M.G. Piety

Posts Tagged ‘Anti-Semitism’

Damning with Faint Praise: Bizarre Defense of Kierkegaard in Danish Newspaper

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on December 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Just when you thought the debate surrounding Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier på antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010), had probably died down, it’s actually flared up again. Ole Jørgensen published what has got to be the most bizarre defense of Kierkegaard yet. Jørgensen’s article, “Sjusk med ord. Søren Kierkegaard var ikke antisemit” (Linguistic carelessness. Kierkegaard was not an anti-Semite) appeared in Monday’s edition of Kristeligt Dagblad (Christian daily news). The title might lead one to suppose that Kristeligt Dagblad is a relatively obscure paper. It isn’t. Remember, Denmark has a state church. The Danish Lutheran Church is the official church of the Danish people. This undoubtedly explains why Jørgensen took it upon himself to defend not only Kierkegaard, but also Martin Luther against the charge of anti-Semitism. Luther, he asserts, merely “chastens the Jews in his book On the Jews and their Lies.” One might be tempted to conclude from that remark that Jørgensen hasn’t actually read Luther (or Tudvad either since Tudvad quotes extensively from Luther’s works where they bear on the Jews).

It’s not clear whether Jørgensen has seriously studied Luther on this issue. What is clear, however, is that Jørgensen has what one could charitably call a rather idiosyncratic understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism. He observes, for example, that far from being an anti-Semite, “Kierkegaard even had a Jew in his employ for several years: Israel Levin, who […] was thus able to advance himself, in the manner Jews are so good at, both economically and socially.” That is, Jørgensen apparently does not see the generalization that Jews are particularly good at advancing themselves economically and socially as in any way anti-Semitic, which is bizarre given such a generalization buys into stereotypes concerning Jews and money, and that there is hardly a worse crime in the eyes of the Danes than social climbing.

Jørgensen observes that “[o]ne should use some other word than ‘anti-Semitism’” to apply to Kierkegaard. “[I]t was more Kierkegaard’s [religious] zeal,” he continues, “that led him to rein in [lægge mundbidslet på] these occasionally mischievous [frække] Jews.”

It wasn’t merely Kierkegaard, or even Luther, who felt it necessary, according to Jørgensen, to “rein in,” or “chasten” the Jews. Christ himself, observes Jørgensen, “pulls no punches” (lægges der virkelig ikke fingre imellem) when he “says to the Jews: ‘You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and a father of lies’” (John 8:44).

“See how closely,” asserts Jørgensen, “lies and murder are connected with each other–both with the Jews and with Hitler. The lies of the Jews crucified Christ. Hitler’s lies murdered six million Jews.” Jørgensen’s digression on what he claims is the connection between lies and murder is not merely a stylistic flaw in his piece; his attempt to use this purported connection to draw an analogy between the Jews and Hitler suggests he may be suffering from some sort of cognitive disorder. How could anyone trot out the stereotype of the Jews as “Christ killers” (a stereotype so offensive that even the pope was forced recently to officially repudiate it) in an article that purports to defend someone, anyone, against the charge of anti-Semitism?

“Søren Kierkegaard was not an anti-Semite,” concludes Jørgensen, “That’s a careless use of language and an [attempt to] exploit Kierkegaard’s good name for personal gain.” That is, Kierkegaard was no more an anti-Semite than Luther was, or than Jørgense’s “careless use of language” make him appear to be. Wow, that puts a whole new spin on the expression “damning with faint praise.” It makes the textbook example of “For a fat girl, you don’t sweat much,” seem positively considerate!






Kierkegaard and the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente

In Kierkegaard and the Jews on July 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I promised some time ago to post something on the chapter from Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier på antisemismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) that dealt with the theological view of Jews in Kierkegaard’s day. The chapter, which is a hundred pages long, is an extraordinarily rich resource for information about the theological view of Jews throughout European history.

Tudvad provides a detailed account of Luther’s vehement anti-Semitism and emphasizes, through references to later theologians, that Luther’s views provided the foundation for the theology of the countries of Northern Europe. Kierkegaard, in particular, he observes, had to have been familiar with Luther’s views on Jews and Judaism because he would have been required to read Luther as part of his theological studies at Copenhagen University. Scholars are familiar with the fact that Kierkegaard is often critical of Luther. His criticisms of Luther relate, however, to other aspects of Luther’s thought, not to his anti-Semitism.

