…marcuse’s hegel


Marcuse’s Hegel
In Herbert Marcuse’s book Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, Marcuse wants to dispel the notion that the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel as “hostile to the tendencies that have led into Fascist theory and practice.” I will focus only on the first introductory sub-chapter in this synopsis, where Marcuse sets up the philosophical & historical context of Hegel’s thought.
In the first sub-chapter of the introduction, “The Socio-Historical Setting,” Marcuse places Hegel within the context of German idealism. This is typically thought of as a type of German philosophy progressing chronologically from the inspiration of Kant (1724-1804), to Fichte (1762-1814), to Schelling (1775-1854), & culminating with Hegel (1770-1831), roughly, the last quarter of the 18th century through to the early quarter of the 19th century. Hegel’s brand of German idealism is known as Absolute idealism because it seeks to bring all of being into one absolute, specifically an absolute spirit (the totality of all being as it progresses throughout history).
As Marcuse describes it Hegel’s philosophy was largely influenced by the French Revolution & the leading Enlightenment ideal that rational thought leads people to freedom (apart from the authority of the church & apart from the authority of a monarchy). The French Revolution idealistically completes the job by the Reformation to allow people to become masters of their own lives. Hegel wanted us to realize the power of our own rational will & authority.
In France, capitalism became a necessary force & expression brought about by the rationalistic ideals of the French Revolution, while Germany’s development was a bit slower to fully embrace the radical new ways of thinking taking shape in France, Europe, & even in the ideological founding of the United States. Even if this fresh idea freedom was in the air, most German intellectuals were embracing this as an idea, an ideal—not necessarily as a material & practical exercise of freedom. Let me put it this way, it’s one thing to embrace an idea & it’s another thing to take that idea & put it into practice.
Reason is center & paramount in Hegel’s philosophy & for Hegel history is the progression of reason, as much as the state is also an embodiment of reason. If most of Hegel’s philosophy is concerned with the progression of reason, it must be understood that reason is threaded through Hegel’s ideas on freedom, substance becoming substance & what we would call idea (begriff in German, often translated by Hegel scholars as “notion”). For Hegel reason working through these concepts is what governs consciousness, reality, the state, the course of human history, &c. The progression of reason is not static is active. People no longer needed to accept things as they are—since reason needs to be taken as sovereign. Our reality is only real by way of reason. Anything outside of that which falls outside of reason needs to be harnessed, transformed, & worked through with reason to be made conscious & to be real. As Marcuse summarizes of Hegel, “[rational] thought ought to govern reality.” Whatever cannot be worked through with reasoned consciousness is rendered unreal & unreasonable. In Kant & Hegel’s context, reason must be firmly established as universal & objective. Objectivity keeps us from relativity, thus a good defense of objectivity in the name of critiquing the relativistic perils of empirical skepticism. The authority of reason needs to be consciously brought about in this world by way of conscious action. Reason does not appear of its own accord.
The concept of “substance becoming subject” is central to the way consciousness brings about reason from the chaotic morass of reality for Hegel. Substance in this case, represents a contradictory force for the consciousness. It is only when we make inert substance into something that is real does it become rational consciousness. Raw substance becomes the subject of rational thought. By way of conceptualizing the ways in which we work (in thought & with our hands) through ideas, physical substances & forces, wood, metal, velocity, horse-power, &c. When we make these things rational, they become the way we think about substance in a rational way.
When we think about something that is contradictory, negative, antagonistic, &c. for Hegel this is the driving element in the dialectic. The dialectic is rational & it is logical, but it is Hegel’s logic. Herein we have the so-called dialectical triad of thesis, antithesis, & synthesis. When we recognize that substance becoming substance is dialectical. Substance is not consciousness so it is contradictory to consciousness because it is not consciousness. Consciousness must recognize this in order to make substance known & understood as something reasonable. Reason has to be brought about by the resolution of the contradiction. The negative becomes a necessary way in which reason is considered. The confrontation with negative bring us to a place where it draws the synthesis up to where it would not otherwise be without it. Consciousness, for Hegel, is dialectical, reason is dialectal, freedom is dialectical & history is dialectical. All of these things need & rely the negative to be what they are.

–aurelio madrid

the origins of critique for marx

marx mao sqaure

“There is no other road to truth and freedom except leading through the brook of fire [the Feuerbach]. Feuerbach is the purgatory of the present times.” – Karl Marx[1]

“Rationally interpreted, Hegel’s propositions would mean only this: The Family and civil society are parts of the state.” – Karl Marx[2]

The Origins of Critique for Marx

This essay aims to find Karl Marx’s origins of critique. There is no absolute answer to this inquiry, however, there must be a case to be made for Marx’s critique as having a strong connection to the dialectical reasoning based in the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel. I will start by examining the influence of Feuerbach’s critique of Christianity as it closely relates to Marx’s statements on critique itself in his early manuscripts of the 1840s. This analysis will then lead even further back to ask if the early sources of Marx’s critique are relatable to Hegel’s well-known chapter in the Phenomenology of Spirit of 1807, on “Lordship and Bondage,” (commonly known as the Master-Slave dialectic). From Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophy, through Hegel’s dialectic, Marx went far beyond his predecessors. Nevertheless, his critique is best understood with them in mind.

A.) Feuerbach’s Critique of Christianity and the developments of Marx’s Critique.

