[Marxism] Forwarded from M

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Tue Jan 17 15:29:55 MST 2006


Louis Pro 
*	
	I would recommend Bukharin's "Philosophical Arabesques" which is
basically a Marxist defense of the Hegelian dialectic while stressing the
need to transcend it. Here is a quote from Bukharin that will appear in a
review of the book that I am sending off to Swans today.
	
	This is the great revolutionary side of Hegel. 
The basic dialectical contradiction of Hegel's own system, a 
contradiction noted by Engels, led to the system's collapse, and gave rise
to a new historical unity, at a new stage of historical development, in the
dialectical materialism of Marx.

^^^^^



Frederick Engels
Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy


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Part 1: Hegel

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The volume before us (1) carries us back to a period which, although in time
no more than a generation behind us, has become as foreign to the present
generation in Germany as if it were already a hundred years old. Yet it was
the period of Germany’s preparation for the Revolution of 1848; and all that
has happened since then in our country has been merely a continuation of
1848, merely the execution of the last will and testament of the revolution.

Just as in France in the 18th century, so in Germany in the 19th, a
philosophical revolution ushered in the political collapse. But how
different the two looked! The French were in open combat against all
official science, against the church and often also against the state; their
writings were printed across the frontier, in Holland or England, while they
themselves were often in jeopardy of imprisonment in the Bastille. On the
other hand, the Germans were professors, state-appointed instructors of
youth; their writings were recognized textbooks, and the termination system
of the whole development — the Hegelian system — was even raised, as it
were, to the rank of a royal Prussian philosophy of state! Was it possible
that a revolution could hide behind these professors, behind their obscure,
pedantic phrases, their ponderous, wearisome sentences? Were not precisely
these people who were then regarded as the representatives of the
revolution, the liberals, the bitterest opponents of this brain-confusing
philosophy? But what neither the government nor the liberals saw was seen at
least by one man as early as 1833, and this man was indeed none other than
Heinrich Heine.[A]

Let us take an example. No philosophical proposition has earned more
gratitude from narrow-minded governments and wrath from equally
narrow-minded liberals than Hegel’s famous statement: “All that is real is
rational; and all that is rational is real.” That was tangibly a
sanctification of things that be, a philosophical benediction bestowed upon
despotism, police government, Star Chamber proceedings and censorship. That
is how Frederick William III and how his subjects understood it. But
according to Hegel certainly not everything that exists is also real,
without further qualification. For Hegel the attribute of reality belongs
only to that which at the same time is necessary: “In the course of its
development reality proves to be necessity.” A particular governmental
measure — Hegel himself cites the example of “a certain tax regulation” — is
therefore for him by no means real without qualification. That which is
necessary, however, proves itself in the last resort to be also rational;
and, applied to the Prussian state of that time, the Hegelian proposition,
therefore, merely means: this state is rational, corresponds to reason,
insofar as it is necessary; and if it nevertheless appears to us to be evil,
but still, in spite of its evil character, continues to exist, then the evil
character of the government is justified and explained by the corresponding
evil character of its subjects. The Prussians of that day had the government
that they deserved.

Now, according to Hegel, reality is, however, in no way an attribute
predictable of any given state of affairs, social or political, in all
circumstances and at all times. On the contrary. The Roman Republic was
real, but so was the Roman Empire, which superseded it. In 1789, the French
monarchy had become so unreal, that is to say, so robbed of all necessity,
so irrational, that it had to be destroyed by the Great Revolution, of which
Hegel always speaks with the greatest enthusiasm. In this case, therefore,
the monarchy was the unreal and the revolution the real. And so, in the
course of development, all that was previously real becomes unreal, loses it
necessity, its right of existence, its rationality. And in the place of
moribund reality comes a new, viable reality — peacefully if the old has
enough intelligence to go to its death without a struggle; forcibly if it
resists this necessity. Thus the Hegelian proposition turns into its
opposite through Hegelian dialectics itself: All that is real in the sphere
of human history, becomes irrational in the process of time, is therefore
irrational by its very destination, is tainted beforehand with
irrationality, and everything which is rational in the minds of men is
destined to become real, however much it may contradict existing apparent
reality. In accordance with all the rules of the Hegelian method of thought,
the proposition of the rationality of everything which is real resolves
itself into the other proposition: All that exists deserves to perish.

