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5. The Opium of the People

5. The Opium of the People
God in Hegel Feuerbach and Marx

Without the world God is not God.

G. W. F. Hegel Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion
In a common but natural misunderstanding of what Marx meant when said that religion was the opium of the people he is misrepresented as saying that priests devise religion to keep the suffering and therefore potentially rebellious masses quiet. And the misrepresentation of the opium sentence is compounded when its misinterpreter adds that priests are appointed by the ruling class to carry out the stated analgesic mission.
Now I say that this misrepresentation of the opium sentence expresses a natural misunderstanding of that sentence because it provides a natural reading of the opium sentence when the sentence is taken on its own. But the context in which the sentence appears establishes that Marx did not claim that priests devise religion. Let me present the passage in which the opium sentence is embedded. You will gather from the sentence in the passage that precedes the opium sentence that priests do not (in the relevant sense) devise religion. It is rather the people themselves who create the religion which is their opium:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature the heart of a heartless world just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe the halo of which is religion.1
So: the people need religion. They need it because they inhabit a vale of woe. And it is they who create religion to service their need. Religion is their sigh. It may also be good for the ruling class that the people get religion but that is not what this particular text says. As for the priests it is not excluded that they play a significant role in sustaining religious belief but their function is secondary to the creation of religion by the people. The oppressed creature is disposed to sigh and the priest gives the creature a language to sigh in. If you call the language in which they express their woe religion then to be sure it may not be the people who create it. But if you call what religious language expresses religion—and what it expresses not the language of its expression is after all the fundamental thing—then religion is created by the people.
Now this returns us to the obstetric motif. Remember Marx's letters of May and September 1843 to Arnold Ruge2 which were penned only months before the opium text.3 Marx said in these. Ruge letters that in order to save the world “we merely show it what it is actually fighting about.” We draw forth from the people and make explicit what they themselves are saying:
We do not then set ourselves opposite the world with a doctrinaire principle saying: ‘Here is the truth kneel down here!’… We do not say to her ‘Stop your battles they are stupid stuff. We want to preach the true slogans of battle at you.’
The reform of consciousness consists solely in letting the world perceive its own consciousness by awaking it from dreaming about itself in explaining to it its own actions.
So our election cry must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas but through the analysis of mystical consciousness that is not clear to itself whether it appears in a religious or political form. It will then be clear that the world has long possessed the dream of a thing of which it only needs to possess the consciousness in order really to possess it.
Religion is the dream of the better world that will come when people realize that that is what religion is. We show the oppressed creature what its sigh means and then and thereby comes the revolution. The abolition religion brings human liberation. Religion is the demand for the promise of and the obstacle to that liberation.
The widespread misunderstanding of the opium sentence is a natural misunderstanding because the sentence lacks the dialectical motif present in the sentence that precedes it which says (to repeat): “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature the heart of a heartless world just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.” That sentence shows that while religion is indeed the enemy of emancipation it is also the route through which emancipation must run. Emancipation comes not by proving that religion is false but by revealing the source of religion in a spiritless world that needs to have its spirit returned to it a world that needs to be humanized. Accordingly “the criticism of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest being for man hence with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased enslaved abandoned despicable being.”4 If “the world has long possessed the dream” then the way to make the dream come true is to overthrow those debasing relations.
If we take the opium sentence in its context then we see that its message is not a reductionist one in the sense of reducing spirituality to something material. If it is reductionist it is so in that quite differently it reduces the illusory independent spiritual form to an absence of the spiritual in material life to a need for and lack of spirit there and not to the material as such.
I should like to go back to Hegel and to his critic Ludwig Feuerbach in order to trace the source of Marx's view of religion.
Actually let us go back beyond Hegel to the very beginning of human history or anyway to the beginning of history according to one influential theory of how it all began. Here's the theory as we find it in verses 26 and 27 of Chapter 1 of Genesis:
And God said Let us make man in our image after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
“God created man in his own image.” The sentence is difficult to interpret but it surely means at least three things. First quite obviously that God created man. Second that He did not produce a perfect replica of himself in creating man: the metaphor of the “image” conveys that man is not on a par with God. But third the same metaphor ensures that however inadequate he may be man resembles God in some way or other has some share of God's nature. This creature bears the mark of its creator in a way that no other creature does.
