Kierkegaard on Rome, and Perhaps on the Internet

In his upbuilding discourse entitled, “Strengthening in the Inner Being,” Kierkegaard describes Rome during Paul’s time as follows,

In the world’s capital, in proud Rome, where all the splendor and glory of the world were concentrated, where everything was procured whereby human sagacity and rapaciousness tempt the moment in the anxiety of despair, everything to astonish the sensate person, where every day witnessed something extraordinary, something horrible, and the next day had forgotten it upon seeing something even more extraordinary…

In the capital city of the world, in tumultuous Rome, where nothing could withstand the unbridled power of time, which swallowed everything as quickly as it made its appearance, which consigned everything to forgetfulness without leaving a trace…

This sounds an awful lot like the internet in the present day. The internet has become the place in which we are lost in the power of the moment. It is where wealth, power, prestige, the social, the intellectual, and the political congregate. It is so easy to get lost in its grip, because it has “everything to astonish the sensate person, where every day witnessed something extraordinary, something horrible.” And further, the next day, those horrible, extraordinary are forgotten and replaced by “something even more extraordinary.”

I’d be willing to bet that Kierkegaard is not only attempting to describe Rome in Paul’s time, but modernity in his own time. What I’m guessing he didn’t understand is that his description would only gain in power as modern humans globalized and became interconnected in ways unfathomable in the mid-1800s.

He goes on to describe the difficulty with which humans remain “strengthened in the inner being” when faced with adversity or given good fortune, because humans are so likely to focus in on their current situation as being definitive of what life is really like. What I wonder is — how difficult is it to maintain a strong inner being when the internet and the ubiquity of the social is so easily distracting? How can I become a whole person, or work towards the telos of the human life, if my attention is constantly pulled this way and that?

Leave a Reply