One of the more interesting parts of the chapter concerns Kierkegaard’s take on what was know as the Fragmentenstreit (the dispute over the fragments)  The Fragmentenstreit  refers to the controversy created by Lessing’s publication of a manuscript he claimed to have found in a library in Wolfenbüttel in Braunschweig and which was subsequently referred to as the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente. The manuscript had actually been written by the Enlightenment thinker Hermann Samuel Reimarus. Reimarus, had argued, to quote Tudvad, “that Jesus understood himself in agreement with the worldly expectations the Jews had of him that he would reestablish the David’s kingdom with all its power and authority in order that God and God’s law would rule over the world through the agency of the Jewish people” (p 236).

Tudvad observes that “Kierkegaard was also aware of the fact that Jesus’ disciples appear to have had the same expectations” (p. 236). He thus needed to find an explanation for the fact that they “suddenly, after [Jesus’] death, gain the courage to risk life and limb for his sake” (p. 236). He finds this explanation, Tudvad asserts after reading the first part of the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente in 1849. Jesus had to die, he decides, in order for the apostles to give up their worldly hopes. “One sees,” writes Kierkegaard, “how unreasonable is the objection (found also in the Wolfb. Fragm: I, § 32 and 33) that the apostles changed their view [of Jesus], and only after his death made him into the savior of the world rather than the worldly messiah they first considered him to be. That’s correct, of course, but the fault is not Christ’s. He’d explained himself. They just couldn’t understand him” (SKS 22, 66, 20-25). That is, Tudvad asserts that it was important to Kierkegaard to make clear that Christ and Christianity were something “completely different from the Messiah, Israel and Judaism” (p. 236).

To be fair to Kierkegaard, however, it should be pointed out that he cannot have been unaware that Christianity, as the apostles understood it, even after the death of Jesus, was a sect of Judaism. It was only later that becoming a Christian did not necessitate first converting to Judaism. Kierkegaard was also, of course, aware that Jesus had himself been a Jew who, as Tudvad points out, “came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it” (p. 236).

My own view of Kierkegaard’s reaction to the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente is thus that he was concerned not so much to distinguish Judaism from Christianity as something negative and opposed to it as to defend Christianity against the charge that it was based on a manipulation, or misrepresentation, of historical fact.

Yet Another Review of Tudvad’s Book by Someone Who Hasn’t Read It?

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on February 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Well, OK, I can’t really be certain that Trond Berg Eriksen, whose review “Antisemitten Kierkegaard?” appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet, didn’t read the book. If he did read it though, he appears to have a very different edition than the one I have. He claims Tudvad charges that Kierkegaard was a Nazi, but I haven’t come across that charge in my copy of Tudvad’s book.

The review starts off well. Eriksen acknowledges that Tudvad’s presentation of anti-Semitism in Danish politics and literature in the first decades of the 19th century is “thorough, long overdue, and groundbreaking,” and that his “presentation of Jews and Judaism in Kierkegaard’s thought is not bad either,” but complains, in a manner that clearly begs the question, that the two things have nothing to do with each other.

Tudvad acknowledges, in the beginning of the book, that Kierkegaard was far from the worst anti-Semite of his day. His argument, he explains, is that many of the things Kierkegaard says about Jews and Judaism would be deeply offensive to Jews of any period and that they should thus be acknowledged as part and parcel of an anti-Semitism that was pervasive in Europe in the 19th century and which was thus a forerunner to the more virulent form of anti-Semitism that came to such horrific expression in the rise of National Socialism. That’s a relatively modest thesis and Tudvad marshals what appears to be more than enough evidence to support it.

That Kierkegaard was anti-Semitic should not surprise us, because, as many scholars have pointed out, anti-Semitism was pervasive during the period when Kierkegaard lived.  What is surprising is the number of scholars who have used this historical fact to try to discredit Tudvad’s position. The argument goes something like this: Everyone was anti-Semitic back then. Kierkegaard was just like everyone else. Ergo, Kierkegaard was not really anti-Semitic.  The flaw in that logic is so obvious it needs no explanation.