If we ask why is there a world and why are there people then the Bible's answer so far as it goes is entirely clear: God created both. And note that God could not create man without also creating a world for man to be in for being what he is man cannot be without a world to be in. Maybe an angel could be without a world. Man cannot.
But if we pursue the matter further we notice a certain silence. That is having been told that man and the world exist because God created them if we now ask why God created them then the Book of Genesis supplies no answer. And if we assign to God the customary plenitudes of power knowledge beatitude and so on—if that is we think as tradition requires that God is entirely perfect and complete—then it can seem a mystery why he should have created anything at all. Why did he bother? What reason could he have had?
Notice that this problem is independent of the more famous problem of evil which I shall discuss in Lecture 7.5 The problem of evil is the problem of why given that God is both omnipotent and completely good the world that He created has (at least apparently) so much evil in it. That problem has to do with the character of God's creation given that He creates; it takes it as given that He created—or at least that is the given hypothesis. The present (different) problem is why God should create anything at all whatever its character may be.6
As Hegel put the question: “If God is all-sufficient and lacks nothing how does he come to release himself into something so utterly unequal to him?”7 That is how does he come to release himself into what is not God into what is sheerly finite into nature and into man?
Some believers accept that the question is difficult and they respond by Saying that it represents a mystery one of the many insoluble mysteries you must take on board when you commit yourself to the theory under discussion. More interesting (and indeed interestingly contrasting) responses to the question are provided by Thomas Aquinas and by Hegel.
For Aquinas God understood as a separate transcendent God (transcendent in the sense that He transcends His creation) is indeed all-sufficient and lacking in nothing and He therefore need not create anything. But says Aquinas and here he is influenced by the neo-Platonism of Plotinus the world and man issue forth from God by virtue of his superabundant nature. The world is as it were God's overflow not so much part of His nature as an extra emanation from it. One thing God overflows with is love and the existence of the world and of man are proofs of His overflowing love.
Disagreeing with Aquinas Hegel thinks that although God is indeed all-sufficient and lacking in nothing He would not be all-sufficient if as Aquinas thought He transcended the world. He would be imperfect without His creation—and that is the explanation of the creation: “Without the world” says Hegel “God is not God.”8 God comes to be perfect and therefore paradoxically—since God is perfect since it is his nature to be perfect—He comes to be only by manifesting Himself in the world. The Hegelian sentence “Without the world God is not God” identifies not a deficiency in God but a deficiency or incompleteness in a conception of God which neglects the Spinozistic truth that He is all reality.9
Immanuel Kant formulated an antinomy regarding the freedom of the will which can be paralleled with an antinomy about Gods creation of the world and Hegel's solution to the latter antinomy is like Kant's to the former.10 Kant's antinomy of freedom goes like this: Either your act is uncaused in which case it is an accident or it is caused in which case it is unfree; in either case your act displays no intelligible exercise of freedom. Kant purportedly solves the antinomy through his claim that actions induced by recognition of the moral law are free because they are caused by your own rational nature. The parallel antinomy about God's creation goes like this: Either He doesn't have to create the world in which case it's just accidental and arbitrary that there is one or He must create the world in which case He's unfree. Hegel's solution is that He isn't God unless He creates the world; and since it's in His nature to do so there is no unfreedom in His doing so.
Hegel's point is not that Cod creates in order to overcome a deficiency that He'd otherwise have but that He creates because otherwise He'd be deficient which is impossible. And what He creates is part of Himself for there cannot be over and above or better under and below and therefore separate from God a finite reality which He is not; the infinite would be limited if it did not include the finite being unlimited the infinite so Hegel reasoned must include the finite. As Lord Gifford specified in his testament God is “the One and Sole Substance the Sole Being the Sole Reality and the Sole Existence.”11
The story of the incarnation of God in Jesus is a symbolic rendering of the (supposed) truth that I have been expounding. According to Hegel the Jewish conception of a God set over and above men is a primitive one. The advent of Christianity signifies great progress for it brings the realization that God to be God must express Himself in a world and in a world of men of finite spirits. (According to Hegel Christianity tells the truth about things in the form of images and symbols and it is the task of philosophy to formulate the same truth in concepts. Hegel claimed that his philosophy just was Christianity in a philosophical form.)
