“In times like these everything is politics” writes Soeren Kierkegaard in his preface to “The individual”, (Two “notes” concerning my authorship). A little further on in the same preface, he says: “An impatient politician, who hastily looks through these pages, will probably find little for his edification: that is the way it is. On the other hand, if he would kindly be a bit patient: I am convinced that he will see even by the short hints that are communicated in these papers, that the religious is the transfigured version of that, which a politician, insofar as he really loves to be human and loves humanity, has thought in his happiest moment, even though he may find the religious impractical and too elevated and ideal.”
Soeren Kierkegaard writes this towards the end of his authorship, when he wished to explain his life and his authorship as having been planned and orderly and in every way led by a higher dispensation, which had selected him to be a religious author. Thus Soeren Kierkegaard wanted to appear to posterity. But elsewhere (“On my authorship”) he admits:
“In a way it was not at all my intention to become a religious author. My intention was to have the poetical over and done with – and then get out on a village vicarage.”
So here we have it in Soeren Kierkegaards own words, that “in a way” it was not his intention to become a religious author. – But the idea of becoming an author he had early on. Only 25 years old he published his first book, “From the papers of one who is still alive”, – a cruel cutting down of the young Hans Christian Andersen. That book certainly has nothing to do with religion.
Prior to that he had already written a few newspaper articles concerning politics. His political authorship thus started before the religous one. And he started it with radiant gusto. There can be no doubt, that if he had been born only a decade later, the main topic of his authorship would have been politics and not religion. – As it was, it was the other way around.-
But that does not mean, that his authorship is solely religious. What he has written on politics should be enough to give him the rank as Denmarks most excellent political writer. This honour has never been bestowed upon him. And he himself wanted to appear to posterity as the religious writer. But that was not the decisive factor in this context. The main thing was, that his political opponents, the National Liberals, who were then trend-setters, found his political views inconvenient. So they wanted Soeren Kierkegaard classified as a religious writer and nothing else.
Their assertion, that Soeren Kierkegaard was not interested in politics has been repeated to this day,
although he has written so much and so strongly on politics, that it would be enough to give him a first place amongst Denmarks political writers – of which there are indeed not very many.
“In these times everything is politics”, Soeren Kierkegaard said. And that statement is no less valid today than when it was said in the 1840’ies. Therefore it will be reasonable to try to summarize, what Soeren Kierkegaard thought of politics and to see it in the light of the opinions of his contemporaries. That has not been attempted before.
This book on Soeren Kierkegaard has, however, been written with another motive – or ulterior motive: Nowadays, when the schools’ education in Christianity is disintegrating and religious ignorance is one of the hallmarks of the youth, there is no other entrance point to the religious authorship of Soeren Kierkegaard than through the political one. – Eduard Geismars direction: to start with the confession speech on the topic “Purity of heart is to will one thing“ is no use any more.
But that is only the entrance point into Soeren Kierkegaards religious authorship, there must be another one than the one, Eduard Geismar recommended in 1927. The authorship as such remains the same.
‘The Kings Copenhagen’ at the beginning of September 1819.
It was now 12 years ago, that the Englishman, “the perfideous Albion” had attacked the city with firebombs and rockets. This outrage had not been forgotten by the citizens of Copenhagen and could not be forgotten either as long as many sites of fire reminded the inhabitants of the city daily of the three nights of horror, when bombs, burning arrows and rockets were raining down upon them. After these horrors came 7 hopeless years of war. The Danish sailors were in captivity in the “Prison” in England. The business houses went bankrupt. Poor people starved and froze during the long winters of the war. And in 1813 the state went bankrupt. When the war was finally over – in 1814 – the capital of the twin-kingdoms Denmark-Norway, once a rich and magnificent city, was an pauperized city of ruins; now only the capital of a small, poor country; for the twin brother, Norway had been forced into the arms of the archfiend, Sweden, by the evil superpowers. The responsibility for the unbroken row of misfortunes was not hard to place. The perfideous Albion, the treacherous Englishmen, bore the main guilt. Next the sly and wily Ponte Corvo, Napoleons treacherous general, who had now settled himself broadly as king of Sweden and Norway.