Feuerbach’s influential The Essence of Christianity (1841) was published only a few years before Marx wrote “The Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction” (1843),[3] (hereafter the “Critique Intro.”), when he was in his mid-twenties. Marx’s manuscript was published in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (the German-French Yearbooks), Marx’s and Arnold Ruge’s[4] own short-lived publication.[5] This early manuscript demarcates a few of Marx’s key themes—the critique of capitalism, calling the proletariat to mobilize—all of this was quickly developing into a full-blown critique on capitalism, on through the later heights of Capital in 1867. Yet another central, but underlying, theme is the notion of critique itself.

In the opening sentence of the “Critique Intro.,” Marx decries, “for Germany, the criticism of religion has been largely completed; and the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism.”[6] Why is that?—how does a critique of religion constitute the “premise for all criticism”? For an answer to this question we have to take into account that Marx must be referring to Feuerbach’s earlier critique of Christianity. Marx, as a fellow Young Hegelian with Feuerbach, is taken to critique by way of Feuerbach’s critique of religion, “The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly a struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.”[7] It is hard not to be seduced by many of Marx’s lines that demonstrate a critical break with mystifying religious ideology that distracts people. A religious attitude, for Marx, is one that permeates the very ways that we understand our relationship to the world and to others. Criticism becomes a way to examine the illusions that are separating people from their material conditions.

To contextualize this more, let us look to the workings of Feuerbach’s critique of Christianity. In his Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach shows that the ideal of religious practice alienates people from themselves.[8] The ideals of Christianity—the perfection of God, the infinite, &c.—alienate humans from our true nature. Because religious life sets up an ideal world that is unattainable, we are alienated from what we can actually be, the fruit of our own consciousness. Feuerbach wanted to place religious belief and practice (theology) in the anthropological realm.[9] We are alienated from the infinite possibility of our own being if the infinite is thought of as existing apart from us, only to be attained after death. Human development coincides with the development of religion. For Feuerbach, religion is brought down to earth to be realized and placed as the cultural development of humankind.[10]

To a degree, Marx accepted Feuerbach’s critique, yet Marx felt that Feuerbach’s critique remained in a thoroughly Hegelian mindset that was unaware of how it too was alienating in its understanding of human being’s connections to their species-being (human-nature). If Marx was critical of Feuerbach’s conclusions, still, he didn’t abandon Feuerbach, nor did he ever really abandon key aspects of Hegel’s ideas. If Marx did not entirely reject Feuerbach’s critique of religion, he critiqued it while preserving key elements, such as Feuerbach’s position that people need to reawaken to their own intrinsic power instead of deifying that power in the mystifications of religion, along with the mystifications of philosophy.[11] Projecting their own power into the power of a deity weakened a person’s very real potential.[12] All of this sets up the idea that Marx critiqued, and was inspired by Feuerbach’s critique, yet it does not directly point to critique in general. Feuerbach’s critique of Christianity set Marx on the path of critique under the influence of the Hegel’s dialectic.

According to Feuerbach’s critique of Christianity, religion is a reflection of humankind’s own consciousness.[13] People can now (after reading Feuerbach) let go of the illusion that the power to transform themselves and their environments is in their hands and not in the hands of a deity. Marx famously wrote in 1843, in the “Critique, Intro.,” that religion is “the opium of the people.”[14] Two years earlier, Feuerbach also says something surprisingly similar to this in his Essence of Christianity, where he writes “religion is as bad as opium.”[15] The similarity of these quotes speaks to the affinity of their ideas at this time. For Feuerbach it is as simple as recognizing that the religious promise of an afterlife distracts people from their actual lives on earth, before they die. Religion anesthetizes actual life with the constant promise of a better life in heaven. The very real suffering of people becomes mystified away from understanding suffering’s real causes. The mystifications of Christianity need to be put aside in the name of getting to the real-world conditions of human suffering.[16] A strong opiate only manages and palliates the pain. Opium is not a treatment or a cure for the cause of the pain. Certain kinds of religious illusion create suffering in the name of alleviating pain. Christian dogma promises to help us with suffering but often fails to do so. I would be amiss to avoid mentioning that Feuerbach was not a dogmatic atheist either. In Frederick Engel’s Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1886), Engels writes that “He [Feuerbach] by no means wishes to abolish religion: he wants to perfect it. Philosophy itself must be absorbed in religion.”[17]

Marx wants us to see that not only is this a critique of religious life—the incipient beginning of his critical method—he also wants us to see a reason to critique the actual material conditions that promulgate illusions in the first place. Critiquing material conditions and the social relationships that promulgate religious illusions is different than simply critiquing the mystifying illusions of Christianity. The conditions that have made it necessary to maintain Christianity (in Marx and Feuerbach’s time) are none other than the social, economic and political powers that exist in the day-to-day world. This means that to critique Christianity is to critique the structures that make it manifest, therefore, as Marx puts it, “the criticism of theology [is transformed into] the criticism of politics.”[18]

In a provocative letter to his friend Ruge, “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing” written around the same time as the “Contribution Intro.,” Marx reiterates this exact thought “just as religion is the catalogue of the theoretical struggles of mankind, so the political state is the catalogue of its practical struggles.”[19] Here, Marx brings in the distinction between the theoretical and the practical, so if the theoretical applies to religion and the practical applies to politics then, not only do we notice his early call to praxis, we see that philosophy remains in the theoretical.