Not only is God not fully God not fully real without the world but the world in turn is unreal a mere appearance save to the extent that it is a manifestation of God and it is a profound mistake of Judaism not to realize that. The Jewish religion is unaware that
God the absolutely infinite is not something outside and beside whom there are other beings. All else outside God if separated from him possesses no being: in its isolation it becomes a mere show or seeming without stay or essence of its own.… God far from being a Being even the highest is the Being.… If we consider God as the Essence only [i.e. apart from His manifestation in the world] and nothing more we know Him only as the universal and irresistible power; in other words as the Lord. Now the fear of the Lord is doubtless the beginning but only the beginning of wisdom. To look at God in this light as the Lord and the Lord alone is especially characteristic of Judaism and also of Mohammedanism. The defect of these religions lies in their scant recognition of the finite which be it as natural things or as finite phases of mind it is characteristic of the heathen and (as they also for that reason are) polytheistic religions to maintain intact.12
The heathens do see finite things as manifesting the divine but not a unitary divine. They understand different natural forces as the powers of different gods. The Jews rise to the thought of the unity of the divine; they know that there is only one God but they lose the idea of the manifestation of the divine in the world. The Christian doctrine of the incarnation in the world of a single God provides both divine unity and divine manifestation thereby uniting the heathen and Jewish truths.13
But why does Hegel think that “without the world God is not God”? Why is it in God's nature to create a world? At one level or so I said it is because the infinite must include the finite in order not to be limited by it. But there is more to be said at another level.
Here I must say something about Hegel's conception of Geist a term which is usually translated in English as “mind” or “spirit.” There are various forms of Geist. In its most familiar form Geist is embodied in a human being; each of us for example has a mind. A second form is the mentality of a community its national character—that in virtue of which an Italian child grows up to have different kinds of attitude and temperament and intellectual dispositions from say a Navajo. And a third form of Geist is the mind of God which Hegel called the world-spirit at least as that mind relates to the world's doings.
There are of course important differences among these three kinds of mind but there are common features too. And a common feature which Hegel thought all minds share is that it is a primary concern of any mind that it should enjoy self-awareness. It is the primacy of that concern which I hope we shall come to see explains for Hegel why it belongs to the nature of God to create the world.
I shall proceed as follows. First I explain why according to Hegel a mind is interested in self-awareness. Next I show how God being a mind and therefore having that interest satisfies it by creating the world and man. The second matter which is dealt with in sections 14–17 below is very much additional to the first so I ask you for the moment to set aside the question why God created the world and consider with me just the first question which is why it is that a mind (and hence God) has a special interest in achieving consciousness of itself according to Hegel.
The short answer is that for Hegel self-consciousness is equivalent to freedom and that is an answer because we can take it for granted that any mind is interested in freedom. But on what basis does Hegel assert a consciousness/freedom equivalence?
Here we must look at a difficult text perhaps the most difficult text that shall ask you to examine with me in these lectures. The text gives Hegel's explanation of the identity between freedom and self-awareness and thereby shows why minds require self-awareness on the plausible assumption that they require freedom. I shall read the text and then reconstruct its argument without defending the fidelity of that reconstruction to the text. I shall then criticize the argument I have constructed.
In the text in question Hegel speaks of how spirit is to be defined. It is important to realize that for Hegel as for Aristotle the proper definition of a thing describes what it is like when it is fully developed. So when Hegel says here what spun is we may take it that he is saying what spirit is when it is fully developed:
Spirit … may be defined as that which has its center in itself. It has not a unity outside itself but has already found it; it exists in and with itself.… Spirit is self-contained existence (bei-sich-selbst-sein). Now this is freedom exactly. For if I am dependent my being is referred to something else which I am not; I cannot exist independently of something external. I am free on the contrary when I am with myself. This self-contained existence of spirit is none other than self-consciousness—consciousness of one's own being.14
I shall criticize the argument in that text for the identity of freedom and self-consciousness; but for the sake of advancing our understanding of Hegel I should first like to motivate the argument as strongly as I can.
So here is my attempt to do so. In a word the argument is that both the freedom of consciousness and its self-consciousness are its presence to itself and the presence of nothing else to itself; that is why freedom and self-consciousness are identical. Stepwise the argument runs as follows:
(i) A mind is a consciousness
(ii) Consciousness is always of something or other
(iii) Consciousness depends for its existence on what it is conscious of. (By (ii).)
