D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Fourth Period: A Prelude to The Second Authorship (1846-48)

Two Ages

  • Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age: A Literary Review
  • En literair Anmeldelse: To Tidsaldre, Novelle af forfatteren til En Hverdags-Historie udgiven af J. L. Heiberg
  • 1846
  • KW14, SKS8, SV8

This work is a lengthy review of a novel written in 1845 by Thomasine Christine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd, entitled Two Ages. This work technically appeared after he had declared a formal end to his authorship, and was the second review that Kierkegaard wrote—the first being From the Papers of One Still Living. Although it was published under his own name, he actually did much of the writing in 1845 (during what has been called his indirect, pseudonymous period), months before the Concluding Unscientific Postscript was published, which contained an addendum that revealed his pseudonymous authors.

It is interesting that the work which Kierkegaard reviews here, as well as other works by Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd, was published anonymously, so that Kierkegaard could not be sure of the author; yet he seems to allude to her in more than one passage. The author had been the wife of P. L. Heiberg for what was a brief marriage. Her son, J. L. Heiberg, who was a great literary figure in Denmark, published the work.

Kierkegaard's work is in three parts. The first part quickly reviews the story. The second part covers the plot esthetically. The third and longest section has been published separately in English in substantial form as "The Present Age". Kierkegaard's thesis is that the present age is reflective, yet without passion. The present age "levels". By leveling, Kierkegaard means reduces to the lowest common denominator.

The present age is essentially a sensible, reflecting age, devoid of passion, flaring up in superficial, short-lived enthusiasm and prudentially relaxing in indolence. ...whereas a passionate age accelerates, raises up, and overthrows, elevates and debases, a reflective apathetic age does the opposite, it stifles and impedes, it levels.... In antiquity the individual in the crowd had no significance whatsoever; the man of excellence stood for them all. The trend today is in the direction of mathematical equality, so that in all classes about so and so many uniformly make one individual.... For leveling to take place, a phantom must first be raised, the spirit of leveling, a monstrous abstraction, an all-encompassing something that is nothing, a mirage—and this phantom is the public.... The present age is essentially a sensible age, devoid of passion and therefore it has nullified the principle of contradiction (p. 68, 84f., 90, 97).

When individuals (each one individually) are essentially and passionately related to an idea and together are essentially related to the same idea, the relation is optimal and normative (p. 62).

As always Kierkegaard maintains that truth is found with the individual and not the masses. Kierkegaard has often been accused of having no regard for unity, specifically unity in the church. However, this is not quite so. Though each man will be judged by God as an individual, and groups have no existence vis-à-vis the absolute, Kierkegaard does write on constructive diversity in unity.

When Kierkegaard says that the present age is reflective, he does not mean that it is rationally sufficient, but merely that it lacks passion. In a journal entry from two years later he says, "In Works of Love I said: The age of thinkers is past. Soon one will have to say: The age of thought is past". In using the word reflective, Kierkegaard meant primarily two things: First, the present age thinks and chooses without the requisite passion. Second, it is self-referential, and thus is in no relation to the absolute. "Nullifying the contradiction" is a reference to Hegelianism. In Hegelian dialectic, when a thesis is posited, its opposite is eo ipso posited, which is the antithesis. This yields a result, which is the synthesis (unity) of the two. Hegel's triadic view is evolutionary in nature and strives for unity. Kierkegaard maintained that this dialectic negates contradiction, which is an essential of logic. Without the contradiction all logic collapses, and men become self-reflective and passionless. This is further evidence that Kierkegaard did not deny propositional truth. Rather, he maintained that objective truth must be appropriated subjectively.