A “CRITICAL revision of Hegel's Philosophy of Right” is how Marx later described the study that occupied him in 1843 and 1844. The title could in fact be extended to the whole of Marx's activity as a thinker; indeed, as an embodiment of his thought it could be used to sum up his life's work. More careful examination will show that this work of revision keeps pace with the course of his development from his first acquaintance with Hegel's philosophy up to the final pages of Das Kapital. When we put Hegel's Vorrede (the Preface to his Philosophy of Right) beside Marx's studies in preparation for his dissertation, it is very much a familiar tune that we hear. I am thinking especially of the central theme, featuring as it does the unsatisfactory character of Plato's philosophy of the state vis-à-vis the dawning of subjective freedom and the impending revolution in the world. The subject of Marx's dissertation is directly related to Hegel's Vorrede, which took an open stand against Epicurus' philosophy of chance and accident. It is as though Marx was determined from the very start to resist the master to his face by deliberately setting Hegel's major opponent, Epicurus, on a pedestal.
Later on, it looks sometimes almost as if Marx is sticking systematically to the scheme of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. His first article on so-called material interests, the article on legislation against wood-stealing, one could regard as commentaries on the first page of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, which deals with abstract right, more especially the first chapter on the right to ownership. With proper regard to the order of sequence, the article on the divorce law, written not long after, not only links up in fact with the first chapter of the third part of Hegel's Philosophy of Right in which the family—to take marriage for a start—is treated as the main element of the ethical life, but in this article there is even a positive stand taken against the way Hegel deals with divorce.
Next, he appears to make a jump straight to the third chapter on the state; but this leap is really one made by Marx's Critique, which in point of fact reverses Hegel's order of sequence. First, he has to settle accounts with Hegel's political theory, before he can get down to the real work, the critical revision of Hegel's doctrine of civil society. But even in following this third chapter Marx seems to be going about it systematically. The first section, on constitutional law, is discussed in Marx's critique of Hegel's constitutional law; in this connection he takes extreme care to pay special attention to Hegel's views on the relationship of the state to religion (which had been passed over in the critique of Hegel's constitutional law), implicitly in the “Introduction” to that critique and explicitly in the article on “the Jewish question”. Where the second section on international law is concerned, one need only glance at the list of articles Marx wrote during the eighteen-fifties for the New York Daily Tribune to see how radical and how assiduous was his concern with international politics; whilst the final section on world history is in a sense critically remodelled by Marx in his Critique of Political Economy (Kritik der politischen Ökonomie) and the philosophy of economic history unfolded there.
The second chapter of the third part of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, which deals with civil society, is what really continued to occupy Marx for the rest of his life. Once he had discovered in this chapter the central complex of problems raised by Hegel's philosophy of right, it became the lever of his critical philosophy. The article on the legislation against wood-stealing had already penetrated to the core of these problems. The problem of civil society is the real theme of Marx's critique of Hegel's constitutional law; but the philosophical-cum-economic manuscripts of 1844 are likewise impossible to understand without the background of Hegel's views. The same thing is true of the critique of Bauer, Stirner and Proudhon. But it is really from 1847 onward that Marx's life work, the Critique of Political Economy, can be summed up under the heading, “critical revision of Hegel's Philosophy of Right”. The problems raised by civil society, as outlined by Hegel with unprecedented clarity, dominate Das Kapital. The deep irony of Marx's relation to Hegel leaps to the fore at the end of his life in one of the last chapters of Das Kapital. The theme of freedom in Hegel's Philosophy of Right—a note persistently heard in the dialectic of freedom and necessity—breaks through in the vista of the future which Marx outlines, the perspective that sees lying on the far side of the sphere of material production as such, beyond the horizon of the realm of necessity, the realm of freedom. But this vision is fractured by the critical irony of Marx's revision of Hegel's trinitarian speculation; this visionary passage forms part of the forty-eighth chapter of Das Kapital, which deals with “the trinitarian formula”, that is to say, the economic trinity.
So, to the very end of his life, Marx remains preoccupied by this task of revision; and so he himself has summed up his life's work. I need only remind you of that one sentence from the Foreword of the Critique of Political Economy of 1859, which I have already analysed in part in an earlier lecture. In it, he sums up in a single breath his work of revision: his discovery of the roots of legal relations and forms of state in the material conditions of Hegel's “civil society”, and the anatomy of those roots in political economy. He could not have made it more evident that the key to his life's work is to be found in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.
Marx's account does indeed represent a remarkable abridgement of the historical perspective. Hegel's expression bürgerliche Gesellschaft (civil society) he traces back to the use of this term in the England and France of the eighteenth century. That is fair enough, in so far as Hegel identified with a tendency already present in modern natural law and in particular took over the term “bourgeois” from Rousseau. However, the radical separation of the terms “state” and “civil society” is Hegel's very own accomplishment; so much so, in fact, that his thinking had a long way to go and to develop before he was at last, in the 1821 Philosophy of Right, able to complete the terminological operation. An identification which from classical times had been handed down quite automatically in European thought was now cleft in two, split into two contrasting terms. Neither Marx nor Hegel himself saw the historical originality of this terminological operation in this far-reaching perspective. Marx did have an intuitive sense of the problem presented by the terminological tradition and by Hegel's break with it. In a letter to Arnold Ruge of March 5, 1842 Marx gets to speaking about his recently written article containing the critique of Hegel's natural law in its bearing on constitutional law. He has in view here what in a letter written some weeks later he calls the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and in a letter dated in August he calls his article tilting at Hegel's theory of constitutional monarchy.
In a previous lecture (part I, chapter 10) I used these letters to show that what Marx did with this article in 1843 was in fact implementing something he had done already in the previous year; so I need not go any further into the history of the matter now. At the moment I am concerned with Marx's own description of his article. In the aforementioned letter of March 5, 1842 he writes: “The crucial thing is the refutation of constitutional monarchy as a hybrid affair, totally self-conflicting and self-eliminating.” And then he adds: “Res publica, cannot be translated into German.” These two observations, taken together, touch the heart of the problems at issue.
