Søren Kierkegaard – The Crowd is Untruth

May 6, 2016 — Leave a comment



The Crowd is Untruth
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Søren Kierkegaard

The crowd is untruth. And I could weep, in every case I can learn to long for the eternal, whenever I think about our age’s misery, even compared with the ancient world’s greatest misery, in that the daily press and anonymity make our age even more insane with help from “the public,” which is really an abstraction, which makes a claim to be the court of last resort in relation to “the truth”; for assemblies which make this claim surely do not take place. That an anonymous person, with help from the press, day in and day out can speak however he pleases (even with respect to the intellectual, the ethical, the religious), things which he perhaps did not in the least have the courage to say personally in a particular situation; every time he opens up his gullet – one cannot call it a mouth – he can all at once address himself to thousands upon thousands; he can get ten thousand times ten thousand to repeat after him – and no one has to answer for it; in ancient times the relatively unrepentant crowd was the almighty, but now there is the absolutely unrepentant thing: No One, an anonymous person: the Author, an anonymous person: the Public, sometimes even anonymous subscribers, therefore: No One. No One! God in heaven, such states even call themselves Christian states. One cannot say that, again with the help of the press, “the truth” can overcome the lie and the error. O, you who say this, ask yourself: Do you dare to claim that human beings, in a crowd, are just as quick to reach for truth, which is not always palatable, as for untruth, which is always deliciously prepared, when in addition this must be combined with an admission that one has let oneself be deceived! Or do you dare to claim that “the truth” is just as quick to let itself be understood as is untruth, which requires no previous knowledge, no schooling, no discipline, no abstinence, no self-denial, no honest self-concern, no patient labor! No, “the truth,” which detests this untruth, the only goal of which is to desire its increase, is not so quick on its feet. Firstly, it cannot work through the fantastical, which is the untruth; its communicator is only a single individual. And its communication relates itself once again to the single individual; for in this view of life the single individual is precisely the truth. The truth can neither be communicated nor be received without being as it were before the eyes of God, nor without God’s help, nor without God being involved as the middle term, since he is the truth. It can therefore only be communicated by and received by “the single individual,” which, for that matter, every single human being who lives could be: this is the determination of the truth in contrast to the abstract, the fantastical, impersonal, “the crowd” – “the public,” which excludes God as the middle term (for the personal God cannot be the middle term in an impersonal relation), and also thereby the truth, for God is the truth and its middle term.

And to honor every individual human being, unconditionally every human being, that is the truth and fear of God and love of “the neighbor”; but ethico-religiously viewed, to recognize “the crowd” as the court of last resort in relation to “the truth,” that is to deny God and cannot possibly be to love “the neighbor.” And “the neighbor” is the absolutely true expression for human equality; if everyone in truth loved the neighbor as himself, then would perfect human equality be unconditionally attained; every one who in truth loves the neighbor, expresses unconditional human equality; every one who is really aware (even if he admits, like I, that his effort is weak and imperfect) that the task is to love the neighbor, he is also aware of what human equality is. But never have I read in the Holy Scriptures this command: You shall love the crowd; even less: You shall, ethico-religiously, recognize in the crowd the court of last resort in relation to “the truth.” It is clear that to love the neighbor is self-denial, that to love the crowd or to act as if one loved it, to make it the court of last resort for “the truth,” that is the way to truly gain power, the way to all sorts of temporal and worldly advantage – yet it is untruth; for the crowd is untruth.

But he who acknowledges this view, which is seldom presented (for it often happens, that a man believes that the crowd is in untruth, but when it, the crowd, merely accepts his opinion en masse, then everything is all right), he admits to himself that he is the weak and powerless one; how would a single individual be able to stand against the many, who have the power! And he could not then want to get the crowd on his side to carry through the view that the crowd, ethico-religiously, as the court of last resort, is untruth; that would be to mock himself. But although this view was from the first an admission of weakness and powerlessness, and since it seems therefore so uninviting, and is therefore heard so seldom: yet it has the good feature, that it is fair, that it offends no one, not a single one, that it does not distinguish between persons, not a single one. A crowd is indeed made up of single individuals; it must therefore be in everyone’s power to become what he is, a single individual; no one is prevented from being a single individual, no one, unless he prevents himself by becoming many. To become a crowd, to gather a crowd around oneself, is on the contrary to distinguish life from life; even the most well-meaning one who talks about that, can easily offend a single individual. But it is the crowd which has power, influence, reputation, and domination – this is the distinction of life from life, which tyrannically overlooks the single individual as the weak and powerless one, in a temporal-worldly way overlooks the eternal truth: the single individual.

Note: The reader will recall, that this (the beginning of which is marked by the atmosphere of its moment, when I voluntarily exposed myself to the brutality of literary vulgarity) was originally written in 1846, although later revised and considerably enlarged. Existence, almighty as it is, has since that time shed light on the proposition that the crowd, seen ethico- religiously as the court of last resort, is untruth. Truly, I am well served by this; I am even helped by it to better understand myself, since I will now be understood in a completely different way than I was at the time, when my weak, lonely voice was heard as a ridiculous exaggeration, whereas it can now scarcely be heard at all on account of existence’s loud voice, which says the same thing.



[1] Perhaps, however, it is right to note once and for all, that which follows of itself and which I have never denied, that in relation to all temporal, earthly, worldly ends the crowd can have its validity, even its validity as a decisive court of last resort. But I am not speaking about such things, which I pay so little attention to. I speak of the ethical, the ethical-religious, of “the truth,” and seen ethico-religiously the crowd is untruth, when it is taken as a valid court of last resort for what “the truth” is.
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[2] Perhaps, however, it is right to note, although it seems to me to be almost superfluous, that it naturally could not occur to me to object to something, for example that there is preaching, or that “the truth” is proclaimed, even though it was to an assembly of a hundred thousand. No, but even if it were an assembly of just ten – and if there should be balloting, that is, if the assembly were the court of last resort, if the crowd were the decisive factor, then there is untruth.
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[3] The reader will therefore recall, that here by “crowd,” “the crowd” is understood as a purely formal conceptual definition, not what one otherwise understands by “the crowd,” when it supposedly is also a qualification, when human selfishness irreligiously divides human beings into “the crowd” and the nobles, and so forth. God in heaven, how would the religious arrive at such in-human equality! No, “crowd” is the number, the numerical; a number of noblemen, millionaires, high dignitaries, etc. – as soon as the numerical is at work, the “crowd” is “the crowd.”