Now he called himself Charles John the 14 th; but in the eyes of patriotic Danes he was and remained the treacherous revolutionary general. However, the misfortunes of war had several causes. The state bankruptcy was mostly caused by the Jews. The man in the street in Denmark could not explain in detail how the Jews had worked against the interests of the fatherland. It was a complicated matter. But it must be true; because at the same time as the state went bankrupt, many Jews got rich. And during the difficult years after the war they increased their wealth. Now just recently a couple of Jewish business men, the Raphael Brothers in Oestergade(da.: Østergade) had, in a very provocative manner, displayed their wealth, that must have been gathered during Denmarks years of poverty. These Mosaits had had their shop rebuilt and rearranged with large display windows in frames of cast iron, which had never been seen before in Copenhagen. And behind the shining glas windows was drapery, so much and so expensive, that poor Christian folks found such a flashy exhibition of wealth altogether scandalous. And now it was said in the town, that several hundred Jews had wandered across the border from Germany towards Copenhagen and that several thousand more would follow. The rest was obvious. In a few years many of these immigrants would be the owners of the finest shops in the Oestergade. But this was too much. Little handwritten notes were put up on the walls by patriotic youths and on the 4th of September, in the evening, apprentices, sailors, bounders, shop assistants and students gathered in front of the shop of the Raphael Brothers’ in Oestergade. First sounded the defamatory: Hep, Hep … and that gave them courage to shout.
Soon the stones were raining towards the show-window. The police turned out, but they were too few. The hussars had to be called in. Not until around 11 o’clock in the evening was the Oestergade cleared of demonstrators. But the next evening the riots were repeated both in Oestergade, Koebmagergade, Gl. Torv, in Gothersgade, Laederstraedet, Hyskenstraedet and Vimmelskaftet. Everywhere the windows of “the followers of the mosaic faith” were broken. At stockbroker Erfelts in Gothersgade all furniture was smashed and much was stolen. Demonstrators captured the stockbrokers canary. The riots revealed the police to be powerless and the civic guard couldn’t be trusted. Many civic guardsmen even helped the demonstrators with the smashing of windows. The riots continued the following evenings. – During the day it was relatively quiet. The demonstrators were people, who had their work to do, so they only had time in the evenings. Even so the repercussions of the riots of the evenings and nights were felt in the mornings. On one of these unusual mornings, Monday September 6th, the fourteen year-old Odense-boy, Hans Christian Andersen arrived in Copenhagen. As soon as he stepped through Vesterport (The Western Gate), he was surprised by the disquiet and the restlessness in the large multitude of people in the streets. But that is how it must be in a large city, he thought. It was a world of wonders, H. C. Andersen had stepped into. There was no need to explain the excitement and disquiet and the presence af many soldiers. He was in the Kings Copenhagen. At the same time as the 14-years old Odense-boy wandered
through Vestergade, the 5-years old son of a small shopkeeper, Soeren Kierkegaard, sat by the window in his fathers house, Nytorv no. 2, looking out toward Gammeltorv, where the broken windows bore witness to the unusual events of the night before. The little boy had sat by the window often and looked out on the street life: the market-women on Gammeltorv peddling chickens, geese, smoked hams and bacon. Ladies and madams did their shopping at the market-women’s; but they did not carry their shopping home themselves; for that they had a maid with a chip basket; she followed her lady or madam respectfully at 2-3 steps distance. If there was too much shopping for the basket, the lady called a market bounder. The bounders normally helped the farmers load and unload their wagons. Even though the help was unnecessary and unwanted, the farmers could not escape it. It was an expense, that had to be added to the price of the goods. There were many other people on Gammeltorv: students and priests, soldiers and shop assistants, tradesmen of all kinds, but easy to distinguish from one another, carpenters, masons, barbers, shoemakers, coopers, chimny sweepers etc. each in the “uniform” of his profession, but none as glamorous as the captains of the civic guard and the majors of the firebrigade.
This colourfull scenery of the streetlife in the powerty-stricken Copenhagen of Frederik the 6th was seen every day by the little son of the shopkeeper, Soeren. – And he did not forget. In his authorship it shows up again: The majors of the firebrigade of his childhood and sailors, grocer’s assistants and lieutenants of the guard.