I was talking in an earlier lecture about the Greek and Latin tradition regarding the terms “state” and “civil society”. What emerged was a parallelism between the Latin terms civitas and societas civilis and the Greek polis and koinonia politikè, respectively; our terms being, respectively, “state” and “civil society”. But as the Latin terminology is richer, the Greek pair is expanded and becomes the trio: civitas sive societas civilis sive res publica. I remarked that in this third term, res publica, we have the synthesis of the first two. A synthesis is what Hegel was after in his theory of the state. But precisely that theory is the storm-centre of Marx's Critique, which reveals Hegel's concept of constitutional monarchy to be a Zwitterding, that is, a hybrid, a bastard, a hermaphrodite; an absurdity, conflicting with itself and destroying itself. To this characterization he attaches his remark about the impossibility of translating res publica. Marx has noticed, evidently, that there is some difficulty about this term. We have already seen what problem he is up against. The term is the third member of a trio, the first two of which have already been rendered as “state” and “civil society”. Hegel was aiming at a synthesis for which he could find no better term than “state”. Marx spots the structural fault in Hegel's construction. On the one hand, there is a duplicity about it; on the other, it fails to bring out the real point at issue: namely, the synthesis of state and civil society in a res publica. An untranslatable term! Untranslatable and therefore unmanageable or, conversely, the anticipation of a synthesis which has not so far materialized anywhere in any shape or form and so is lacking an adequate term. A certain state of affairs to which no name has yet been given in our modern languages.
In the context of this more far-reaching perspective, which Marx himself points to, Hegel's Philosophy of Right and Marx's Critique fall into a proper relation to the classical and European tradition, to the as yet unrealized potentialities of the future, and to each other. Time now to go on and follow in its main outlines Marx's Critique of Hegel's constitutional law. The first part of my lectures has already thrown some light, up to a point, on the aspect of the “critique of heaven”. At issue now is the theme proper, which belongs to the domain of the critique of earth.
Marx's Critique does not extend beyond the first section of the chapter on “The State” (Der Staat), a section dealing with constitutional law (das innere Staatsrecht). This section is subdivided into two: the internal form of government or constitution (innere Verfassung für sich) and sovereignty vis-à-vis foreign states (die Souveränität nach aussen). Of these two, Marx deals here only with the first, the internal constitution. That is itself divided in turn into three sections, so that the scheme looks like this:
A. Constitutional law (das innere Staatsrecht) (par. 260 to 329)
I The internal or domestic constitution (innere Verfassung für sich (par. 272 to 320)
(a) the crown (die fürstliche Gewalt) (par. 275 to 286)
(b) the executive (die Regierungsgewalt) (par. 287 to 297)
(c) the legislature (die gesetzgebende Gewalt) (par. 298 to 320).
Marx's Critique covers sections 261 to 313. Thus his article stops short halfway or more through the part dealing with the legislature. Just before the section with which he starts there is one other which introduces the subject of constitutional law. In it Hegel summarizes the principle of modern states. The prodigious strength and depth of this principle lie in the fact that it engenders two contrasting but dialectically interrelated processes. On the one hand, in the womb of the modern state the principle of subjectivity is able to develop fully and to culminate in the self-subsistent extreme of personal particularity; personal individuality and its special interests (Interessen) have the possibility of complete development and obtain recognition of its subjective right (in the system of family and of civil society). But at the same time, in the womb of the modern state the principle of subjectivity is brought back within the substantive unity, so that this unity is maintained in the principle of subjectivity itself. In this unity of opposites the state is the actuality of concrete freedom.
Marx probably started his Critique at this section; but the first page of the manuscript has been lost. On the second sheet, the first of the surviving manuscript, he summarizes the content of this section quite briefly as the argument that concrete freedom consists in the identity of the system of particular interests (Sonderinteresse) (of the family and civil society) with the system of universal interests (allgemeine Interesse) (of the state). After the term “identity” he adds between brackets sein sollenden, zwieschlächtigen. By this, he means to say that the identity postulated by Hegel is not actual but an ideal, something that ought to be but is not (as yet). And furthermore he characterizes this identity as hybrid, a similar appellation to Zwitterding, which we were talking about not long ago. Thus, in the very first sentences of his Critique Marx puts dynamite under Hegel's whole construction. For in the Preface to the Philosophy of Right Hegel expressly and positively takes his stand against every attempt to construct a state as it ought to be (wie er sein soll), and made his own philosophy diametrically opposed to it. At the same time, Hegel presents the speculative idea of the state as the conscious identity between subjective form and substantive content. Marx takes a bold and direct stand against both claims—and in such a way that by an apparently quite casual addition (in brackets!) he turns what Hegel actually meant upside down.
In the next section Hegel goes more deeply into the relation between family and civil society, on the one hand, and the state, on the other. There are two sides to that relation. As contrasted with the spheres of private rights and private welfare, the state is, on the one hand, an external necessity and a higher authority, to whose nature the laws as well as the interests (Interessen) of this private sphere are subordinate and on which they are dependent. But, on the other hand, the state is the immanent end of this private sphere and draws its strength from the unity of its own universal end and aim with the particular interest of individuals; individuals have obligations towards the state to the degree that they have rights as well.
Marx begins his Critique with an analysis of the relation between external necessity and immanent goal. Hegel classifies under external necessity both being subordinate to the state and being dependent on it. The former, the subordination of the private sphere, is obviously an external necessity. But about the condition of dependence Hegel is less clear. Hegel illustrates this by a specific reference to Montesquieu's notion that the parts—the laws concerning the rights of persons—are dependent on the whole, on the state. This reference to Montesquieu, however, relates to an immanent dependence. Even so, Hegel subsumes this immanent dependence at the same time under the relation of external necessity. Only so is it to be understood why in case of conflict the laws and interests of family and civil society must defer to the laws and interests of the state. It is not empirical conflicts, however, that Hegel has in view; what concerns him is a fundamental dependence in virtue of which the sphere of family and of civil society is subordinate to the state as a “higher authority”. The union of the private sphere with the sphere of the universal, the state, is therefore an external, enforced union; the identity is a seeming identity, leading to internal discord. That is why Hegel describes this aspect as an external necessity; it is the aspect of alienation (Entfremdung) within the union.
Over against this, Hegel sets the other aspect, the state as the immanent end of the private sphere, in other words, as a union of the universal end and the particular interests of individuals, expressed in the unity of duties and rights. But in the opposition between the two aspects, between external necessity and immanent end, there lies an antinomy which Hegel is unable to resolve.