(iv) Consciousness is either of consciousness itself only or (also) of something other than itself. (By (ii) and a truth of logic.)
(v) Consciousness is free of dependence on something alien if and only if it is conscious of itself alone. (By (iii) and (iv).)
(vi) A mind is free if and only if it is conscious of itself alone (that is if and only if the only thing of which it is conscious is itself). (By (i) and (v).)
To explain. A spirit or mind is something which possesses consciousness or awareness and which we may also refer to as a consciousness (premise (i)). And a further premise of the argument in the passage (premise (ii)) which Hegel does not state but which is plausible is that there is no such thing as objectless awareness: awareness or consciousness is always of something or other. From this premise (ii) Hegel infers subconclusion (iii) which is that consciousness depends for its existence on being related to something—namely that of which it is conscious. Now if as (ii) says consciousness must be conscious of something then it follows by mere logic that it must be conscious either only of itself or (also) of something other than consciousness (subconclusion (iv)). And since consciousness depends on what it is conscious of for its existence it is if conscious of itself alone dependent on nothing else for its existence but if conscious of something else then dependent on that other thing for its existence. But then it is free because not other-dependent if and only if (subconclusion (v)) it is conscious of it self and nothing but itself. Then and only then will it depend on itself alone. Accordingly we get Hegel's conclusion which is that (see (vi)) for a mind to be free the relation without which it does not exist must be to itself: the mind is free when and only when it is tree of what is not mind when it is not trammeled by anything external to itself.
That is why Hegel says in his Logic: “Freedom means that the other thing with which you deal is a second self” and “For freedom it is need say that we should feel no presence of something else which is not ourselves.”15 Or again: “We become free when we are confronted by no absolutely alien world but depend upon a fact which we ourselves are.”16 In the culmination of Hegel's Phenomenology when spirit realizes that the world is its own creation there is freedom because finally “self-consciousness … is … at home with itself in its otherness as such.”17
There are various errors in this argument and I want to point out two of them. First it is not true that (iii) follows from (ii); and (iii) is more over false. What might be true and what might follow from (ii) is that
(iiia) consciousness depends for its existence on its being conscious of something.
Proposition (iiia) might be true but it doesn't imply (iii) which unlike (iiia) says that consciousness depends for its existence on the particular item(s) it happens to be conscious of. Consciousness lacks that dependence simply because whatever it may actually be conscious of it is also capable of being conscious of something else.
But the argument suffers from a second error which is independent of that one and this second error matters more for us because of our interest in the movement from Hegel to Marx. This further error is Hegel's inference from (iii) and (iv) to (v) an error which is concentrated in the word “depends” for the notion of being dependent on something for its existence as it is exercised in (iii) must be the notion of conceptual dependence A depending on B in the sense that it is not does not count as A without B; it is attention to the mere concept of consciousness which is supposed to satisfy us of the truth of (ii) from which (iii) is derived. Conceptual dependence is however an entirely different matter from dependence on something for ones existence in a sense that implies lack of (independence in a sense that implies lack of) freedom. So for example the painter's freedom isn't compromised by his dependence on a surface on which to paint. He would not be freer without such a surface; he simply (a conceptual truth not a truth about his freedom) would not be a painter. He cannot say: If only I could paint without a surface then I would be free! Accordingly even if we waive the first error we must insist that (v) does not follow from (iii) and (iv). Proposition (v) follows from them only through equivocation on the meaning of the word “dependence.” Which means that it doesn't follow.
The painter example illustrates a point which Marx made in his reaction to Hegel—the point that far from my freedom being compromised by the presence to me of a wholly external reality some wholly external reality must be there for central exercises of freedom such as the transformation of nature by human beings to be possible. Marx attacked both the metaphysical idealism of the doctrine that I am free when no reality that is not myself faces me and its consequent passivity toward external reality its attitude that freedom is achieved through mere recognition of what seems alien as self. Marx's materialism at least in its early anti-Hegelian form is not the reducibility of everything to matter but just the independent existence of matter its existence independent of mind and self. For Hegel to assert the independent existence of matter is to affirm the unfreedom of spirit. Hence he regards empiricism18 for which the world is independent of mind as an epistemological self-enslavement: “so long … as this sensible sphere is and continues to be for Empiricism a mere datum we have a doctrine of bondage.”19 Empiricism contradicts the freedom of thinking the doctrine that “thinking means that in the other one meets with one's self.”20
One might say that for Hegel as for proponents of what is called “negative” freedom you are free when you are free of external constraint. But for proponents of negative freedom you become free when you rid yourself of the constraint while for Hegel you become free when you rid yourself of its externality when you rise to the thought that what constrains you is not truly external. Self-constraint is consistent with freedom and so when the state is represented as an elaboration of mind and therefore as one in substance with me then being constrained by it does not contradict my freedom. So the totalitarian tendency in Hegel can be developed out of the freedom-is-facing-nothing-but-oneself doctrine. That doctrine does not necessitate totalitarianism21 but it makes a Hegelian form of totalitarianism possible.
