“MAN is the world of man, the state, society (Sozietät). This state, this society, produce religion, a perverted world-consciousness, because they are a perverted world.”
This passage from the opening part of the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right is something we encountered in my first series of lectures, that is, in the context of the Critique of Heaven, where we put the chief emphasis on the fact that Marx's critique of religion is basically a critique of Hegel. It is no accident that this critique of religion forms part of the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. An extrinsic connection turned out, when we analysed it in more detail, to go back to identical roots.
In this second series we shall stress the other element, namely, the fact that the critique of religion is part and parcel of the critique of the philosophy of right, or of law, in other words, of the critique of “natural law and political science”, as the subtitle to Hegel's work has it. Our analysis has already led us to the preliminary insight that Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right is at bottom a critique of the modern state. In Hegel's constitutional law he encounters the actuality of the modern state. So the circle is completed: critique of religion = critique of Hegel = critique of the philosophy of right = critique of the state = critique of religion. It is this cycle that in abbreviated form is ‘reflected in the passage with which this lecture began: “This state, this society, produce religion”.
In point of fact, the curious dual character of the phrase, “this state, this society”, enshrines the problems raised both by Hegel's Philosophy of Right and by Marx's Critique. The German term, Sozietät, occurs quite a lot in Marx's article—but in the “Introduction” only in the passage cited. Here is a passing indication that the “Introduction” is not to be understood apart from the article itself. In this respect we not only have the advantage as compared with the readers of the “Introduction” in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, but even Franz Mehring in his 1918 biography of Marx had to make do with the “Introduction” alone. Nowadays it is no longer justifiable to discuss the “Introduction” all by itself; for Marx wrote it as nothing more than a preamble to his main article, in some sense comparable to Hegel's Vorrede, the Preface to his Philosophy of Right.
The term Sozietät is evidently used by Marx in distinction from the term bürgerliche Gesellschaft. Of the latter term he later declares, in the 1859 Vorwort to the Critique of Political Economy, that he has borrowed it from Hegel. For the term Sozietät, on the other hand, one looks in vain in Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Indeed, it is in this difference that the explanation lies for the use Marx makes of this term. Underlying the choice of linguistic form there is a yet deeper one. The term Gesellschaft is German; the term Sozietät is taken directly from the French société and the English “society”; it comes from the Latin societas. As a matter of fact, Marx himself points to Hegel's borrowing of the term bürgerliche Gesellschaft from French and English thinkers of the eighteenth century. He goes behind Hegel to Hegel's predecessors; but this “retrogression” is a decisive step forward. Marx writes his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, as it were, on the eve of his emigration from the German fatherland, whence he has nothing further to hope for. He writes the “Introduction” from Paris, en route, so to speak for London; and he publishes it in a Germano-French journal, expressly aimed at a definite crossing of frontiers.
Behind the French and English source of the term Sozietät lies the Latin one. We have already traced the European tradition of the Latin term, societas civilis. In so doing, we saw that Rousseau's société civile was still aligned with the tradition that draws no distinction between “state” and “society”, civitas and societas civilis. As it turned out, it was Hegel in his Philosophy of Right who first established a fundamental contrast between the terms Staat and bürgerliche Gesellschaft. Marx takes over this terminology and invariably uses both terms in the senses distinguished by Hegel. The term Sozietät, on the other hand, goes back to the Latin-cum-European tradition which recognizes no distinction between civitas and societas civilis. The term Sozietät anticipates a future in which the present cleavage between Staat and bürgerliche Gesellschaft will be obliterated, and in which the sham and falsehood of a divided reality will be abolished by the light of the one and undivided truth. That is the allusion in the passage: “Man, that is the world of man, state, society” (Der Mensch, das ist die Welt des Menschen, Staat, Sozietät). The comma between “state” and “society” precisely represents the Latin “sive” in the definition, civitas sive societas civilis. Marx means that the one, undivided world of man, this civitas sive societas civilis, is split into two halves, so that each half distorts the true and real unity, becomes a half truth and therefore a half lie. The world of man has become a perverted world, which can only produce a perverted world consciousness.
It is only right to remind ourselves here of the third term of the Latin definition, the term res publica, which the word sive in the definition equates with the terms civitas and societas civilis. With his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right in view, Marx points out how impossible it is to find an equivalent for this term in German. He takes over from Hegel the expression allgemeine Angelegenheit, a term Hegel uses to denote the objective side of what on the subjective side is known as öffentliche Bewusstsein (section 301). A combination of Angelegenheit (Latin res) and öffentlich (Latin publica) yields more or less the required parallel to the term res publica. This brings us back to the passage quoted in my previous lecture, where Marx is summarizing his Critique. “In modern states, as in Hegel's Philosophy of Right, the conscious, true actuality of the public cause (der allgemeine Angelegenheit) is only formal, or only the formal is the actual public cause (allgemeine Angelegenheit).” The res publica is reduced from the status of actuality to a formality, its truth has become no more than a shadow, a spectre, in the modern state; and as a conscious actuality it evaporates into an illusion in modern civil society. The unity of the civitas sive societas civilis sive res publica disintegrates; and neither the modern state nor Hegel's speculative method turns out to be capable of restoring it.
Admittedly, Hegel's idea of the state is based on that of the organism in which all the parts exist through, and are to be understood in terms of, the living totality. But this idea is a semblance only, it remains purely formal, acquires no actual content. Marx also indicates what is the root of this defect: the idea of the organism is not a conscious reality. In the state, conscious reason must prevail (muss bewusste Vernunft herrschen); the substantive, purely inward and therefore purely outward necessity, by which the particular functions of the state are linked up with the state as a whole entity, cannot be envisaged as the rational aspect (die substantielle bloss innere und darum bloss äussere Notwendigkeit… kan nicht für das Vernünftige ausgegeben werden). The term “substantive” (substantiell) could be interpreted here as “biological”. Hegel's organic idea is a biological model. There is no place in this model, therefore, for the typically human, the conscious reason (bewusste Vernunft) of the human individual. There is no bridge from this organic totality to the actual being of society, which consists of self-subsistent, consciously willing and acting individuals. Hegel forgot that the state can only function through individuals, that the affairs and activities of the state are human functions, that specific individuality is of the human variety. He forgot that the essential thing about individual personality is neither beard nor blood nor abstract physis, but its social character (soziale Qualität) and that the affairs of the state, and so forth, are simply modes of existence and functions (Daseins—und Wirkungsweisen) of the social attributes of the person.