As Hegel envisages it, the state as the ethical universe, as the interpenetration of the substantive and the particular, is in itself the union of my obligation to the substantive and the embodiment of my particular freedom; in other words, the union of my duty and my rights.
In the next section (262), which as we shall see Marx treats as being of fundamental importance, Hegel explains things in more detail. The actual idea, that is, mind, divides itself in the plane of its finitude into two ideal spheres of its concept, family and civil society, in order that out of the ideality of these two spheres it can be for itself infinite, actual mind. To that end, the actual idea, qua mind, assigns to these spheres the material of this its finite actuality, that is, human beings en masse, so that the function assigned to the individual is visibly mediated (vermittelt) by circumstances, caprice and his own choice of his situation in life.
This section Marx translates into prose, as he ironically says, and then analyses. If it is indeed circumstances and individual caprice that form the state's point of contact with family and civil society, then evidently the reason (rationality) of the state (Staatsvernunft) has no bearing on this assigning of the material of the state to the spheres of family and civil society. The state simply emerges from these spheres in an unconscious and arbitrary fashion. Family and civil society appear as the dark element of nature whence the light of the state is kindled.
Hegel makes it look as though the actual idea, mind, sets to work in accordance with a definite plan, and divides up into finite spheres in order eventually to return into itself. Just at this point Marx puts his finger on Hegel's logical, pantheistic mysticism. What is in actuality the assigning of the material of the state by circumstances and caprice, is expressed by speculation as manifestation, as phenomenon, appearance. The actual mediation by circumstances and caprice is only the appearance of a mediation, which the actual idea performs with itself and which goes on behind the scenes. The actuality is not expressed as what it is in itself, but as a different actuality. Common empiricism has not its own mind but an alien mind as its law, whilst conversely the actual idea has as its embodiment (Dasein) not an actuality developed out of itself but a common empiricism.
The idea is subjectivized; and the actual relation of family and civil society to the state is envisaged as the immanent, imaginary activity of the idea. Family and civil society are the presuppositions of the state; it is they who in a real sense are active. But in speculation it is the other way round. When the idea is subjectivized, then the actual subjects, such as family, civil society, circumstances, caprice and so forth, become unreal, objective elements of the idea, elements which signify something else.
The assigning of the “state material” to the individual via circumstances and caprice is not posited expressly and without qualification as what is true, necessary, rightful and reasonable; yet, on the other hand, this does happen, only in such a way that the mediation through circumstances and caprice is presented as an apparent mediation, so that these factors remain what they are and at the same time acquire the significance of an aspect of the idea, are elevated into result and product of the idea. The distinction is not in the content but in the way of approach or in the way of speaking. It is a dual affair, esoteric and exoteric. The content is located in the exoteric part. The interest (Interesse) of the esoteric part invariably consists in recovering the history of the logical concept in the state. But it is on the exoteric side that the real development takes place. To put it in rational terms, Hegel is saying no more than that the family and civil society are parts of the state. The “state material”, that is to say, public business and affairs, is distributed among them through circumstances and caprice. Those who are state citizens are members of a family and of civil society.
Hegel calls the family and civil society the two ideal spheres of the concept of the state. The term “ideal” implies that the division of the state into these two parts is necessary, belongs to the essential being of the state. In other words, family and civil society are actual parts of the state, are actual, mental existences of the will; they are “embodiments” of the state, modes in which it exists, they comprise the state. They are the initiativetakers, the motive force. Yet Hegel puts it precisely the other way round. As he represents it, family and civil society are the passive object of the idea; it is not their own life-process which combines and unifies them into the state, but it is the life-process of the idea that has made them distinct. They are the finite being of the idea; they owe their existence to a spirit that is not their own, they are defined by a third factor, and are not self-defined. That is why they are defined as “finitude”, as the finiteness inherent in the actual idea. The end of their existence is not that existence as such; but the idea separates these presuppositions from itself, “so that on the basis of their ideality it can be for itself infinite, actual mind”; that is to say, the political state cannot be, apart from the natural basis of the family and the artificial basis of civil society. For the political state they are a conditio sine qua non. Thus the condition (Bedingung) becomes the conditioned (Bedingte), the determinator (Bestimmende) is posited as what is determined (Bestimmte), the productive factor (Produzierende) is presented as the product of its product (als das Produkt seines Produktes). The actual idea only descends into the “finiteness” of family and civil society in order, through the supersession of that finitude to enjoy and engender its own infinity. “To that end” (that is, in order to attain its goal) “the idea assigns to these spheres the material of this its finite actuality” (this? what actuality? surely these spheres are its “finite actuality”, its “material”), “human beings as a mass (the material of the state here is ‘human beings, the mass, the multitude’”, it is they who constitute the state, its existence is here formulated as an act of the idea, as a “distribution” of its own material; the fact is this, that the state emerges from the mass, in its existence qua the members of family and of civil society; speculation formulates this factum as an act of the idea, not as the idea of the mass but as the act of a subjective idea, which is distinct from the fact itself) “so that this assigning to the individual (before, it was only a question of assigning individuals to the spheres of family and civil society) appears to be mediated through circumstances, caprice and so forth”.
In this fashion Marx analyses with great precision one sentence of Hegel's that fills an entire section, and he gives us, “in prose”, a version of what it contains. Thus he concludes that Hegel manages to absorb empirical actuality as it is; it is also given expression as something rational (vernünftig), yet it is not rational by virtue of its own inherent reason (Vernunft), but because the empirical fact in its empirical existence has a significance other than itself. The fact forming the basic premiss is not interpreted as such, but rather as a mystic result. What is actual becomes “phenomenon”; but the idea has no content other than this phenomenon. Again, the idea has no goal other than the logical goal: “to be for itself infinite, actual mind”. In this section, Marx concludes, is enshrined the whole mystery of the Philosophy of Right, nay, of Hegel's entire philosophy.
We have here been able to follow Marx's dissecting knife in its every movement. The hand, and indeed the method of working, is at once recognizable as the one operative in the dissertation. There Marx had succeeded in uncovering, in one apparently trivial detail overlooked by all previous historians and philosophers, the central core of Epicurus' natural philosophy; and in this detail he discovered the key to Greek philosophy as a whole. In much the same way, Marx's scalpel reveals in the anatomy of a single section the mystery of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, indeed, of Hegel's philosophy in its entirety.