But during the days of September 1819 the small Copenhagen boy sensed something unusual in the streetlife seen from his window. He probably asked his father, the grocer, about the unrest and the broken windows. And the melancholic Michael Kierkegaard, who understood money very well, but who was also an avid reader of the Bibel, may have explained to his little Soeren, that it all happened as it was written. The Jews were guilty of the conviction and crucifixion of our Savior. They themselves has cried at Pontius Pilate: “His blood be upon us and our children.” – God had fulfilled that wish and he would continue to fulfill it until the Day of Judgement. – In the house of the orthodox grocer one could not pity the Jews, who had had their windows broken and their furniture smashed. This was Gods punishment for the infidels. And that is how most of the Copehageners saw the nightly riots, even though, as law-abiding citizens, they did not partake therein. But many other inhabitants of the capital had quite different, deeply serious problems, so that the Jew-riots for them was only a distant noice. There was the poor widow, who saw no other way out than trying to give away her children. In the “Address-Newspaper” of the 8th of September 1819 one can read the following advertisement, which seems to have been formulated with the help of the editor: “A widow of good family has two children not provided for, a small boy and a girl, and as she has no pension and no support from anywhere she, is in spite of the utmost striving and effort, unable to support them
and much less give them a decent upbringing. Her mother’s heart is bleeding thereby, and however painful it is to her to part from her beloved little ones, who are now her only joy in life, the future well-being of the children forces the unhappy mother, who has no other way out, to speak to the noble father, mother, philantropist, whom God has given more gentle conditions and who may therefore be willing to recieve one of the aforementioned children for support and upbringing. Both of the children are goodnatured and one will probably harvest benefit from one’s charity.” Under the plea of the unhappy widow one reads an adverticement from quite a diffente strata of society. In Pistolstraedet (The Pistol Street), maybe the most wretched of all of the poor alleys of Copenhagen, a cul-de-sac that ended in the infamous Peder Madsens Gang, was a poor servant-girl, probably from out in the country. For her poor pennies she had put the following advertisement in the newspaper:
“A young and modest girl, who is good at caring for children, looking for a position at once as general servant. Please come to Pistolstraedet 312 ground floor.”
From the East Street she could hear the crowd breaking the windows of the Raphael Brothers’ much too smart shop. But that was none of her concern. She sat in the ramshackle house in Pistrolstraede hoping, that her expensive adverticement would be noticed by someone. The same was true of another “modest” – that is to say unassuming – girl, who wanted “a condition as cook or single servant with honest people. She can be found in Borgergade 104, 3 rd floor towards the yard.”
It was hard to be poor and doubly hard, when one was old.
The “Arrestee Frederikke Moeller” had to realize that. She had formerly been convicted of theft and was now accused of having stolen “a good deal of garden herbs etc. at a value of 2 rix-dollar 1 mark and 8 shilling.” The sentence was: “The arrestee, Frederikke Moeller, widow of sailmaker Bagge, should be placed for work in the Copenhagen House of Correction for 3 years.”
That was even getting off cheap in comparison with the sentence for arrestee Peter Petersen, who did have two sentences already for theft and was now accused of having stolen pigeons in two places at night. As it was the third time, the thief committed this crime, the judge gave up on him. The sentence was: The arrestee Peter Petersen should be placed for work in the Copenhagen Castle for life and pay the cost of the trial.”
One can understand, that the participants in the Jew-riots, which the authorities caught, were not let off cheap either. The punishments were between one and three years of prison. – The butcher’s assistant, wh,o during the attack on stockbroker Erfelts house, captured a canary, was given 2 years in the “rasphus” (i.e. prison where the inmates did particularly hard and dangerous work).
The severity of the sentences were supposed to be a warning and induce fear in like-minded persons. Even so the Jew-riots flared up again at the end of October and again it had to be ordered by “police-posters”, that all landlords were to have their gates, doors and basements closed from 8 o’clock in the evening until 5 o’clock in the morning and that all house-fathers were to keep their children and servants, assistants and boys home during the same hours; likewise that no sailors and none of the men on the ships, that were in the sheltered roadsteads or in the harbours were to be seen in the streets after 8 o’clock”.