In order to get to his critical work on the political economy of capitalism, Marx had to dialectically get past Feuerbach’s critique of religion. Nevertheless, according to the logic of dialectical reasoning,[20] Marx’s thought included Hegel and Feuerbach, even though he often tried to suggest the contrary.[21] The critique of philosophy and religion has to make way for the critique of political life. Marx was then concerned with finding the preconditions of the contradictions of the political state that lead us away from truth.[22] This distinction is no small step in Marx’s early development since it leads to significant points famously made in the “Theses on Feuerbach” from 1844. Although Feuerbach was recognized as critical of religion (by way of Hegel), Marx felt that Feuerbach didn’t go far enough. In thesis “V” Marx speaks of Feuerbach’s sensualist-materialism (i.e. the result of humankind’s break with Christianity) as not being materialist enough because Feuerbach did “not conceive sensuousness as practical, human activity.”[23]

Marx critique of Feuerbach stands as a departure from a strictly philosophical mindset into a practical means of critiquing unquestioned presuppositions that lead to contradictions of social and political life. Ideology and reality clash. The ideology of reason loses sight of its material conditions.[24] Critique is to be differentiated from dogma.[25] Marx did not appeal to a doctrinaire position that wishes to spell out its future vision of change at the expense of comprehending the realities that have become overlooked—we cannot face our problems till we know what they are in practice. Criticism needs to come to terms with real struggles. Our own consciousness needs to develop into a thoroughgoing understanding of what holds us back, not only in a theoretical and philosophical way but in a practical way. Recall the oft-quoted “XI” theses on Feurbach, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”[26]

It shouldn’t be forgotten that this is still early Marx, while he is talking about a critique of politics and society, the critique is still focused on the Germany of his day—meaning a critique of the German status quo in the 1840s.[27] Getting into the contradictions of German history that have produced a status quo remains a point of contestation and a way toward critique that analyzes the sources of suffering in the Germany Marx had recently left behind.[28]

B.) Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic.

Ultimately, Hegel felt that the realization of freedom was made manifest through history as it progresses dialectically onward in the physical world.[29] Hegel’s renowned Phenomenology of Spirit was published in 1807. This brilliant work takes as its modest theme the development of human consciousness from nothingness and being, progressing from the “Lordship and Bondage,” and deeper into such abstract issues as “Absolute Knowing.” Richard Bernstein in his 1971 book Praxis & Action devotes a chapter to “Marx and the Hegelian Background.” In this chapter, Bernstein traces the origins of praxis in Marx, from Feuerbach and back to Hegel. Bernstein’s analysis sparked my idea to trace Marx’s origin of critique back to Hegel’s “master-slave dialectic.” Bernstein writes “it [Hegel’s master-slave dialectic] is a paradigm of what Hegel means by dialectic and it shows what Hegel means by Geist realizing itself through its own negation.”[30] It is this “realizing itself through its own negation” idea that must be at the root of what it means to critique, i.e. to recognize negation disclosed by critique to advance the progression of freedom.

For Hegel, consciousness finds certainty in the world. The desire for consciousness to know and comprehend things is confronted by that which is other to consciousness, i.e. everything else. In the effort to make this other known and comprehensible, consciousness has to sublate itself in order to become conscious and to become knowledgeable of something other than itself. Sublation is the critical phase in the dialectic, it is not a force unto itself, it immanent in the human desire toward reason. In the Phenomenology, Consciousness getting to know itself is reason getting to know itself and beyond each particular consciousness. This moving beyond any particular consciousness is what Hegel would call Geist (spirit, consciousness, and mind). Figuring out that the ways in which consciousness knows and understands the world has to do with how consciousness comes to know itself and the world. The way to know the world is a way to know consciousness itself, for Hegel. Again, none of this happens without dialectical logic, the progression of consciousness takes place as a way it works itself out into self-consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t just stay in a nascent state of consciousness. Consciousness must become self-consciousness to become fully actualized, and to become truly free. Bernstein succinctly writes that “it should be manifest that by ‘negativity’ Hegel means an active process.”[31] The negative, is essential to the dialectic. It thwarts, informs, and propels the progression of reason.[32] Every sublation contains the traces of previous stages of development as much as it contains further transformations. I propose that the motivations of Marx’s critique has its infancy in the negative drive of Hegel’s dialectic.

Bernstein reminds us that the dialectic is not stasis “The dialectic of Geist [spirit, consciousness, and mind] is essentially a dynamic and organic process.”[33] Dialectical progression is not static. It is a process that happens actively over time and over the course of human history. At its beginning stage, picture a protagonist (in this case, consciousness itself) in the struggle to achieve knowledge, comprehension, and self actualization. There will inevitably be struggles to face contradictory elements threatening to overcome the protagonist’s push forward. In the effort overpower the negative force, the protagonist must squarely take opposition as a fundamental key in the way she supersedes the negative foe. What is sublation and the aufheben? The aufheben is a special German term put to vigorous use by Hegel to simultaneously infer a lifting up and a taking down—an overcoming and an including. This inherently contradictory term actually relies on a negative contradiction to become something beyond the original premises combined.

