February 1, 2007

1. Kierkegaard: A Brief Biography1

Kierkegaard’s life is, in several respects, typical of the life of the intellectual, the literary person.

Kierkegaard’s short life was filled with high drama. His life was even shorter than Oscar Wilde’s (he died at 42, Wilde at 46), and his life was even more dramatic than Wilde’s. The three pivotal events in Kierkegaard’s life were his short-lived engagement to Regina Olsen, the ridicule poured on Kierkegaard by a Danish newspaper (the Corsair), and Kierkegaard’s public attack on the established church. Kierkegaard’s writings are closely connected to his life, hence he’s a challenge to those who believe in separating a writer’s work from his life. Kierkegaard anticipated that his dramatic life would be of greater interest to posterity than his writings: “Some day,” he wrote, “not only my writings but especially my life will be studied and studied.”2

Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1813. Like Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard lived on inherited money. Kierkegaard’s father was a hosier (a maker of socks and hose), who benefited from a monopoly granted by the Danish king. Kierkegaard revered his father, all the more so after his father died; he dedicated many of his books to his father, describing him as “late hosier of this city.” “My father’s death,” Kierkegaard wrote, “was a terribly harrowing event for me, I never told a single soul how terrible it was.”3 While Kierkegaard’s books and journals are filled with references to his father, he never mentioned his mother, a servant girl whom his father had made pregnant, and then married.

As a boy, Kierkegaard spent his time with books, or with his father, he didn’t play with other children or with toys. Sometimes his father would take him by the hand, and they would walk back and forth in the house, pretending that they were outside:

They went out of doors to a near-by castle in Spain, or out to the sea-shore, or about the streets, wherever [Soren] wished to go, for the father was equal to anything. While they went back and forth in the room the father described all that they saw; they greeted passers-by, carriages rattled past them and drowned the father’s voice; the cake-woman’s goodies were more enticing than ever.4

Kierkegaard said that his father was a man of iron will, a trait that he passed on to his son. Few people in history have had more will power, more inwardness than Kierkegaard. If the young Kierkegaard encountered a difficulty in his studies,

if after an hour he was tired of the effort, he used to employ a very simple method. He shut himself up in his room, made everything as festive as possible and said then in a voice loud and clear, I will it. He had learnt from his father that one can what one will.... This experience had imparted to [Soren’s] soul an indescribable sort of pride. It was intolerable to him that there should be anything one could not do if only one would.5

Even as a youth, Kierkegaard had his father’s melancholy. “I was already an old man when I was born,” Kierkegaard wrote. “I leapt completely over childhood and youth. I lived through the pain of not being like others. And of course at that period I would have given all to be able to be that, if only for a short time.” Like most writers and artists, especially philosophers, Kierkegaard was highly introverted: “he never in his life confided in anyone or expected anyone to confide in him.”6 Introversion and melancholy often go hand-in-hand.

With his tremendous will power, and his tremendous talent, Kierkegaard felt that he could do whatever he set out to do, except for one thing: to cast off his melancholy. He had the enormous confidence in himself, in his genius, that one finds in Schopenhauer: “It never at any time occurred to me,” wrote Kierkegaard, “that there lived a man who was my superior, or that in my time such a man might be born.”7 But he also had the melancholy that one finds in Schopenhauer: “I was the most miserable of all,” wrote Kierkegaard. According to Aristotle, “all geniuses are melancholy.” In the last year of his life, Kierkegaard discovered Schopenhauer, and read him with keen interest; perhaps he recognized in Schopenhauer his equal, if not his superior.

Though Kierkegaard had large eyes and a handsome face, he was very small, and had a misshapen spine. As a result, “one could never keep to a straight line in walking with him,” said one of his friends; “one was constantly pushed against the houses or the cellar stairs or over the curb-stone. When at the same time he was gesticulating with his arms or his cane, it became still more like an obstacle-race. And one had to seize the opportunity now and then to get on the other side of him so as to gain room.”8

Kierkegaard often walked the streets of Copenhagen, and while walking, he sometimes conducted “psychological experiments.”