Eriksen’s review, as I observed, starts off well, but then, it appears, he was struck down by some sort of spontaneous brain disease. Not only does he use the same obviously flawed logic described above in an attempt to discredit Tudvad’s thesis, he also undermines his own fallacious argument with the even more bizarre charge that “anti-Semitism,” along with “racism,” is a concept that belongs to a later period. Say what? Anyone who knows anything about history knows that anti-Semitism is as old as Judaism. And, as I explained in an earlier post (see 1/7/11), racism as both a concept and a phenomenon obviously predates Darwin.  Our concept of race changed after Darwin, but the concept goes back at least as far as ancient Greece and is probably as old as human history.

Eriksen’s whole review is a straw man argument in that it is directed at discrediting a much more extreme position than the one Tudvad advances in his book. But then Eriksen, apparently still in the grip of the aforementioned ailment, admits this himself when he acknowledges, toward the end of the review, that Tudvad does not actually make any of the outrageous claims that have so incensed him, but only “insinuates” them.

Enough said.

Stay tuned. There was an excellent article on Tudvad’s book in Kristeligt Dagblad Today. I’ll have a summary of it for you soon!

Tudvad Interview (Conclusion)

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on January 28, 2011 at 9:28 am

Piety: Were there anti-Semitic remarks in Kierkegaard’s published works or only in unpublished ones such as his journals?

Tudvad: Most of his anti-Semitic remarks are in his journals but quite a few can be found in his published works too. But I don’t think that it is really approprite to distinguish between these to parts of his authorship as he himself did not doubt that his diaries too would be published after his death. He even had a title for them: “The Book of the Judge”.

Piety: Has anyone advanced an argument that Kierkegaard was not anti-Semitic that is based on anything other than the claim that Kierkegaard’s remarks have to be placed in their historical context?

Tudvad: Yes, several have argued that anti-Semitism is a notion which was not defined until a couple of decades after Kierkegaard’s death, thus, he can not be labeled an anti-Semite. Others have argued that anti-Semitism is a purely racist concept, and that Kierkegaard almost never defines the Jews as a race. But today, in dictionaries of contemporary Danish, you do not define anti-Semitism as something purely racist, but rather as a hostile attitude towards Jews.

Piety: The English theologian George Pattison actually admitted in his article “Søren Kierkegaard was neither better nor worse than his times” that he had not read your book. Is that right?

Tudvad: Yes. – ”Neither better nor worse!” He was surely not worse than some people, and surely not better than quite a few liberal politicians, the ones who fought at the same time for a free constitution that would guarantee freedom of religion. Now, is it really a relevant argument that somebody, and especially one who is considered a genius and far ahead of his contemporaries, was neither better nor worse than his times? Would you excuse somebody living in Germany in the 1930’s or 1940’s the same way?

Piety: How many other people who published articles claiming that Kierkegaard was not anti-Semitic had actually read your book? How many admitted that they had not read it?

Tudvad: Until recently none of my critics had read the book but nobody did – without being explicitly asked – admit that they had not read the book. That does not mean that they pretended they had read the book, only that nobody seemed to care about having read the book or not. The conclusion was given: Kierkegaard was not an anti-Semite. So why read the book?

Piety: What do you think was the biggest problem that critics of the book had with it?

Tudvad: That I made clear a tight link between Kierkegaard’s theology and his anti-Semitism. People seemed to be surprised that anti-Semitism as such has it’s origin in Christianity. Maybe they are sincere, but if they are, they certainly do suffer from a heavy suppression of a historical fact. The Nazis did not invent anti-Semitism, did they?

Piety: Is there anything else you would like to say on this controversy to Anglo-American readers?

Tudvad: Yes, I’m very sad that I was not born in the US, where I could have raised this discussion without being met by so much ignorance and prejudice, so much unwillingness to discuss a rather important aspect of western civilization and the Christian religion.


Tudvad Interview (Part 2)

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on January 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Piety: Your new book, Stadier på Antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne is not simply about Kierkegaard. It’s a comprehensive look at attitudes toward Jews and Judaisim in 19th-Century Denmark. Are there other books that do this, or is yours the first?