I began by saying in section 11 that within Hegel's thought the mind has a special interest in self-awareness because self-awareness is freedom and that we can take for granted that a mind is interested in freedom. Yet while all of that is true it is also potentially misleading. For it suggests that the mind's fundamental aim is freedom as opposed to self-awareness. It would be more apt to say that according to Hegel what mind requires is to be as it were in full possession of itself and that its self-possession is both its self-awareness and its freedom.
The passage presented in section 11 above identifies freedom and self-awareness. It does not say how self-awareness is to be achieved. Hegel's prescription for the attainment of self-awareness will prepare us for the answer to the question: Why did God create the world?
Suppose you want to know what you are like. How can you go about finding out? You might try sitting in your study thinking very hard about yourself. But if that is all you do you will come to know very little for there will be almost nothing for you to think about almost nothing for you to reflect upon. You will not be able to think about how you relate to other people for you will always be in your study sitting there without relationships. You won't be able to think about things you have made and actions you have performed for both imply engagement in the world and you have been simply sitting in your study. An actress who wants to know what son of talent she has must enact a role in a play and then reflect on what she has done. A general who wants to know what sort of soldier he is must fight and then reflect on what he has done. They must manifest themselves in the world and through understanding their manifestations they will understand themselves. There is no other way. As Hegel puts it in the Phenomenology: “Consciousness must act solely in order that what it inherently and implicitly [i.e. potentially] is may be for it explicitly.… What it is implicitly therefore it knows from its actual reality. Hence it is that an individual cannot know what he is till he has made himself real by action.”22
You cannot know yourself without objectifying yourself—without that is making yourself an object of knowledge.
We have been talking about individual minds but Hegel also applies this Idea to the minds of whole communities to the spirits of nations. Just as by undertaking projects I am able to perceive the nature and results of my engagement in them and I thereby learn about myself so too the aspirations and problems of a community are represented by Hegel as instances of its self-exploration. Speaking of the spirit of a nation he says that “in its work it is employed in rendering itself an object of its own contemplation.”23 The mind of a society reveals itself to itself in the multiform phenomena of social life. “Its religion its polity its ethics its legislation and even its science art and mechanical skill all bear its stamp.”24 It “erects itself into an objective world that exists and persists in a particular religious form of worship customs constitution and political laws—in the whole complex of its institutions—in the events and transactions that make up its history”25 Thus Hegel unites what may seem disparate expressions of the nation by discerning in each a conception of itself which the nation has and which it learns it has through awareness of these its self-expressions.
The idea that the mind achieves awareness of itself by expressing itself in an outward form and then by recognizing itself in its expressions is also applied to God and it explains why God creates the world. He creates because He can come to know Himself and therefore to possess Himself only in His creation. In order to know Himself God too must make and act. He makes the world and man and He acts through people and in and through the communities people compose.
It follows that the coming to self-awareness of individuals and communities is not just parallel to Gods coming to self-awareness. Rather communities and the individuals comprising them are the only vehicles of Gods ascent to self-consciousness so that Hegel can write in an extraordinary passage in his Philosophy of Mind that “God is God only so far as he knows himself; his self-knowledge is further a self-conscious ness in man and man's knowledge of God which proceeds to man's self-knowledge in God.”26 The passage affirms a fourfold equivalence:
God's knowledge of God =
God's knowledge of man =
man's knowledge of God =
man's knowledge of man.
