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Katie van Schaijik

Equality of persons

Jan. 26, 2010, at 1:08pm

I’ve just picked up a book called Love’s Grateful Striving: A Commentary on Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, by M. Jamie Ferreira, a professor at the University of Virginia, several of whose essays Jules has read and admired. The concluding paragraph of the introduction highlights a key characteristic of personalism as we hold it. From the Personalist Project’s “manifesto”: “We reject the ancient distinction between Greek and barbarian; we know that the birthright of a person belongs not to a select few but to every human being.”

Here is Professor Ferreira elucidating Kierkegaard’s (often overlooked) sense of solidarity with each and every person, including those lowest on the earthly scale.

When Kierkegaard insists that to love the neighbor is “essentially to will to exist equally for unconditionally every human being” (WL, p.84), he is not mouthing platitudes; he intends the claim for equality to be understood concretely. It is “due to Christianity,” he claims, that “the times are past when only the powerful and the prominent were human beings—and the others were bond servants and slaves” (p.74), and that “the times are past when those called the more lowly had no conception of themselves or only the conception of being slaves, or not merely being lowly human beings, but of not being human beings at all” (p.80). The love commandment is precisely a challenge because many have “inhumanly forgotten” that “whether a person is a man or woman, poorly or richly endowed, master or slave, beggar or plutocrat, the relationships among human beings ought and may never be such that the one worships and the other is the one worshipped” (p.125).

This point’s application to the political sphere comes naturally to Americans. It’s easy not to appreciate enough how new it is in history.


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