It is clear that there are hard times ahead for liberalism in the United States. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, some Muslims, or people taken to be Muslims, were victims of sporadic incidents of religiously intolerant behavior. American habits of religious toleration are now under more intense pressure than they have been at any other time in recent memory. American citizens have, understandably, become fearful and preoccupied with issues of national and personal safety. Many of them seem willing to sacrifice civil liberties or due process of law for the sake of homeland security. Playing to such fears, the Bush administration has adopted policies that are serious threats to liberal values, backing off from their worst features only in the face of domestic or international political pressure. Puffed up by a quick and easy military victory over the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Baathist regime in Iraq, it has also become increasingly wrapped up in the arrogance of power. Its threat to liberal political arrangements may be expected to continue for the indefinite future. Liberals will be required to engage in a defensive political struggle in order to limit the damage to the institutions they cherish.
It is in this context that the question of whether good Christians can be good liberals assumes special urgency. Christianity is the most powerful religious force in American life.
The ethics whose teleological suspension is at issue in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling is the secular ethics of his own time. This secular ethics is the ethical that is contrasted with the aesthetic in his Either/Or. Scholars disagree about the relative importance of the Kantian and Hegelian strands in ethics thus conceived.I This is also the first ethics spoken of in the introduction to The Concept of Anxiety. Vigilius Haufniensis, the pseudonymous author of that work, tells us that “the first ethics was shipwrecked on the sinfulness of the single individual” (CA 20). It is only the second ethics, he goes on to say, that can deal with the manifestation of sin (CA 21). For Kierkegaard, the second ethics is a distinctively Christian ethics. His most thorough treatment of this ethics occurs in Works of Love. According to Bruce Kirmmse, this book is Kierkegaard's “major ethical work and one of the most important works in his entire authorship,” and it contains “his clearest and starkest formulation of a Christian ethics.” Hence most of this essay will be devoted to a discussion of Works of Love. Kierkegaard, however, writing under the pseudonym of Anti-Climacus, also treats Christian ethics from a somewhat different perspective in Practice in Christianity, and this essay will have something to say about that book as well.
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