Is existentialism nationalism?

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

Is existentialism nationalism? The “turbulent priest” and Danish People’s Party parliamentarian Søren Krarup argues that it is. The following is a translation of an article he published in Politiken on 10th November 2009. He draws on Kierkegaard to argue that a change of system has taken place in Denmark, and that the rest of Europe will follow where Denmark leads – down the path of xenophobic ethnic nationalism.  There are some comments and explanations of terms in the notes. A more detailed analysis will follow soon.

Krarup: Denmark has become a pioneering country in Europe

The change of system in 2001 is ultimately an educational project. The Politiken System has lost.

BY Søren Krarup

Let us just ask the question now eight years later. Was there a change of system in 2001? Is this concept real and serious in this situation?

It is obvious that when one uses the term change of system about what happened in November 2001, as I do, one presupposes that the period until 2001 represented a kind of system. Am I right in this?

If I may be a little self-centred, I would answer that I have made and substantiated such a claim through my many years of writing.

In particular in my book The modern breakdown in 1984, but also in others in a rather wide-ranging authorship, I have tried to depict and document a common intellectual characteristic, which carried the hallmark of cultural radicalism and departed from Georg Brandes’ “breakthrough lectures” in 1871 and in particular the domination of public opinion by the daily newspaper Politiken from the end of the 19th century until – well, until the change of system in 2001.[1]

The Politiken System – this was Denmark from 1905 until 2001, with everything that it entails.

With defence nihilism, with national self-loathing, with a cold shoulder turned to the Danish South Jutlanders, with the 9th April 1940, with a policy of collaboration with the German occupying forces, with EU supranationalism and a foreigner policy with contempt for the Danish people’s right of primogeniture to Denmark, which was expressed so characteristically and poignantly by Bjørn Elmquist during the second reading of the Aliens Act of 2nd June 1983: “We can now say that at least here in our own home we do what we can in order not to discriminate on the basis of nationality.”

Such a statement is identical with the abolition of Denmark as a nation or of Danish nationality[2], which evidently for all distinguishes and must distinguish between those who are Danish citizens covered by Danish law and those who are not Danish citizens and hence cannot make claims to the rights of Danish citizens in Denmark.

Bjørn Elmquist’s revealing phrase articulates the Politiken System. Characteristically, he does not understand it himself. I have discussed it with him, and he does not comprehend the reality. This may be what actually characterises the Politiken System. You are just being “good”. You are only representing “human compassion” and “justice”.

Such undisputed self-righteousness – I am tempted to say such totalitarian humanism – has long ago transcended the reality of existing human beings. One just wants to sacrifice oneself for humanity. And the fact that one sacrifices the real, living, concrete human beings, whom one owes respect and solidarity, does not affect such Pharisees.

This is the Politiken System. This is the system, which the parliamentary elections of 2001 broke with, which is why it makes good sense to speak of a change of system.

There were attempts at changes of system during 20th century Danish history. This happened not coincidentally and most markedly in connection with the German occupation and the resistance struggle against the collaboration policy. Also in this case, it was disputed and challenged Danes who stood up against the official stance of capitulation and self-destruction. The existing versus the abstracting. But the inspiration from the resistance struggle was strangled by the Politiken System in the post-war era, and although the same inspiration was felt in the resistance against the EEC, it was also unable to turn the ruling line of self-righteousness or Pharisaic humanism.

This only happened in 2001.

There is a characteristic event, which outlines the problem. I remember it only too well, and incidentally I saw Arne Hardis of Weekendavisen mention it recently. It was in the mid-1980s when the reality of foreigner policy[3] began to dawn also on Social Democrats, and mayors in the western suburbs of Copenhagen began to demand greater realism from their party.

This led to the constitution of a committee chaired by Vibeke Storm Rasmussen, which in its report painted a sinister picture of a divided and ruptured “lower Denmark” under the aegis of immigration policy.[4] These Social Democrats demanded protection of Denmark and the Danes. But the Social Democrats had made the ideological humanist Svend Auken its leader in 1987, and he scrapped the report and instead had one drawn up, which made it the policy of the Social Democrats to combat what the Politiken System called the “racism” of the population.

