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Tudvad Interview (Conclusion)

Piety: Were there anti-Semitic remarks in Kierkegaard’s published works or only in unpublished ones such as his journals?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

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

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.