But precisely therein lay the true significance and the revolutionary
character of the Hegelian philosophy (to which, as the close of the whole
movement since Kant, we must here confine ourselves), that it once and for
all dealt the death blow to the finality of all product of human thought and
action. Truth, the cognition of which is the business of philosophy, was in
the hands of Hegel no longer an aggregate of finished dogmatic statements,
which, once discovered, had merely to be learned by heart. Truth lay now in
the process of cognition itself, in the long historical development of
science, which mounts from lower to ever higher levels of knowledge without
ever reaching, by discovering so-called absolute truth, a point at which it
can proceed no further, where it would have nothing more to do than to fold
its hands and gaze with wonder at the absolute truth to which it had
attained. And what holds good for the realm of philosophical knowledge holds
good also for that of every other kind of knowledge and also for practical
action. Just as knowledge is unable to reach a complete conclusion in a
perfect, ideal condition of humanity, so is history unable to do so; a
perfect society, a perfect “state”, are things which can only exist in
imagination. On the contrary, all successive historical systems are only
transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from
the lower to the higher. Each stage is necessary, and therefore justified
for the time and conditions to which it owes its origin. But in the face of
new, higher conditions which gradually develop in its own womb, it loses
vitality and justification. It must give way to a higher stage which will
also in its turn decay and perish. Just as the bourgeoisie by large-scale
industry, competition, and the world market dissolves in practice all stable
time-honored institutions, so this dialectical philosophy dissolves all
conceptions of final, absolute truth and of absolute states of humanity
corresponding to it. For it [dialectical philosophy], nothing is final,
absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in
everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of
becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the
higher. And dialectical philosophy itself is nothing more than the mere
reflection of this process in the thinking brain. It has, of course, also a
conservative side; it recognizes that definite stages of knowledge and
society are justified for their time and circumstances; but only so far. The
conservatism of this mode of outlook is relative; its revolutionary
character is absolute — the only absolute dialectical philosophy admits.

It is not necessary, here, to go into the question of whether this mode of
outlook is thoroughly in accord with the present state of natural science,
which predicts a possible end even for the Earth, and for its habitability a
fairly certain one; which therefore recognizes that for the history of
mankind, too, there is not only an ascending but also a descending branch.
At any rate, we still find ourselves a considerable distance from the
turning-point at which the historical course of society becomes one of
descent, and we cannot expect Hegelian philosophy to be concerned with a
subject which natural science, in its time, had not at all placed upon the
agenda as yet.

But what must, in fact, be said here is this: that in Hegel the views
developed above are not so sharply delineated. They are a necessary
conclusion from his method, but one which he himself never drew with such
explicitness. And this, indeed, for the simple reason that he was compelled
to make a system and, in accordance with traditional requirements, a system
of philosophy must conclude with some sort of absolute truth. Therefore,
however much Hegel, especially in his Logic, emphasized that this eternal
truth is nothing but the logical, or, the historical, process itself, he
nevertheless finds himself compelled to supply this process with an end,
just because he has to bring his system to a termination at some point or
other. In his Logic, he can make this end a beginning again, since here the
point of the conclusion, the absolute idea — which is only absolute insofar
as he has absolutely nothing to say about it — “alienates”, that is,
transforms, itself into nature and comes to itself again later in the mind,
that is, in thought and in history. But at the end of the whole philosophy,
a similar return to the beginning is possible only in one way. Namely, by
conceiving of the end of history as follows: mankind arrives at the
cognition of the self-same absolute idea, and declares that this cognition
of the absolute idea is reached in Hegelian philosophy. In this way,
however, the whole dogmatic content of the Hegelian system is declared to be
absolute truth, in contradiction to his dialectical method, which dissolves
all dogmatism. Thus the revolutionary side is smothered beneath the
overgrowth of the conservative side. And what applies to philosophical
cognition applies also to historical practice. Mankind, which, in the person
of Hegel, has reached the point of working out the absolute idea, must also
in practice have gotten so far that it can carry out this absolute idea in
reality. Hence the practical political demands of the absolute idea on
contemporaries may not be stretched too far. And so we find at the
conclusion of the Philosophy of Right that the absolute idea is to be
realized in that monarchy based on social estates which Frederick William
III so persistently but vainly promised to his subjects, that is, in a
limited, moderate, indirect rule of the possessing classes suited to the
petty-bourgeois German conditions of that time; and, moreover, the necessity
of the nobility is demonstrated to us in a speculative fashion.

The inner necessities of the system are, therefore, of themselves sufficient
to explain why a thoroughly revolutionary method of thinking produced an
extremely tame political conclusion. As a matter of fact, the specific form
of this conclusion springs from this, that Hegel was a German, and like his
contemporary Goethe had a bit of the philistine’s queue dangling behind.
Each of them was an Olympian Zeus in his own sphere, yet neither of them
ever quite freed himself from German philistinism.