Tudvad: As I far as I know, this is the first comprehensive look at the way people – theologians, philosophers, politicians, publishers, authors, etc. – described the Jews in the so-called Golden Age in Denmark (i.e., Danish romanticism). Of course you may find quite a few articles about aspects of this topic, e.g. the “eternal” or “wandering Jew” as a literary figure, but I’m quite sure that until now nobody tried to see all of it as parts of one single question, the Jewish question (even though it was seldom addressed in exactly this way, there certainly was a continuous discussion in Denmark of the Jews and their position in the Danish society, in particular in relation to the church and Christianity as the dominant religion).

I try, in my book, to trace the sources of the question in order to identify possible agendas which might reveal things like that, for example, a political discussion, underneath the surface, is in fact a cultural or theological one. The best work on some of these matters is no doubt professor Martin Schwarz Lausten’s thorough study of the relation between the Christians and Jews in Denmark from 1814 to 1849, i.e. from the formal equation of Christians and Jews in civic matters until Jews were accorded full civil rights in the first free constitution. I rely naturally very much on this excellent work.

Piety: Reviews, or at least articles about the book began to appear before the book did itself. How did people get word of the book’s appearance? Did the publisher send out review copies in advance of the book’s release?

Tudvad: As I just told you, a newspaper published an interview with me about the book about three weeks before the book appeared. Shortly after that, a PDF file of the book was sent to the major newspapers and handed over to the reviewers. We had some troubles with the printing of the book, thus a copy of the book itself was not posted until about a week before the publication on Nov 9. The reviewers naturally did not interfere in the row, which would have discredited them as reviewers. Nobody among the many persons who spoke out on the case had had the opportunity to read the book, except one who – if I am not wrong – all of a sudden stopped commentating on it, after he had received it, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn. I made the publisher send him a copy in advance although he was naturally not supposed to review it. I just thought that he might change his mind if he took a close look at the book, i.e. return to his original point of view.

Piety: Do you think Kierkegaard was anti-Semitic? If so, in what sense?

Tudvad: Yes, I do. Sure he was not a kind of anti-Semite as the Nazis. He hated any kind of collectivism, and he would certainly not have participated in the pogrom in 1938. Nevertheless, I published my book on November 9, i.e. on the anniversary of the Kristallnacht in 1938, but my point was, that anti-Semitism and pogroms are not exclusively a German phenomenon. We had one, a pogrom, in Denmark in 1819 too, which was so severe that the king had to declare Copenhagen, his capital, in a state of emergency. The city was under a curfew for several weeks, and the military patrolled the streets of Copenhagen. Nobody was killed, thanks to the king and the military, but many Jews were injured, their houses vandalized, and a lot of rioters sentenced to prison. Before the pogrom in 1819 we had experienced a long period of literary attacks on the Jews, something which, so to speak, fertilized the ground for the physical attacks. My point is, that Danes are not less disposed to anti-Semitism than Germans, Poles, Russians or any other peoples, and that words are not harmless. So, Kierkegaard’s words are not harmless either. Some Danish Nazis actually referred to him in 1940 as their ally against the Jews.

(I will post the rest of my interview with Tudvad on Friday.)



The Responsibility of Intellectuals, or The Reception, in Denmark, of Tudvad’s Book on Kierkegaard and the Jews

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on January 7, 2011 at 11:31 am

One of the funniest, and yet also saddest, pieces by Kierkegaard is on book reviewers. “The appearance of a book,” he writes in Prefaces (Forord in Danish), “is…an event that promptly sets the reading public in motion. Ordinarily there is an individual who even knows it somewhat in advance. … Such a person is fortune’s child, … welcome everywhere. [He] knows only something ambiguous about the title of the book and what it deals with, but this is precisely what is most endearing about him in the eyes of the reading public, because a rumor carries away the reading public as the muse’s impulse the poet.”

The piece goes on about how reviewers will pronounce judgment on works without even having read them.

I don’t know how most contemporary readers react to this diatribe against book reviewers. I know that when I read it, however, I assumed it was a phenomenon that was more or less restricted to 19th-century Copenhagen. I don’t mean to give the impression that I was incorrigibly naïve. I assumed there were still a few irresponsible book reviewers out there. I just took them to be the exception rather than the rule.