What applies to Hegel's philosophy of right applies also to the constitutional state, which his philosophy mirrors. The constitutional state is the state in which the state interest (Staatsinteresse) as the actual interest of the people is present only formally, as a particular form beside the actual state; the concern or interest of the state here has acquired, formally speaking, a new actuality as the people's interest; but it is bound to have that formal actuality and that alone. This finds expression in the legislature: as its content it has the general, the universal; but this universal is more a matter of knowing than of will, it is a metaphysical “arm” of the state, a fitting depository for the metaphysical, general, illusory state.
Hegel starts off from the separation of “civil society” (bürgerliche Gesellschaft) and political state (politische Staat) as two contrasted actualities, two actually separate realms. This separation is indeed a present reality in the modern state. The polarity he tries to resolve through the (mediating) element of the “estates” (Stände), which he sees as a synthesis between state and civil society. Yet this speculation of his is a complete fiction. As he admits himself, it was in the Middle Ages that such a synthesis did exist. In those times the “estates” of civil society and the “estates” in a political sense were indeed identical; for during the Middle Ages civil society was the same thing as the political society, the body politic; the organic principle of civil society was the principle of the state. But the Middle Ages are dead and gone. Hegel is harking back to a synthesis which has disappeared for good.
That is why he keeps ending up in self-contradiction. On the one hand, he posits sharply enough the conflict between state and civil society. The actual nature of civil society he defines clearly as the “battleground where each person's individual, private interest encounters that of everyone else” (Kampfplatz des individuellen Privatinteresses Aller gegen Alle) (section 289); and Marx is right in regarding this as a translation of Hobbes' bellum omnium contra omnes. Hegel's profundity comes out here, in that he is sensible of the cleavage between civil and political society as being one of conflict; but his mistake is to rest content with the mere semblance of a solution.
For there is, in fact, no bridge between the idea of the organic state, on the one hand, and the actuality of “an aggregate dispersed into its atoms”, which Hegel presents in outline as the manifest form of civil society (section 303). Between organism and atomistic world no mediation is possible. Civil society, therefore, within Hegel's philosophy and in the context of the modern state, cannot possibly take on a political significance. Hegel describes civil society as the “private class” (Privatstand); one fails to see how a private class can promote or have at heart the general interest, which is why Marx calls the political function which Hegel would nonetheless ascribe to this private class a “total transubstantiation” (völlige Transsubstantiation). For in this political function civil society is bound to belie itself completely qua civil society, qua private class, and bring to the fore a side of its nature which not only has nothing in common with the actual, civil character of that nature's existence but is even in direct conflict with it.
In fact, civil society and state are divided; and that is why the state citizen (Staatsbürger) and the “civilian” (Bürger), in the sense of the member of civil society, is also divided. He therefore has to effect a fundamental division (Diremption) within himself. As an actual citizen he finds himself in a dual organization: on the one hand, the bureaucratic organization—an external, formal property of the state “out there” (jenseitigen), the ruling authority which does not touch him and his actual, separate and independent being; and, on the other hand, the social organization of civil society. In the latter he stands as a private being (Privatmann) outside the state. The former is a state organization, the matter for which he continues to provide. The second is a civil organization, the matter of which is not the state. In the first, the state relates as a formal polarity to him as a private person; in the second, he is related as a material polarity to the state. If then he wishes to assume his role as an actual citizen, to achieve political significance and activity, he must withdraw from his actual civil capacity, abstract from it, retreat out of this whole organization into his individuality; the sole existence that he can find for his role as citizen of the state is his pure individuality; for the state's existence as the government is complete without him, and his existence in civil society is complete without the state. Only at variance with these two communities between which he must choose outright, only as an individual can he be the state citizen. His existence as that citizen is one that lies outside his communal existence: in other words, it is a purely individual existence.
Hegel's idea of the organic state attempts to gloss over this contrariety. He opposes the current liberal view that the citizen as member of the “private class” can participate in the functions of the state only qua individual, whether it be through elected representatives or directly. He calls this an “atomistic and abstract point of view”. In the state no one of its elements can appear as an inorganic (unorganized) aggregate. The many as single units (what we are pleased to regard as “the people”)—are of course connected, but only as an aggregate—a formless mass whose commotion and activity must be elementary, irrational, barbarous and frightening (section 303).
This is indeed, Marx's commentary is saying, an abstract view; but it is the “abstraction” of the political state, as explicated by Hegel himself. This viewpoint is atomistic as well; but the atomism is that of society itself. The interpretation, the point of view, cannot be concrete, as its object is “abstract”. The atomism into which civil society in its political action is plunged is a necessary consequence of the fact that the communal mode of being (das Gemeinwesen), the communistic mode of being (das Kommunistische Wesen) in which the individual exists, is civil society divorced from the state, or the political state as an abstraction from civil society.
When Hegel argues that this atomistic point of view at once disappears in the family, as well as in civil society, because even at these levels the individual is in evidence only as a member of a general group, then it is not in any event true that at the level of the state this atomism is totally superseded. On the contrary, it recurs precisely at this point, simply because the state is an abstraction from the family and civil society.
Hegel opposes the notion that would dissolve the communal relations of family and civil society, where the latter function at the political level, that is, the level of the highest concrete general group, back again into an aggregate of individuals; for this idea thereby holds civil and political life apart from each other and leaves the latter hanging in the air, as it were, because its basis could then only be the abstract individuality of caprice and opinion, not a solid foundation but a basis of chance.