But all this did not prevent the Hegelian system from covering an
incomparably greater domain than any earlier system, nor from developing in
this domain a wealth of thought, which is astounding even today. The
phenomenology of mind (which one may call a parallel of the embryology and
palaeontology of the mind, a development of individual consciousness through
its different stages, set in the form of an abbreviated reproduction of the
stages through which the consciousness of man has passed in the course of
history), logic, natural philosophy, philosophy of mind, and the latter
worked out in its separate, historical subdivisions: philosophy of history,
of right, of religion, history of philosophy, aesthetics, etc. — in all
these different historical fields Hegel labored to discover and demonstrate
the pervading thread of development. And as he was not only a creative
genius but also a man of encyclopaedic erudition, he played an epoch-making
role in every sphere. It is self-evident that owing to the needs of the
“system” he very often had to resort to those forced constructions about
which his pigmy opponents make such a terrible fuss even today. But these
constructions are only the frame and scaffolding of his work. If one does
not loiter here needlessly, but presses on farther into the immense
building, one finds innumerable treasures which today still possess
undiminshed value. With all philosophers it is precisely the “system” which
is perishable; and for the simple reason that it springs from an
imperishable desire of the human mind — the desire to overcome all
contradictions. But if all contradictions are once and for all disposed of,
we shall have arrived at so-called absolute truth — world history will be at
an end. And yet it has to continue, although there is nothing left for it to
do — hence, a new, insoluble contradiction. As soon as we have once realized
— and in the long run no one has helped us to realize it more than Hegel
himself — that the task of philosophy thus stated means nothing but the task
that a single philosopher should accomplish that which can only be
accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development — as
soon as we realize that, there is an end to all philosophy in the hitherto
accepted sense of the word. One leaves alone “absolute truth”, which is
unattainable along this path or by any single individual; instead, one
pursues attainable relative truths along the path of the positive sciences,
and the summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking. At any
rate, with Hegel philosophy comes to an end; on the one hand, because in his
system he summed up its whole development in the most splendid fashion; and
on the other hand, because, even though unconsciously, he showed us the way
out of the labyrinth of systems to real positive knowledge of the world.

One can imagine what a tremendous effect this Hegelian system must have
produced in the philosophy-tinged atmosphere of Germany. It was a triumphant
procession which lasted for decades and which by no means came to a
standstill on the death of Hegel. On the contrary, it was precisely from
1830 to 1840 that “Hegelianism” reigned most exclusively, and to a greater
or lesser extent infected even its opponents. It was precisely in this
period that Hegelian views, consciously or unconsciously, most extensively
penetrated the most diversified sciences and leavened even popular
literature and the daily press, from which the average “educated
consciousness” derives its mental pabulum. But this victory along the whole
front was only the prelude to an internal struggle.

As we have seen, the doctrine of Hegel, taken as a whole, left plenty of
room for giving shelter to the most diverse practical party views. And in
the theoretical Germany of that time, two things above all were practical:
religion and politics. Whoever placed the chief emphasis on the Hegelian
system could be fairly conservative in both spheres; whoever regarded the
dialectical method as the main thing could belong to the most extreme
opposition, both in politics and religion. Hegel himself, despite the fairly
frequent outbursts of revolutionary wrath in his works, seemed on the whole
to be more inclined to the conservative side. Indeed, his system had cost
him much more “hard mental plugging” than his method. Towards the end of the
thirties, the cleavage in the school became more and more apparent. The Left
wing, the so-called Young Hegelians, in their fight with the pietist
orthodox and the feudal reactionaries, abandoned bit by bit that
philosophical-genteel reserve in regard to the burning questions of the day
which up to that time had secured state toleration and even protection for
their teachings. And when in 1840, orthodox pietism and absolutist feudal
reaction ascended the throne with Frederick William IV, open partisanship
became unavoidable. The fight was still carried on with philosophical
weapons, but no longer for abstract philosophical aims. It turned directly
on the destruction of traditional religion and of the existing state. And
while in the Deutsche Jahrbucher [B]the practical ends were still
predominantly put forward in philosophical disguise, in the Rheinische
Zeitung of 1842 the Young Hegelian school revealed itself directly as the
philosophy of the aspiring radical bourgeoisie and used the meagre cloak of
philosophy only to deceive the censorship.