As I’ve said, when consciousness becomes self-consciousness, one thing is clear for Hegel, to become fully self-conscious, consciousness has to recognize other consciousnesses—i.e. other people. To become fully self-actualized humans we must recognize that others are conscious creatures like ourselves. We know ourselves better through our interactions with others. Hegel’s first line in §178, from the Phenomenology, on “Lordship and Bondage” reads “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged.”[34] What Hegel is describing is inter-subjectivity[35] or the recognition that there are other people (other consciousnesses) that want and deserve to be recognized by other people—we are not fully self-conscious till we recognize the consciousness of others. Hegel’s progression of the Master-Slave dialectic starts when the master desires to become actualized, she desires to have self-consciousness, and because of this she desires to be successful. In this desire, the master takes on a slave to do the heavy-lifting for the master’s desire for success. Yet the slave, because he is owned by the master, does not have full self-consciousness. This is because he is regarded as only a means to the master’s ends. The master considers the slave a thing, therefore because the slave’s essential humanity is not getting recognized by the master, the master herself is not in full possession of her own self-consciousness. Add to this that the slave also considers himself a thing, therefore, he too is not in full possession of his self-consciousness.

The master then is only getting the work she needs done by negating the slave’s personhood. The slave is reduced to producing labor and things for the master that are (paradoxically) essential to relationship. This mode in the Master-Slave relationship is characterized by alienation. The slave is alienated from the objects produced since the objective of his work is not within his power to control under the reins of the master. Hegel writes “Through work, however, the bondsman becomes conscious of what he truly is (§195).”[36] Put another way, the slave produces the essential part of the relationship, labor and things. The master is unaware that the power of what the relationship is based on. It rests on the labor-worn shoulders of the slave. The driving force of the relationship is the labor made manifest by the slave. Not only is work a core connection between the master and slave, but the production of things is also a key component in the dynamic of consciousness for Hegel, since consciousness is itself primarily made conscious by way of its dialectical encounter with material existence—it is (consciousness’s) of the other made known by labor.

It is a pivotal realization for the slave when he realizes that he possesses the power to make the things the master relies on. The dynamic changes for the slave once he is in conscious acknowledgement of his own power. Keep in mind that when the slave confronted his work it was under the duress of the negative force embodied in the master. Hegel puts it better, “through this rediscovery of himself by himself, the bondsman [the slave] realizes that is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own (§119).”[37] None of this transformation of consciousness and transformation of the master-slave relationship would have the dynamic drive to move forward if it had not been for the negative (re: alienation) that threatened consciousness or the master and slave.[38] It is important to note here that Hegel does not mean that the negative in its own right is what is important, but how consciousness tries to overcome the essential alien negative working against it. The negative is a catalyst for change.[39] Change cannot happen without something working to negate it or without working to negate something alien to it.


C.) From Hegel to Feuerbach, the Influence of the Dialectic on Marx’s Critique.

The structure of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic cannot be overlooked as it relates to Marx. First, there is the analogy between the arrogant master and the brow-beaten slave for Hegel, to the bourgeois capitalist and the laboring proletariat for Marx. Then there is the importance given, for both thinkers, to the very way consciousness is made manifest in the material world. A person’s consciousness is constituted within their material conditions, within their social milieu.[40] The slave’s labor itself is a negation of the alienated stuff of material existence, for Hegel, as much as the slave is not fully realized because his personhood is negated by the master. This too is transferable to Marx, in that the capitalist uses the proletariat as a means to an end product. Because the proletariat is not in control of the means of production, the proletariat becomes alienated from the objects of production. It is only when the proletariat realizes their own power over the material world, beyond the ideology of the capitalist, where true freedom can be sought for. But it is only when the proletariat has the knowledge of their own power that they can utilize this power in the form of a critique (theory) against the capitalist status quo, so as to change the unequal contradictions through deliberate action (praxis). None of this would take place if there were no capitalism to awaken the proletariat to their own potential, (nor if Hegel hadn’t conceived of the Master-Slave dialectic in the Phenomenology). In other words, the proletariat has to include and deeply consider the material conditions of oppression by the bourgeoisie as a way to overcome those very conditions.[41] A practical solution cannot come to the fore without a critical negation to force it beyond its original dilemma.

Now let’s return to Feuerbach and Marx’s origins of critique as it is made evident in Marx’s manuscripts from the 1840s. In the one of the four “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” Marx presents what he’s calling “Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic and Philosophy as a Whole.”[42] This text begins with Marx calling into question (critiquing) German philosophy’s relationship to Hegel’s dialectic,[43] especially criticizing the Young-Hegelians such as David Strauss and Bruno Bauer, who still remained “wholly within the confines of the Hegelian Logic.”[44] Marx turns to praising another Young-Hegelian, Feuerbach, namely Feuerbach’s critique of the Hegelian dialectic.[45] Marx lays down a three point list highlighting what Marx felt to be Feuerbach’s “great achievement,” Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel’s dialectic. Marx’s first point is related to Feuerbach’s critique of Christianity, whereby the religion of Christianity was shown by Feuerbach to be a product of humankind and that it served to alienate people from their essence, their demystified human nature. In the second point, Marx praises Feuerbach for bringing about a “true materialism” and “real science.”[46] In other words, as a result of the critique of Christianity, Feuerbach wanted to re-establish humankind’s relationship with itself—away from its relationship with an abstract spiritual being. The third point is the most perplexing as Marx presents it, but it is probably the most important part (according to Marx) of Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel. Essentially, Hegel felt that at one time, in his speculative assessment, that religion was subordinate to philosophy. Then at another point in his career (Marx is likely referring to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right), Hegel tried to reposition this claim with a “restoration of religion and theology,”[47] above philosophy. This means that in Hegel’s late career, when he was chair of philosophy in Berlin, and when he was writing the Philosophy of Right—he became an apologist for the Prussian State. This also meant that man became subordinate to the state.[48] Later, in this same manuscript, Marx writes what I’ve been waiting for, a tangible connection to critique itself and Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic.