God comes to know Himself in and through the work of human beings in history. There has to be a history of the world because God cannot know Himself immediately; He can do so only in stages and only in the minds of people. Those stages comprise world history which is “the exhibition of Spirit in the process of working out the knowledge of that which it is potentially.”27
And now we must leave Hegel. In retrospect let us recall the relation between man and God in his philosophy. Certainly man is essential to God. But it is also clear that human beings are secondary to God. Human beings exist because God exists not vice versa. Human beings are manifestations of God not vice versa. They are vehicles of God's self-development and they have the value and dignity that they do insofar as they are such. So while in Hegel's perhaps blasphemous construal of Christianity God does indeed require men and is incomplete without them the orthodox secondariness and derivativeness of men is nevertheless upheld. Recall (see section 7 above) that there is no reality in anything save insofar as it manifests the divine. This means that the divine does exist here below but also that nothing here below has any reality of its own: it owes its reality to what is divine in it.
Ludwig Feuerbach set out to invert the relation between God and man which is proposed in Christianity and in Hegel's philosophy. Feuerbach said that while according to Christianity and to Hegel God is the subject and man is the predicate in truth the reverse is the case. The truth is that God is created in man's image by man. (It would perhaps be more accurate to say that for Feuerbach man creates not God but the idea of God; but Feuerbach said “God” and in expounding him I shall follow this usage. Perhaps we can justify it by saying that for Feuerbach if God is anything then that is what he is—an idea a human representation.)
According to Feuerbach people create God by gathering the best features of their own humanity glorifying them and projecting them into a beyond. People do this because they do not recognize that the features which they attribute to God are their own features that goodness and knowledge and power belong to the human race itself and exist nowhere else.28 There is moreover no limit in principle to the power and goodness and knowledge of human beings considered collectively as a species; if anything is infinitely good and knowledgeable and powerful it is potentially humanity itself. So the properties Christianity lodges in God are nothing but properties of human beings. Being out of touch with their own properties people refer them to a deity and then they suppose that they inherit inadequate copies of them from the deity: “The divine being is nothing else than the human being or rather the human being purified freed from the limits of the individual man made objective—that is contemplated and revered in another a distinct being.”29
Feuerbachs “subject/predicate” inversion his transfer of Hegel's subject (God) into predicate position and his exaltation of Hegel's predicate (man) into subject position implies that men are not manifestations of God but that God is a manifestation of men. People are not vehicles of God's self-awareness; the idea of God is the vehicle of the confused and alienated self-awareness of humanity. And that self-awareness counts as an alienated one for the plain reason that it is an awareness of self only in the form of something other which means that the human self is cut oil from itself in its very awareness of itself. So Feuerbach can endorse the last two elements in the four-fold Hegelian equation given in section 17 above but he must delete the first two since God is the subject of those two sentences and as Feuerbach expressed his conceptual revolution Christianity mistakenly treats God the predicate the features of humanity as a subject in its own right. And whereas for Hegel there is no alienation in the fact that people grasp their own nature in their conception of God (since God is what is true and essential in that nature) for Feuerbach the indirect character of the human route to self-awareness of the species’ nature proves human estrangement from its own nature. Far from things and people being real only insofar as they are manifestations of God (see again section 7 above) God is unreal to the extent that He is not a manifestation of what is human. Here is how Feuerbach develops the point:
To characterize the consciousness of God as man's self-consciousness does not mean that religious man is directly aware that the consciousness of God is the self-consciousness of his own nature. For the lack of this very awareness is in fact the distinctive mark of religion. To avoid this misunderstanding it is better to say that religion is the earliest and really the indirect form of man's self-consciousness. Therefore religion always precedes philosophy both in the history of mankind in general and in the history of the individual. At first man misplaces his essential nature as if it were outside of himself before he discovers it in himself.
… What formerly was taken to be God and was worshiped as such is now recognized to be something human.… Man is seen to have adored his own nature.30
The insight Feuerbach takes himself to be offering is not that there is consequently something wrong with worshiping our own nature but that we should worship it as such and not refer it away to another being. That is why he denied he was an atheist: “He alone is the true atheist to whom the predicates of the Divine Being are nothing; not he to whom merely the subject of these predicates is nothing.”31
If people worship as creator of themselves what is in truth their own creation that can only be because they are estranged from themselves because their condition is one of alienation. Alienation obtains when something issues forth from men which they do not recognize as then own and which consequently dominates them The motif of subjection to what they estrange from themselves is not contained in the very words “alienation” and “estrangement” or in the original German Entfremdung but it is present in both the Feuerbachian and the Marxian uses of those words.