With one glance at a passer-by he was able to put himself irresistibly en rapport with him, as he himself expressed it. The person who encountered his glance was either attracted or repelled, thrown into embarrassment, uncertainty, or irritation.... While he explained his theories he put them into practice with almost every person we encountered. There was not one upon whom his glance did not make an impression.

During one walk, Kierkegaard encountered Goldschmidt, the editor of the Corsair. This newspaper had made fun of Kierkegaard’s odd appearance, until finally Kierkegaard had become the laughing-stock of the entire nation. When Kierkegaard met Goldschmidt in the street, he passed him “with a staring embittered glance, without greeting or wishing to be greeted.” Then Goldschmidt realized Kierkegaard’s “lofty ideality,” which lay beneath his witty surface, and which Goldschmidt had a “presentiment” of. Kierkegaard’s lofty ideality “accused me and crushed me,” Goldschmidt later wrote; “before I had got to the end of the street on my way home it was decided that I should give up the Corsair.”9

Goldschmidt was crushed by Kierkegaard’s moral strength, by the power of Kierkegaard’s inwardness, by the power of his silence. Though Kierkegaard was a master of language, of metaphor, of style, his greatest strength was his silence.

Silence and action correspond to one another perfectly [Kierkegaard wrote]. Silence is the measure of the power to act. A man has never more power to act than he has power to be silent.... When a man talks about doing a thing, it is a sign that he is not sure of himself.10

When Kierkegaard was about 25, he met a 14-year-old girl, Regina Olsen, and fell in love with her at first sight. He waited for three long years before broaching the subject of marriage. She told him that she was fond of one of her former teachers, Fritz Schlegel. Kierkegaard said, “You could talk about Fritz Schlegel till doomsday — that wouldn’t help you in the least, for I will have you.”11 And sure enough, Regina agreed to become engaged.

The next day, Kierkegaard realized that he had made a mistake. As long as he was courting her, and trying to win her, he had no doubts, but once she said “Yes,” he had second thoughts. He described the situation thus (referring to himself as “he”):

So long as the contest lasted he did not observe any difficulty — then she surrendered, he was loved with a young girl’s whole enthusiasm — then he became unhappy, then his melancholy was awakened, then he drew back, he could combat the whole world, but not himself.12

Like many intellectuals, Kierkegaard was ambivalent about marriage. Kafka wrestled for years with the question of marriage; “the idea of a honeymoon,” said Kafka, “fills me with dread.”13 Kafka saw similarities between his situation and Kierkegaard’s. The idea of marriage filled Kierkegaard with dread. He said that his love made him indescribably happy in the moment, but as soon as he thought of time he despaired. “I was a thousand years too old for her.”

Kierkegaard decided that he would have to break the engagement. He later wrote, “I suffered indescribably in that period.... It is so hard, upon her I had set my last hope in life, and I must deprive myself of it.”14 He sent her back the ring. But she resisted, “beseeching him in the name of Christ and by the memory of his deceased father not to desert her.” He decided that he must do something to wean her from him, to weaken her love for him. He pretended to be a scoundrel who was playing with her affections. Though he was busy with literary projects, he went to the theater every night for ten minutes. Since he was well known in Copenhagen, he knew that someone would tell Regina, “he goes to the theater every night.”

After two months, she agreed to break the engagement. When Kierkegaard left her house, he went to the theater. There he was accosted by Regina’s father:

“May I speak with you?” I followed him to his home. She is desperate, he said; this will be the death of her, she is perfectly desperate. I said, I shall still be able to tranquillize her, but the matter is settled. He said, I am a proud man, this is hard, but I beseech you not to break with her. In truth he was proud, he touched me deeply. But I held to my own. I took supper with the family that evening. I talked with her, then I left.