Thus the Social Democrats prepared their own defeat. Because this was how Svend Auken and his like-minded allies betrayed the existing Dane.

This is because it is all about the concept of existence. It all actually takes it departure point in Søren Kierkegaard’s understanding of what it means to be human. It is all about how human life is about guilt and responsibility, not about ideology and utopia and the worship of progress.

What is it to be human? In the book I already mentioned, The Modern Breakdown, I drew a line in Danish and European intellectual history[5] with Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Marx as the two decisive opponents. I could just as well say Christianity and humanism since Kierkegaard’s writings are just a Christian nota bene to the enlightenment tradition, which with Marx garbs itself in totalitarian robes, and the real content of which we have seen far too clear and far too many testimonies to in the 20th century.

Kierkegaard and Christianity preach respect for “the singular individual”, the existing human being. Humanism and Marxism on the other hand denote contempt for the individual in the name of the idea and progress.

Immigration in Denmark grossly disregarded consideration for the Danes. Svend Auken & Co. were busily occupied taunting and chastising those Danes who could not rise above their increasingly intolerable conditions on the streets and staircases. It was ”racism” when the tormented and concerned Danes cried for help. It was the “racist” Danes, which the Politiken System and the ideological Pharisees made into the problem.

But reality is real, although the Politiken System condemns it. The Danish population’s needs and fears would not be abolished by Svend Auken’s indignation over the Danes.

Existence was real, and the real meaning of the change of system is the expulsion of abstract ideological lies by existential reality.

The Danes had had enough of empty phrases! The Danes reacted spontaneously, immediately, yes, existentially to the threatened life they had come to live under immigration policy.

That is what is new. And that is the change of system. That one reacts to one’s situation. That one is not cowed by the many phrases, which the Politiken System has been a master at selecting and disseminating. That one dares to let one’s given reality be the yardstick and thus send a century to the scrapheap, which made human reality what should be overcome.

It is by no means a coincidence when the political left, which craves power so badly, takes over the right-wing government’s foreigner policy and assures that they mean it from the heart.[6] Of course, this is not true. I can testify to this as a member of the Select Committee on Integration.[7] But what is crucial when describing the meaning of the change of system is that those parties, which implemented the Aliens Act of 1983[8] and thereby brought down disaster upon Denmark, must now respect the ordinary Dane’s no. The ideologues and the Pharisees have been educated by the population. They must – to stick to the terminology – say yes to existence and no to ideology.

Or to put it more clearly: Say yes to Kierkegaard and no to Marx.

The change of system is therefore ultimately an educational project. The common people’s education of ideological, immature, politicians for whom nothing matters less than the everyday, reality, existence. In the Politiken System empty phrases rule. What matters is not being but appearance. If you can attach the correct labels to yourself and the wrong ones to your opponent, you are right. This has been the system in Denmark since 1905. But the population have learnt through hard-won experience in recent decades that the everyday, reality, existence is what is crucial.

And thereby – I say – Denmark has become a pioneer country in Europe. I recently had another opportunity to ascertain this. This is because Denmark had a visit by a Swedish girl journalist who has made a film about Denmark and the Danes, whom she tries to cast suspicion on and slander by all means, and of course the Danish People’s Party in particular. There was no end to her slandering of the foul, foul Danes.

I had the opportunity to see the film and later discuss it with the Swedish journalist on TV2 News, and it was striking to me, who has through the years experienced today’s political correctness at close hand, how this was an attempt to force the Danes and perhaps particularly the Swedes into the ideological straightjacket of the past.

This is because the Danes were only meant to be used as a bugbear for the Swedish population who have weakly, rather weakly, started the same showdown with the ideological rulers as Denmark has carried out. I had to remind the journalist girl that in the 1970s the English journalist Roland Huntford published a book about the Sweden of Olof Palme, where he had worked for several years, and called the book The New Totalitarians. This was how he characterised modern Sweden, which is ruled by Olof Palme-style politicians and journalists. A genuinely Svend Auken-esque country.

