Page 1



istorism and evolutionism—the two legacies of the nineteenth century to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—have seared into the conviction of the later-born the insipid tenet that every thought is the product of its time. Whoever accepts this seems at first to have struck a good bargain, for historism frees the individual from the monstrous weight of the philosophia perennis and offers the possibility of traveling through time with lighter baggage. It suffices to place oneself at the leading edge of the development as a way of dealing with the drawback of relativism, that of one’s own obsolescence. Historical thinking seeks to replace the absolute but illusory sovereignty that metaphysics granted with the relative sovereignty of thinking that is allowed to regard itself as advanced. Kierkegaard can teach us, however, that historism is a trick for attaining the vantage point of postmetaphysics at half the price. For Kierkegaard, 66

radical thinking is not the progeny of its time; it is the acknowledgment of its facticity. The most important qualifier by which more recent thinkers have sought to mark out their place within the line of fundamental epochal positions and philosophical systems is without a doubt a date: after Hegel. The latter has been associated with a dual suggestion. For one, the formula “after Hegel” stands for the notion that Hegel’s work completed what had been begun in ancient Greece. Henceforth, the history of philosophy can be systematically presented as the epic of the concept that penetrates itself. But if the history of the mind is simultaneously the substance of world history, the consummation of the one implies also the consummation of the other. When following the great migration of the mind from Ionia to Jena, there begins an endless period of leisure, when the fruits of the historical battles can be contemplatively and playfully enjoyed. In this framework, dating oneself “post-Hegel” means making a place for oneself as a gratefully enlightened epigone in a world that is in principle finished. But of course the date “after Hegel” also describes the protest against the idyll of the philosophy of history. For it corresponds to the spontaneous life experience of most people that in their case the reasonable is not yet the real and the real is not yet the reasonable. This objection leads to the position of the Young Hegelians in the broader sense. Their chief complaint against Hegel is only that he was premature. If they have a critical appreciation of the master’s work, it is not as the final but the penultimate chapter of history. They insist on the distinction that the consummation of the theory by no means implies already its practical realization; rather, from now until further notice one must continually “move” from theory to praxis. This group of post-Hegelians postpones the moment of consummation to a later date, until at long last justice will have been done also to the claims of those entities kierkegaard


skipped over by Hegel’s mind: the proletariat, women, the marginalized, colonized peoples, the mentally and emotionally ill, discriminated minorities, and, finally, all of enslaved nature. All of these entities are possible subjects and drivers of ongoing history to the degree that they put forth demands by virtue of their informed discontent, demands that must be met through historical labors and struggles before the Now of the jaded posthistory can dawn. That is why the root slogan of unsatisfied postHegelianism is: the struggle continues. The final work remains to be done. The theory that is still engaged in the struggle presents itself as the critical one: it carries the torch of truth through a world not yet real; it totalizes the perspective of the dissatisfied part onto the sanctimonious whole. Its date is the period of the transition from theoretical anticipation to practical consummation: after Hegel—before the empire of reason. If one follows merely chronology, one might expect from Kierkegaard nothing other than a variation of post-Hegelian thinking. In actuality, Kierkegaard broke with the metaphysical scheme of consummation as a whole and located himself in a time that no longer had anything in common with the extended final games of the Enlightenment and the end of history. With that, he imparted a completely different meaning to the position “post-Hegel,” one that means neither the contented awareness of accomplished absolute reflection, nor the critical postponement of consummation. For a thinking in the time of existence, the issue is not to assume some position left open by Hegel. Rather, the name “Hegel” stands for the massif of metaphysics as a whole from which existential thinking seeks to break away by no longer leaning on what is objective, but by keeping open the unfathomableness of its subjectivity. Anyone who intends to break with Hegel in full awareness of doing so must simultaneously reject along with him the Platonic legacy and the better part of Christian theology. 68 kierkegaard

Kierkegaard’s existential reflection uncovers for itself and his contemporaries the necessity of deeper dates: if subjectivity is the truth (and the untruth), the imperative is to date oneself in a destructive sense after Plato and in an absurd sense after and yet contemporaneous with Christ. Plato had established philosophy as metaphysics when he implanted in it the masterful claim of transcending the imperfect to the perfect, the finite to the infinite. These philosophical transcendencies had the quality of sublime regressions in which the existing intellect groped its way to preexistential intuitions. The fundamental metaphysical act— transcendence—means precisely this: withdrawing from time to regain the origin in the Absolute. Kierkegaard radically questioned this tendency of philosophy; for him it was impossible to rise into the Timeless on the light thread of concepts. The human mind’s journey home to God, undertaken time and again since the days of Plato and the Church Fathers, strikes him as a treacherous career into which the individual in the metaphysical world age allowed himself to be enticed—not least under the banner of ruling Christianity. But it is the truth of subjectivity to return, after all upswings, to its discord and its doubt. For Kierkegaard this manifested itself especially in the act of faith, by which the human being after Christ defied the abyss of the unbelievableness of Christian doctrines. Only a Christianity that was metaphysized and inflated into sacral folklore of power could imagine that the tradition of the martyrs, the saints, and the fathers of theology adds up to evidence upon which the individual believer can look back just as calmly as the philosopher can upon his inner archetypes. For Kierkegaard, however, the individual stands before the Christian legend utterly dumbfounded. Should he decide to take up the mantle of discipleship, then it certainly should not be because so many power mongers, hysterics, and conformists have preceded him along this path. Faith is valid only because of a decision of trust for kierkegaard


which external supporting reasons cannot be adduced in the final analysis. To Kierkegaard, believing does not mean giving in to a comfortable urge of imitation in the ecclesiastical and imperial framework, but making a choice in the face of the unbelievable. In this choice “as for the first time� Kierkegaard discovers the heartbeat of existential time that is open to the future. With it, there opens up the possibility for something essentially new that would be valid not only by virtue of its similarity with eternal models. In this sense one can contend that the thinking of radical modernity floating in experiments begins with Kierkegaard. He was the first to enter the age of doubt, suspicion, and the creative decision.

70 kierkegaard

Peter Sloterdijk on Kierkegaard  

Read the chapter on Soren Kierkegaard from Peter Sloterdijk's Philosophical Temperaments. In this book, Sloterdijk turns his keen eye to the...