The choice of this section is the more striking because of the connection Hegel himself made with a section in the chapter on civil society, to which he explicitly refers in a bracketed addition. Marx was not concerned with that reference, because the chapter in question lay outside the frame of his Critique. Hegel refers us to a section (185) which I have already had occasion to consider earlier. In it, he outlines the physical and moral corruption to which civil society is prey, torn as it is between the extremes of unrestricted luxury and bitter poverty and wretchedness. He compares this degeneracy with the period of decline in ancient Greece, and affirms that the principle of self-subsistent, inherently infinite personality has an intrinsic connection with the Christian religion and extrinsically was developed in the Roman world: a principle that had brought Plato's philosophy of the state to an impasse. We have seen that this section is really a more detailed working out of a central theme which Hegel had already broached in the Vorrede. Running right through the Philosophy of Right, therefore, is a thread linking up with the section (262) in which Marx claims to have uncovered the very core of Hegel's whole philosophy.
It would take us too far afield to continue following Marx's Critique in every detail; but the main contours and the structure of his analysis can be illustrated from fragments of the Critique. Fundamental to Marx's analytical method is the indissoluble unity of form and content. In the Preface to the Philosophy of Right Hegel had himself made much of this principle as the basis of authentic philosophy; but Marx demonstrates that Hegel was true to the principle in appearance only. What Hegel's speculation failed to achieve Marx's Critique accomplishes in the unity of its formal and substantive analysis. All the time, the critical handling of the formal structure of Hegel's thought goes hand in hand with a substantive critique of his constitutional law.
First, let us take a closer look at the formal aspect of Marx's analysis. There is, first of all, the peculiar character of Hegel's speculative method, which one can recognize in every part of his system. In the four subsequent sections (263 to 266) Hegel argues that mind is not only, as substantive universality, the external necessity of the private realm but equally, as being conscious of itself as its own end, the inner freedom of the private realm. Marx comments that evidently the transition from the realm of family and of civil society to the political state does not derive from the special nature of the family and so on, from the particular nature of the state, but from the universal relation of necessity and freedom. It is exactly the same transition which is effected in Hegel's logic from the realm of essential being to the realm of the concept. In natural philosophy the same transition is made from an origin in inorganic nature to living nature. It is always the same categories that furnish the soul now for this realm, now for that. It is simply a question of finding abstract characteristics that correspond to the special, concrete ones.
In the next section (267) Hegel argues thus: the necessity in ideality is the inner self-development of the idea. As the substance of the individual subject it is political sentiment; as the substance of the objective world, in distinction therefrom, it is the organism of the state, the strictly political state and its constitution. This Marx analyses as follows: the subject here is “the necessity in ideality”, the “idea within itself”; the predicate—the political sentiment and the political constitution. And Marx adds with a touch of sarcasm: in (plain) German this means that the political sentiment is the subjective, the political constitution the objective substance of the state. Thus the logical development of family and civil society into state is just illusory; for it is not explained how family sentiment, civic sentiment, the institution of the family and social institutions as such relate to political sentiment and the political constitution and how they cohere with them. The main point is that Hegel everywhere makes the idea the subject and makes the real and actual subject, such as “political sentiment”, the predicate. The development, however, always occurs on the predicate's side.
We have already, in the context of the Critique of Heaven, come across Marx's charge against speculative philosophy that it systematically confuses subject and predicate. The unity of his critique of heaven and earth comes out once again, now that we encounter this same charge within the context of constitutional law. In one of the later sections (270) Hegel declares that the end of the state is the universal interest as such, so that the state is also the substance and means of conserving particular interests; at the same time this substantiality is mind knowing and willing itself, having passed through the forming process of education (Bildung). Here again Marx sees the familiar signs of confusion. The sentence does not run “educated mind (gebildete)… is the substantiality”, but on the contrary “the substantiality is educated… mind”. In this way, mind becomes a predicate of its predicate. The real starting-point, without which the end and the authoritative powers of the state must be so many castles in the air, vacuous, nay, impracticable existences, appears merely as the latest predicate of the substantiality which had already been defined earlier as a universal end and as the various state powers (Crown, Executive, Legislature). If one's starting-point be actual mind, then the “universal end” would be its content, the various constitutional powers, the manner in which it is actualized, its real or material existence, the specification of which would have had to be developed out of the nature of the end being pursued. Since, however, the starting-point is the “idea” or the “substance” qua subject, actual being, therefore the actual subject appears only as the final predicate of the abstract predicate.
All this really shifts the discussion with Hegel into the area of logic. After all, the main point is that the concrete content, the actual definition, is manifest as exhibiting form, whilst conversely the purely abstract definition of form is brought in as the concrete content. Thus, the state's characteristics are not treated, essentially, as being what they are in their own right; instead, they are envisaged in their abstract form as logical-cum-metaphysical characteristics. It is not the philosophy of right but logic that is at issue here. The task of philosophy is to ensure not that thinking assumes a form—the form of political realities—but that the existing political realities are volatilized into abstract ideas. Not the logic of the issue, but the issue of logic is the philosophical component. Instead of logic serving to substantiate the state, the state serves to substantiate the logic. The whole philosophy of right, therefore, is merely parenthetical to logic; that is to say, the philosophy has the position in it of a casual observation, an “aside”. Naturally, the parenthesis is no more than an hors d'oeuvre to the real thing.
With the help of Hegel's construction of state polity, Marx reveals legislature as the “medium”, the mediating principle between the two extremes, the principle of monarchy and civil society; but this medium is a composite mixture of them both, an impossible compromise of empirical particularity and empirical universality, of subject and predicate. Hegel interprets the result of his argumentation as a medium, a middle factor. In this methodology the whole transcendence and mystical dualism of his system emerge. The mediating factor is so much “wooden iron”, the concealed opposition between universality and individuality. Each element in the cycle is now extreme, on the outside, now the middle factor. The monarch must constitute, in the legislature, the medium between the governmental authority and the “estates” (classes); but the government (the Executive) is itself the mediating factor between the monarch and the estates, and the estates are a similar factor between the monarch and civil society.
