not only of the horror but also of the greatness of the situation of the knight of faith. The very term "knight of faith" sounds rather strange: one could say that faith implores the benediction of the very universal that it has fled. Is not the "knightly," indeed, one of the categories that belongs, so to speak, to the "ethical"? But the tribute paid to the "ethical" is still more manifest in the "greatness" imputed to the knight of faith and in Kierkegaard's efforts to place the knight of faith at a level above the tragic hero in the hierarchy of human values. This also is a tribute to the "universal": Kierkegaard could not resolve to break once and for all with the habits of thought that men had adopted after Socrates, who provided the principle of philosophy for all time. If Kierkegaard had wished and been able to speak all of the truth, he would have had to root out from his soul all the ideas of "greatness" and of "knightliness" that his memory suggested to him. To one who has dedicated himself to faith there remains only "horror," and he must renounce forever all "consolations" that the "universal," by raising some to the dignity of "knight" and according to others "greatness," has distributed. Aristotle could speak of the greatness and beauty of the tragic: he saw it on the stage. But for the man who has lived tragedy in his own soul these terms have no meaning. Tragedy is the absence of any way out. There is nothing beautiful in this, nothing great; it is only ugliness and misery. The universal and necessary truths not only do not support the man fallen into a situation with no way out but do everything, on the contrary, to crush him once and for all. Man sees every way cut off precisely at the moment when the universal and necessary truths, which promised to sustain and console him in all circumstances, suddenly reveal their true face and demand imperiously of man that he transform himself from res cogitans into asinus turpissimus.

     Should not Kierkegaard, who had been drawn by the Absurd because it was the Absurd precisely that promised to deliver him from universal and necessary truths, have known this? God can give Abraham another son, God can bring Isaac life, nothing is impossible for God... But as I have indicated, neither in his books nor in his Journal did Kierkegaard ever dare say that his Isaac was none other than Regine Olsen and that it was because of Regine Olsen that he had had the audacity to proclaim his "suspension of the ethical." This was his "secret" that he hid from the "ethical," that he hid from the Absurd, that he was unwilling even to admit to himself. For scarcely would he have called it by its true name than the universal and necessary truths would have deprived him not only of the title "knight of faith" but also that of "tragic hero." The worst thing for Kierkegaard is that he was aware that everything that had happened to him had happened "naturally," without God or the devil or even pagan fate having intervened in any way. This Kierkegaard, who was prepared to bear everything, could not accept. But he could no longer destroy this nightmare. It is for this reason that it was necessary for him to persuade himself that his break with Regine was a voluntary sacrifice - the repetition, in a way, of Abraham's sacrifice, who had agreed with God only because his was also a voluntary sacrifice. But whence does Kierkegaard know that God is more pleased with voluntary sacrifices than with others? We cannot put such a question to Socrates. His "ignorance" furnished him a definite answer; but had not Kierkegaard repeated many times that Socrates was a pagan and that he, Kierkegaard, had nothing to learn from Socrates? Now it appears that the Christian also cannot do without Socrates, just as he cannot do without universal and necessary truths.

     At the same time that he wrote Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard wrote his Repetition, the subject of which is not Abraham but Job. Job, as is known, did not voluntarily kill his sons nor dissipate his wealth. All these misfortunes broke upon him suddenly without his expecting them. He has not even the right to claim the high dignity of the tragic hero. He is quite simply a miserable old man, like many - a burden on himself and on others. In our time of war and social upheaval one meets such Jobs at almost every corner of the street. Yesterday a king, today only a beggar lying on an ash-heap, scratching his boils with a shard. And yet, the biblical Job, who was neither a knight nor a tragic hero, succeeds in drawing Kierkegaard's attention and "merits" that the philosopher should devote to him, as to Abraham, an entire book - Repetition. One can say of this book what Kierkegaard himself said of Fear and Trembling: "if men felt the somber pathos that animates it, they would be seized with horror." Repetition is also written in "fear and trembling" by a man upon whom has fallen the terrible hammer and who asks himself in his terror whence the blow came to him: is it the malleus Dei, the hammer of God, or simply the "natural" power of the universal and necessary truths? According to the Bible, it was God who tested Job as He tested Abraham. But we cannot "know" this: "what is the knowledge that can be so constructed that a place is found for testing, which, in the infinite perspective of thought, does not exist, for it exists only for the individual? Such a knowledge does not exist, such a knowledge cannot exist."

     But to what purpose does Kierkegaard invoke Job's memory and raise all these terrible questions? The hero of Repetition, just like Kierkegaard, was a man who was obliged to break with his fiancée. "Oh, my unforgettable benefactor," he says, "0 martyred Job! May I join you, may I be with you? Do not push me away I have not possessed your wealth, I have not had seven sons and three daughters. But he also can lose everything who has not had much, and he also can lose son and daughter who has lost that which he loved, and he also can find himself covered with boils who has lost his honor and pride and at the same time the power and meaning of his life." What is it that Kierkegaard expects of Job? Why does he wish "to join him"? "Instead of seeking help from a professor publicus ordinarius celebrated throughout the entire world, my friend [that is, Kierkegaard] runs to a private thinker, Job." The celebrated professor is obviously Hegel. Long before Hegel, however, Spinoza had already seen the "necessity of everything," and Hegel in this respect only repeated Spinoza. Why, then, did Kierkegaard not even once dare to think that the Olympic gods had burst out laughing on hearing Spinoza? Socrates had also taught the universal and necessary truth, but the god of Delphos did not mock him; on the contrary, he proclaimed him the wisest of men.