A country where the insult ”racist” determines public debate and where the common Swede who rallies his countrymen to resistance under the pressure of an overwhelming and intolerable immigration is cowed and persecuted by the rulers in the media and politics. That was the purpose of this film about Denmark, where the change of system has taken place.

And during the debate with the Swedish journalist I could not help recounting an experience I had some years ago at Tidehverv’s[9] summer meeting. An elderly man unknown to me stood up and asked to speak and told that he had lived in Scania for many years although he was born Danish.[10] And during the German occupation, he said, the Danes from blacked-out Denmark looked longingly towards the Swedish coast, which was bathed in light.

Now it is the other way around. Now the Swedes sit in a blacked-out Sweden and look jealously to a Denmark with light and freedom of spirit because the Danes have broken with the lack of freedom and enforcement of uniformity which Sweden is suffering under so badly.

I told the Swedish journalist this. But I realised that my words were in vain.

No, the European upper class, those who think like Olof Palme and Svend Auken, the Europe of the media and ideologues, refuse to face the everyday reality, which the common Danish population have taken to their heart and created a change of system on. I have been struck time and again during recent decades by the difference between the official and the common Denmark.

I could be tempted to say about the upper class that we are seeing the fall of Rome again – with a depraved, amoral, effect-seeking upper class betraying the reality and culture lived by the common people. This is why there is this monomanic propaganda against ”racism”, this is why there is a supranational or anti-national EU, which most of all tries to shut the mouth of the populations and prevent them from expressing their opinion about the EU and the Lisbon treaty through referendums.

Denmark is a fortunate exception. The Danes have carried out the change of system, which the populations of Europe are dreaming about. But I believe the upper class will eventually lose. I believe there are many, many signs that the Europeans are about to follow in the footsteps of the Danes. The most recent elections to the European Parliament seem to me to be a straw in the wind of the movement of which the Danish change of system is an expression.

The growing revolt by the populations against the supranational ideologues. This is why the European nations are demanding independence. The Danish change of system is, in all its simplicity, national. It is the same craving for national self-determination, which I see as the leading trend in Europe today.


Published: Nov 10, 2009 12:36 PM


Translator’s notes

[1] Georg Brandes was a leading cultural theorist in late 19th to early 20th century Denmark and Germany. Krarup’s book Det moderne sammenbrud (The modern breakdown) is a response to Brandes’ Det moderne gennembrud (The modern breakthrough). The Danish Ministry of education writes as follows about Brandes and “cultural radicalism”, which is the general movement that Krarup and the Danish government since 2001 have opposed in their “struggle of values” (værdikamp):

In the last third of the 19th century, an enlightenment movement arose, which later became known as cultural radicalism. Values such as freedom, reason and enlightenment lay at the basis of the new age of enlightenment, which was properly introduced in Denmark when Georg Brandes (1842-1927) held a series of lectures in 1871 with the innocent title Main Currents in 19th Century Literature. These lectures, however, ignited a fire, off which sparks still leap. Even though the new age of enlightenment was not a copy of the classical Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, it built on the same emphasis of science and “freedom of thought” (including the right to criticise religious tradition), the same aversion to the supernatural and the metaphysical, the same preoccupation with social problems and the same optimism about human nature and history.

A good biographical overview of Georg Brandes can be found at

Ironically, it was Brandes’ (and Harald Høffding’s) German-language writings on Kierkegaard and correspondence with Nietzsche, which brought this otherwise obscure Copenhagen eccentric to the attention of European and Japanese (Watsuji Tetsuro) intellectual circles. But Krarup seems to think that Kierkegaard’s message was narrowly Danish and Lutheran. Krarup wrote in his Modern breakdown book that his “Jewish blood” gave Brandes “no sense of piety and belonging to the past of the country.” (“…på grund af sit jødiske blod var han uden pietet for og samhørighed med landets fortid.”) He also describes Brandes’ “modern breakthrough” as “a rape of Danish culture” (voldtægt af den danske kultur). So Jews and Muslims can never be at home in Denmark, and they are branded as rapists, both literally and metaphorically. For more Krarup quotes, which I intend to translate, see

The newspaper Politiken has historically been and remains the leading voice of centre-left opinion and the urban intelligentsia. It has been closely linked with “cultural radicalism” through its history and with Jewish intellectuals.

