An Examination of Demonic Despair

by Vered Arnon

“Now I’m God, because God never loved me this much! I can’t breathe! Save me! I never had faith in You. I’ll never have faith in You. I’ll resurrect myself…” — Jack Off Jill

According to Kierkegaard, despair is an affliction suffered by everyone. Although his analysis is difficult to describe and explain, an attempt to examine it follows here. According to Kierkegaard, despair arises when the relation between the self and God is imbalanced. Many different imbalances are possible; thus he describes various different types of despair, the most severe of which is defiant despair. The most intense form of defiant despair is called demonic despair or the Devil’s despair, while the lesser form of defiant despair is called stoic despair. The best way to understand the Devil’s despair is to contrast it with stoic despair. Through the contrast, the intensity of demonic despair is revealed, and the imbalance in the self relation and the relation of the self to God is fully explained.

In order to explain how an imbalanced self gives rise to despair, Kierkegaard lays out a model of the relations of the self, and the relation between the self and God. This is easier to understand when expressed through a diagram, but Kierkegaard did not supply any diagrams, so the following diagrams are merely an attempt, for the sake of clarity, to illustrate Kierkegaard’s model. In a fully balanced self, God (P) is the foundation of the relation. The self is composed of polemic parts that relate to each other (R1), and then the relation of that relation to itself establishes the self (R2), but for the self to fully actualise it must then relate back to the foundation, to God (R3). When that relation is balanced, it is established through faith. Since the despairer of defiant despair does not have faith in God, the misrelation occurs in that final relation. The self refuses to rest in and be upheld by its foundation.

The above diagram shows the balanced relations. God, represented by ‘P’, is the underlying foundation. The different components of the self, through R1, form a synthesis. The self can then be self-aware, through R2. Finally, R3 represents the relation between the self and God. The self is not fully a self unless it relates back with awareness and faith to its foundation. In a way, the self must lose itself in this larger relation in order, paradoxically, to be a balanced self. This R3 relation is the focus of defiant despair. In both forms of defiant despair, one is “in despair to will to be oneself”. He recognises himself as a spiritual creature, he is aware of the infinite in his nature. But he is unwilling to rest in the foundation. He insists on being himself, willing to be a self, grasping tightly to the R1 and R2 relations, defiantly refusing to ‘lose’ himself.

In stoic despair, portrayed above, the R3 relation has not been drawn in, because the despairer, while recognising self as spirit, does not recognise God as the foundation. The self does have a proper understanding of God, but does not relate to ‘P’, and mistakenly presumes to be its own foundation. It almost seems to view ‘P’ as part of itself, instead of something it must relate to. Stoic despair does not recognise any limits to the self, and confuses the self with ‘P’. Ultimately, in stoic despair, the self is not a true self, because it is disconnected from its foundation. The self is merely willing to be its own master. This is a less intense form of despair, because while it is assertive, it is still passive in comparison to outright rebellion against a master. The self wishes to create himself in his own image— he is in despair because he can create and recreate himself, but all is essentially empty and unfulfilling because he lacks foundation.

In demonic despair, the misrelation of the R3 relation is somewhat different, as depicted in the above diagram. The self recognises that God is the foundation, but refuses to have faith. The self wills to be independent of ‘P’ while fully acknowledging ‘P’. The self would like to dispense with the R3 relation altogether, but recognises its limitations and thus hates the entire situation (existence, reality, etc).

The Devil’s despair, in contrast to stoic despair, is reactive and rebellious. It is fuelled not by the despairer’s desire to create himself in his own image, but rather by an anger towards God for creating him in an image he considers flawed. If he merely refused to acknowledge God, then he would be passive in his relation to God. He would have no reason to hate God, and would merely consider his own Self to hold the position that God really holds in relation to his self. But God is essential to his despair, God is essential to his lack of faith, because if he merely discarded the notion of God then he would have to blame himself for his despair— and he does not consider himself accountable. He considers himself better than God, the victim of a creator who failed to create man properly. He thinks he could do a better job if he were the independent master of his self, but he knows, and despairs over, the fact that he is unable to will to be a self independent of God. He lives in suffering and blames the suffering on God. He is fully aware that he is in despair, and he knows that turning back to God is the only way that he can be saved from despair. But he defiantly clings to his despair and his misery, refusing to let God save him, because he believes that God is responsible for his state of despair.

Kierkegaard’s concept of despair as a misrelation enables one to examine his analysis in a logical format. The contrast between the Devil’s despair and stoic despair shows how intensely the self can fall into demonic defiance. The insistence on blaming God for despair is what drags the self down into the lowest depths of misery and suffering.

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