Kierkegaard and Capital

My supervisor makes me write a lot. Here is an excerpt from a pile of notes on Kierkegaard I threw together for this week’s supervision:

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In opposition to the present age, Kierkegaard provides the revolutionary age, which is “an age of action”, in opposition to the present age of “advertisement and publicity.”  This critique of the present age’s obsession with the press leads to one of Kierkegaard’s only direct critiques of the expanding grasp of capital in his age:

“In the end, therefore, money will be the one thing people will desire, which is moreover only representative, an abstraction. Nowadays a young man hardly envies anyone his gifts, his art, the love of a beautiful girl, or his fame; he only envies him his money. Give me money, he will say, and I am saved.”  (The Present Age)

By noting that the young man of the present age seeks salvation in money, Kierkegaard is one of the first authors to overtly critique the inherently religious nature of capital. This reliance on money is a sign of the overarching problem of the present age, a lack of passion and action. Because of this lack of ability to act passionately, “everything is transformed into representational ideas.”  Thus, the present age is one obsessed with nothing but reflection and representation, and this lack of anything real, or actual, is the cause of a lack of a passionate prior self-relation in the individual. Here it is clear that Kierkegaard’s conception of subjectivity in no way leads to stark a-social and a-political individualism, but is instead the necessary pre-condition for the individual to passionately exist in (and affect) reality.

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9 thoughts on “Kierkegaard and Capital

  1. Daniel says:

    Hey man, a while back I tried to leave a comment, apologizing for calling the Catholic Church a cult… You never posted it, or responded to me, so I’m wondering if you’re still miffed, or if you were just busy. Anyways, don’t want to leave that unresolved if it can be helped…

  2. Gabriel says:

    Hmm, for someone writing as long ago as this, it is interesting (and horrifying) to see how little capitalism has changed.

    Perhaps a rewording Kierkegaard’s postion here could be that a human being is only capable of living if they are passionate about/have faith in something – and if society dictates it, that something can be just as easily money as anything else.

    It seems to me, he is not seeing a lack of passion per se, but a lack of the kind of passion he would like to see in people’s lives. It might be an important distinction to make, but I dunno, this is literally the first thing from Kierkegaard I have read, so maybe I’m embarrassingly wrong on this…

  3. Andy says:

    Thanks for this! I’m really interested in hearing where your passion language comes from here: is it actually Kierkegaard or someone more recent? (I seem to remember a lecture on Meillassoux and something that sounded like dispassion…)

    As for me, stuck in the world of late antiquity, love of money is the prime example of passion, and a counter-example to (dispassionate) Christian love. It really is the root of all evil.

    So, if you give me a reading tip on this, I’ll give you a reading tip on late Nordic interpretation of Kierkegaard’s thought on love and passion!

  4. michaeloneillburns says:

    Andy,
    The passion language is mostly Kierkegaard’s; although I’m sure I emphasize it a bit more than most would. This is primarily drawing from his language in ‘The Present Age’ where he characterizes the present age as the age of reflection, and the ‘revolutionary age’ as the age of passion. Still haven’t read all of SK’s work yet, but I’m hoping this theme will emerge again in some of his later works…and now that I think of it…maybe he discusses passion in relation to the ‘church militant’ in practice in Christianity?

    Oh man…late nordic interpretation! I’d be the only one in Scotland with that knowledge if you were so willing to share!

  5. michaeloneillburns says:

    Gabriel,
    Interesting points; the issue with Kierkegaard in regards to passion though, is that it must be a sort of individual passion that affects the subject; and thus something like capital doesn’t require an inward subjective relation, but rather brings one into the ‘crowd’, or ‘mass society’; so Kierkegaard wants people passionate about things that will require them to make an individual/subjective decision that comes from a prior inward relation.

  6. Andy says:

    Well, Knut Løgstrup discusses Kierkegaard’s passions and love in the Works of Love. You’ll find that in the appendix to his own magnus opus, The Ethical Demand (with a foreword by MacIntyre, no less). The whole book is interesting, though, as a kind of Lutheran counterpart to Levinas.

    There you go – most clued up Merican in Scotland!

  7. michaeloneillburns says:

    ah, thanks for the tip!

    Is Løgstrup the same guy that Critchley talks about in Infinity Demanding?

  8. Andy says:

    Yup. Same guy. That’s why Critchley keeps turning up in Oslo I guess. Either that or he’s lost. I never can decide…

  9. Gabriel says:

    Hmm, interesting. Is Kierkegaard then trying to say that passion cannot be shared with others, that it must, essentially, alienate oneself (not necessarily in a negative meaning of the word) in order to be a “true” passion?

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