To this Marx replies that it is not this notion which holds civil and political life apart; rather is it the notion, the representation, of a separation which actually exists. It is not the representation itself which leaves political life hanging in the air; but political life is the rarified existence (Luftleben), the etherial region (die atherische Region) of civil society.
In Hegel's conception of constitutional monarchy the legislature is composed of the representatives of the various estates. Marx criticizes this construction by means of a little historical analysis. It is a sign of historical progress that the political estates or classes have turned into social classes; so that just as Christians are equal in heaven but unequal on earth, so are the individual members of a people equal in the heaven of their political world, unequal in the earthly existence of a society (Sozietät). The real change of the political classes into civil ones was completed in absolute monarchy; but even then, side by side with the bureaucracy of an absolute governing authority social distinction between the various classes continued to have a political significance. It was the French Revolution that first achieved the change of political classes into social classes; to put it another way, it turned the class differences of civil society into purely social differences, differences in private life that had no significance in political life. In that way the separation between political life and civil society was made complete.
In this brief historical analysis, what comes out very clearly is the dialectical character of Marx's Critique. That Critique is a two-edged sword. He acknowledges the division between the political state and civil society as an historical advance, and the importance of the French Revolution as the decisive step on this road. Thereafter there can be no going back. Does this mean that he applauds the separation? No; on the contrary, his Critique is aimed at precisely this division, which he exposes as the fundamental distortion of the true reality of the world of man. Must the division, then, be done away with? Yes; but not by putting the clock back. What was done by the French Revolution cannot now be undone. There is no way back, only a way forward. Should the gulf not be bridged, then, the fatal discord not be resolved? Certainly; but not by blurring the contrast, not by some conciliatory measure which would leave the contradiction still there, not by an ideal supersession of opposites that fails to touch the reality of the conflict. Only a ruthless analysis of the real contrariety can lead to a real solution.
In the light of this, it becomes clear why Marx describes the notion of the political state, as an existence divorced from civil society, as the theological notion of the political state. He does not mean by this that the notion is based on a fiction. On the contrary, we have just heard how he rebuts Hegel's speculative method, which attempts to eliminate the division between political state and civil society, which Hegel had himself put on record, by reducing it to something that does not represent or reflect the real state of affairs. No; the conception is right enough. The theological idea of the political state is an exact representation of the modern state as it actually is, divorced from civil society. The target of Marx's Critique, therefore, was not so much the theological notion as the actuality portrayed in it, an actuality which in its turn is kept in being by the notion itself.
When Marx formulates the contrast as one between the “heaven of the political world” and the “earthly existence of a society (Sozietät)”, this expression is not to be understood metaphorically, but taken literally. The “theological notion” of the political state is not a religious appendage or sanctioning of something already actual, which exists independently of it as a profane actuality; but the theological notion reflects the actual state of affairs. This itself bears a theological character. The division between political state and civil society is in itself a theological division, it derives from the same root whence comes the division between “heaven” and “earth”; to put it more precisely, it is itself that division. This is why one might equally well call the theological notion of the “heaven” of the political state a reflection, or perhaps a projection, of the theological notion of “heaven”, as vice versa. What we have here is a fundamental analogy, in which image and reality reflect each other; an identity-relation, where the image amounts to the reality and the reality is just as much image.
Marx's Critique is the analysis which equally reveals in the theological notion the actual character of political and civil life and conversely demonstrates from the actuality of political and civil life the true nature of theology. The effect of his Critique, therefore, is always double-edged: representation (notion) and reality; theology and politics; abstract “heaven” and abstract “earth”; distorted reality and distorting speculation; the impossibility of a conflicting division and the impossibility of a kind of bridging which still allows the gulf to exist.
“This anti-critique, this mysticism is the riddle of modern constitutions (specifically of the class state) as well as the mystery of Hegel's philosophy, particularly the philosophy of right and of religion.” (Diese UNKRITIK, dieser MYSTIZISMUS ist sowohl das Rätsel der modernen Verfassungen (Kat'exochèn der ständischen) wie auch das Mysterium der Hegelschen Philosophie, vorzugsweise der RECHTS—UND RELIGIONSPHILOSOPHIE). In this sentence we have a summing up of Marx's whole multidimensional critique. Unkritik, the absolute opposite of critique (just as inhuman is the complete negation of human), is the root of the modern state and of religion, of the state and of Hegel's constitutional law, of Hegel's philosophy of right and of his philosophy of religion.
Since Marx's Critique is meant to be radical, that is to say, meant to penetrate to this one root of all Unkritik, in its terminology it persists in relating the various dimensions to one another. It is not figurative language but the idiom of this radical critique, when he analyses Hegel's construction of constitutional monarchy thus: in the legislature, regarded from the standpoint of the government's share in it, the empirical, impenetrable individuality of the ruler assumes an earthly guise (sich verirdischt) in a number of limited, tangible, responsible personalities; and in the share which the classes, the “estates”, have in the legislature, civil society acquires its heavenly aspect (sich verhimmlischt) in a number of political figures. Just as the ruler has in the governmental authority an intermediary between himself and civil society, has in fact a sort of Christ, so by means of the classes as its priests society is reconciled (vermittelt sich) with the ruler.
If the Unkritik is the enigma of modern constitutions, then conversely Marx describes democracy as the “solved riddle” of all constitutions (Die Demokratie ist das aufgelöste Rätsel aller Verfassungen). Here again the critique of Hegel, of the state and of religion are continually interlocking the one with the other. He starts by opposing Hegel with his own weapons, that is, by showing the organic idea to be incompatible with the idea of constitutional monarchy favoured by Hegel himself. Hegel contends that without its monarch the people is an organism with no centre, no more than a formless mass; and so he rejects the modern idea of the people's sovereignty as the product of a barbarous conception of “the people”. Marx exposes this line of argument as a tautology: if one begins by defining “the people” in an organic interrelation with the monarch, then by definition it is a formless mass without the monarch. As opposed to Hegel's derivation of the republic, more specifically of democracy, from the organic idea of monarchy, Marx deliberately opts for what Hegel calls “the barbarous conception of the people”.
