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Kierkegaard and Antisemitism

Peter Tudvad’s new book, Stadier paa Antisemitisms Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (Stages on the Way of Antisemitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010) has elicited even more controversy in the first few weeks after its appearance than did his exposure of the errors in Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. As of last week, approximately 90 articles had been published in the Danish media on the book, some of which appeared even before the book itself. Those of you who can read Danish should check out Tudvad’s Facebook page because he has links to many of the articles there.

I’m going to assume, however, that most of you cannot read Danish, so I am going to post brief summaries of various part of the book, and comments on it, as I make my way through it. This is going to take some time, mind you, because at 500 pages (not including the notes) it’s a hefty tome. Like Tudvad’s other books, however, it is meticulously researched and completely absorbing. It also stands a very good chance of being translated into English because much of it is an account of the situation of the Jews in 19th-century Denmark and will thus be of great interest both to a broad spectrum of historical scholars and to general readers interested in Jewish history.

Tudvad has thoughtfully divided the book into chapters that can be read independently of one another, so readers interested primarily in Jewish history, or the history of antisemitism, don’t have to read the material on Kierkegaard. The chapter titles (freely translated) are as follows: “Ten Theses on Kierkegaard’s Relation to Jews and Judaism.” “The Jewish Conflict: From Literary Feud to Physical Violence,” “The Wandering Jew: Despair,” “The Perception of the Jews” (this chapter is divided into six sections that look at the theological, the historical, the political, the literary, the dramatic and the Bourgeois perspectives on Jews and Judaism), “Kierkegaard’s Jewish Acquaintances,” “Young Germany and Old Denmark,” “Abraham: The Father of Faith,”  and finally, “Offense: The Infernal Jew.”

I’m still on the part of the first chapter that deals with the literary feud. It’s disappointing to read how virulent was antisemitism in Denmark in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Christian Bastholm wrote, for example, in Den Jødiske Historie (The History of the Jews), that “the Jews are a people whose main characteristics are pride and greed,” and that “the Jews are one of those insects that can never be completely exterminated” (p. 28)

There’s lots of more encouraging information there though as well, such as the fact that N.F.S. Grundtvig was a staunch defender of the Jews. Part of the literary feud between prominent anti-Semites and defenders of the Jews involved using the Hebrew Bible against the Jews. “The method of attacking the Jews,” wrote Grundtvig however, “through the use of their own sacred books is evidence of how unchristianly the learned of our day dare to write and speak” (p. 31).

Grundtvig actually used the Hebrew Bible in defense of the claim that Jews made good citizens, pointing out, for example that Jews are commanded in Jeremiah to show loyalty to the state that gives them refuge.

“One can confidently assert,” observes Grundtvig, “that there is in general among the Jews less ungodliness and a greater sense of right and wrong, just as there is more external discipline, than there is in those assemblies that are now called ‘Christian,’ and that the Jews would thus be made worse by becoming more like ‘Christians'” (p. 32).

Kierkegaard’s father too, emerges as strong friend of the Jews. That’s all I’ll say for now though. If you can read Danish, then get your hands on a copy of the book. If you can’t, then keep checking for new posts. I’m not going to cover everything in the book, of course, but I’ll give you a sense of what it contains and, as I said, my suspicion is that you won’t have to wait too long before there will be an English translation.

Free Book Offer!

Check my post from Friday 12/17 for information about how to receive a free copy of Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs!

I mentioned in my first post that Pia Søltoft is supposedly the new director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen. This is what people on the mailing list of the Søren Kierkegaard Society in the U.S. were told in an email from the Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College dated 5/19/10 announcing three Ph.D. research fellowships at the center starting in January of 2011. Strangely, however, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn continues to be referred to in Denmark as the director of the center, most recently in the controversy over Peter Tudvad’s new book on Kierkegaard’s antisemitism.

Piety on Kierkegaard

Welcome to “Piety on Kierkegaard.” I’m the Kierkegaard scholar M.G. Piety. I’m an associate professor of philosophy at Drexel University in Philadelphia. I’m the translator of Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs (Oxford, 2009) and the author of Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralistic Epistemology (Baylor, 2010).. I moved to Denmark in the fall of 1990 on a Fulbright fellowship to work on Kierkegaard’s epistemology at the University of Copenhagen and remained there until the fall of 1998. That’s right, I lived in Denmark for eight years. That was an enormously valuable period for me as a scholar. My teaching duties were light and my access to sources was almost unlimited.

I made many important contacts when I lived in Copenhagen. I’m fortunate in that these contacts keep me up to date with what’s going on in Kierkegaard scholarship in Denmark. I’m starting this blog, in part, to allow people outside Denmark to keep up with these goings on as well. The first bit of news I have is that Pia Søltoft is supposedly the new director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center, even though her name does not appear on their website.

I’m not going to write exclusively about what’s going on in Denmark though, I’m also going to post information about my books on Kierkegaard and other books that I think would be of interest to Kierkegaard scholars.