Søren Kierkegaard and Political Theology: Indirect Communication and the Strength of Weak Authority: a Reflection on Parliamentary Democracy

The following excerpt is the beginning of my contribution to the edited volume of R. Sirvent & S. Morgan: Kierkegaard and Political Theology, Pickwick Publications, 2018.

„In the course of this essay I aim to answer the following set of questions: Is it possible to describe parliamentary democracy – somewhat idealtypically – as indirect communication? Is it possible to transfer this concept, which Søren Kierkegaard developed as part of his existential dialectics, to the level of collective decision-making? And is it possible to assign to parliamentary democracy similar Christian qualities which Kierkegaard assigns to the notion of indirect communication?

It may be rightfully assumed that Kierkegaard was sceptical about what Samuel Huntington called the “first wave of democratization” in the modernising 19th Century. I claim, however, that Kierkegaard’s democratic scepticism did not prevent him from developing concepts which – in a strange dialectic way – are valuable in a twenty-first century reflection on the idea of parliamentary democracy. In my view, the idea of indirect communication is such a concept.

In order to illustrate that the concept of indirect communication correlates with the idea of parliamentary democracy, I will proceed in two steps: First, I will explain some important features of Kierkegaard’s understanding of indirect communication. I am not going to deal comprehensively with either Kierkegaard’s own writings on the subject nor the extensive secondary literature on Kierkegaard’s ideas on communication. Rather, I will be selective, exemplifying only those points which seem valuable for my overall argument. Secondly, I will relate Kierkegaard’s concept of indirect communication to elements of parliamentary democracy as descripted by a group of 20th and 21st Century European writers as diverse as Carl Schmitt, Jürgen Habermas and Kari Palonen. My essay aims to move forward the presumptuous systematic claim that the concept of indirect communication describes one of the main features of parliamentary democracy, namely: that its strength lies in its weakness.“


Interested in reading more? Please read the full text in:

Robert Sirvent & Silas Morgan (eds.): Kierkegaard and Political Theology, Pickwick Publications 2018.

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