Democracy is the truth implicit in monarchy, monarchy is not the truth in democracy. Monarchy is of necessity democracy as a self-opposed inconsequence, the monarchical element is not an inconsequence within democracy. Whilst monarchy cannot be comprehended in terms of itself, democracy can. In democracy no element assumes other than its proper importance: each element is actually just an element of the whole demos. In monarchy a part determines the character of the whole.
If, at this point, Marx turns Hegel's organic idea against his notion of monarchy, a little later on he goes a step further, demonstrating that Hegel's state is governed by chance, by accident, in other words, by just that element which Hegel's speculation was intended to exclude. Hegel had compared the mystery of the ruler's being predestined through his birth in the course of nature to the status of monarch with the ontological proof of God's existence. There too the absolute concept is converted into being (section 280). Marx's comment on this is that the birth of an individual destined to monarchy no more qualifies to be a metaphysical truth than does the immaculate conception of the Virgin. Whilst Hegel finds the speculative unity, the actual unity, of the state to be rooted in the ostensibly accidental character of the link between the concept of monarchy and the ruler's birth in the course of nature, Marx concludes that caprice, the natural accident of birth, in other words, King Chance, constitutes the real unity of Hegel's state.
In monarchy the whole, the people, is classified under one of its modes of existence, the political constitution; in democracy the constitution as such is in evidence only as a prescriptive enactment, a determination, the self-determination of the people. In monarchy we have the people of the constitution, in democracy the constitution of the people. Democracy is the “resolved riddle” of all constitutions. The constitution here is not only in itself, essentially, but in its existence, actuality, reduced to its true ground, the actual human being, the actual people. The constitution appears for what it is, the free product of man.
Hegel takes the state as his starting-point and turns man into the state subjectivized; democracy starts with man and makes the state objectivized man. Just as religion does not make man, but man makes religion, so the constitution does not make the people, but the people the constitution. In a sense, democracy relates to all the other forms of state, just as Christianity relates to all other religions. Christianity is the religion par excellence (Kat'exochèn), the essence of religion, divinized man as a particular religion. So democracy is the essence of all polity, all forms of government, socialized man as a specific polity. Democracy is related to all other forms of state as to its Old Testament. Man does not exist for the sake of the law, but the law exists for man's sake. The point and concern of democracy is man's existence as man, whereas in the other forms of state man is “legalized being”, is existence under the law. That is what fundamentally distinguishes democracy.
Hegel says, fairly enough, that the political state is the constitution; in other words, the material state is not political. Of the different elements of national life the most difficult to develop was the state as a political entity, the constitution. It did develop as universal reason (Vernunft) over against the other realms, as something situated way beyond the rest (als ein Jenseitiges derselben). Historically, the task was to retrieve this universal reason from way and beyond (Revindikation); but the several spheres have not been aware in this connection that their individual essence stands or falls with the essentially remote nature (jenseitige Wesen) of the constitution, and that the detached existence (jenseitiges Dasein) of the constitution is nothing other than the corroboration of their own estrangement (Entfremdung). The political constitution was up to this point the religious sphere, the religion of the national life, the heaven of its universality as over against the earthly existence of its actuality. The political sphere was the sole public sphere in the state, the only sphere in which the content as well as the form was the content of the general group (Gattungsinhalt), the truly universal; but at the same time this solitary sphere persisted over against the rest, so that its content also became a formal and particular content. Political life in the modern sense is the scholasticism of the life of the people. Monarchy is the perfect expression of this alienation (Entfremdung). The republic is the negation of this within its own sphere. Obviously, the political constitution as such first begins to develop where the several private realms have achieved an independent existence. Where trade and land-ownership are not free, have not yet become self-reliant, there too the political constitution is not as yet free, not yet self-subsistent. The Middle Ages were the “democracy of unfreedom”.
The abstraction of the state as such is a product solely of modern times because the abstraction of private life is a product solely of modern times. The abstraction of the political state is a modern product. In the Middle Ages the life of the people, the nation, and the life of the state are identical. Man is the actual principle of the state, but unfree man, man under constraint. He is therefore the democracy of unfreedom, the consequent alienation (Entfremdung). The abstract, reflected polarity is a product only of the modern period. The Middle Ages are an actual, de facto dualism, the modern period is abstract dualism.
Marx pursues a similar train of thought when it comes to the other half of the divided, self-alienated unity of man's world, civil society. The separation between political state and civil society, accomplished by the French Revolution, also served to change the character of the social classes, the “estates”. Civil society became the private class. In his political capacity the member of civil society detaches himself from his private class; only in his political capacity does the member of civil society acquire significance as a human being, only here is his function as a member of the state, as a social being, revealed as his human destiny. Modern civil society is the logical principle of individualism, existence at the individual level being the ultimate goal.
In the Middle Ages, class was based on the division of society (Sozietät); and so the human being becomes divorced from his general nature, is made an animal immediately identical with its specification in nature. The Middle Ages form the animal history (Tiergeschichte) of mankind, its zoology.
The modern epoch, civilization, commits the opposite mistake. It separates off the objective being of man, as a merely external, material aspect. It fails to take the content of man as his true reality.
The mistake of the modern epoch, of civilization, is the basic error of Hegel's philosophy. In his Critique of it Marx criticizes the modern age, civilization. At the end of his article he returns to it yet again. It is a fault common to Hegel and to de facto modern conditions that they presuppose the division between “real life” and public life and turn the public capacity into an abstract capacity of the actual member of the state. As over against the abstraction of the “state idea”, the qualities of the actual, empirical state-formalism appear as content, and in consequence the real content appears as formless, unorganized matter (in this case the actual human being, actual society (Sozietät), and so forth).