Next morning I got a letter from him saying that he had not slept all night, that I must come and see her. I went and talked her round. She asked me, Will you never marry? I replied, Well, in about ten years, when I have sown my wild oats, I must have a pretty young miss to rejuvenate me. She said, Forgive me for what I have done to you. I replied, It is rather I that should pray for your forgiveness. She said, Kiss me. That I did, but without passion.... In parting she begged me still to remember her once in a while.... I passed the night weeping in my bed. But in the daytime I was as usual, more flippant and witty than usual — that was necessary. My brother said to me that he would go to the family and show them that I was not a scoundrel. I said: You do that and I will shoot a bullet through your head.15

So Kierkegaard broke his engagement to Regina. The people of Copenhagen were scandalized, and regarded Kierkegaard as the scoundrel that he had pretended to be. Kierkegaard vowed to himself not to love another woman: “Thou art to know that thou dost regard it as thy happiness never to have loved another besides her, that thou dost make it a point of honor never again to love another.”16 He kept this vow. Regina later married her former teacher, Fritz Schlegel. Shortly before her engagement to Schlegel, she caught sight of Kierkegaard in church:

I let her catch my eye. She nodded twice. I shook my head. That meant, you must give me up. Then she nodded again, and I nodded as kindly as possible — that meant, you retain my love.17

The impact of this relationship lasted for the rest of Kierkegaard’s life; many of Kierkegaard’s books and journal entries allude to this relationship. He summarized the relationship thus: “She did not love my well-formed nose, nor my fine eyes, nor my small feet — nor my high intelligence — she loved only me, and yet she did not understand me.”18

Although Kierkegaard had been raised as a Christian, whatever faith he had diminished as he grew older. By the time he was 23, he had fallen into nihilism, and he thought seriously of suicide. But when he was 25, his father died, and that shattering event started him on his climb back from nihilism. When he was 28, his engagement to Regina ended, and his attitude toward life became even more serious. He was no longer living apart from life, living against life.

When he was 35, he finally attained the Christian faith that he had long sought. He finally became whole, he finally overcame his melancholy and his nihilism. He confided to his journal, “My whole nature is changed.... Now by God’s help I shall become myself, I believe now that Christ will help me to triumph over my melancholy.”19 He spoke of, “an unfailing and ever-fresh source of joy: that God is love.”20 He learned to love not only God, but himself as well: “it is required of me that I should love myself and renounce the melancholy hatred of myself which in a melancholy man can be almost a pleasure.”21

Even when his health was good, Kierkegaard sensed that he would die young. Feeling that time was short, he worked hard, and wrote much. When he turned 36, he looked back on the previous year: “I produced more powerfully than ever before, but more than ever before like a dying man.”22 Just as he produced with a feeling that time was limited, so too he spent his inheritance with a feeling that time was limited, withdrawing the last of his money just before he died. When he entered the hospital, he said that his illness was psychic, and that he had come there to die. His race was run, his destiny fulfilled.

In his final years, he wanted to re-connect with Regina, and become a friend of her family. But his overtures were rebuffed; the door was closed to him. Kierkegaard died in 1855, at age 42. The people who had touched him most deeply were his father and Regina: “I owe everything that I am to the wisdom of an old man and the simplicity of a young girl.”23

2. Hitler and Ibsen: An E-mail Exchange

I’ve been exchanging e-mail with Steven Sage, author of Ibsen and Hitler: The Playwright, the Plagiarist, and the Plot for the Third Reich. Here are excerpts from our exchange:

SageThere is a pattern of AH [i.e., Adolf Hitler] incidents, over the course of two decades, reenacting selected incidents from the script of Emperor and Galilean in an analogical manner, and adhering to the sequence of those incidents in Ibsen’s script. Taken alone, no one incident is sufficient to prove the case, i.e., that AH set out to mime this theatrical script. Taken together, the pattern of all the discernible incidents should leave little doubt that AH did indeed mime the script; there’s no other reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the totality of the evidence.
Hammond[I suggested that Ibsen may have foreseen Hitler.]
SageI would hold prognostication to be the hypothesis of last resort, after all conventional approaches have proven unsatisfactory. In the case of AH and Ibsen, I started with a phenomenon that I had observed: Significant, milestone aspects of a high Nazi aide’s career seemed to parallel the episodes of a theatrical script. The career of this official had been carefully cultivated by AH himself. So I read the theatrical script closely. Then I found resonance in AH’s own words from lines of that script, which I confirmed by looking at the German texts. I also found additional positive evidence that AH knew the script. I also found echoes of two other Ibsen scripts in what AH said, and analogs of the dramatic plot episodes in initiatives that he took. The case was then sealed by the finding of the German cult which held Ibsen to have been a “prophet,” and AH as the instrument of the “prophecy.” So what we have is a consciously self-fulfilling pseudo-prophecy. I’d hold that on rational grounds it is unnecessary to posit Ibsen as a sort of Nostradamus who had foreknowledge of AH.
Hammond[Guessing the identity of the “high Nazi aide” and the “theatrical script”:] I assume you’re referring to Speer and Master Builder.
SageAs for Master Builder, AH appointed Speer to that quasi-official rank (Baumeister) only after 08 February 1942; Speer succeeded Fritz Todt that day upon Todt’s death in an air crash.... Before then, Speer worked under Todt’s overall supervision.

I.e., for ten years before that date, 08 February 1942, AH’s Master Builder was Fritz Todt. There are no published biographies of Todt in English; circumstances brought me to look at some material about him, though... and that’s what led in turn to the discovery of consistent parallels with the Ibsen script. Unlike Speer, the tireless self-promoter, Todt remains relatively obscure in secondary accounts of the Third Reich.

HammondDidn’t Michael Meyer write a big Ibsen biography? Was he aware of a Hitler connection?
SageI used Meyer’s biography of Ibsen in my book; no, neither he nor nearly anyone else was aware of AH’s interest. Indeed, there was only the mere hint of a whiff that somebody before me picked up on anything about this... as I discuss in my book. Who? A German Lutheran clergyman, politician, and Ibsen scholar by the name of Emil Felden parodied an AH-like character in a novel published 1921. But Felden didn’t develop any of it to include the point-by-point emulation that I document. So, to claim credit: I’m effectively like Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon... a ‘hitlernaut’, the first to successfully penetrate AH’s mind.
HammondAs you find a bogus prophecy in Ibsen, so I discuss a bogus prophecy in the Bible: I subscribe to the view that the New Testament was tailored to make the life of Jesus appear to fulfill the prophecies in the Old Testament. Every aspect of the occult, including prophecy, is rife with fraud, but nonetheless I think there’s a core of truth. I’m curious to explore whether the Ibsen-Hitler parallel should be grouped with the examples of fraud, or with the examples of genuine prophecy.

I found some Hitler prophecies in Nietzsche; I’m not sure if these passages have ever been recognized as Hitler prophecies. In a footnote in my chapter on genius, I wrote “Heine wasn’t the only person who foresaw the Holocaust long before it occurred; a number of passages in Nietzsche’s works suggest that he, too, foresaw the Holocaust. See Human, All-Too-Human, #475, The Dawn, #205, Beyond Good and Evil, ##241 and 251, and Ecce Homo, ‘Why I Am A Destiny,’ #1.”

I’m quite sure these are prophecies of Hitler, and if they are, they surely must be regarded as genuine, not fraudulent. Perhaps these are the most accurate prophecies of Hitler — unless we regard Ibsen’s work as prophetic. If Nietzsche, who died before Ibsen, was able to foresee Hitler with some accuracy, doesn’t that make it more credible that Ibsen, too, foresaw Hitler?

SageIbsen wrote a play, Kejser og Galilaer, published in Norwegian in 1873. It was translated into German as Kaiser und Galilaer in 1889.... A German critic, Paul Schulze-Berghof (1873-1947), wrote an article about the play in 1908, and followed with a book in 1923, promoting the idea that Ibsen was a “prophet” and that Ibsen’s play was “an allegory”, for the 20th century. In 1924 Schulze-Berghof followed with a novel, wherein he indicates Adolf Hitler as the man to fulfill the ‘prophetic’ allegory. AH was then in jail, but got released at the end of that year.