“The Phenomenology is, therefore, an occult critique—still to itself obscure and mystifying criticism; but insomuch as it keeps steadily in view man’s estrangement [alienation], even though man appears only in the shape of mind, there lie concealed in it all the elements of criticism, […]”[49]

Now we see several threads coming together. One thread is highlighted by Bernstein, “according to Feuerbach, Hegelian philosophy is a “mystification” because it inverts the subject-predicate relation.”[50] Bernstein brings this in because of the problems with the way Hegel positions the individual person in relation to Geist. Which means that people, in Hegel’s state, are subordinate to not only Geist, but they are also related to religion in much the same way. People are predicates of the state, religion, and as a result, to Geist. This inversion is the basis for what Marx is keying into with Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel and Christianity (which, by the way, can be considered synonymous, i.e. Feuerbach’s critique of religion is also a critique of Hegel[51]).

Then there is the thread that represents Marx’s critique of Feuerbach from Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach,” whereby Feuerbach’s critique was not reaching far enough. Marx’s critique centers on several issues at once. One main theme has to do with the issue of practice (praxis). In order for people to wake up to thier own power (after Feuerbach’s critique), enough to become aware of their own subjection by the political state, the bourgeois capitalist, religion, &c. they will have to get to work changing it. Philosophy doesn’t happen on its own accord, it must be put into action. People must wake up to their own subjugation in society. We are not just cogs in the machinery of society. We are people of that society. Society is a predicate of individuals—not the other way around.

Even if Marx rarely spoke at length about morality, the best way to hint at a conclusion would be to say that a powerful implication of Marx’s critique is the betterment of humankind, not by the edifice of philosophy alone, but by the actions we take to reveal the contradictions that bind us to delusional ideologies that often parade as truth. This kind of critical sentiment is made evident early in Marx’s thought.[52] Critique is the aufheben of working life found in Marx’s voluminous and often extraordinary sentences. It is the pivotal moment in Hegel’s progression of consciousness, whereby consciousness works as its own protagonist toward self-realization in the form of a slave, Marx’s proletariat. The negative force by which an alienated consciousness develops the recognition of fellow consciousnesses, is thereby where we manifest communal freedom. Feuerbach’s aufheben becomes a reason to take humankind back to its own vital and infinite powers that it once projected on to a God. All of this takes action, none of it happens with continued inertia. We cannot become free by just thinking about freedom. We have to do as Marx encouraged. We have to be critical, and we have to mobilize with an understanding of what our critique reveals. Marx says it better, “I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be.”[53]

Aurelio Madrid

[1] Karl Marx quote found in The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, trans. Zawar Hanfi, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co.

[2] Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” in The Marx-Engels Reader edited by Robert C. Tucker, New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1978, 16.

[3] It was written in 1843 and published in 1844.

[4] Arnold Ruge was yet another Young Hegelian, he and Feuerbach were its senior members (with others) along with the younger Marx and Engels (and others) coming on later. The group was formed shortly after the death Of Hegel in 1831 (reminding us that these early texts of Marx were written only a decade or so after Hegel’s death).

[5] Robert C. Tucker writes in the head-note to “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing,” that Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher came out in Paris in February, 1844, in the German language. Only one double issue of the journal was published.” From The Marx-Engels Reader, 12.

[6] Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1978, 53.

[7] Marx, “Contribution…,” 54.

[8] “Religion is the alienation of man from himself; for man sets up God as an antithesis to himself.” Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, E. Graham Waring and F.W. Strothmann eds., New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1957, 18.

[9] Part of Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity” is titled appropriately: “The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion.” Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 7-49.

[10] In the “Introduction to the Essence of Christianity” Feuerbach writes, “The characteristic human mode of being, as distinct from that of the animal, is not only the basis, but also the object of religion.” Ludwig Feuerbach, The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, 98.

[11] In the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” Marx offers three itemized points on what be believed to be Feuerbach’s achievement. the first one is relevant here, “Feuerbach’s great achievement is: (1) The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thoughts and thinking expounded, and that it has therefore likewise to be condemned as another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man.” Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” from The Marx-Engels Reader, 107-108.

[12] Feuerbach writes in The Essence of Christianity, “It must be shown how the various attributes of God, compared to which man is imperfect, arise by objectification of diverse human powers.” Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 18.

[13] Feuerbach writes in the concluding chapter of The Essence of Christianity, “Religion is the first form of the self-consciousness of man. Holy, therefore, are all religions, for they have saved for posterity this first form of consciousness.” Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 65.

[14] Marx, “Contribution…,” 54.

[15] Feuerbach’s full quote reads: “At the same time the belief in a better life hereafter is an escape mechanism, which prevents men from going after a better life in a straight line. Religion is as bad as opium.” Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 47.

[16] Feuerbach writes in The Essence of Christianity, “Not even suffering and fear of suffering, inescapable from human nature, are alien to the incarnate God created by religious yearning.” Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 29.