This basic error also makes it impossible for Hegel to resolve the dilemma which he sees residing in the contradiction between Rousseau's volonté de tous and volonté générale. If one's starting-point is the divorce between civil society and the state as a political entity, then obviously the atomistic mass of isolated individuals who constitute civil society can never promote the general cause, the public cause (section 308). But the dilemma is one produced by Hegel himself: it is an abstract political problem within the abstract political state. In an actually rational (vernünftige) state the “individuals” who take part in the public cause are at the same time “everybody”, that is, they take part as members of the society and within the whole of that society (Sozietät). Not everyone individually, but individuals qua “everyone”. The very notion of a member of the state implies that they are limbs, are members, are a part of it, that the state takes them as its “share”. Thus if they are a part, a portion, of the state, then naturally their social existence is already their de facto sharing in the state. They are not just a portion of the state, but the state is their portion. Consciously to be a part of something, that is deliberately to take a share of it, to take a share, to participate in it. Without this consciousness the member of the state must be an animal. The expression “political matters of general concern” makes it look as though “matters of general concern” and “the state” are different things. But the state is the “public cause”, the general concern (allgemeine Angelegenheit), and thus in reality “matters of general concern”.
The striving of civil society to turn itself into political society, or to make the political society the society that actually exists, comes to expression in the struggle for the most universal participation possible in the legislature. If civil society is actually political society, then the importance of the legislature as a representative power vanishes. The legislature is a representation here in the sense in which any function is representative, just as the shoemaker, for instance, in so far as he fulfils a social need, is my representative agent, just as each particular social activity as an activity of the species simply represents the species, that is to say, a characteristic of my own being, just as each and every person is the representative of the rest. He is a representative here not through something else that he proposes or envisages, but through what he is and does.
So the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right allows us a glimpse into the true and actual world of man, of the human being who at the same time is fully a member of the state, citoyen, and a member of civil society, bourgeois; the whole man in a complete res publica which is both societas civilis and civitas.
This scheme comes to maturation in Marx's thinking when in 1844 he writes the two articles for the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, the critique of Bruno Bauer's discussion of the Jewish question and the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. The two articles are closely interrelated, modulations and elaborations of the main theme.
The article on the Jewish question (Zur Judenfrage) is, over Bruno Bauer's head, really a critique of Hegel and to that extent a continuation of the critique written in the two previous years. The main charge against Bauer is that he simply takes over from Hegel the cleavage between the political state and civil society and lets the division persist as a profane polarity, whilst attacking only its religious expression.
In a sense, Marx's article on the Jewish question fills in a gap which he had deliberately left open in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. In his chapter on constitutional law, Hegel devotes a lengthy section (section 270) to the relation of the state to religion. Marx leaves out this section, promising to return to the problem later on. The fact that provisionally he sets this question aside is in itself typical of his approach, in which the issue plays only a subordinate role.
Entirely in keeping with his philosophy of religion Hegel treats religion as a relation to the absolute in the form of feeling, representational thinking and faith, over against which the state is posited as the divine will, which actualizes itself as the shape and organization of Mind, unfolding itself to the world. On this basis, the state is related to the diversity of churches as is the principle of universality to particular elements. Marx endorses this thesis, but sets it within the broader context of the relation between state and civil society; of this latter, religion is merely a special expression. In a divided reality man leads a dual existence, a heavenly life and an earthly one, life in the politico-communal mode of being, in which he is aware of himself as a being-in-community (Gemeinwesen), and life in civil society, in which he is active as a private person (Privatmensch), regards other human beings as a means, reduces himself to a means and becomes the plaything of alien forces. The political state has the same spiritualistic relation to civil society as heaven has to earth. The Jewish problem is only a component of the problem of religious man, which in turn is no more than an aspect of the question of civil society. It is only on a sophistic basis that the bourgeois, like the Jew, persists in the life of the state, just as it is only on such a basis that the citoyen can continue to be Jew or bourgeois; but this sophistic is not personal. It is a sophistic entailed by the life of the state, public life itself. The distinction between religious man and state citizen is the distinction between the living individual and the citizen. The situation of conflict in which religious man finds himself with political man is the same as that in which the bourgeois finds himself with the citoyen, and the member of civil society with his political lion's skin.
Man emancipates himself politically from religion by banishing it from public law to private law. The “disintegrating” of the human being into Jew and public citizen, religious man and citizen, does not belie the value of citizenship, it is not a way of evading political emancipation; it is the political means of emancipating oneself from religion. Indeed, in times when the political state qua political state is being violently born out of civil society, times in which the self-liberation of man is trying to fulfil itself in the form of political self-liberation, the state can and should do its utmost to supersede, to abolish religion; but it does this only in the same way that it does its utmost to put an end to private ownership, and so on, as far as to take away life, even as far as the guillotine. At the exceptional moments of an intensified self-esteem political life endeavours to suppress its premise, civil society, and its elements, and to constitute itself as the real, incontradictory (widerspruchslose) life of human kind. But it is in a position to do this only at the cost of a violent contradiction (widerspruch) with the preconditions of its own life, only by proclaiming the permanence of revolution; and the political drama ends just as inevitably, therefore, with the restoration of religion, of private ownership of all the elements of civil society, just as war ends in peace.
Indeed, it is not the so-called Christian state, which professes Christianity as its basis, as the state religion, and on that ground excludes other religions, that is the complete Christian state, but rather the atheistic state, the democratic state, the state which makes a place for religion among the other elements of civil society. The state which still plays the theologian, which still officially professes Christianity, which does not yet venture to proclaim itself a state, that state has not as yet succeeded in expressing in a profane, human form, in its reality as a state, the human basis of which Christianity is an immoderate expression. The so-called Christian state is simply the non-state, because what can find expression in man's actual creations is not the Christian religion, but only the human background to that religion.