It reminds one of the anecdote about the husband and wife who had quarrelled and the doctor who insisted on being the intermediary between them, so that first the wife had to be go-between (vermitteln) for the doctor with her husband, and then the husband be go-between for his wife with the doctor. This mediatory system means that the same man who wants to give his opponent a thrashing has to protect him from being thrashed by different antagonists in other directions; with the result that, confronted with this double task, he never gets round to actually doing it.
It is worth noticing that Hegel, who reduces this absurdity of the mediatory principle to its abstract, logical—that is to say, its unadulterated, unwrenchable—expression, at the same time describes it as a speculative mystery of logic, as the rational (vernünftige) relationship. Extremes cannot in fact be mutually reconciled, for the simple reason that they are extremes. But they require no mediating factor, either, for they are in their essential nature opposites. They have nothing in common, they do not want each other, are not complementary. The one does not cherish a desire for, a need for, the anticipation of the other. But when Hegel treats universality and individuality, the abstract components of his logical argumentation, as actual opposites, that is precisely the fundamental dualism of his logic.
Marx rounds off this analysis by remarking that the place for a more detailed discussion is in the critique of Hegel's logic. To the end of his life, in fact, he nursed a plan, never to be realized, for getting down to the task of writing such a critique. The need for it arose out of the critique of Hegel's constitutional law and the realization he had of the all-pervading influence of Hegel's speculative logic.
This did not stop him, however, from pursuing the subject. The conciseness and brevity of his analysis do not make it easy to follow; but it is so pertinent to the heart and centre of Marx's critique of Hegel that it is worth taking the trouble to sketch in the main features of it. He himself imports a counterargument into the discussion, in the form of the maxim, Les extrêmes se touchent, extremes affect each other. North and south poles attract each other; likewise the male and female sexes; and it is only through the union of their extreme differences that human beings come into existence. But over against this Marx sets the proposition: each extreme is its other extreme (Jedes Extrem ist sein andres Extrem). Abstract spiritualism (i.e., immaterialism) is abstract materialism; abstract materialism is the abstract spiritualism of matter.
We see here a notional development that typifies Marx's style of thought and the style of his critique of Hegel. Without letting himself be led into the area of purely formal logic, he pierces through in a few sentences to the heart of the issue with which the Critique of the Philosophy of Right is really concerned. What for Hegel is the unity of logic and the philosophy of right, Marx treats as the unity of a critique of logic and a critique of constitutional law. We have already followed Marx's critique of Hegel's speculation about the relation between the state on the one hand and the private realm of the family and civil society on the other—a relation envisaged as the assigning of “state matter” by mind to the private realm. Marx turned this speculative way of talking into “prose”; so we know what he is thinking of in the philosophy of right context when he speaks about the polarity between mind and matter.
What Marx's analysis is meant to show is that the extremes which Hegel reconciles are extremes and, if they can be reconciled, it is because they are pure abstractions. Indeed, in the realm of abstraction each extreme is the extreme of its opposite. In the realm of abstraction, “mind” is the opposite of “matter”. Hegel treats these abstract notions as extremes which can be and must be reconciled with each other. This (merely) apparent reconciliation is brought about between apparent extremes. In fact, the abstract concept, “mind”, is only the abstraction of matter. It has no self-subsistent signification, but only as the abstraction of something else, namely, matter. Matter is the object from which mind abstracts. The abstraction of matter is abstract materialism. Thus in the realm of abstraction, abstract mind and abstract matter, or abstract spiritualism and abstract materialism, form each other's counterpart. In Hegel's speculation, abstractions without intrinsic subsistence are made self-subsistent, are then contrasted or opposed to each other as extremes, and finally reconciled. But, in fact, this opposition is illusory; for the concept “mind” does not stand in opposition to real matter, but is an abstraction from it. The polarity is only with the abstract concept “matter”; and this abstract polarity is just a delusion; for abstract “mind” and abstract “matter” are both abstractions from the matter which really exists.
The case is different with polar existences, like man and woman, north pole and south pole. Male and female sexes both belong to a single species, a single being, “human being”. North and south are polarized aspects of a single, albeit differentiated, existent. They are not actual, nor real extremes, therefore. Real extremes would be pole and non-pole, human and non-human being. With these real extremes there is a distinction between one being, one existent, and another, a second existent. In the case of the contrast between man and woman, north pole and south pole, on the other hand, the distinction is one of existence within a single reality.
Now Hegel's speculation confuses this distinction of existence within a single mode of being, in two directions, with a quite different distinction. On one hand, it is confused with the contrast between (putatively) self-subsistent abstractions, and, on the other, with the real opposition between two existents which are mutually exclusive. In other words, the polarity between man and woman is confused with that between the abstractions “mind” and “matter”, and again with that between pole and non-pole. This confusion gives rise to a twofold error: (1) A principle is not regarded as a totality in itself, but appears exclusively as an abstraction of something else, as a one-sided, partial thing; (2) Real contrarieties, of which the opposed parties are aware and which lead to conflict, are not acknowledged in their reality but are seen as something injurious, as something to be obviated, if at all possible. An attempt is made to reconcile these real contrarieties.
Marx illustrates this procedure from the relation between Christianity or religion in general, on the one hand, and philosophy on the other. The truth is, there is no real opposition between religion and philosophy; for they are in different planes: philosophy aims to encompass religion, includes and comprehends religion in its illusory actuality. Thus for philosophy, in so far as it sets out to be something actual, religion is resolved into philosophy itself. There is no real dualism here between one existent and another existent; for such a polarity exists only on one side, namely, that of religion; whilst from the other side, from the philosophical viewpoint, the polarity has no genuine reality at all. From this example Marx intends to make it clear that the whole speculative method whereby Hegel first turns abstractions into polarities in order subsequently to reconcile them and supersede the lower in the higher is a charade in which, on the one hand, pseudoopposites are exhibited as real, and, on the other, real polarities are reduced to mere appearances and then reconciled.
