skip to Main Content
Henrik Jonasson – Blót

Kierkegaard and the Leap of Tradition – Part 1

Series: Kierkegaard and the Leap of Tradition

Man is thrown alone into the contradictory co-existence of both the eternal and the temporary, and it rests on him to climb the narrow road towards faith.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) was a Danish philosopher, theologian and poet, who through his life wrestled with the question of how one could become a truly religious man. Kierkegaard saw the individual as both the starting point and the end of the spiritual quest, and put both the unlimited freedom and responsibility of existence on his shoulders. Man is thrown alone into an absurd life, constituted by the contradictory co-existence of both the eternal and the temporary, and it rests on him to climb the narrow road towards faith, where the paradox is overcome. He must make a leap, a contradictory dual movement, which reaches for the eternal at the same time as it lands in his own, finite individuality, making him a manifestation of God’s will and love. Kierkegaard’s focus on the individual’s own act and choice, the absurdity of existence, and the deeply personal, psychological and poetic way in which he expressed his philosophy, has established him as the father of modern existentialism. But we must see that the dual movement which troubled him, that leap which each individual must take himself, also points backwards through time, not only too the roots of Christianity, but to Tradition itself. For what is Tradition, if not the personal act of a man, who both reaches for Being, and lands in the small part of Becoming that is his own?

Any man who believes himself to have been given truth by his birth will never reach further than the Mother who birthed him.

Kierkegaard is wholly a Christian writer, and for non-Christian men of the right, his themes can sometimes be inaccessible, uninteresting, or even pitiful. The unlimited freedom of man is coupled with his unlimited sinfulness, and if man truly takes upon himself to reach for God, he will be struck by guilt, wavering angst and melancholy, all of which permeate Kierkegaard’s writings. But nevertheless, if a man, Christian or not, knows himself to be more than a lump of matter, he will feel that he too must face the leap which troubles Kierkegaard, and this makes his writings greatly interesting for any political thought which aims for more than oblivion in the embrace of matter. This text will, after presenting Kierkegaard’s thought, look at the double leap from two new perspectives, namely that of sexuality and that of right-wing politics, both to earn greater understanding of the leap itself, and of the viewpoints deployed.

In Kierkegaard’s time, Hegel had a prestigious reputation in Denmark, and influenced both philosophers and priests, much to the dismay of Kierkegaard, who saw Hegel and idealism to be in direct contradiction to Christianity. He would develop much of his thought in opposition to Hegel, and in Philosophical Fragments (1844), he sheds light on the main differences between idealism and Christianity. In idealism, the eternal essence of the world is identified with the idea and the rational thought, and thus man carries within himself, from the moment of birth, all prerequisites for reaching the eternal. It is, as in Plato’s works, essentially a matter of recollection. In Hegel’s philosophy, eternity, that is the world spirit, realizes itself logically and dialectically through history, and when the realization is made complete (according to Hegel, by his own philosophy) man must only understand this dialectic to reach the truth. But for Kierkegaard, this ignores the fatal incompleteness of man, and posits his flawed faculty of thought as the eternal, ignoring the true eternity which rests far beyond man. Birth itself can’t give man the way to eternity; it rather divides him from it through the original sin, and it must be eternity that reaches down for man, that is, God himself must become man to show man the way. In idealism, man can at any time by his own reach the eternal, and his teacher is secondary, but in Christianity, the teacher, that is Christ, is everything, and only once man has put his complete faith in him, God in the form of a living and breathing person, can he be shown the true nature of God and eternity.