[17] Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, New York, NY: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1941, 33.

[18] Marx, “Contribution…,” 54.

[19] Marx, “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing.” From The Marx-Engels Reader, 14.

[20] I will also elaborate on the details of how the dialectic works when I talk about Hegel’s “Master-Slave Dialectic.”

[21] In “From the Afterword to the Second German Edition” of Capital, Marx writes, “My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but its direct opposite. [&c.]”, in The Marx-Engels Reader, 301.

[22] Marx writes in “For a Ruthless Criticism…,” “Out of this conflict of the political state with itself, therefore, one can develop social truth,” 14.

[23] Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 144.

[24] Marx writes in “For a Ruthless Criticism…,” “The state everywhere presupposes that reason has been realized,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 14.

[25] Marx writes in “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing,” I am therefore not in favor of setting up any dogmatic flag. On the contrary, we must try to help the dogmatics clarify to themselves the meaning of their own positions.” Marx, “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 13.

[26] Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 145.

[27] 1843, the year the “Contribution, Intro.” was written, also was the year that Marx married Jenny von Westphalen and in November moved to Paris.

[28] Marx recently moved Paris at this time, due to thorny political problems he was having in Germany.

[29] In the “Addition” (lecture note/s made by one of Hegel’s students: Eduard Gans) for §4 of the “Introduction” to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right we find this quote “The freedom of the will can be best explained by reference to physical nature. For freedom is just as much a basic determination of the will as weight is a basic determination of bodies.” Then in a concluding the “Remark” to §5 we find the dialectical turn of freedom “Thus, whatever such freedom believes that it wills can in itself be no more than an abstract representation, and its actualization can only be the fury of destruction.” G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991, 35-38.

[30] Richard Bernstein, “Marx and the Hegelian Background,” in Praxis & Action: Contemporary Philosophies of Human Action, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1971, 28.

[31] Bernstein, “Marx and the Hegelian Background,” in Praxis and Action, 21.

[32] Immediately after this Bernstein quotes from Hegel’s Reason in History, “The very essence of spirit is action. It makes itself what it essentially is; it is its own product, its own work.” Bernstein, “Marx and the Hegelian Background,” Praxis and Action, 21.

[33] Bernstein, “Marx and the Hegelian Background,” in Praxis and Action, 20.

[34] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A.V. Miller. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977, 111.

[35] Hegel’s emphasis on inter-subjectivity is probably due to J.G. Fichte’s influence.

[36] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 118.

[37] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 119.

[38] Hegel writes “for this [self-consciousness] reflection, the two moments of fear and service as such, as that of formative activity, are necessary, both at the same time being a universal mode (§196).” Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 119.

[39] In 1844 Marx writes that “The Outstanding thing in Hegel’s Phenomenology and its final outcome—that is, the dialectic of negativity as the moving and generating principle—is thus first that Hegel conceives of the self genesis of man as a process, conceives objectification as a loss of the object, as alienation and as transcendence of this alienation; that he thus grasps the essence of labor and comprehends objective man—true, because real man—as the outcome of man’s own labor.” Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” from The Marx-Engels Reader, 112.

[40] Recall Marx’s “VI” thesis from his “Theses on Feuerbach,” “Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality it is the ensemble of social relations.” Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 145.

[41] There is an amazing sentence, and as we know, Marx was prone to long amazing sentences, from the “Critique, Intro.,” that encapsulates this idea better than I can. “There must be formed a sphere of society which claims no traditional status but only human status, a sphere which is not opposed to particular consequences but is totally opposed to the assumptions of the German political system; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all the other spheres of society, without therefore emancipating all these other spheres, which is, in short, a total loss of humanity and which can only redeem itself by a total redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society, as a particular class, is the proletariat.” Marx, “Contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 64.

[42] Marx, from The Marx-Engels Reader, 106-125.

[43] It is curious how Marx, in this essay, refers to Hegel’s dialectic, the word dialectic becomes a stand-in for the whole of Hegel’s philosophy.

[44] Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 106.

[45] Marx writes, Feuerbach is the only one who has a serious, critical attitude to the Hegelian dialectic and who has made genuine discoveries in this field.” Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 107.

[46] Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” from The Marx-Engels Reader, 108.

[47] Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 108.

[48] Hegel writes in one of the opening sections on “The State” in the Philosophy of Right, “…freedom enters into its highest right, just as the ultimate end possesses the highest right in relation to individuals, whose highest duty is to be members of the state” (§258). G.W.F. Hegel, “The State,” in Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Allen W, Wood editor, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007, 275.

[49] Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 111.

[50] Bernstein, “Marx and the Hegelian Background,” in Praxis and Action, 39.

[51] I do not have room in this essay to explore how these precisely connect for Feuerbach’s critique.

[52] Here we find another one of Marx’s crazy sentences, “Up to now the philosophers had the solution of all riddles lying in their lectern, and the stupid uninitiated world had only to open its jaws to let the roast partridges of absolute science fly into its mouth” Marx, “For a Ruthless…,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 13.

[53] Marx, “For a Ruthless…,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 13.


Balibar, Etienne. The Philosophy of Marx. Translated by Chris Turner. New York, NY: Verso, 2007.

Bernstein, Richard. “Marx and the Hegelian Background.” In Praxis & Action: Contemporary Philosophies of Human Action. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1971, 11-83.

