Tuning Up - Summer 2014

Two Philosophers

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What would Kierkegaard and Hegel do about the crises of our day?

By David Lehman

June 9, 2014

These two pieces were discovered among the papers of the late Leon Elson, our one-time financial markets correspondent. A third piece—on Wittgenstein and the Benghazi Truth Commission—was left unfinished at the time of his death.

1. Kierkegaard on the Euro (June 17, 2012)

On the day the yield on the 10-year Spanish bond surged to a euro-era high above seven percent, I had the chance to interview Søren Kierkegaard before a live studio audience. The subject was the Eurozone crisis. Kierkegaard, a senior fellow with the Oscar Peterson Institute for International Economics in Copenhagen, is the author of the classic study in “evenhanded” economic theory, Either / Or, in which, most notoriously, the “Hamlet of continental philosophy” compared investing in stocks to a marriage contract: “Marry or don’t marry—you will regret it either way.” Asked for a forecast of what the market will do, Kierkegaard invariably quotes J. P. Morgan: “It will fluctuate.”

I asked him to recommend a path that flight-to-safety investors might take in this moment of high anxiety. “The flight to safety, which is seemingly the opposite of the leap across the abyss, is paradoxically the same thing,” he said. I waited for a follow-up to this comment, but there was none. “Isn’t that an arbitrary statement?” I said. He didn’t smile. “People usually think it is easy to be arbitrary,” he said, “but it requires much study.”

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David Lehman is the series editor for The Best American Poetry annual anthology. He has published eight books of poetry, the most recent of which is New and Selected Poems.

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