[2] The term Krarup uses is “dansk indfødsret”, which literally means the right to be considered a native Dane. It has connotations of primogeniture and that “natives” should naturally be privileged over non-natives. It is a standard term, which has no direct equivalent in English. It covers much of the semantic terrain of the English term citizenship, but it means more than that. The Danish term statsborgerskab corresponds directly with civic/legal citizenship, but indfødsret has more ethno-cultural connotations, more Blut und Boden. The annual awarding of citizenship, for instance, takes place through an act of parliament called Lov om dansk indfødsrets meddelelse, i.e. Law announcing the right to be considered a Danish native. The document is passed as a law and lists the names of all those who have become naturalised. This is required by Article 44 of the Constitution of the Danish Empire (my unofficial but honest translation), which states that “no foreigner can acquire indfødsret except by law.” On the imperial nature of current Danish constitutional arrangements, please see Steffensen, Kenn Nakata “Denmark’s invisible empire: The politics of translating the Danish constitutional order” in Epstein, Brett J. (ed.) Northern Lights: Translation in the Nordic Countries. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009. For more on Danish citizenship/indfødsret see Sine Lex, Lasse Lindekilde and Per Mouritsen “Public and political debates on multicultural crises in Denmark”. Florence: European University Institute, 2007.

[3] Krarup uses the standard Danish term udlændingepolitik. Because he contrasts udlændingepolitik with indvandringspolitik (immigration policy), I have chosen a literal translation. This reads somewhat awkwardly in English, but it conveys the meaning and retains the distinction he makes between a policy to deal with foreigners on Danish territory and a policy to regulate immigration. Udlændingepolitik literally means “foreigner policy”, and its use in Denmark, as opposed to the Swedish “migrationspolitik” (migration policy) speaks volumes about the conceptual difference in approach between the two countries and between Denmark and most of the world. Hans Mouritzen has written on this, but I do not have the reference at hand. An interesting parallel is Japan, which has similar elements of blood and soil natinalism.

[4] Krarup now uses the term indvandringspolitik (immigration policy) rather than “udlændingepolitik” to distinguish between the “bad” old days and the new order he claims has come into being in 2001.

[5] The term used by Krarup is åndshistorie, which corresponds to the German Geistesgeschichte or Japanese seishinshi i.e. more than just a history of the intellect. It is literally a “history of the spirit”.

[6] Krarup uses the term borgerlig regering, which literally means “bourgeois government”. In addition to the left-right dichotomy, Scandinavian political discourse often distinguishes between “bourgeois” and “workers’” parties. The “bourgeois-worker” distinction is probably more common than left-right. Sometimes the two are used together, as in “the left wing and the bourgeois parties”.

[7] Integrationsudvalget is a Danish parliamentary committee.

[8] The law was last amended in August 2009. An unofficial English translation is available at

[9] Tidehverv is a theological journal and movement founded in 1926. Krarup has been one of its leading figures for many years. The movement defines itself as follows:

Tidehverv is old-fashioned Lutheran Christianity in an age far too moden to respect the basically human: To be a single human being between birht and death, in responsibility and guilt.

Tidehverv is therefore non-modern because Tidehverv renounces that modernity which is another word for superficiality. Tidehverv is therefore also reactionary because Tidehverv reacts against the worship of development and progress, which means spiritual emptiness and personal irresponsibility.

The above is my translation of the Danish text at

[10] Scania (Skåne) is a southern Swedish region, which was Danish until 1658. Krarup has called for its return to Denmark, although he has later claimed that he was misquoted. He does, however, still maintain that he would like to see former Danish territory in northern Germany returned when/if the people living there realise that they are Danish at heart.


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