Engels, Frederick. Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy. New York, NY: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1941.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. Edited by E. Graham Waring and F.W. Strothmann. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1957.

——. The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach. Translated by Zawar Hanfi. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1972.

Hegel, G.W.F.. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Edited by Allen W. Wood. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

——. Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A.V. Miller. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Hook, Sidney. From Hegel to Marx: Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx. New York, NY: The Humanities Press, 1950.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. Tucker, Robert, editor. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1978.

on g.w.f. hegel’s aesthetics (reply to reinaert de v.’s the rise of modernity, part 1)

aufheben hegel

Dear Reinaert de V.,

…it’s been so long reading a post from you (The Rise of Modernity, Part 1) & now together we’re back continuing to think & write about philosophy again. I feel that your philosophical interests are akin to my own, with obvious variance here & there. Yet, as our ideas have converged before, we’ve overcome our differences & now I’m struggling to recall who brought up G.W.F. Hegel first. I think it was you who about a year ago spoke of writing on his aesthetics & that inspired me to read & then write on his Phenomenology of Spirit—followed by looking & writing a little on his Aesthetics. Part of my interest also came to the fore while researching, reading & writing about Althusser’s ideology. Althusser openly rejected Hegel, since whole aspects of Hegel’s metaphysical ‘excesses’ were sloughed-off by late Marxist materialism. Let it be known that the more I found Hegel’s thought to be reviled by nineteenth & twentieth century thinkers, the more I wanted to embrace him. With this said, I’m not of the mind to simultaneously let go of Althusser & the others, as I see that this impulse is too narrow-minded & not inclusive, nor wide ranging enough to adequately engage philosophers that are of opposing views.

I needed to know what Hegel was all about & I wanted to try to grasp this imposing figure, who has always represented a special kind of insurmountable thinking. The only obstruction I discovered had to be overcome in my own mind. The resolve had to do with the work it takes to climb the rocks & to prepare for the inevitable confrontation with a failure to comprehend & to then re-read & to then strive for his kind of knowing that always includes the discomfort of not knowing. This continual task of re-reading is itself a kind of knowing. The conscious acquisition of knowledge has to confront what it doesn’t know in order to learn & then know better then it did before. Our eventual goals to know can be held alongside Hegel’s rushing toward absolute knowledge, absolute idea & absolute spirit, all of this is with the knowledge that philosophy should help us to be more capable of getting set on this journey of knowing & with the admission that this philosophical path is also Hegel’s way to absolute knowledge, that will include self-knowing & as a way to know the world as without the typical constraints that divide subject & object—as a pure unified knowing, that we’ll never truly know altogether.

Of course, we’ll be forced to see this drive to know & to know Hegel as fraught with many frustrations & these frustrations are often mistaken as flaws with Hegel’s un/intended obscurity. I’ve decided to think of the pain felt with these obscurities as a way of confronting & comprehending the dialectic & more specifically coming to terms with the central pivot of the dialectic, known as the sublation, the aufheben. This is noticed after the very beginning of any presuppositionless sense apprehension that is being & nothing sublated, then becoming thought & that could become a moment of conceptual thinking—this process of spirit coming to know is sometimes lovingly referred to by Hegel as a way to science (we’d be good to think of this too as thinking that’s onward to philosophical conceptualization & idea). Aufheben is a unique German word that roughly means to bring up, as well as to preserve & also to cancel out, to do away with, perhaps to bring back again. I like to think of the word as a reconciliation. This strange self-contradicting word: aufheben—which for Fichte & our usual understanding of Hegel’s dialectic—is defined as the contradiction &/or the antithesis. It can then be thought of as related to the fundamental negation within Hegel’s dialectic. Another word we can’t ignore here is speculation, or the speculative, which is certainly linked to the above mentioned word as a reconciliation that happens within the aufheben. The speculative is a reconciling of oppositions that thereby brings things, concepts, ideas, problems, philosophy &c. into the whole of the absolute, all in the name of the Hegelian dialectic. I’m sure Hegel thought of the whole of his philosophy as speculative, which again underscores the word aufheben. In short, we have to pass through, push down, bring up, & preserve the aufheben to really know Hegel.

From this initial confrontation of mine & back to the actual point of simply thanking you for your interest in Hegel, we’re drawn to a conclusion that when we sit down to study Hegel, to think about Hegel & then to sometimes reject Hegel, we’d be amiss to not take notice of the dialectical & speculative logic he laid for out us. This urges us to take notice of how he could’ve predicted his own negations, his potential demise, whereby the absolute spirit of our contemporary way of knowing has included & possibly grown out of this foreboding presence known as Hegel’s philosophy. This way of thinking about the dialectic includes his own speculative end, but never an end absolutely, as any ending has to include Hegel coming before us. We must not confuse this with the potential to lead us nowhere, since we can remember that his telos leads us to a transformation of the whole that once was, to the whole that can be & that won’t be overlooked as brought forward by Hegel.