Just as Hegel “dissolves” religion into philosophy (which supersedes it), so does he “dissolve” civil society into the state. In the former case he is cancelling out a contrast that does not actually exist; in the latter case he is “moderating” a real opposition. Marx demonstrates this by analysing Hegel's construction of the legislature, the central, mediating principle of constitutional monarchy. Here again we are dealing with a compound affair. In the legislature are unified: (1) a representation of the principle of monarchy, “the Executive”; (2) a representation of civil society, the “estates” elements; (3) further to that, the one extreme as such, the principle of monarchy, whilst the other extreme, civil society, is not as such subsumed in it. In this procedure the “estates” element is first of all made the opposite extreme to the principle of monarchy: that is, it takes the place of civil society. For it is only in the representative body of the estates that civil society organizes itself so as to assume a political existence. The “estates” element is the transubstantiation of civil society into the political state. Indeed, civil society is the “unreality” of political existence, so that the political existence of civil society entails its own dissolution, whereby civil society is parted from itself.
The legislature is the political state in toto. The inner contradiction, therefore, of the legislature brings to light the inner contradiction of the political state as a whole. The political state merges, is resolved, into the legislature. Within the legislature totally discrepant principles collide. In Hegel's construction this contrariety appears as the opposition between the principle of monarchy and that of the “estates” element. In fact, however, it is a question of the antinomy of the political state and civil society, the intrinsic contrariety in which the political state is in conflict with itself. The legislature embodies the revolt against this internally conflicting structure of the political state.
To this analysis Marx appends a conclusion which he again puts in parenthesis, as it were, in order to indicate that its proper place is in the critique of Hegel's logic. For that very reason it is important to reproduce his conclusion here. Hegel's chief mistake, that conclusion says, is that he interprets the contrariety of the appearance (den Widerspruch der Erscheinung) as a unity in essence, in the idea (Einheit im Wesen, in der Idee). The phenomenal contradiction does indeed have something more profound as its essence (ein Tieferes zu seinem Wesen), namely, an essential contradiction (wesentlichen Widerspruch), just as for instance in this case the contradiction inherent in the legislature (Widerspruch… in sich selbst) is only the contradiction in the political state and thus also that which civil society evinces with itself. (Widerspruch… mit sich selbst).
The vulgar critique falls into an error opposite to Hegel's, that is, into a dogmatic one. It criticizes the constitution, for instance. It points out that the various organs of state authority are opposed to one another, and so on. It finds contradictions everywhere. This is still a dogmatic critique which combats, more or less as the people used to do who exploited the “one and three” contradiction in order to wipe the floor with the dogma of the Holy Trinity. Over against that, the true critique shows the inner process, the history of how the Holy Trinity came into being (innere Genesis) within the human brain. It describes the “act of birth” (Geburtsakt). Thus, a truly philosophical critique of the existing constitution not only shows that contradictions exist, but also explains them, comprehends their genesis, their necessity. It grasps them in their peculiar significance. However, this process of understanding consists not as Hegel supposes in detecting here, there and everywhere determinable instances of the logical notion (die Bestimmungen des logischen Begriffs), but in grasping the distinctive logic of the distinctive object (die eigentümliche Logik des eigentümlichen Gegenstandes zufassen).
In this conclusion there beats the very heart of Marx's critique of heaven and earth. The definition of the genuinely philosophical critique as contrasted with the dogmatic one may remind us forcibly of the closing passage of Marx's third letter to Arnold Ruge, published in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. In part I, chapter 8, I explained the socratic character of Marx's critique and the typical engagement with actual politics. In the conclusion as just reported what comes out most of all is the unity of Hegel critique, the critique of religion and the critique of politics.
This brings us to the second aspect of Marx's critique. The first had to do with the formal structure of Hegel's philosophy. Inseparably connected with that is the substantive critique of constitutional law, to which we must now turn.
It would be a serious mistake to regard Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law merely as a sample of “Hegel critique”; for the confrontation with Hegel entails the confrontation with the political state. Marx expressly makes this point—and does so in connection with his analysis of the duplicity of Hegel's construction of the legislature, which comes out particularly in the bogus position of the “estates” element as the political representation of civil society. “The function of the estates element,” Hegel declares (section 301), “is to ensure that the ‘public cause’ will come into existence in it not only implicitly (an sich) but also explicitly (für sich): that is to say, the element of subjective, formal freedom, the public mind as, empirically, a common pool of the ideas and opinions of the many.” Marx points out the extraordinary contempt which Hegel displays here for the “spirit politic” where he comes across it in an actual, empirical form—the same Hegel who has such enormous respect for it as “ethical mind”. The fact is, the “public consciousness” is here simply equated with the empirical, general pool of the opinions of the many, the totality of views and ideas to be found among the mass. That is the enigma of mysticism. The same fantastic abstraction which identifies the state's consciousness with the completely inadequate form of the bureaucracy unblushingly admits, on the other hand, that the empirical “mind of the state” is simply a pot-pourri of the ideas of the mass. Because he gives the actual content of freedom a mystical basis, therefore the actual subject of freedom assumes a purely formal significance. The division between “in itself” (an sich) and “for itself” (für sich), between substance and subject, is abstract mysticism.
Marx would be the last to deny that in all this Hegel has correctly represented the actual nature of modern monarchies, including constitutional ones. On the contrary, the situation in modern states is exactly as in Hegel's Philosophy of Right: the true reality of the public cause is only formal, or only the formal is really and actually “public cause”. Hegel is not to be blamed for delineating the essential nature of the modern state as it is, but because he presents what is as the essential nature of the state. That the rational is actual is manifest from the contrariness of irrational actuality (Dass das Vernünftige wirklich ist, beweist sich eben im Widerspruch der unvernünftigen Wirklichkeit), which is invariably the reverse of what it claims to be, and claims to be the reverse of what it is (die an alien Ecken das Gegenteil von dem ist, was sie aussagt, und das Gegenteil von dem aussagt, was sie ist).
Without expressly mentioning it, Marx looks back to the celebrated statement in Hegel's Vorrede to the Philosophy of Right: was vernünftig ist, das ist wirklich; und was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig: what is rational is actual and what is actual is rational. He holds Hegel to his word, indeed, his analysis confirms the truth of Hegel's proposition: philosophy is its own time, apprehended in thoughts (ihre Zeit in Gedanken erfasst). But this confirmation is a confirmation in Hegel's style: it denies what it confirms, or it confirms by denying. It would be wrong to see in this a specimen of Marx's flair for crushing irony, unless one sees that as being rooted in the socratic irony described in the studies preliminary to his dissertation. This philosophical irony is indeed the pulse-beat of Marx's critical method, it has a “maieutic” significance, it assists at the lying-in and is present at the birth of truth. Hegel's principle is correct: the actual is rational, and the rational actual. Hegel saw the essential nature, the rational idea, of the modern state and correctly defined it as the actualizing of the rational will, free will; but he did not see that the actual condition of the modern state flagrantly contradicts its essence, its truth, its rationality. And so he fell into the error of regarding the actual existence of the modern state as the essential nature of the state.
