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Kierkegaard's writing is too notoriously dense, even in a translation as readable as this one, and time too short for me to try fully explicating this text. Instead, let me just pull out its core and use it to make a contemporary point. For Kierkegaard, anxiety is the human condition because it represents our recognition that we have free will. Put obtusely, anxiety results when we see "freedom's actuality as the possibility of possibility." More accessibly: “Freedom’s possibility announces itself in anxiety.” Metaphorically:
Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs in this dizziness.
In plain English: The feeling of anxiety that our freedom causes is similar to standing at the edge of a cliff and realizing we could jump if we so chose. It is important to note here that this anxiety precedes The Fall--when Man first sinned--because Adam was free to eat the forbidden fruit or not. Simply the knowledge that we are free to sin is anxiety inducing.

While he does not go into the matter here, imagine how much more fiercely this anxiety grips us once we realize that we do choose to sin? We take this gift of freedom and we misuse it horribly. No wonder we are made so anxious by the mere fact of our existence: we know we ought to act in accordance with God's commandments but find ourselves incapable of doing so consistently. And the more we disappoint Him and ourselves the more anxious we must become.

These insights seem particularly valuable in our current moment, when so many on the Right have given up their freedom of thought in favor of blindly following leaders and becoming cultish. As Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer:
Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden...We join a mass movement to escape from individual responsibility, or, in the words of an ardent young Nazi, 'to be free from freedom.' It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility?
What begins with resenting immigrants or blacks or women or Muslims or some combination or all and transmogrifies into hatred is so obviously at odds with what God demands of us that one can't help but desire to be relieved of the burden of one's choices. Bad enough the knowledge that you had freedom to choose, worse the knowledge you chose evilly, how could one not wish to escape responsibility, to still some of the anxiety? However futile the attempt.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Søren Kierkegaard Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Søren Kierkegaard,/a>
-ENTRY: Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -ENTRY: Søren Kierkegaard Danish philosopher (Merold Westphal, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) (kirjasto)
    -ETEXT: Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Soren Kierkegaard (Bruderhof)
    -E TEXTS: Kierkegaard, Soren (1813-1855) (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
    -D. Anthony Storm's Commentary On Kierkegaard
    -TRIBUTE SITE: Piety on Kierkegaard
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Concept of Anxiety
    -BOOK SITE: The Concept of Sin (WW Norton)
    -AUDIO BOOK: The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Oriented Deliberation in View of the Dogmatic Problem of Hereditary Sin [translated by Alastair Hannay]
    -ESSAY: Kierkegaard against the herd: Everyone is the exception (Alastair Hannay, 6/29/21, IAI News)
    -ETEXT: The Concept of Anxiety (translated by Reidar Thomte)
-ESSAY: A Short Note on Kierkegaard and Dizziness (On Dizziness)
    -ESSAY: Kierkegaard: Young, Free & Anxious: Gary Cox considers the problematic side of freedom, from the edge of a cliff. (gary Cox, Philosophy Now)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Kierkegaard and Kant on Freedom and Evil (Professor Alison Assiter (UWE) talk from the Human Experience and Nature, Royal Institute of Philosophy Conference 2011, UWE, Bristol.)
    -VIDEO: Soren Kierkegaard and The Psychology of Anxiety (Academy of Ideas, February 20, 2018)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Søren Kierkegaard's "The Concept of Anxiety" (Part 1/2) (Theory & Philosophy, Feb 13, 2021)
    -ESSAY: Overcoming Anxiety With Kierkegaard and Rollo May: There is hidden power inside anxiety. (Tiago Belé, M.Sc., The Apeiron)
    -ESSAY: Anxieties of Knowing (Michael A. Peters, 2014, Educational Philosophy and Theory)
    -CHAPTER: Anxiety: The Dizziness of Freedom—The Developmental Factors of Anxiety as Seen through the Lens of Psychoanalytic Thinking (Peter Slater, February 25th 2019)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: An Unlikely Meditation on Modern Happiness: Rereading Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling.” (Ryan Kemp, 2/03/22, Hedgehog Review)
-VIDEO: Kierkegaard's horror of doubt (Jonathan Rée, September 2020, London Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Angsting Over Translation (Piety on Kierkegaard, SEPTEMBER 27, 2017)
    -VIDEO: Kierkegaard's horror of doubt in 'Johannes Climacus' (Jonathan Rée, 11/11/2018, London Review of Books)
    -ETEXT: The Oddest Prophet: Søren Kierkegaard (from A Third Testament by Malcolm Muggeridge)
    -ESSAY: St. Mugg's Wrestling Prophets, Part II: The "Weird Little Dane": How a struggling soul built a bridge to Christ for those caught in the world's snares. (Chris Armstrong, 04/23/2004, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: What did Kierkegaard want? (Roger Kimball, September 2001, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Concept of Sin Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Concept of Anxiety (D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard)
    -REVIEW: of Concept of Anxiety (James wetherbee, Library Journal)
    -REVIEW: of The Concept of Anxiety (The Marginalian)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Kierkegaard on anxiety and despair: An analysis of "The Concept of Anxiety" and "The Sickness Unto Death" (Gregory R. Beabout, Marquette University, Dissertation)
    -REVIEW: of Concept of Anxiety (Michael Johnson, View from a Burrow)
    -REVIEW: of Concept of Anxiety (Nathan Eberline, Brevity & Reason)
    -REVIEW: of Concept of Anxiety (into the Rose Garden)
    -REVIEW: of Concept of Anxiety (John Lippitt, Standpoint)
-REVIEW: of Spiritual Writings by Søren Kierkegaard, trans. from the Danish by George Pattison (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard (Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW: of SØREN KIERKEGAARD: A Biography By Joakim Garff (Henry Carrigan, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography By Joakim Garff (Gregory R. Beabout, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle (Roger Caldwell, Philosophy Now)
    -REVIEW: Philosopher of the Heart (Adam Kirsch, New Yorker)

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