A Vexing Gadfly: The Late Kierkegaard on Economic Matters

By Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez

A thought-provoking study of Søren Kierkegaard’s less well known writings on economic and political affairs, analysed from a theological perspective.

ISBN: 9780227173718


This book focuses on Kierkegaard’s later writings and journals, placing them within a socio-political and economic context that dispels the misconception that he had nothing to say on these issues. In these writings, the great nineteenth-century thinker shows his solidarity with rural residents (90 percent of the population at the time) and urbanite menial workers, and amongst the many themes and topics he addresses are: the option for the poor; the ideology of impotence; the denouncing of a competitive society; the correlation of wealth and poverty; media, church, university and theater as social institutions shaping reality; Christendom; and the retribution doctrine.

Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez develops a theological analysis of Kierkegaard’s socio-economic views within the timeframe of “Golden Age Denmark” (ca. 1800-1860), which includes the period of Denmark’s colonial activities. This approach adds flesh to the bones of abstract thought and doctrine, providing a rich historical context in which Kierkegaard’s thinking can be seen to connect with both the economic realities and the philosophical trends of his time. The author shows how Kierkegaard articulates his standpoint through such structural categories as the age, the pyramid, the building, the external revolution, “the Fire Chief”, and his diagnosis of society.

A Vexing Gadfly reveals a much under-appreciated side of Kierkegaard’s thought, and will be invaluable to any student or scholar of the Danish theologian. However, it also focuses the reader’s attention on contemporary concerns of how theology can address the economic and social disparities of the modern world.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 236

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez is Associate Professor of Contextual Theology and Praxis at the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest in Austin. He is the author of We Be Jammin: Liberating Discourses from the Land of the Seven Flags, The Gospel to the Calypsonians: the Caribbean, Bible and Liberation Theology, and Comentario de Marcos.


List of Abbreviations

1. Golden Age Denmark
2. Kierkegaard on Economic Issues: Years of Transition, 1846-1852
3. Kierkegaard on Economic Issues: The Radical Final Years, 1852-1855


Appendix A: Denmark’s Geopolitics
Appendix B: Journals and Papers: Some Untranslated Kierkegaardian Material
Appendix C: Papirer X 3 A 135 n.d., 1850



Endorsements and Reviews

Finally! After decades of reading and interpreting Kierkegaard as the solitary – and somewhat eccentric – knight of faith, Pérez-Álvarez calls our attention to a different Kierkegaard, one deeply engaged in the economic and social issues of his time. In presenting a hitherto discounted and almost unknown Kierkegaard, this book not only corrects much of our traditional understanding, but also leads one to wonder why in the twentieth century we became so enamored with what was clearly a truncated view of the great Danish theologian.
Justo L. González, author of A History of Christian Thought

A Vexing Gadfly is an extraordinary presentation of the radical economic, social, and political views of the later Kierkegaard as he prophetically and vehemently castigated the nineteenth-century Danish church, state, and their theology and ideology. Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez captures Kierkegaard’s penetrating critique of the social-economic oppression of the marginalized with its relevance for contemporary theology. The cutting irony of a nineteenth-century Dane becomes a powerful voice through a twenty-first-century liberation theologian.
Mark Thomsen, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Pérez-Álvarez presents us with a Kierkegaard that is little known: a theologian connected to his time of profound social changes, which takes the side of poor people and produces keen theological reflections regarding economy. Our time is also marked by crises and economic changes that affect the lives of millions of persons. What does Christian theology have to say to the world today? This book is a valuable contribution in the elaboration of this response.
Jung Mo Sung, author of Desire, Market and Religion

Pérez-Álvarez has made a significant contribution to Kierkegaardian scholarship, if for no other reason to spur us on to read the other ‘hand’ of Kierkegaard’s incisive writings.
Eric Austin Lee, University of Nottingham, in Heythrop Journal, Vol 53 (1)

Against the image of Kierkegaard as a bourgeois intellectual of independent means and idiosyncratic tastes, Pérez-Álvarez portrays a man passionate about the poor, allying himself with the ‘ordinary man’, and scathing in his attack on wealth and privilege. … Pérez-Álvarez argues that Kierkegaard moved from a position of conventional conservatism, through a transitional period of increasing interest in economic affairs, and on to a final, thoroughgoing radicalisation of his socio-economic rhetoric. … it is an important contribution to Kierkegaardian scholarship, and will challenge many students of ‘the melancholy Dane’ to think again.
The Rt Revd Dr Saxbee, University of Nottingham, in Church Times, 28 September 2012

Although Kierkegaard’s ceaseless emphases upon subjectivity and individual decision cannot be ignored, Pérez-Álvarez has done a good job here of highlighting that there is far more to Kierkegaard’s social perspective than previously thought … It would be easy, in a book such as this, to sideline Kierkegaard’s theology as though the economic issues were his primary driving-force. Commendably, Pérez-Álvarez maintains that Kierkegaard’s theology was central but that the economic and social conditions around him proved to be more than just a footnote to his thought.
Aaron Edwards, in Theological Book Review, Vol 24, No 2

With this work, Eliseo-Pérez-Álvarez has occupied an empty nook in Kierkegaard studies.
Bruce P. Baugus, in Journal of Markets and Morality, Vol 15, No 2

This book would be of great value to those studying Kierkegaard’s critique of Christendom, from social, political, economic, and philosophical or theological perspectives. … It offers an accessible, interesting, and thought-provoking account of one of the most famous thinkers of the nineteenth century, contextualized and yet still relevant today. … This refreshing and liberational reading of Kierkegaard rewards the reader.
Victoria Davies, in Reviews in Religion and Theology, Vol 20, No 3

For those interested in Kierkegaard as a perceptive economic observer and agent, [A] Vexing Gadfly does offer a rich cornucopia of primary source references, which merit historical examination. The author’s effort to collect and (in some cases) translate many thematically organised excerpts is a real service to the scholarly community – especially insofar as these passages mark neglected dimensions of Kierkegaard’s authorship.
Joshua Nunziato, in Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol 67, Issue 3