Yet this in itself does not take us to the heart of what Marx is saying. The contradiction in Hegel's philosophy, which sees and at the same time fails to see the essence of the modern state and mistakes the essence for the actuality and the actuality for the essence—that contradiction is not simply Hegel's, but that of the actuality itself. What Hegel asserts (ausgibt) about the actual existence of the state is evidenced by (aussagt), the actuality itself. Obviously, he has attended carefully to the actuality and is only passing on what he has heard. For the actuality itself is precisely the opposite of what it professes to be. It claims to be rational (venünftig), whereas it is irrational (unvenünftig). And this very fact reveals, is sufficient to establish (beweist sich), that the rational is actual.
The expression “is established”, “is proved” (beweist sich) has a profound meaning; and here we do come up against the hard centre of Marx's Critique. Hegel's philosophy had no other aim than to furnish proof of the speculative case that what is actual is rational, and what is rational is actual. Marx recognizes the truth of this proposition; but he views the proof from exactly the other side. Hegel set out to furnish his proof through a knowledge of actual reason (wirkliche Vernunft) and rational actuality (vernünftige Wirklichkeit). Marx on the contrary finds the proof in the contradictoriness of irrational actuality (unvernünftige Wirklichkeit) and of actual irrationality (wirkliche Unvernunft). That is precisely the distinction between the “matter of logic” (Sache der Logik), which Hegel projects on to the actuality, and the “logic of the matter”, which Marx develops out of the actuality. In that, Marx follows the guideline of Hegel's own dialectic, which after all has nothing else to do than bring into consciousness the proper work of the reason of the thing in itself (diese eigene Arbeit der Vernunft der Sache zum Bewusstsein zu bringen). Hegel did not stick to his own guideline, otherwise he would have made the discovery that Marx now makes in his stead: the discovery that the logic of what is actual is demonstrated in the contradiction of an irrational actuality.
It is the ambiguity of Hegel's Philosophy of Right that in it, whenever this radical dialectic is on the point of breaking through, it seems to be dissolved in speculation. In the discussion of Hegel's Vorrede, the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, I have already referred to the curious context into which the utterance about the rationality of what is actual is incorporated: the context, that is, of the impending world revolution of which Plato did indeed have a presentiment, but which he had no means of resisting other than by taking up a defensive position in an idealized, substantive form of Greek ethical life and the ancient state. We have seen, too, how Hegel returns to this in the chapter on civil society, which represents an analogous world revolution in the modern period; and how, in a combination of Christian and Roman subjectivity, he finds a capacity which Plato in his time did not possess for weathering this revolution (section 185). And, finally, we traced the line through to Hegel's examination of the state, with which Marx begins his Critique and in which he finds epitomized the whole mystery of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (section 262). In the process the ambiguity of that philosophy is brought to light. More clearly than any thinker before him, Hegel saw just how radical was the character of the revolution, which for him was expressed in the term “civil society”. He analysed sharply both the analogy and the fundamental difference with the downfall of ancient civilization and managed to expose the basic flaw in Plato's philosophy of the state. Even so, Hegel himself seems to have been unable to escape from Plato's magic. Where he is describing Plato's failings and also his greatness, it looks very much as though he is describing his own reflected image. Indeed, one even gets the impression that Hegel's picture of Plato has the features to some extent of a self-portrait. Historically, his picture of Plato is greatly overdone. If we read the relevant sentence from the Vorrede once again, it would seem more applicable to Hegel himself:
“Still, his genius is proved by the fact that the principle on which the distinctive character of his Idea of the state turns is precisely the pivot on which the impending world revolution turned at that time.
What is rational is actual;
and what is actual is rational”.
It is worth noting that the phrase “at that time” (damals) was added by Hegel in his own hand to his own copy of the Philosophy of Right, as though he were afraid the reader would confuse the former revolution with the modern one and might suppose that Hegel was talking here about himself. That fear was all too well founded; for Hegel's critique of Plato can be taken over word for word as a critique of Hegel. After all, Hegel too took refuge in an external form, the state, which was an idealized epitome of the nature of the existing ethical life: a defensive position to which he withdrew when faced with the impending revolution. And just as he accused Plato of doing, Hegel also did the deepest possible injury in this way to the underlying impulse of the revolution, namely, to free, infinite personality.
Thus in a sense all that Marx's critique of Hegel has done is to develop Hegel's Plato-critique, which in a secret fashion had already become Hegel's self-critique, into a critique of Hegel. The term used by Marx, “is proved”, is the literal equivalent of the one we find in the passage cited above from Hegel's Vorrede. Hegel-Plato “has proved himself”, or rather his “genius”, through the connection of his philosophy with the impending world revolution. Marx confirms Hegel's thesis that the rational is actual, “is proved”, finds its proof, precisely in the contradiction of irrational actuality. Marx is, in fact, talking about the contradiction becoming manifest in the impending world revolution, the world, that is, of the nineteenth century, the world of civil society. Hegel himself says of this revolutionary principle of subjective freedom, “This principle is historically subsequent to the Greek world; and the philosophical reflection which gets down to this depth is likewise subsequent to the substantive idea of Greek philosophy” (section 185). It was on this score that Marx moved into his critique of Hegel with his dissertation on Epicurus. Once again we have confirmation of the fundamental importance of the dissertation as the starting-point for Marx's total development. For quite literally, the whole point of it is this “subsequent to”, which acquires a form in post-Aristotelean philosophy. What attracts him in this post-Aristotelean philosophy is in fact its subjective character, the philosophical reflection, which is subsequent to Greek metaphysics. For him Epicurus is the revolutionary pioneer of subjective freedom.