At that time, however, politics was a very thorny field, and hence the main
fight came to be directed against religion; this fight, particularly since
1840, was indirectly also political. Strauss’ Life of Jesus, published in
1835, had provided the first impulse. The theory therein developed of the
formation of the gospel myths was combated later by Bruno Bauer with proof
that a whole series of evangelic stories had been fabricated by the authors
themselves. The controversy between these two was carried out in the
philosophical disguise of a battle between “self-consciousness” and
“substance”. The question whether the miracle stories of the gospels came
into being through unconscious-traditional myth-creation within the bosom of
the community or whether they were fabricated by the evangelists themselves
was magnified into the question whether, in world history, “substance” or
“self-consciousness” was the decisive operative force. Finally came Stirner,
the prophet of contemporary anarchism — Bakunin has taken a great deal from
him — and capped the sovereign “self-consciousness” by his sovereign
“ego”[C].

We will not go further into this side of the decomposition process of the
Hegelian school. More important for us is the following: the main body of
the most determined Young Hegelians was, by the practical necessities of its
fight against positive religion, driven back to Anglo-French materialism.
This brought them into conflict with the system of their school. While
materialism conceives nature as the sole reality, nature in the Hegelian
system represents merely the “alienation” of the absolute idea, so to say, a
degradation of the idea. At all events, thinking and its thought-product,
the idea, is here the primary, nature the derivative, which only exists at
all by the condescension of the idea. And in this contradiction they
floundered as well or as ill as they could.

Then came Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity[D]. With one blow, it
pulverized the contradiction, in that without circumlocutions it placed
materialism on the throne again. Nature exists independently of all
philosophy. It is the foundation upon which we human beings, ourselves
products of nature, have grown up. Nothing exists outside nature and man,
and the higher beings our religious fantasies have created are only the
fantastic reflection of our own essence. The spell was broken; the “system”
was exploded and cast aside, and the contradiction, shown to exist only in
our imagination, was dissolved. One must himself have experienced the
liberating effect of this book to get an idea of it. Enthusiasm was general;
we all became at once Feuerbachians. How enthusiastically Marx greeted the
new conception and how much — in spite of all critical reservations — he was
influenced by it, one may read in the The Holy Family[E].

Even the shortcomings of the book contributed to its immediate effect. Its
literary, sometimes even high-flown, style secured for it a large public and
was at any rate refreshing after long years of abstract and abstruse
Hegelianizing. The same is true of its extravagant deification of love,
which, coming after the now intolerable sovereign rule of “pure reason”, had
its excuse, if not justification. But what we must not forget is that it was
precisely these two weaknesses of Feuerbach that “true Socialism”, which had
been spreading like a plague in educated Germany since 1844, took as its
starting-point, putting literary phrases in the place of scientific
knowledge, the liberation of mankind by means of “love” in place of the
emancipation of the proletariat through the economic transformation of
production — in short, losing itself in the nauseous fine writing and
ecstacies of love typified by Herr Karl Grun.

Another thing we must not forget is this: the Hegelian school disintegrated,
but Hegelian philosophy was not overcome through criticism; Strauss and
Bauer each took one of its sides and set it polemically against the other.
Feuerbach smashed the system and simply discarded it. But a philosophy is
not disposed of by the mere assertion that it is false. And so powerful a
work as Hegelian philosophy, which had exercised so enormous an influence on
the intellectual development of the nation, could not be disposed of by
simply being ignored. It had to be “sublated” in its own sense, that is, in
the sense that while its form had to be annihilatedhrough criticism, the new
content which had been won through it had to be saved. How this was brought
about we shall see below.

But in the meantime, the Revolution of 1848 thrust the whole of philosophy
aside as unceremoniously as Feuerbach had thrust aside Hegel. And in the
process, Feuerbach himself was also pushed into the background.

 

Part 2: Materialism

 


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Notes
1. Ludwig Feuerbach, by K.N. Starcke, Ph.D., Stuttgart, Ferd. Enke. 1885.

A. Engels had in mind Heine’s remarks on the “German philosophical
revolution” contained in the latter’s sketches Zur Geschichte der Religion
und Philosophie in Deutschland (On the History of Religion and Philosophy in
Germany), written in 1833.

B. The Deutsche Jahrbücher fur Wissenschaft und Kunst (German Annuals of
Science and Art): Organ of the Young Hegelians edited by A. Ruge and T.
Echtermeyer, and published in Leipzig from 1841 to 1843.

C. Engels refers to Max Stirner’s (pseudonym for Kaspar Schmidt) Der Einzige
und sein Eigentum (The Ego and His Own), which appeared in 1845.

D. Feuerbach’s Das Wesen des Christentums (The Essence of Christianity)
appeared in Leipzig in 1841.

E. The full title of this book by Marx and Engels is: Die Heilige Familie
oder Kritik der kritischen Kritik. Gegen Bruno Bauer und Konsorten (The Holy
Family, or a Criticism of Critical Criticism. Against Bruno Bauer and Co.).
It was originally published in Frankfort on the Main in 1845.



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