The so-called Christian state is the Christian negation of the state, and not the political realization of Christianity at all. The state which continues to profess Christianity qua religion does not profess it qua state; for it is relating itself to religion on a religious basis, that is to say, it is not a real expression of the human basis of religion, because it still appeals to the unreality, to the imaginary form of this human substance. The so-called Christian state is the defective state; and the effect of the Christian religion is to complete it and lend sanctity to its imperfection. Religion therefore becomes necessary to it as a means; and it is the state hypocritical, caught in dissimulation. It makes a big difference whether the completed state includes religion among its presuppositions because of the deficiency inherent in the general nature of the state, or whether in view of the defect inherent in its particular existence the incomplete state, qua defective state, declares religion to be its very foundation. In the latter case, religion becomes an imperfect, defective kind of politics. In the former case, what manifests itself in religion is the actual imperfection of a complete kind of politics. The so-called Christian state needs religion in order to be complete as a state. The democratic state, the real state, has no need of religion in order to be perfected politically. Rather it is able to abstract from religion, because the human basis of religion finds a profane expression in it. The so-called Christian state, on the other hand, relates politically to religion, and religiously to politics. In reducing the forms of the state to a mere show, it equally reduces religion to the same condition. In the so-called Christian state, in particular the Germano-Christian state, alienation prevails, surely enough, but not the human being. The one person who does count, the king, is a being specifically distinguished from other men, but all the same himself a religious being, allied directly with heaven, with God. The genius of religion is not yet really secularized here. It cannot be; for what is it other than the unworldly form of a phase of development of the human mind? The genius of religion can be secularized only to the extent that the phase of development aforementioned, of which it is the religious expression, emerges and is constituted in its profane form. That takes place in the democratic state. Not Christianity but the human foundation underlying Christianity is the basis of this state, Religion persists as the ideal, unworldly consciousness of its adherents because it is the ideal form of the phase of man's development represented in this democratic state.
The members of the political state are religious, thanks to the dualism between individual and collective (public) life (Gattungsleben), between the life of civil society and political life; religious, because the individual person relates to public life, to the life of the state which goes on way beyond (jenseitigen) his real individuality, as to his true life; religious, in so far as religion is here the genius of civil society and an expression of the fact that man is divided and estranged from man (Entfernung des Menschen vom Menschen). Political democracy is a Christian thing, because in it man—not just a man but every man—counts as sovereign, as a creature supreme; but man in his contingent existence, man taken all in all, without qualification, man as he is corrupted by the whole organization of our society, has lost and abandoned himself, is exteriorized, is delivered up to domination by inhuman circumstances and elements, in short, man who is not yet a really human species of being (Gattungswesen). The fantasy-image, the dream, the postulate of Christianity, the sovereignty of man, albeit as a peculiar creature divorced from the real human being, is in democracy a palpable reality, a presence, a secular axiom. The religious and theological consciousness in itself will be deemed in the complete democracy all the more religious, all the more theological, as it is evidently without political significance, without temporal aims, a matter of unworldly sentiment, an expression of a cramped, narrow-minded intelligence (Verstandes-Borniertheit), the product of caprice and fantasy, and as it really is a “life beyond” (Jenseitiges). Political emancipation from religion leaves it in existence, but not of course with any privileges. The conflict in which the adherent of a particular religion finds himself involved, the conflict with his role as citizen of the state, is only part of the general, profane conflict between the political state and civil society. The completion of the Christian state is the state which professes to be a state and abstracts from the religion of its members. When the state emancipates itself from religion, that does not mean that the individual human being is actually emancipated from it.
It is only in the Christian world that civil society attains its completion. Only under the dominating influence of Christianity, which turns all national, natural, ethical and theoretical relations into relations that pertain only extrinsically to man (dem Menschen äusserlich macht), could civil society sever itself completely from public life, rend all the ties typical of human kind (Gattungsbande), put egoism and private gain in the place of such ties, and dissolve the human world into a world of atomistic, mutually hostile individuals.
One has to have read Marx's article on the Jewish question in order to be able to understand the other one, the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and to penetrate to the paradox at its heart. For in the analysis of the Jewish question and the indirect critique of Hegel's conception of the political state therein contained Marx illuminates the deepest meaning of his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: namely, that his critique is essentially a critique of religion, and on two levels at that. In the first place, his critique focuses not on the Christian state but on the atheistic, democratic one; not on the defective, incomplete state which still needs a religious basis, but on the completed political state, which is a religion unto itself. The completion of religion is atheistic democracy, the political state is the mature fruit of theology. In the second place, and at a deeper level, he discloses the structure of civil society in its atomistic existence, separated from the political state, as the historical consequence of Christianity, as an expression of Christianity's human basis, as the political realization of the Christian principle that man is the sovereign and supreme being, as the product of man's self-alienation (Selbstentfremdung) and his alienation from nature, which has reached its theoretical completion through Christianity.
Here, then, in outline is the paradoxical structure of Marx's critique. The critique of heaven and earth is summed up in the passage from the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, which is the principal theme of my two series of lectures: “Thus the critique of heaven is transmuted into the critique of earth, the critique of religion into the critique of law, the critique of theology into the critique of politics.” However, when we have read his article on the Jewish problem, then the question arises whether we should not stand this sentence on its head. For in this article the critique of politics is transmuted into the critique of theology, the critique of law into the critique of religion, the critique of earth into the critique of heaven.
“It is in the first instance the task of philosophy, which is intended to serve history, once the sacred guise of man's self-alienation has been exposed, to expose the self-alienation in its unholy guises.” Marx makes it appear as though the former (the unmasking of the sacred aspect) were the critique of heaven, religion, theology, whilst the latter (the unmasking of the unholy aspect)—is the critique of earth, law, politics. That is not, however, his deepest aim and purpose. For his critique of the political state consists precisely in the exposure of the religious essence lurking behind the seemingly irreligious form of the democratic state. On closer inspection, the paradox turns out to be already implicit in the term “unmask” (entlarven). Man's self-alienation, it seems, shelters behind a Janus-like mask: a holy mask and an unholy one. The “unmasking” implies that behind the mask the true face appears that differs radically from, is indeed the exact opposite of, what the mask displays. It would seem that behind the fool's mask there lurks a saint, and behind the saintly mask a fool. Unmasking of the saintly form reveals the unholy character of human self-alienation, whereas, when the unholy mask is torn away, the sacred character of the self-alienation emerges.
