THE CROWD by Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
God is as infinitely concerned with one person of intensity, yes, as he is infinitely indifferent to the millions and trillions. We humans believe numbers mean something. For God, it is precisely numbers that mean nothing, nothing at all.
To compensate for the emptiness of nuts, we clever human beings get all the more of them. This is ridiculous compensation and also a curse. If the nuts are hollow, it would be better if there were just three or four of them. What agony to have to crack a million empty nuts in order to be convinced that they are hollow! So it is with us human beings: compensation for specimens or copies devoid of ideas – we get all the more of them. Everyone is in the service of the substitute, served by multiplying. The numerical is the most ridiculous parody of the truth. By addition we are supposed to achieve that for which addition is really subtraction. But, of course, in the brute sense, numbers have power.
The specimen-man tranquilizes himself with human numbers. If something is true, he needs no higher proof than that such and such a number have regarded it as true.
There are insects that protect themselves against attackers by raising a cloud of dust. Likewise man instinctively protects himself against truth and spirit by raising a cloud of numbers. If you want to be insured against having to deal with truth, with spirit, simply get together battalions, legions, millions who strive, perhaps with united powers – then spirit vanishes and you achieve what you really want: a life lived on the animal side of human nature.
Animal-man has the courage to do the most frightening things as long as he simply has human numbers with him. Christ points to the very opposite. To suffer courageously means precisely to fear God in contrast to fearing the crowd, in contrast to what we as animal-creatures fear most of all – human numbers.
No one dares to be himself; everyone is hiding in “togetherness.”
There are people who have the fortunate gift of managing successfully with everyone – they have no sharp edge. Such people God never uses. God is no friend of the cozy human crowd – no, the one he wants to use is promptly blocked off.
We are no longer salt, we are a mass.
The numerical is the conspiracy. Just as in civil life, when crowds of people collect in the street, the police respond immediately, regardless of whether or not a crime has been committed – for the massing together of lots of people is suspect – so also, and with a completely different kind of right, the higher police immediately and directly attack wherever a hoard of Christians show up. The greater the number, the more certain the lie, the more certain that there is a falsification. Let this be regarded as a counter-proposition to what has delighted the clergy for a long time now – the spread of Christianity.
The single individual is decisive in forming community. He can at any moment become higher than community, specifically, as soon as “the others” fall away from the eternal. The cohesiveness of community comes from each one’s being a single individual before the eternal. The connectedness of a public, however, or rather its disconnectedness, consists of the numerical character of everything. Only the single individual guarantees community; the public is a chimera. In community the single individual is a microcosm who qualitatively reproduces the cosmos. Community is certainly more than a sum, but yet it is truly a sum of ones. The public, on the other hand, is non- sense – a sum of negative ones, of ones who are not ones.
If someone in public happens to pass gas loudly, people are so startled, it is as if it were the voice of a spirit. So intoxicated are we when we are a public.
The majority of the people are not so afraid of holding a wrong opinion, as they are of holding an opinion alone.
To be like the others is humankind’s degeneration, the degradation to copies.
If it is true that human beings alone have received speech in order to conceal their thoughts or, as I put it, in order to conceal the absence of thoughts, then something like this can truthfully be said about the crowd: The crowd is used in order to conceal how empty all existence is. The “many” transfer us into an exalted state just as opium does, and we are tranquilized by the tremendous trustworthiness of millions.
The crowd is like an envelope. One receives a large package, thinks it is something important, but look, it is a package of envelopes.
Everything that needs numbers in order to become significant is by that very fact insignificant. Everything that can be arranged, executed, completed only with the help of numbers, the sum of which startles people in amazement, as if this were something important – precisely this is unimportant. The truly important is inversely related, needs a progressively smaller and smaller number to implement its completion. And for the most important of all, that which sets heaven and earth in motion, only one person is needed. And what is most important of all? What interests angels and demons most is that a person is actually involved with God – for this one single human being is enough.
It occurs to me that we would be quite happy if we managed to find a way for everyone to be a virtuoso in ventriloquism – how satisfied we would be with anonymity!
When it has come to the point where the majority decides what constitutes truth, it will not be long before they take to deciding it with their fists.
Every future effort at reformation, if it is genuine, will be directed against the crowd, not against the government.
Instinctively “man” has a tactic he uses against “spirit”: Let us form a crowd! This is our tactic, our mode of defense. It is done cunningly this way: Let us join together in order to strive to- ward the ideals. But to form a crowd is precisely the way to get rid of the ideals. Just as the ostrich sticks its head into the ground and thinks it is invisible, so we form a crowd and think no one can see us. We speak of not being able to see the woods for the trees, and by this tactic we hope that one cannot see the trees for the woods. Just like the person who says he is not at home to visitors, we are not at home whenever we lose our- selves in the crowd – instead of being an I.
If Christ lived today, attention would surely make the most desperate effort. Every day every paper would have an article on him. Every insignificant detail about him would be spread all over the country in thousands of copies. Everything possible would be dug up to make the situation demented, and harm- less! Everything possible would be done to dismiss him.
Of all the tyrannies, fear is the most dangerous. The communists fight for human rights. Good, so do I. Precisely for that reason I fight with all my might against the tyranny of the fear of man.
Something to chatter about! The crowd demands only some- thing to chatter about, and this is understood to mean finding something about each other to chatter about, something about our meaningless lives, particularly the trivialities in our lives. Anything else nauseates the public, which knows only one
lust – the desire for self-pollution by talking, a lust in which it indulges with the help of the journalist.
Journalists are animal-keepers who provide something for the public to talk about. In ancient days people were cast to the wild animals. Now the public devours the people – those taste- fully prepared by the journalists.
If you want to be loathsome to God, just run with the herd.