BRUNO BAUER'S CRITICAL THEORY

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sun Apr 30 14:43:46 MDT 1995


SUMMARY REVIEW OF:

Sass, Hans-Martin.  "Bruno Bauer's critical theory", PHILOSOPHICAL
FORUM, vol. 8, nos. 2-4, 1976?, p. 92-120.

Bruno Bauer was the powerhouse of the Young Hegelians and closely
associated with Marx for a time.  Bauer's strength was theology
(acknowledged decades later in Engels's obituary of Bauer), but
politics was another matter.  Bauer and Marx held opposing
positions on the historical role of Russia (Bauer for, Marx
against) and on communism.  Bauer does not see communism or
economics at all as the solution for pauperism; rather the
communist solution ignores the disintegration of institutions for
an exclusive concentration on the most ailing and most failing
segment of society.  Communism will destroy individual will,
according to Bauer (p. 104).  Bauer's friend Szeliga hoped for an
alliance between government and intellectuals.

"Szeliga's short paper marks the transition of the left
antithetical revolution-strategy of _The Free_ to Bauer's
right-wing elite; its conservative constitutionalism with
considerable disdain for philistine mediocrity.  It is the missing
link in the development of the young Bauer into the late Bauer,
who then surpasses Marx's  "still pure" _Science_ when he
recognizes concrete _Personalities_ and great people as being the
true agents of history, in place, of abstract science." (p. 105)

Bauer had high ambitions for his critical theory, thinking that it
alone could instigate a revolution.  Later, seeing the individual
not emancipated but left helpless by the break-up of the old
order, Bruno finds the initiative of world-history in the hands of
states.  As Sass put it: "When salvation does not occur, this
model turns into a model of human and social disintegration." (p.
106)

Sass outlines the dynamic of Bauer's reversal:

"With Bruno Bauer the debate of pure criticism, which became its
own object after having critically destroyed all else, finally
ends in a kind of conservative realism.  He now expected a great
deal from personalities and people, but little from the sciences
and the intellectuals.  He recognized a compulsive complementary
quality of excessive individualism on the one hand and tyranny and
centralization on the other hand.  There is no breach between the
young radical Critic Bauer and the Conservative Bauer; one
position developed from the other by consistently applying the
concept of critical critique and by constant use of the
antithetical -- not of the dialectically mediating -- model of
conflict in science and society.  The critique which is at first
scientific, becomes political or critical, then pure critique, and
finally ends in critical conservatism."  (p. 107)

Other routes of escape from the escalating expectations of
critique are represented by Marx and Stirner. (p. 1-7)

I made a note about eschatology (p. 109), but I have nothing
further on that.

For those of us (eg. Justin and I) studying this period
(culminating in _The German Ideology_) and seeking out links
between the 1840s and the present time, it should be of interest
that Sass himself draws some curious parallels:

"To put it explicitly, Max Horkheimer's theory of the antithetics
between traditional theory and critical theory, of the critical
critic's impartial floating above social fractions, of critique as
a weapon, of the intellectual's capacities of discipline,
spontaneity, wilfulness [sic], and obstinacy, of the strategy of
criticizing the whole in general from outside and not this or that
part of the present -- Horkheimer's critical theory is not
plagiarized from Bauer, but it grows in the same climate: a
climate in which the intellectuals' disappointment with the state
authorities seems to leave no option open but criticism."  (p.
110)

Several specific parallels are drawn, but to sum up:

"All the creations of the "critical universities" in which the
Berlin and San Diego of the 60s, of Herbert Marcuse's
neo-Manichean theory of liberating and repressive tolerance, down
to the practical consequences of student revolts and urban
guerrillas, and of the justification by terror by intellectual
phrases in illegitimate gangs -- none of this is either new or
original.  Only one of these products of Bauer's critical engine,
Marx's thesis of the union between philosophy and proletariat,
affirms its 19th century origins.  However, it also ignores the
prospect that the impure theories of Szeliga and Bauer concerning
Russian and Teutonism could be a more plausible explanation of the
1917 Revolution and ensuing Soviet world-politics than _Capital_
could ever be." (p. 110)

I was with Sass as he read Bauer's beads, but this bizarre
conclusion and the reactionary attitude toward Marx is quite
disturbing.  Sass places Bauer with the Soviet leaders perched in
Red Square, at home with state power.  The spirit of Bauer is
endlessly reincarnated in history for the same reasons:

".... the model of escalation and of separation of opposites
guarantees a simplicity -- a reduction, which is of great
advantage for purposes of ideological orientations and
predispositions to action in a world which has become ever more
complex.  It gives the individual in his newly awakened solidarity
another chance to act energetically in the shelter of secure
beliefs."  (p. 111)

Sass, then, ends up advocating the notion of eternal recurrence as
the medicine for the recurring illusory ambition of progress:

"The antithesis to orientation and to action as envisioned by
Bauer, Marx, Stirner, and the other young Hegelians is to abandon
the eschatological orientation in the _history of salvation_ and
to return to _natural history_.  This is the course of the
theologian Karl Schmidt when he escaped from the pressure of
"freedom" and "progress" and the oppression of -isms."  (p. 111)

If ever there were an illustration of the utter worthlessness of
petty bourgeois intellectuals, this article is it.  For these
people erudition is an ornamentation for self-satisfied
contemplation of the facts of the status quo, whose ultimate
subtext cries out: Let us get down on our knees and pray, 'I've
got mine, and all's right with the world just as it is.'

Sass's attitude is not uncommon among anti-Marxist scholars of the
Young Hegelians.  For they need some categorial framework in which
to classify and interpret the ultimate meaning of various
thinkers, and since they are all agreed that Marx spoils the hasty
pudding by inconveniently addressing the material basis of
philosophy and engaging the class struggle, it is necessary to
cling to a more comfortable explanatory framework -- theology --
and hence reduce everything to a matter of eschatology.  (Doesn't
Cold Warrior Tucker the Motherfucker do the same thing?)  Yet les
bourgeois gentilhommes are going to be found out in due course,
and we shall embarrass all of them, for Marx stands out from the
crowd of all the self-satisfied Teutonic philistine reactionaries
of modern thought -- Bauer, Stirner, Nietzsche, Heidegger.  Bauer
may have belonged up on Red Square, but Marx belongs down here
with us, with struggling, suffering, bruised and bewildered
humanity seeking to raise itself up.

[Ralph Dumain, 30 April 1995]


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