Updated: Mar 23, 2022
I am sitting in my cozy library in Northfield Minnesota, about to comment on the war in Ukraine from an existentialist perspective. The proto–Existentialist Soren Kierkegaard never tired of reminding himself and his readers that “To understand and to understand are two different things,” as in, there is abstract understanding and personal/concrete understanding. Let me begin by confessing, I don’t know what I am talking about in terms of that all-important second sense of understanding. After all, I have never been to war; never had to carry my child and help my sick mother into a bomb shelter. So, I suggest taking my naïve, albeit earnest, reflections on the war from an existentialist standpoint, with two grains of salt.
The phrase “existential crisis” has become hackneyed of late, as in, “increased gas prices could cause an existential crisis.” But the Russian invasion of Ukraine certainly is such a crisis, one that threatens the very being of the Ukrainian people, and as such it warrants commentary from an existentialist perspective.
In fact, it was after the existential catastrophes of the world wars that Existentialism as a philosophical movement ascended to its highest levels of popularity. That is in part because thinkers like Kierkegaard, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus stressed the limits of rationality, and much of what transpired in those humanly produced global conflagrations was far beyond the pale of reason, much like Putin’s seemingly objectiveless and unprovoked war on Ukraine...