AH seems to have been familiar with Schulze-Berghof’s 1923 book, since part of it is paraphrased in Mein Kampf, albeit without mention of Ibsen per se. And the Schulze-Berghof book of 1923 was explicit in its postulating a synthesis of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra with the Julian of Ibsen’s play.

I would like to know what personal experiences if any (could it be merely reading alone?) led you to seek validation of prophecy.

HammondIf Nietzsche foresaw Hitler, that strikes me as so astonishing that I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be interested — especially if they had some interest in Nietzsche or Hitler. Ditto for the occult in general: phenomena like life-after-death are so astonishing, and so little understood, that I can’t understand why everyone isn’t interested in them. I know that most famous writers, such as Ibsen, were fascinated by the occult. As for personal experiences of occult phenomena, I have them frequently, almost daily, as did Ibsen and many others. On my website, there are discussions of the occult in connection with Ibsen, Hitler, Proust, and many others.
Hammond[I said I would read Steven’s book after reading Ibsen’s play.]
SageNo need to start with the Ibsen play beforehand; it’s best to keep the Ibsen text on hand for reference when you read my book. That is, I do not presuppose any acquaintance with Ibsen.
HammondAs for reading Ibsen’s play, I think I owe it to Ibsen to read the work that he regarded as his most important work. Furthermore, I’d like to look for anticipations of Hitler; maybe I can find one that you overlooked. I think Ibsen’s play will give me a better grasp of Julian, and a better grasp of your work.
SageIf you found any [connections between Hitler and Ibsen] which meet the rigorous standards I set for the ones I did include, I’d say “chapeau bas!” I’ve ransacked all of the plays, and all that’s extant of what AH wrote and said.... But it’s not impossible that some Ibsen paraphrase might have eluded me, somewhere.
HammondI’m sure your Ibsen-Hitler research was exhaustive, but I still may be able to find something in Ibsen’s Emperor and Galilean. After all, you and I are looking for different things. You’re looking for cases of Hitler following Ibsen’s script, whereas I’m more interested in cases of Ibsen foreseeing Hitler. Furthermore, you want to use an empirical method, while I prefer a speculative, intuitive method. If Julian says, “We must be ruthless!”, I might see that as an anticipation of Hitler, perhaps you wouldn’t. Likewise, if Julian spends time in prison, or if Julian has middle-class roots, I might suspect an anticipation of Hitler.
SageJulian spent no time in prison. He wasn’t from the middle class, but instead from a collateral branch of the Roman hereditary imperial family. As such he was a pretender to the imperial throne — which he duly seized. However, Ibsen in Emperor and Galilean had a supporting character proclaim Julian to be the latest incarnation of a “great soul” (his words) which had appeared before as Christ, and would be reborn again, in some guise. When Julian dies... the character proclaims, “The Third Reich will come”. If this is “prophecy”, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as I demonstrate in Ibsen and Hitler. In another context, a private rant, AH announced himself to be Christ returned. In Tischgespraeche [i.e., Table-Talk24] he also explicated his personal identification with Julian. Since he also time and again spouted paraphrased lines which trace to the Ibsen play and to no other source (my own discovery), the case is solid.

However, if you see real “prophecy” there, by all means write about it. I’d even debate you in public.

HammondI don’t see prophecy. After all, I haven’t read Ibsen’s play or your work. I suspect prophecy because I know how frequent prophecy is, but I withhold judgment, pending further study. The big question is, “What was Ibsen’s motive in writing Emperor and Galilean? Was he interested in Julian? Or interested in Roman history in general? Was he trying to say something about contemporary Germany? Was he trying to predict the future of Germany?”

