While reading Kierkegaard, I am becoming increasingly convinced – against not a few commentators – that when he is talking about universals he has Hegel in mind more than he does Kant. But I also want to suggest that Kierkegaard’s opposite is not only Hegel (and Kant), but that kind of levity and paucity of moral seriousness depicted in Monty Python’s controversial conclusion to their brilliant film The Life of Brian and Eric Idle’s invitation to ‘Always look on the bright side of life’:
If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.
I am reminded here of the insights of one Kierkegaard scholar who noted that the malady of our age is mediocrity. It is easy to think that with all the busyness of modern life people are actually living engaged lives. In actual fact, however, very few live with passion, or on the basis of conscience. Everything is calculated in a way that whatever we do is reduced to the reasonable or unreasonable, or worse yet, to the law of least resistance. Suffering is to be avoided at all costs. In the name of unconditional freedom options remain open, but in the process, people drift along. In Kierkegaard’s words, ‘There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves’.