     What would Job have answered Socrates and Spinoza if they had come to offer him their wisdom and their consolations? Kierkegaard never raised this question, neither at the time that he wrote Fear and Trembling and The Concept of Dread nor in the last years of his life when he so violently attacked the Protestant church and the married pastors. In his Either/Or Kierkegaard permits himself to set Job against Hegel, at whom the gods laughed so gaily. But the gods respected Socrates, and Spinoza was Socrates' second incarnation. Kierkegaard could never overcome the anxiety that he felt before Greek wisdom. We shall see that, according to Kierkegaard, man left the hands of the Creator with his soul filled with anxiety, that anxiety is - in a certain sense - a fundamental trait or even the essential faculty of man. But when he wrote Fear and Trembling and Repetition, Kierkegaard still refused to think thus. He went to Abraham and Job because he saw in them beings who had had the power and audacity to overcome all their anxieties and to rise above the "edification" of Socrates and the Delphic god who had blessed Socrates. Abraham did not know fear; God was with him, God to whom nothing is impossible. And in Job "daily experience" had still not completely destroyed the memory of the time when reason did not rule as master over the earth. Or, more exactly, the misfortunes which fell upon Job reawakened in him this memory.

     Kierkegaard writes: "The importance of Job does not consist in the fact that he said, 'The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.' This he said only at the beginning, he did not repeat it later. The importance of Job consists in the fact that he fights through the boundary disputes to faith, that here that terrible revolt of the wild and pugnacious powers of passion takes place." To put it differently, daily experience or the immediate data of consciousness constitute for men the supreme tribunal in the question of truth: whatever "experience" brings us, whatever the "data" show us, we accept it all and consider it true. In a world where reason rules it is madness to fight against the given. Man can weep and curse the truths that experience reveals to him, but he knows that it is in no one s power to overcome them, that they must be accepted. Philosophy goes even further: the data must not only be accepted, they must be blessed. Nietzsche even tells us that "Necessity does not offend him." Also, Job, a righteous man, begins by completely repressing to the depths of his soul all lugere et detestari (weeping and cursing): "the Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." But as his misfortunes multiply and grow, the tension of the repressed lugere et detestari increases, and this tension finally bursts the hard shell of the self-evidences that paralyze his freedom. "The meaning of Job consists precisely in the fact that he does not diminish the passion of freedom with false consolations."

     Good will and wisdom speak through the mouth of Job's friends; and yet not only do they not succeed in calming him, they only irritate him more. If Socrates or Spinoza had come to console Job, they would not have been able to tell him anything other than what Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad said. They are men and, like all men, they are in the power of the "given." And not only are they in the power of the given, they are condemned to think that everything that exists in the universe, living and dead, powerful and miserable, low and high, shares their fate, that is, is a slave to these truths. Job's friends look at him in silence for seven days. But one cannot look and remain silent forever. One must speak. And hardly do their lips open than they begin, as if obeying Spinoza's precept, to say what they could not refuse to say. Perhaps they realized that a man who speaks thus no longer pro re cogitante sed asino turpissimo habendus (is to be regarded as a thinking thing but rather as a most infamous ass), but they continue to speak, themselves afraid of what they have said. What can be more shameful, what can be more outrageous than the necessity to think and say not what we desire to say but what we are forced to say "by the laws of our nature"? If, at the time of his prosperity and happiness, Job had found himself before a being "fallen from the lap of the universal" and had tried to console him, it is certain that he would have had to tell him only what his friends later had to tell him. Does he not also begin with "the Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord"? And it appears that it is piety that dictated these words to him. Yet it is not piety but wickedness - and even that deepest wickedness, that pietas et obedientia which had permeated the flesh and blood of man after he tasted the fruits of the tree of knowledge - that speaks through his mouth. It seems that Kierkegaard felt this: herein lay the secret that he hid so carefully from the "ethical," herein only lay the meaning of his "suspension of the ethical." But he can only temporarily push aside the "ethical." Not only does he never connect the "ethical" with the fall of man, but the "ethical" appears to him always a necessary dialectical moment in the development of man toward the religious, and - as if he were an orthodox Hegelian - a moment that can only be suspended (aufgehoben) but not once for all abrogated.

     Shortly before his death in 1854, he wrote in his Journal: "...when Christ cried out 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' it was terrible for Christ, and so it is ordinarily presented. But it seems to me that it was still more terrible for God to hear this cry. To be so immutable is horrifying! But no, the most terrible thing is not this, it is to be immutable and at the same time to be Love: infinite, deep, inexpressible suffering! Oh, what have I, a miserable man, suffered in this respect: not to be able to change anything whatever and at the same time to love. I have experienced this, and it helps me to understand even though only a little, from afar, the sufferings of the divine love."

     I think that, after everything that has already been said, these lines need no commentary. The universal and necessary truth has conquered not only Kierkegaard but God Himself. Not everything is possible for God, many things are impossible for Him; and what is impossible is the principal, the most important, the most necessary. God's situation is worse even than Kierkegaard's or Nietzsche's into whose soul has crept "the most fearful, the blackest, the most terrifying." It is with such an "experience" that Kierkegaard approached the biblical story of the original sin. One can say in advance: for man as for God there is only one solution, only one possibility of salvation: the fruits of the tree of knowledge which, after Socrates, became the principle of philosophy for all time and transformed themselves almost under our eyes into Spinoza's beatitudines. The outraged "ethical" will receive complete satisfaction: man will reveal to it all his secrets. Hegel, whom Kierkegaard had offended still more than the "ethical," will perhaps forget all the cruel words that the rabid author of Either/Or had directed at him. And then the Olympic gods will no longer laugh at Hegel, but it will be Hegel's turn to laugh at the Olympic gods.

Orphus system

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