This stance Kierkegaard takes against the incompleteness of human birth, and the dependence on eternity to show itself to man, may seem to be a mere consequence of the Christian, lunar idea of salvation, not being relevant to the solar, more heroic traditions of the Indo-Europeans. But this is not true, for any man who believes himself to have been given truth by his birth will never reach further than the Mother who birthed him. For our birth as an individual, everything we possess, whether it be reason, blood or our humanity in general, is a part of Becoming, given by the great Woman, and it signifies a divergence from the eternal, indivisible and indeterminable Being that is the Sky Father and Man, and bound by our birth, it is impossible to truly become complete Being. In ourselves, we are nothing, but we become something when we are the true manifestation of this Being, that is, when it has come down to us, and we live in its spirit. Man needs a second birth from above, the initiation which Evola shows is essential in the Aryan Tradition, and only when the divine has shown itself to man, and he has shown himself to be worthy, is he raised from his material birth to the state of a real man, able to act on the behalf of Being. This initiation is solar and aristocratic, while the salvation is lunar and available to all, but we cannot be blinded by the splendour of the heroic act of initiation, as the fact still remains, that all acts are limited, and that it is eternity, the great Father, who must reach his hand down to us, and give us our second birth. In the end, no matter how brave he may be, man doesn’t grow wings and storm Valhalla, but is carried there by the Valkyrie, admitted by Odin.

If one thinks one is complete in one’s first birth, one stays in the realm of matter, of the great Mother, and one can at most, by servitude to her, fulfil the material qualities one is given by her, only to be dissolved into her again. The ‘world spirit’ of Hegel is not eternity, but rather the Mother of rational thought, and by only reaching to fulfil this thought, one may take one’s place as a great man in the community of rational thought that she has birthed, but one will not reach eternity, and thus the thought will stand unfulfilled, as a mere ghost of Becoming. Similarly, the national man thinks that one is completed by one’s birth into a community of blood, by the Mother of the people, and that by this birth one has the path to eternity within oneself; but by thinking so, he will never reach eternity, and thus the blood will stand unfulfilled. And that the birth as a mere ‘human being’, which is the community liberals and socialists rest upon, is a folly, need not to be explained.

By claiming the need of eternity to reach down to man, Kierkegaard has struck an essential truth. We could repeat here as said many times elsewhere, that the Christian salvation carries the morality of the slave, the weakness and poison of the Jewish concept of sin etc. etc., or we could admit that the essence of the sacrifice of Christ is eternity reaching its hand down toward man, and encouraging him to grab it. The Christian salvation may be available to all, differentiating it from initiation, but it is not gained passively just because of its availability. It is after the Christian has witnessed the sacrifice of Christ that his true struggle begins; only then does it fall upon him to summon his unwavering faith, and throw himself against the world. Christ calls for him to make that dual leap, which reaches both the eternity offered, and lands in the act of his individual life; that is, Christ calls for Tradition, and the Christian must show himself worthy.

What besides love can explain why Being chose to dethrone itself and give rise to Becoming? What else could motivate Being to let his sun and rain fall and give life to the earth?

Furthermore, the absurdity that God would degrade himself in the form of a mere man, and suffer helplessly on the cross for the sake of the world, is not merely the religious wish of a slave. A young and healthy man may rightly flinch when he hears the Christian tell him that this greatest sacrifice is the love of God, but yet it truly captures the absurdity of existence in itself. For why would Being, in its absolute, eternal and perfect Nothingness, need the broken forms of Becoming? Why would it bring to existence the incomplete chaos that is the world, when it in itself is the complete order matter can only dream of? Why this struggle, why this endless cycle of birth and death, if it can never add to the glory of the absolute Being? Being has chosen to live through the temporal, it has chosen to take the form of matter, to be born from the foul womb of the great Woman, and love the same again, and that’s why we and the world exist. What besides love can explain why Being chose to dethrone itself and give rise to Becoming? What else could motivate Being to let his sun and rain fall and give life to the earth? What else could motivate him to chose to be a creator, to embrace the dead wood and clay of the great Mother, and breathe the kiss of life?

No matter what sentimental morality Christ told of, no matter what false promises he gave of the redemption of the slave, of resurrection and eternal joy in paradise, no matter what chains of sinfulness he exhorted humanity to carry, the faults of his teachings can never reach to defile his great body, where it eternally looms over humanity on the cross. For here, in the God who chose to live and die as a mere man, we do not see the Jewish wish to be repaid thousandfold in a life after death, but the absurd love eternity has given the temporal world, the paradox which is at the root of all existence. The resurrection and second coming of Christ, the promise of eternal life in paradise, is not needed, for Christ is already complete in his death. The world was not created as a test, only to let the chosen be dissolved into Being again, for why would Being wish to test itself, only to become itself again? The world is rather the great unity of Being and Becoming, created by the love of Being, and what greater affirmation of this can be given, than God choosing to die on the cross? What better image can be given, of that union of matter and spirit which is Tradition, the fulfilment of the world?