Anyone who sets the Vorrede to Marx's dissertation alongside the Vorrede to Hegel's Philosophy of Right must be struck by the close affinity between them. Hegel's Vorrede is an express attack on Epicurus. Marx's Vorrede is an express attack on Hegel, in a vein almost analogous to Hegel's in the latter's Vorrede on Plato. Marx acknowledges Hegel's genius, but insists all the same that Hegel failed to discover the key to the real history of Greek philosophy. That key is to be found in the philosophy of Epicurus—the same Epicurus whom Hegel repudiated.
So the main historical contours begin to become clearly visible. In Hegel, the line of classical philosophy, the line running from Plato through Aristotle, is extended into the modern period. Marx undertakes an independent exploration through the history of Greek philosophy and comes to see that on this line we cannot hope for any answer to the problems of the modern epoch. However, in the history of antiquity he finds three aspects that are plainly on a different footing. One aspect is historical; he opts for the post-Aristotelean period, post-classical philosophy, the end of Greek civilization. The second aspect concerns the philosophical starting-point; he opts for the subjective character, for the subjective freedom of self-consciousness. The third aspect has to do with the interpretation of nature; he opts for the atomistic philosophy.
In the combination of the three aspects lies the originality of Marx's point of departure. The difference between the natural philosophy of Democritus and of Epicurus is the subject-matter of Marx's enquiry. The difference lies in the first aspect: Democritus is pre-, Epicurus is post-Aristotelean. In the second aspect Democritus' theory of atoms is naive metaphysics, Epicurus' theory is subjective reflection, issuing in subjective praxis. The apparently negligible difference between Democritus and his tardy (belated) pupil, Epicurus, is the paramount difference between the blind necessity of nature and self-conscious, subjective freedom. In Epicurus' principle of the declination of the atom, the atom acquires its freedom. The declination is the revolution of the self-liberating individual in the realm of necessity, the realm of nature.
There is a close interrelation between Hegel's philosophy of right and his natural philosophy, an interrelation explicitly confirmed in the Vorrede to the Philosophy of Right. Hegel's natural philosophy might be described as a Platonic Aristoteleanism: the substance is the living organism of the self-evolving cosmos, the form is akin to Platonic idealism, which finds true reality in the absolute forms of mathematics, which in material reality are adumbrated only as something phenomenal. Hegel's philosophy of right has a similar character. The state is the finished development of the ethical cosmos; but in its absolute perfection it stands enthroned above what is in reality the poor ethical condition of its members. Hegel perceives a direct analogy between the natural universe and the ethical universe, between the cosmos and the state, the polis. And so Epicurus' atomistic philosophy is his sworn enemy; for in it this cosmic and ethical organism is pulverized into a chaotic multitude of atoms, and the august necessity of reason, of Vernunft, which governs both the natural and the ethical universe, is ground down into blind mechanics, controlled by caprice and accident. Hegel's opposition to Epicurus' theory of atoms is so explicit because his keen gaze has recognized the astoundingly accurate reproduction of it in the poor actual state of ethical life in civil society. The godforsaken condition of Epicurus' nature, the atheism of his philosophy, the law of accident and caprice—they have all taken form in the modern world revolution, in civil society. Hegel repeatedly describes its essential character in terms borrowed directly from the theory of atoms. At the close of his Philosophy of History he rebuts the polity of liberalism, based as it is on the “will of the many”, as “the atomistic principle”. The Philosophy of Right is full of such expressions as “dependence on external accident and caprice”, “a mere, atomistic agglomeration of individuals” (ein blosser atomistischer Haufen von Individuen), “an unorganized kind of opining and willing” on the part of “a mass or an aggregate”, in contrast to the “organized state”, “a mass dispersed into its atoms”, an “atomistic point of view”. Such expressions are invariably made to refer to a kind of polity or constitutional law which sets out to compose the state as a total entity out of the individual parts, and to the total dissolution that must threaten family and civil society, if the perfect organism of the state as a comprehensive and primary entity were not there.
Marx too observed this analogy between the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of right; and he chose his starting-point at precisely the opposite pole, that is, in the atomistic theory rejected by Hegel. In the studies preparatory to his dissertation he describes Epicurus' atomistic world as the bellum omnium contra omnes, the Roman war of all against all, celebrated in the famous poem by Epicurus' Latin disciple, Lucretius. Epicurus' natural philosophy heralds and proclaims the arrival of a new culture. Here again Marx takes Hegel as his point of departure; for it is Hegel himself who in his Philosophy of Right draws the parellel between the revolution of the Roman period and that of modern civil society; just as the description of the latter as “the battlefield where every man's private interest as an individual competes with that of everyone else” is also to be found in Hegel. As we shall see in a subsequent lecture, the front established by Marx's Critique lies precisely along this line.
Hegel sees an ethical world that, like Epicurus' nature, falls apart and disintegrates into atoms as “God-forsaken”; and he indignantly repudiates any such “atheism of the ethical world”. True philosophy, surely, must have as its content the speculative knowledge of God, of nature and of mind. Like Goethe's Mephistopheles, the atomistic theory destroys the foundations at once of speculative natural philosophy, the philosophy of right and the philosophy of religion. This Marx does not deny; on the contrary, the helium omnium contra omnes, the battle of all with all, which in Epicurus' theory of the atoms is given form, is the representation of a “de-divinized nature and a de-terrestrialized God” (eine entgütterte Natur und einen entwelteten Gott). It was the greatness of Epicurus that he dared to look this de-divinized nature straight in the face and refused to venerate the universe as God, that he had the courage to find the de-terrestrialized God simply and solely in the impalpable freedom of his own self-awareness.
But even this last recourse, this final refuge, has vanished with the culture of the ancient world. Though the modern private person, the individual bourgeois of modern civil society, may have his own “private religion”, the bottom has dropped out of it. Whereas Epicurus refused to worship the celestial bodies, nowadays the possibility has been removed even from the private person of being a divine egoist. In the actual situation of civil society there are only human egoists. The union of cosmos and polis, of the natural and the ethical universe, of natural religion and “state religion”, has gone for good, disappeared with the extinction of ancient civilization; and even Hegel is powerless to revive it. But even the last bulwark, the divine unimpeachability of the individual “I”, the private religion of the subject, the self-sufficiency of the perfect atom, even this final bulwark disappeared with Epicurus; and no form of modern Epicureanism is capable of resurrecting it. Both the critique of religion and the critique of politics furnish us with the proof that now and for the future this earth is inhabited by men and by men alone.