Oh Christendom is pampered with the nonsense that the Christian God is a decent and harmless chap, a good fellow, and especially a friend of female busyness and the begetting of children. All human effort tends towards herding together – Let Us Unite, etc. Naturally, this happens under all sorts of high-sounding names, love and sympathy and enthusiasm and the carrying out of some grand plan and the like. This is the usual hypocrisy of the scoundrels we are. But the truth is that in a herd, we are free from the standard of the individual. So, millions of men live and die. They are just numbers and the numerical becomes their horizon. That is to say, they are just copies and Christianity, which in the Divine Love wants everyone to be an individual, has been transformed by human bungling into precisely the opposite. – Soren Kierkegaard
I’ve been perusing some more of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I dare to make the claim that it was Kierkegaard himself that first proposed the deconstruction of social reality. He is the first to recognize that the identity of the herd and the identity of the individual are both social constructions through his theistic existentialism, which predates both Nietzsche’s Foucault’s geneaologies of the social and is an obvious critique of Marx’s communism.
There are certainly political implications to what he says here. For instance, the notion of the “herd” and false consciousness (in terms of Christianity and socialism, the former being further elaborated by Nietzsche). The most fascinating aspect I find is that Kierkegaard brings up the notion of numbers and the numerical, similar to Foucault’s Security, Territory, and Population piece where calculation and statistics are an integral part of enforcing state sovereignty. That is, people can be managed by imposing a nationalist imaginary that they are a unitary subjects versus individual subjects. Kierkegaard is critiquing the metanarrative (perhaps also the geneaology?) of the state machine as derived from Christianity (a grand plan that people are predestined for greatness). He acknowledges the power of political ideology to reproduce sovereign power through the notion of the “herd” or population according to nationalist, democratic, or unitary sense. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Foucault borrowed the notion of the relationship between power and subjectivity from Kierkegaard (who is credited with first using the concept of subjectivity)! Although they differ where Kierkegaard believes that state power is not productive and that the individual must free oneself from the herd.
Earlier last month, I was discussing the importance of interrogating the doubt we have about objective beliefs, that it is a healthy and necessary practice that permits the advancement of moral progress. Granted, Kierkegaard has not done well to interrogate his own sexist assumptions, as indicated by the first phrase of the quote. However, the subjectivity of the self is incredibly important to understanding the objectivity (I prefer to call it superrationality or transcendence) of belief/reality. The subject is meant to inquire into the object, else no meaning is giving to the object or the subject without interaction (or as Kant would say, the synthesis of the a priori and the empirical). Perhaps this is a Popperian view, but I start from the premise that since the objective can be interrogated, it permits it to be so insofar as it withstands critique.
Now I wonder if I can use Kierkegaardian philosophy in the rebranding or reformulation of liberal IR theory. I suppose it would be more useful to constructivist IR theory since existentialism and the subjectivity of identity go hand in hand. However, liberalism is still a viable vessel for integration with Kierkegaardian thought, especially with the agency of the individual and such agency is predicated on the formation of identity through human development, to take a page from Mill. I also have the fear that constructivism and critical IR theory are not so much alternatives as indicative of the progress of IR thought and therefore it would be useless to rehash liberal IR theory. At the same time, I would argue that critical (feminist, race-thinking, Gramscian) and constructivist IR thinking are all rehashings of liberal IR thought. In any case, I intend to investigate this further, perhaps by reading more Kierkegaard…