This time the unrest passed quicker and the citizens
could again mind their business in peace and quiet. “In the old soap-basement on Ulfeldtsplads at the old soap-basement-people’s” one could again, just like before the riots, buy “genuine Copenhagen green olivesoap at 24 skilling a pound”. And Dr. Albrecht with the dubious title of doctor, living in Krystalgaden no. 55, 2 nd floor could again recommend various doctor periodicals written by himself. One of them was called: “Some means for the prolongation of life at the highest age”. It cost 1 Mark. And Denmark was in spite of everything a good country to live in, probably the best in the world, so it might be well worth it spending 1 Mark to live longer and enjoy being a Dane. How well founded this joy was one could really see in printer Elmquists new collection of fatherland-songs, which was a response to an invitation from “The Association of the beautiful Sciences.” Among the poets, who here “breathed out their feelings for old Denmark” – as the printer says – was Adam Oehlensläger with: “Der er et yndigt land.” (Danish national anthem)
Caricature of Soeren Kierkegaard in Jewish periodical ‘Corsaren’
In his war with the “Corsaren” Soeren Kierkegaard never forgot, that the nasty periodical was written by a Jew.
He had formed his opinion of the Jews already a long time before the conflict with Goldschmidt. But if he did not already care much for them, then of course his judgement became even harder after the acquiantance with the “Corsaren”.
Here are some samples from his diaries:
“That is why I did right, thank God that I did, suddenly aiming for the “Corsar”; never has the arch-evil of Denmark had such good conditions, as when a base-minded Jew wielded power with a base mind. The Goddess of Common Sense in France was a prostitute (how deeply epigrammatic), the base-minded ruler was a Jew-boy (how deeply epigrammatic).” (1847).
• and again about the “Corsar”:
“ — the only thing that was read and read by everyone in the country was envious, petty slander, talking about each other, a tyranny of meanness, the spirit of which was Jewish base-minded self-despising meanness.” (1848).
“And what was it then with the “Corsar”? It was the publics craving for power – and it was a Jew wanting to be the instrument; like the Goddess of Common Sense was a prostitute in France, I believe that only a Jew could be suitable for this most improper tyranny, even more improper than a usurer (that, which the Jews do best) saying: I have him in my power – but is himself kicked down the stairs. That was the publics craving for power.” (1849).
The accusations against the Jews get even harder in the following: “Goethe remarks (in the notes for West-Östlicher Divan: S.W. 6te B.) that the murder of the Egyptians by the Jews was the Sicilian Vesper in reverse. There, the host murdered the guest, here the guest murdered the host. But that wil probably be the relationship of the Jews to all of Europe in our time.” (1849).
Soeren Kierkegaard was glad, that in his view of the Jews, Poul Moeller was of the same opinion:
“The public is of all things the most devoid of ideas, yes even the opposite of having any ideas. For the public is the number. That is why, as we see in our time and that already Poul Moeller noticed without explaining it – that Jews are especially suited as publishers. The Jew is generally devoid of phantasy, also devoid of joviality, but he does have abstract intelligence – and the number is his element.
For the publisher the battle of opinons of public life is no more and no less than stock exchange transactions. As in relation to the rate of exchange of securities he is only interested in which opinion is numerically superior. He thinks the number is the idea – this is exactly the higest degree of being devoid of ideas.” (1854)
That Soeren Kierkegaard was an antisemite cannot be explained away. And there is no reason to try. An attitude hostile to Jews would be peculiar in Denmark to-day and even offensive, but that was not the way it was, when Soeren Kierkegaard lived. And every human being has a right to be judged on the basis of his own time.
One does not have to deal very much with the literature from Soeren Kirkegaards time, before one runs into most unfriendly references to Jews. (See note IV). And as already mentioned the hostile mood erupted into action during the socalled “Jew-baiting” in Copenhagen 1819. And these riots spread even to Elsinore, Hilleroed, Naestved, Vordingborg, Slagelse and Odense. “Berlingske Tidende” reports (20-9-1819):
Servants, apprentices and similar people have gathered in the streets in order to insult the inhabitants, who are of the mosaic faith. Peasants from the nearest villages, who normally on Sundays visit pubs in the towns, have in some places been lured into participating in the illigal activities.”
