Having previously written about the despair of finitude and the despair of weakness, two of the three varieties of despair Soren Kierkegaard identifies, I’ll turn to the third, the despair of defiance.
Those inflicted with this form of the disease have experienced the reality of the infinite. Yet the experience hasn’t humbled them as it ought to. Instead, it has inflamed their self-esteem to the degree that they consider themselves equal to the power that created them and allowed them the experience.
I’m no historian, only a college history minor and writer of historical novels. Still, I offer for consideration my view that the two most profound influences on the thought and events of the 20th century were the 19th century philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard.
Nietzsche advocated for the supremacy and assertion of human will. Hitler was certainly influenced by Nietzsche, and Marxist dictators such as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were, if not directly influenced by him, inspired by the school of thought to which he belonged.
A person inflicted with the despair of defiance, as I suspect Nietzsche was, can’t abide feeling subservient. She may be endowed with a sensitive nature coupled with a brilliant mind and therefore suffer more deeply than most from wounds caused by misunderstanding or rejection. If she has experienced the infinite and been led to believe in an omnipotent creator and ruler, she is likely to blame all the unfairness she experiences or witnesses on that ruler. Having witnessed what she perceives as grievous flaws in creation, and at some level believing she could do better, how could she not defy God’s will to form her into the self he created her to be?
Another person inflicted with the despair of defiance may have succeeded so grandly in worldly pursuits that he concurs with his admirers and believes in his essential superiority. Why then should he risk submission to his creator’s vision of what his self should become?
As soon as a sense of entitlement or resentment enters us, we expel humility and invite the despair of defiance, which prompts the acts that allow so many honored, successful, and even truth-seeking people to fall from grace. Fyodor Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment is an inspired case study of such a person.
The despair of defiance makes it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich (or powerful, and perhaps the intellectually gifted) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Because the key to the Kingdom of Heaven is found in the self we are called by our creator to become.
In the film Chinatown, Noah Cross tells Jake Gittes, “I don’t blame myself. You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.”
Notice the defiant won’t take the blame for his despair or anything else, no matter how despicable.