Looking past the anxious spirit of Christianity, this great love of Being is the perennial truth and absurdity which concerns Kierkegaard in his writings, and Kierkegaard knows that it is up to every man himself to fulfil this promise and take the leap of faith (or if one needs other words, the leap of will). Kierkegaard’s writings thus concern the individual and his absolute freedom, not in modernity’s sense of the arbitrary, but in the total and sublime personal responsibility for creating his own life, and realizing the will of that eternity which calls at his own core, that Being which only he can know, and the only Being he truly knows. In Stages on Life’s Way (1845) and other works, he writes of the personal stages a man must pass through in search for his absolute core. The first is the stage of the aesthete, and it can be summarized as the man who has gotten a feeling for the absolute nature of his person, but can’t reach past himself as a mere material individual. The aesthete only cares for himself, and looks upon the world as a challenge to reach as great pleasure and artistic sublimity as possible. He might be a great genius, an artist or a lover, but of course he can’t escape the creeping dread of the meaninglessness and vanity of it all. If he truly realizes this dread, he will turn to his antithesis, which is the ethical. The ethical man takes up every duty that can be expected of a man of his birth, and employ his energies to their completion. The ethical man is a man of the community, and to be ethical is simply to do what’s good for the common.

But as we discussed earlier, to simply fulfil one’s place in the common is not enough, as one does not reach above the material birth one was given by the Mother. Man will look up towards the immovable sky of Being, and feel that his true essence is that given by the Sky Father. So Kierkegaard turns to the great, personal leap of faith, from which man reaches the final and complete stage, that of the religious man, through which man once again become fully an individual, but an individual who by his holiness reaches a paradoxical state of being greater than the common.

In Fear and Trembling (1843) Kierkegaard explores this individual who is greater than the common group he is a part of – that of the religious man – by examining the story of Abraham. When Abraham chose to fulfil God’s test and sacrifice the son that God had promised him, he broke past the ethical. For in the ethical realm, Abraham had no greater common than his family, and his greatest duty was the loving and protecting duty of the father. God gives Abraham a personal test, something which alone proves himself and his faith, and it requires him to neglect his greatest duty, and sacrifice his son. But Abraham does not act as a mere individual, for the good of his empirical I; he acts through his transcendent I, through the breath God gave man, and this overrides every material form and puts him in an absolute relation with the eternal. Through his faith in God, the man Abraham become the holy man Abraham, and this quality sets him as a lightning bolt above the common which his material individual is merely a subset of. But the greatness of his act does not end there, for in his unmovable faith, he both wholly believes that God will give him Isaac as promised, and that God will take him away as promised. He does not set out to sacrifice Isaac because he knows that God will stop him, or because he knows that Isaac must die, but because his unmovable faith overrides the absurdity posed in the challenge – Abraham both loves Isaac and God fully, he both reaches towards the eternal will of God, and his temporal love and duty for his son. And thus when he raises the knife, he makes that leap which both reaches the eternal, and lands in the temporal. God gives Isaac back, not to the man Abraham, but to the holy man Abraham, and Abraham’s duty to his son has transcended the ethical, and become the religious.

The task of the ethical man is simply to be strong of will, to be able to choose the good of the common weal when it means the ruin of himself. And while this is tremendous and admirable, while it gives birth to the great tragic heroes, it by itself cannot reach eternity. For the ethical man makes a finite movement of resignation, while the realm of the infinite demands an infinite resignation. In only sacrificing himself to the common weal, man sacrifices his finite individual for something which is materially greater than him, but which nevertheless remains finite, and thus he never breaks out of the finite. In order to make the resignation infinite, man must not only forget himself, but move beyond every duty, every meaning and every joy that the finite world outside of him can give him, until he stands completely alone in front of the eternal. For there is a great joy in the ethical, the joy and comfort of being part of something greater, of performing an act which outlives one’s own life, and being lamented as a great, tragic hero – but the infinite demands the sacrifice of this great joy, as the man who has been struck by the sublime greatness of eternity can’t let himself escape into the warm embrace of the common, of the Mother who birthed him. He must himself scale the sharp edges of the mountain, out of his own, absolute freedom, and there at the top like Abraham face the terrible God.

