I teach philosophy, ethics and the Christian Tradition in college and regularly spend some time with Soren Kierkegaard, particularly his book “Fear and Trembling.” SK focuses on the single individual and the angst of possible futures that arise from free will. SK’s nemesis is the crowd, the herd. Often called the Father of Existentialism, SK is at the headwaters of a philosophical movement that pushed back against the collectivism of Hegel and those who followed, those who saw history as revelatory of truth and of “God.” As history progressed, so it was asserted, the Real and the Absolute were manifest. It was much of this genre of thought that was behind the work of Karl Marx and his utopian communism. To stand against the people manifest in the State was to stand against the flow of history and time. One can only imagine the minimal attention given to the significance of the individual and individual choice.
SK was thoroughly Christian and saw in the biblical characters, particularly Abraham, true Knights of Faith, ones who saw their Absolute Duty to God and did not rely on others to mediate to them the true way. The true Christian is not a second-hander, to use the phrase of Ayn Rand.
Understanding and appreciating SK is critical to unwrapping 19th century philosophical movements that rushed like a torrent into the 20th. Yet SK is notoriously inaccessible. His use of Socratic irony and his playful use of pseudonymity for and in his books can easily lose the reader. He meant it to be so. He wrote like life is. Things don’t go in straight lines. So a book that brings some blue sky to cloudy terrain is appreciated, and Stephen Backhouse’s Kierkegaard: A Single Life is just that book.
I have finished one reading and now on my second. I see a third reading quickly following. Not only does Backhouse offer of a graspable outline of SK, he stimulates us with it to think more deeply about the nature of truth, the depth of our struggle, and the exploits of true faith.
The bottom line is that he motivates me to want to read SK more widely by giving me a frame of understanding, a rhythm of his thought process and identification of the currents and cross currents I will encounter.
I will have more to add later on. But for now there is only one point to make – BUY THIS BOOK. And, oh yeh, read it, too. 🙂