Publisher Liunge (“The Copenhagen Post”) writes in his “Memoranda”:
As a couple of details from the time of this feud it should be noted, that it was common knowledge, that in the beginning several of the leaders of the military units, that were supposed to fight the rioters, commandeered their people: “About turn!” when they arrived in a street, where the windows were broken in houses of Jews, who in their hearts they wished such treatment.”
Even though calm was restored in the country, the reputation of the Jews was still bad. People maintained the image or travesty they had of this strange people.
Konferensraad (a high Danish title, now obsolete) v. Holten tells us, that one evening in January 1839 his wife went to the theatre and saw “a Jew fall from the gallery down into the parterre without hurting himself or the man he fell upon. The scene was seen as utterly tragi-comical. He was about to grab one of his children by the ears leaning out, failed in his intent and fell down. Furthermore it was said that the father of the man first asked, if he hadn’t broken his watch.”
In September 1830 Copenhagen again experienced Jew-riots. It was the French July-revolution, that had that effect on the easily moved tempers in our capital.
The author P. V. Jacobsen (a good friend of Henrik Hertz) writes in a letter of 15 th September 1830 from Copenhagen: “The guttersnipes in this town have started Jew-riots anew. They started Monday and lasted until last night. Windows were broken, and some old Jews were mistreated, one so badly, that he is said to be dying from it; but that didn’t happen. It is a scandalous story; but characteristic; the Danish mob hears about riots abroad, wants to imitate it here, and finds no other target to take out their wrath on, than the poor Jews.”
After 1830 there were no more riots directed against the Jews, but the antagonism against them was still alive. – They had however obtained general civil rights in 1814 in
Denmark, but they could not be elected to the assembly of the Estates of the Realm. As yet they were regarded as foreigners in the country.
When the assembly of the Estates of the Realm in Slesvig in 1844 had the question of general national service up for dictum (until then national service had only been the duty of the farmers) a course of action was adopted with 27 votes against 13, that Jews were not elligible for national service.
The reasons for the attitude of the majority was stated by one reverend Lorentzen:
“Everywhere he (the Jew) considered himself a stranger, he longed for the Holy Land; he hoped, that his people would some day regain possession of this country and that this would become the first and most powerful country on Earth. Even if one would consider this a false hope, it did exist and inspired their lives. Already for that reason no patriotism, the first condition for national service, was possible for them; it is an inner untruth to presume that with Jews.”
Goldschmidt had felt the antagonism against the Jews already as a child both in Vordingborg and Copenhagen. Even so he started publishing his “Corsar”, which was necessarily provocative.
That was impudent.
The poet Henrik Hertz also thought, that it was wrong. Hertz was himself a Jew, but he had been babtized and strove to be amongst the absolute Monarchs faithful and obedient subjects. One should adapt and not be obnoxious: “In a state everybody has to give up part of their freedom,
but hotheads like Goldschmidt and consorts think, that freedom is to smoke a cigar in front of a sentry, sing the Marseillaise in the Theatre and make carricatures of people.”
• Hertz writes this in his notebooks (1838-39).
In another on of his notebooks (Studybook 1840-42) one gets the impressions of the ecco from a conversation with Soeren Kierkegaard:
“Outside a coffee house was a dirty bounder, who was paid by the host to scold the passers by for the enjoyment of his guests. No honest person wanted to beat or sue the bounder for defamation and as these are private crimes, the host and the bounder insisted, that the authorities could not interfere: even so the police put him in jail.
The Corsar is such a coffeehouse, the host and guests of which pay a bounder to exhibit his baseness as a shield for their wantonnesses. Should not the authorities have the right to interfere of its own accord.”
Soeren Kierkegaards hostile attitude towards Jews can be explained; but one should not try to explain it away, as some Kierkegaard-researchers have tried to do. By trying to do that one takes Soeren Kierkegaard out of the Copenhagen of Frederik the 6th and Christian the 8th, where he belongs.