Everything, no matter how great it is, fades into insignificance when faced with the infinite and terrible Being.

But the infinite resignation is only the start, for thereafter man must make that paradoxical double movement back, he must from the top of the mountain take a leap which both returns to his home in the valley, and reaches the infinite skies above. He must win back everything he resigned, every duty, meaning and joy, but do so with that permeating light of infinity, which gives everything below its true value. He must see to that nothing has been lost, but that everything has been gained, that he like Abraham both sacrifices and gains the world, greater than before. Kierkegaard tells of the noble knight of the infinite resignation, who has given up every love and woman in the world, in order to love a princess he may never gain – yes, who loves her with such a great sacrifice and strength, that he by loving her loves the eternal beauty in itself, that he by her is guided to the holy heavens like Dante by Beatrice. There is nothing in his love but the unending pain of the infinite resignation, but suddenly he is struck by a great faith, the great absurdity, that she will nevertheless belong to him one day. The princess becomes a woman of flesh and warmth, like all the other women he has forsaken, yet his love remains infinite, and his great struggles in the world now aim, not to resign himself, but to embrace that living shard of eternity. He has become a knight of faith.

Kierkegaard has seen these great knights of faith in the fabled past, but where are they today? He has searched, but never seen one, and he begs that one be brought before him – and there one appears, a mere burgher of Copenhagen! He does not walk with that gravity which comes with the great miseries of the knight of infinite resignation, no, he care-freely strolls the streets and parks of the city. There are no great and sublime words of poetry coming from his mouth, but only the relaxed chattering with old friends. There are no flaming declarations of faith and humility in face of the terrible God, but only the singing of ordinary psalms on Sunday. He has no great thoughts, but when he walks home in the evening, he only imagines what the wife might have cooked, and then he sits there, watching the children play and smoking his pipe. Nothing on the outside makes him differ from the ordinary burgher, but he has made that elusive double leap, he has seen eternity with his heart, without ever forgetting the scent of his home. He has completely put his faith in Christ, and now he lives in that little part of the world that is completely his own, as if it was eternity itself.

By this, Kierkegaard of course does not idealize the life of a bourgeois as the culmination of existence, but rather realizes that the essence of the religious man, of true Tradition, is not whatever position and faculties fate has happened to given him in the material world, but only his capability to know and live the eternal in the position which fate gave him. No great mind, no great heroism or great power is in itself sufficient to reach the eternal. It would be ridiculous to believe that the absolute Being needed a simple burgher, but equally ridiculous that Being needed the hero or the king, that it would need the people, history or the whole world altogether. Everything, no matter how great it is, fades into insignificance when faced with the infinite and terrible Being. It is only when man makes this double movement that he becomes anything at all, that his life becomes a true work of the eternal. By the power fated to man, this work of his own may be small or big, but by the touch of eternity, it is everything, yes, paradoxically greater than the whole material world which it rose from. A man might only be a simple burgher, but if he has made this leap, no other greatness is needed.

Leave a Reply

The comment section of Arktos Journal will be regulated by standards consonant to the principles of the project itself. Our general rules are as follows:

  • Comments will not be moderated on the basis of the opinions expressed (controversy is welcome), but rather on their quality.
  • Contributors are requested to obey the rules of civility, without which all discourse is null, and to avoid crude personal attacks. Wit is welcome, but argument, and not insult, will be the expected means of refutation.
  • Obscenities, vulgarity and slurs will not be tolerated.
  • Contributors are invited to check their contributions for general grammatical correctness (allowances will obviously be made for second-language speakers) and logical cohesiveness.

As a general guideline, all contributors should imagine that they are speaking their minds aloud in a public space, unhindered by political correctness but bound to the older standards of honour and decency in speech.

All decisions of the moderators are final.

Back To Top