“It is the task of history, once the world beyond (das Jenseits) the truth has disappeared, to establish the truth of this world (das Diesseits).” What this seems to say is that after the critique of heaven, religion, theology, has been completed, the critique of earth, law, politics, can begin its constructive work. But that cannot possibly be Marx's real meaning. For the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right is full of such expressions as “the heaven of the political world”, “the heaven of the political state”, the “heavenly exaltation of civil society into the political state”, the political constitution as the “religion of the national life, the heaven of its universality over against the earthly existence of its actuality”, the state as “the religion of private ownership”, the “theological notion of the political state”, the political state as a “world beyond” (Jenseitiges), and so forth. Such expressions indicate in a nutshell the general tenor of Marx's critique of law, of politics, which consists in bringing out from behind the profane mask of the modern state the religious countenance.
Here, evidently, we come up against an ambiguity in Marx's critique. At the root of this ambiguity lies the essentially paradoxical character of his critique of heaven and earth; but on the surface it manifests itself in an ambiguous use of language. We can see this particularly well in a passage from the article on the Jewish question, comparing the situations in Germany, France and the United States.
“In Germany, where no political state, no state qua state, exists, the Jewish problem is a purely theological one. The Jew finds himself in a religious contretemps with the state which professes Christianity as its basis. Such a state is a professed theologian. The critique here is a critique of theology, a double-edged critique, a critique of Christian and of Jewish theology. Thus we are still moving all the time in the realm of theology, however critical we may be in doing so.”
“In France, in the constitutional state, the Jewish problem is that of constitutionalism, the problem of political emancipation only half achieved. Because the semblance of a state religion, albeit in an empty and intrinsically contradictory formula, in the formula of a ‘majority religion’, is maintained in this case, the relation of Jewish people to the state presents the appearance of a religious-cum-theological contrast.”
“Only in the free states of North America—or at any rate in a part of them—does the Jewish question lose its theological implication and become a purely secular problem. Only there, where the political state has reached a stage of full development, can the relation of the Jew and of the religious person generally to the political state—in short, the relation of religion to the state—become clearly manifest in its pure and distinct character. The critique of this relationship ceases to be a theological critique, the moment the state ceases to relate itself to religion theologically, the moment it relates qua state, that is to say, on a political basis to religion. The critique then becomes a critique of the political state.”
In its tone, this passage is an exegesis of the proposition that the critique of theology is transmuted into the critique of politics. Marx illustrates the process from the path that runs from Germany, the incomplete, Christian state, via France, the half-complete democracy, to the United States, the complete state, emancipated from religion. So here is the terminus of the critique of religion, and the starting-point of the critique of politics. Marx then takes a closer look at the situation in the United States. He notices that religion none the less leads a flourishing existence in that country and concludes that the existence of religion is evidently not in conflict with the completion of the state. But since the existence of religion is the existence of a defect, a flaw, the cause of it can only be sought in the essential character of the state.
“Religion we can no longer regard as the cause, but only as the phenomenal outcome of a profane limitation… We would argue that free citizens put an end to their religious restriction as soon as they do away with their profane restriction. We are not turning profane issues into theological ones, but vice versa. After history has been merged in superstition long enough, we merge superstition in history… The conflict of the state with a particular religion, such as Judaism, we transmute into human terms as the conflict of the state with certain profane elements, its conflict with religion as such, its conflict with its own presuppositions as such.”
Here Marx's terminology begins to take on a recognizably ambiguous character. The transition from “a particular religion” to the “presuppositions of the state as such” is intended as the transition from religion to politics, as the transmutation of theological into profane issues. But the transition runs via “religion as such” (die Religion überhaupt, religion in general), a curious middle term between religion and politics, between theology and state. That becomes clear when Marx further develops his argument about the situation of the complete state, the state totally emancipated from religion, as we find it in North America. The relation of this state to religion is nothing other than the relation of the people who form the state to religion.
“From this it follows that through the medium of the state, by political means, man liberates himself from a restriction, since being in conflict with himself, he elevates himself in an abstract, limited and partial way above this restriction. It further follows that by liberating himself politically, man liberates himself by a detour, a roundabout route, a medium, albeit a necessary one. Finally, it follows that man, even when through the state as intermediary (Vermittlung) he proclaims himself an atheist, that is, when he proclaims an atheist state, is still in the grip of religion, precisely because it is only in an indirect way, only through a medium, that he recognizes himself. Religion is simply the recognition of man in a roundabout way. Through a mediator (Mittler). The state is the mediator between man and man's freedom. Just as Christ is the mediator on whom man loads his whole divinity, his whole religious self-consciousness and constraint, so the state is the mediator in which he invests all his non-divinity, all his detachment and open-mindedness as man.”
So this is “religion as such”: the recognition of man in a roundabout way, through a mediator. The detour can take either of two routes: it can run by way of “religion” in the accepted sense and it can run by way of irreligion, atheism. To put it differently, by way of the “beyond” (Jenseits) and of the “here and now” (Diesseits), by way of “religion” and of “politics”. The vital point is that the feature common to both detours is that they require mediation, a medium, that they need a mediator; and so both detours are by definition religion.