Let’s assume you’re right, let’s assume that Hitler was following Ibsen’s script — fabricating a hammer, etc. If you’re right, then here’s what follows:

  1. Hitler was more obsessed with art/drama than we thought. He was completely consumed by art. His building plans, his grandiose architectural ideas — they’re all part of this obsession with art.
  2. Hitler was more inclined to copy — less original — than we thought.
  3. The Ibsen-Hitler relation is a remarkable case of “life imitating art” — one of Wilde’s favorite ideas, and the theme of Wilde’s novel, Dorian Gray. [“Life imitates art,” Wilde wrote, “far more than Art imitates life.... Young men have died by their own hand because by his own hand Werther died.”25] Wilde was a leader of The Aesthetic Movement, which elevated art into a kind of religion — a substitute for a Christianity in decline. Should we regard Hitler as part of this movement, as one branch of The Aesthetic Movement?
  4. If Hitler copied Ibsen, does the story end there? Or did he copy someone else — Wagner, for example? What was the extent of his “copying”?
  5. If Hitler copied Ibsen, regarding Ibsen as a prophet and himself as a fulfillment, then he was more preoccupied with prophecy, and the occult, than we thought. His entire mind-frame was saturated with the occult. He himself was just an empty vessel, to be filled by Fate, a puppet controlled by grand forces, occult forces. He turned the whole world into the stage of Götterdämmerung.
  6. Was Julian successful? A failure? Neither successful nor a failure? If he was a failure, isn’t it surprising that Hitler would take him as a model?
SageAH was a born copycat; see Chapter 4 of Ibsen and Hitler for thorough documentation.... Julian was a failure. No surprise that AH would follow him. All the other role models AH chose were glorious failures.
HammondIn an earlier message, I said that we shouldn’t view Hitler as a fraud, an imposter. He was prone to copy, but isn’t everyone? As Machiavelli said, “Men walk almost always in the paths trodden by others, proceeding in their actions by imitation.... A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.” A tendency to copy, such as we find in Hitler, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could be a sign of respect for great men — a quality that’s all-too-rare nowadays. Also, it could be a sign that he was capable of being deeply moved by an opera or a play — again, not necessarily a bad thing.

Your work may be important as a demonstration of how much copying Hitler did, and it may force us to alter our view of Hitler. That said, I think we should see Hitler as a key player in world history, as a product of his time, and as the agent of Fate, rather than seeing him as a cheat, a skillful liar, etc. I hope you understand the distinction that I’m trying to make. I’m trying to understand Hitler as he was, not make him out to be better or worse than he was.

SageThe unavoidable finding is that WWII is a projection of AH’s following a set of scripts.
HammondBut since WWII was predicted by Nietzsche and others, I think we should see Hitler as, in some sense, the agent of Fate. At the same time, I admit that he may have been following scripts, and he may have been exercising his free will. One of the paradoxes of the human condition is that we’re both free and un-free; we make history, but we’re also made by it.

© L. James Hammond 2007
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1. An earlier version of this brief biography appeared in a previous issue. back
2. Kierkegaard, by Walter Lowrie, I, 2 back
3. The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, edited by A. Dru, long version, Oxford University Press, 1938, #775. Freud said that “the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a man’s life” is his father’s death. back
4. Kierkegaard, by Walter Lowrie, I, 2 back
5. ibid back
6. ibid, II, 3 back
7. ibid, II, 1 back
8. ibid, II, 3 back
9. ibid, IV, 2 back
10. ibid, I, 2 back
11. ibid, III, 1 back
12. ibid, III, 2, i, a
Jane Austen also became engaged and then broke the engagement the next day. But it wasn’t such a traumatic event for her, she wasn’t in love with the man.back
13. Makers of the Modern World, by Louis Untermeyer, “Kafka” back
14. Kierkegaard, W. Lowrie, III, 1 back
15. ibid back
16. ibid back
17. ibid, III, 2, i, B back
18. ibid, III, 1 back
19. ibid, V, 1 back
20. The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, edited by A. Dru, long version, Oxford University Press, 1938, #752 back
21. Kierkegaard, by Walter Lowrie, V, 3 back
22. ibid, V, 1 back
23. ibid, III, 1 back
24. In an earlier issue, I mentioned that “Hitler requested that a stenographer keep a record of his dinner-table conversations.” back
25. The Decay of Lying back