It’s with friendly admiration that I’m happy to say you’ve done fine work to continue Hegel’s concepts into a fresh now. It’s worth noting that whenever we focus on a specific idea of Hegel’s ideal, we must not lose sight of how this transfers to the bigger picture of his entire oeuvre (the absolute). You have looked at the aesthetics of Hegel, citing passages form his Lectures on Aesthetics & I couldn’t help but thinking that your selections sound very much like his Lectures on the Philosophy of History. For example you write: “Thus the enlightened individual is able to move about freely & realize himself fully by partaking of the substantiality that is the state & thereby becoming more than what was his own.” When we compare this statement of yours to one found in Hegel’s Philosophy of History, we are reminded that the individual is fully actualized (as you indicated) in the state: “The worth of individuals is measured by the extent to which they reflect & represent the national spirit…” But, perhaps this is not in a totalitarian way, as the individual is realized within the a state of mutual freedom with other individuals. These other individuals are allowed their differences & particularities as features of their freedom, since this freedom is not really about the impulsive free reign of desires. When we continue moving from this idea that the individual is actualized in a state—a state of freedom with others—we come to the thought that you point to that directly echoes Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” … reading this next Hegel’s statement from the Philosophy of History shows  a distinct similarity: “The individual can certainly make the state into a means of attaining this or that end. But the truth is realized only insofar as each individual wills the universal cause itself and has discarded all that is inessential.”

As you already know, what we’re talking about is spirit, absolute spirit. The realization of reason is universal & it is spirit as the realization of the idea. The spirit is a determination of the self as it is also a determination of science, religion, knowledge & art. The goals of history, its telos is reason & it is the idea as it’s manifested via the spirit of man as an individual & as a collective. All of this can be thought as the expression of freedom. The objects of thought are what spirit contemplates as consciousness. Freedom is not something that the spirit merely strives for, it is also contained in the basic structure of thought as it knows itself in a self-determined way & not in a pre-ordained, deterministic way. The limitations of the world are what cause our own determinations to become what we are. It is the idea that becomes a goal for the knowing subject, the idea where the concepts of subject & object become sublated, a kind of pure knowing to eventually be without the subjective/objective distinction, the two are conflated as a free idea. There are seeming contradictions that arise from the idea that man is free, while he’s also confined to the rules of the state. Hegel addresses this in the Philosophy of History: “The concept of freedom is such that justice & ethical life are inseparable from it…” & later in the same paragraph we find the conclusion: “…such restrictions [of the state, laws, government &c.] are the indispensible conditions of liberation; society & the state are the only situations in which freedom can be realized.”  It has become evident that Hegel’s thought was consistent throughout the Aesthetics, the Philosophy of History, the Philosophy of Right & many other places. What I find intriguing is that while you outline the details of how you read his Aesthetics, absolute spirit emerges, in the way it manifests itself through the individual & how it includes the expression of man’s spirit, freedom & idea that are communicated into art & also into world history.

We already know that Hegel designates in the Aesthetics that philosophy supersedes the arts & just about everything else. Thus creating a kind of philosophical bird’s-eye-view where Hegel can then look to the pattern of how art has expressed itself in a religious context & that this religious context for art has passed. The apogee of art as a religious expression has been superseded by ‘lesser’ ideals. In the introduction of Hegel’s Aesthetics we find this put in Hegel’s words: “We have got beyond venerating works of art as divine & worshipping them.” & in a couple of sentences later we find: “…art, considered in its highest vocation, is & remains a thing of the past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth & life & it has been rather transferred into our ideas…”  What’s of note here is that “art’s imminent demise” (as you put it) is also due to this observation of Hegel’s that’s brought together with an implication that the individual is sublimated into the apparatus of the state & that this is a condition of art’s demise as it stand today. I believe that this can be maintained, while at the same time retaining & integrating an idea of an art that values thought, conceptualization & reflection.

Little did Hegel know that this would hold true & we’ll be sure to include the all-important ‘concept/idea’ as the driving force behind much of art created recently. As vital as concept is for Hegel’s philosophy, it is also just as intrinsic for a comprehension of artistic practice today. Once religion took ultimate precedence & now it’s thought, reflection, idea & concept. Hegel wasn’t too far off, especially if we consider this within the dialectic, whereby we can see that the self-negation of art has been happening over & over, throughout most of the 20th century (continuing into the 21st). The so-called death of art as a practice & theory has been a (now stale) recurring theme for decades now, yet artistic practice continues to negate itself & to push man’s spirit onward. Art occupies a curious place in today’s world & in that bizarre presentation we’ll see it as a glaring reflection of our own thought, questioning, pain & suffering. Our own pain is addressed in ways that make art appear to be too honest, too brutal. These confrontations are certainly the aufheben for us to bring a fresh re-reading into the world as a free expression of where we’re at in our world, in our spirit, in our minds & universally. We are called upon to conceptualize ourselves thinking about an art that struggles a great deal to let it self be known, as much as we are placed with the responsibility of knowing ourselves how to comprehend just a bit more of it than we did yesterday, till tomorrow places us within a new challenge to think of art again & to not know what we’ll eventually never know absolutely. Hegel leaves us with known & unknown pieces of his wisdom to carry on with the work of thinking that will observe the beauty of striving to know something/someone once more.

Aurelio Madrid

bibliography/works cited:

Hegel, G.W.F. Aesthetics, Lectures on Fine Art Vol. 1. Trans. T.M. Knox. New York: Oxford U. Press. 1975. print.

Hegel, G.W.F. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction. Trans H.B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press. 1975. print.

Kant, Immanuel. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.. Trans. James W. Ellington. Indianapolis: Hackett. 1993. print.

Magee, Glen Alexander. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Continuum Pubs. 2010. print.