I fear now, however, that I may have been wrong. I haven’t actually counted how many reviews were published of Peter Tudvad’s new book, Stadier på Antisemitismens Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (Stages on the Way of Anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews), before the book actually came out. The number is sort of overwhelming. This was probably a result, at least in part, of the fact that there appears to have been a “krisemøde på teologi” (damage-control meeting of theologians) as soon as word got out that the book was on its way. The objective, it seems, was to find a way to inoculate Kierkegaard against the contagion of the charge that he was anti-Semitic by discrediting the argument of Tudvad’s book before anyone could actually read it. This, for those readers who do not immediately recognize it as such, is the fallacy known as “poisoning the well.”

The book did not come out until the 9th of November, yet the English theologian George Pattison wrote an article for the Nov. 3rd issue of Kristeligt Dagblad, “Søren Kierkegaard var hverken bedre ell værre end sin tid” (Søren Kierkegaard was neither better nor worse than his times [translated into Danish by Sara Høyrup]), in which he said that “anti-Semitism, in the modern sense, cannot be separated from 19th-century theories of race that are connected with a particular reading of Darwin” and that it is thus “inappropriate and anachronistic to connect the concept of anti-Semitism with Kierkegaard.” This statement, unfortunately, compounds the fallacy of “poisoning the well” with that of “equivocation” in that the first reference is to “anti-Semitism” in the “modern sense” whereas the second is not qualified in this way but is clearly to anti-Semitism in a more general sense. It’s obvious that Kierkegaard cannot be charged with anti-Semitism in the modern sense. No one who lived before Darwin could be charged with anti-Semitism in the modern sense. That does not mean, however, that there was no anti-Semitism before Darwin. Nor does it mean that Kierkegaard could not have been anti-Semitic, or that inquiry into this topic is somehow out of bounds. Pattison must either be shockingly ignorant of world history, prone to committing logical fallacies, or disingenuous.

These are very anti-intellectual times. Academics are under siege. We are constantly criticized and charged, for example, with being lazy and intolerant of views that depart from our own. Dismissing a book before one has even read it only adds fuel to the flames of such criticism. It looks as if many people are simply unwilling to accept that Kierkegaard could have been antisemitic, so they feel no compulsion to examine the evidence to that effect before dismissing the claim. It is precisely such behavior that has brought academics into ill repute. It behooves those of us who like to think of ourselves as intellectuals to do our homework before making public pronouncements on the works of our fellow intellectuals.

I’ll say more about the reception of Tudvad’s book later, after I have said a little more about the content.

“Hip, Hip, hurrah” Antisemitic?

In Kierkegaard and the Jews on December 27, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Peter Tudvad’s excellent Stadier på Antisemitismens Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (Stages on the way of antisemitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) is full of interesting facts. I reported already how N.F.S. Grundtvig, a pastor in the Danish Lutheran Church, was a staunch defender of the Jews. Well, I learned something else very interesting last night. The English expression “hip, hip, hurrah” is possibly of anti-Semitic origin. It seems “hep” (or “hepp”) was a cry Germans used in the herding of goats. They also used it, however, to taunt Jewish men, It’s unclear, observes Tudvad, whether this was because it was an acronym for ‘Hierosolyma est perdita’ (‘Jerusalem is lost,’ an exclamation purportedly from the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and burning of the temple in the year 70) or because the beards of Jewish men were taken to resemble goats’ beards (pp. 38-39; see also, Tudvad’s reference to Alex Bein, Die Judenfrage. Biographie eines Weltproblems [The Jewish Question: the Biography of a Global Problem], [Stuttgard, 1980], vol. 2, p. 160). This, in any case, observes Tudvad, is the description of the expression Kierkegaard would have found in his copy of Johann Samuel Ersch and Johann Gottfried Gruber’s Allgemeine Encyklopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste (General Encyclopedia of the Arts and Sciences),  2nd section, eds. Georg Hassel and Andreas Gottlieb (Leipzig, 1829), part 5, p. 361.

It seems “hep, hep” became the rallying cry not only of the mob violence that broke out against Jews across Germany in 1819, but also the violence that broke out against Jews in Denmark in the same year.