Equipped with this exegesis, we can return to the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. We shall find that it bears the full brunt of the ambiguity. It opens with the statement: “For Germany the critique of religion is in the main complete, and the critique of religion is the premise of all critique.” The argument leads up to the conclusion: “The struggle against religion, therefore, is indirectly the struggle against that world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.” Here, then, we find the mediating factor on the opposite side from where it is in the above-quoted definition of religion. If the critique of religion is the premise of all critique, then the critique of religion is immediate or direct, and all other critique mediate or indirect. Hence the conclusion that the struggle against religion is indirectly, mediately (mittelbar), the struggle against the world of which it is the spiritual aroma. In the above-quoted definition, however, the relationship is exactly reversed: there religion is the medium, the mediator, whereby man mediately recognizes himself or, to put it more precisely, religion is this mediate self-recognition on man's part. In terms of that definition, the conclusion would have to be put just the opposite way round: the critique of earth is the premise of the critique of heaven, the struggle against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma is mediately, indirectly, the struggle against religion.
If we look more closely, we should be able to follow this turn of thought quite accurately in the course taken by Marx's line of argument. The initial assertion that religion is the premise of all critique is illustrated thus: who found in the fantastic reality of heaven only the reflection (Widerschein) of himself, will no longer be disposed to find only the semblance (Schein) of himself where he seeks and must seek his true reality. This illustrative comment is of a psychological kind: it explains the idea of a “premise” in the sense of psychic motivation. A propos of this, the explanation continues a little later on to the effect that the critique of religion disillusions, undeceives (enttäuscht) man.
The next sentence, however, exactly reverses the relation. “The basis of an irreligious critique is: man makes religion, religion does not make man”, which statement leads to the conclusion, “Man is the world of man, state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, a perverted world-consciousness, because they are a perverted world.” Here we have the term “basis”, which term is apparently parallel or counterpart to “premise”.
Marx's argument would appear to be saying this. The critique of heaven is the presupposition or premise of the critique of earth; the critique of earth is the basis of the critique of heaven. The category “premise” lies in the plane of the perverted consciousness, the category “basis” in the plane of perverted being, perverted man, perverted world. The stress here must be on the fact that both are perverted; that is to say, the perverted consciousness is the premise of a perverted mode of being, and perverted being is the basis of the perverted consciousness. The perverted consciousness is the “reflection” (Widerschein) of a perverted mode of being, whilst the perverted being is the “semblance” (Schein) of a perverted consciousness. “Religion is the self-consciousness and self-feeling of man (das Selbstbewusstsein und das Selbstgefühl) who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again.” It is “the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality.” “Religion is only the illusory sun which revolves round man as long as he does not revolve round himself.” The critique of religion disillusions (enttäuscht) man to such effect that “he will revolve round himself and therefore round his true sun.”
Here the vicious circle is complete. We recall a comparison Marx makes elsewhere between the speculative method and the delusion of the man who struggled all his life against the awareness of gravitational force so that human beings might keep afloat in the water. In that context we may also remind ourselves of the passage in the preliminary studies for the dissertation, where the end of classical antiquity is envisaged as an annihilation of the “gravitational force of religious and political existence”. And finally we may recall a passage from one of Marx's articles, where the argument is put forward that, shortly before and after Copernicus' great discovery of the true solar system, the gravitational law of the state was also discovered, in that the gravity of the state was found to be in the state itself. Against the background of this metaphor the problems stand out quite clearly. The critique of heaven awakens man out of his stupor, into which the opium of religion has plunged him; but when he comes to his senses, he observes that he has no true reality. He moves round his true sun, around himself, but he is himself a sham creature. He moves round an illusory self. Thus man must recover his true self, the world of man its true reality, if the restoration of true consciousness is to produce any effect. Otherwise the operation resembles the realization of the force of gravity in the brain of a cosmonaut who finds himself in the phase of weightlessness; he can do nothing about his awareness. But his becoming aware is, of course, necessary in order to make him perform the right actions to bring his spaceship down to earth again. His realizing, becoming aware, is the “premise” of his return; but the earth's actual gravitational pull is its “basis”.
This dilemma determines the structure of the “Introduction” to Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Marx presents this Critique as a contribution to the transmuting of the critique of heaven into a critique of earth. But, he at once goes on to say, this contribution “does not in the first instance bear on the original, but on a copy, namely, on the German philosophy of state and of right, and for no other reason than that it has reference to Germany”. Hegel's philosophy is therefore a copy of the actual political state of affairs. And in this it appears to occupy the same position as religion, which after all was described earlier as “the general theory of this world”. Indeed, even in the first series of lectures we reached the conclusion that Marx's critique of religion is fundamentally a critique of Hegel, and conversely, his critique of Hegel fundamentally a critique of religion. But that is not what is said. On the contrary, the whole point here is the transition from the critique of religion to the critique of law; and that is why the subject of his critique is not Hegel's philosophy of religion, but his philosophy of right (or law). On the other hand, the transition is not really made; for it is not law but the philosophy of law that is subjected to criticism; it bears not on the original, on earth, on politics, but on a copy of all this.
Why does Marx choose this circuitous route? Only because his critique has reference to Germany. It now becomes evident that his critique of Hegel is really a critique of Germany. “For Germany the critique of religion is in the main complete.” What does this opening proclamation signify? It signifies that for Germany the critique of religion is finished, so that the critique of politics can now begin. The critique of politics is the critique of Germany, the German state. But, as we have heard Marx contend, no political state, no state qua state, exists in Germany. The German state is professedly a theologian, the critique in this case is a critique of theology. The German state still turns around an illusory sun, not yet having made the discovery that it is itself the centre of its force of gravity. Must the critique of the German state begin, then, with the critique of religion? Yes, because the critique of religion is the premise of the critique of politics. No, because for Germany the critique of religion is fundamentally (im wesentlichen) already ended. But at the very moment one wants to take the next step, that is, to affirm the truth of this earth, one discovers that the foundation is missing; for Germany is not a political state, has no true reality. Establishment of the truth amounts to no more than the fantastic realization of the German essence.
This fantastic “essence”, between heaven and earth, between religion and law, between theology and politics, between Jenseits and Diesseits, between copy and original—this fantastic essence is the subject of Marx's critique.