For Feuerbach liberation would come when people realized what God really was and he was telling them what God is. They could then reclaim the human essence they had alienated heavenward and establish a socialist community in which the goodness knowledge and power of humanity would be subject to no alien limitation.
Karl Marx was a student of philosophy and law at the University of Berlin in the later 1830s in the period five to ten years after Hegel's death. Hegel had been professor of philosophy at Berlin and the influence of his philosophy there and indeed beyond was enormous. Certainly Marx was intoxicated by it and his escape from it was a slow process. A major episode in that process was his acceptance of the Feuerbachian and “Young Hegelian” critique of Hegel the latter following shortly on Hegel's death notably in David Friedrich Strauss's Life of Jesus which appeared in 1835 and in Bruno Bauer's writings of the late 1830s and early 1840s. Engels recollected later that in 1841 when Feuerbachs Essence of Christianity appeared so powerful was its impact that “we all became at once Feuerbachians.”32
It is now widely thought that Engels thereby exaggerated the effect of Feuerbach on Marx in particular. Engels didn't know Marx in 1841 and Marx was in fact more politically oriented than Feuerbach from the start so that he did not have an unambivalently Feuerbachian phase. In any case and however Feuerbachian he might ever have been Marx displayed a decisive break with Feuerbach in the spring of 1845 while traveling on a train in the Rhineland when he penned eleven momentous paragraphs conventionally known as the Theses on Feuerbach the last and most famous of which reads: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point however is to change it.” If any one sentence is the beginning of Marxism it is that one. I shall explicate it presently and I shall try to explain how it represents a transcendence of Feuerbach's perspective. But I should like first to exhibit the Fourth Thesis on Feuerbach:
Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-estrangement of the duplication of the world into a religious imaginary world and a real one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. He overlooks the fact that after completing this work the chief thing still remains to be done. For the fact that the secular basis lifts off from itself and establishes itself in the clouds as an independent realm can only be explained by the inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must itself therefore first be understood in its contradiction and then by the removal of the contradiction revolutionized in practice. Thus for instance once the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family the former must then itself be criticized in theory and transformed in practice.33
The Fourth Thesis denies that religious illusion has its ultimate foundation in humanity's lack of clear awareness of itself a lack that reflects the incomplete development of human self-awareness. It says that the illusion and lack of awareness are alike generated by ructions within the real secular life of society. It is because reality itself is inadequate that illusions about it flourish and more specifically it is a lack of harmony (“inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness”) in reality which leads to its reproduction in an illusory harmonious form.
So first and by contrast with Feuerbach there is a sociological diagnosis of religious alienation and in the light of that diagnosis the inference is drawn that philosophical clarity about religion the state and all other forms of alienation will not suffice to dispel the illusions which philosophical clarity exposes. They will persist in social consciousness and even in the theorist's mind so soon as she leaves her study as long as the reality which generates the illusions rests unrevolutionized. Such a theorist is rather like a person who continues to perceive a mirage even after she knows that it is one and knows why she mistakes it for reality.34
Feuerbachs view of the order of battle in the struggle against illusion was in one way precisely the opposite of Marx's. In a reply to attacks by Max Stirner Feuerbach having described his work as intended to “destroy an illusion” proceeds to assure us that it is an illusion “with which all illusions all prejudices all unnatural constraints fall away even though this might not happen immediately; lor humanity's primary illusion primary prejudice primary constraint is God as subject. If one therefore devotes one's time and power to the dissolution of the primary illusion it follows that at the same time one will dissolve the illusions and constraints derived from it.”35 For Marx this is precisely upside down. Religion is the third level of illusion the basic one being economic and an intermediate one being political (and the philosophical the fourth and highest).36
Insofar then as it is the mission of philosophy to bring clear thinking into the world to spread the truth to as Feuerbach said “destroy illusion” it is insufficient for the philosopher to discover the truth and publish it. His very commitment as a philosopher will compel him to become a political activist. And that brings us back to Marx's Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point however is to change it.”
It is misleading to describe the Eleventh Thesis as a call to abandon theory for practice as though ridiculously we should stop thinking and start doing. For the Eleventh Thesis reflects a viewpoint according to which true theory an illusionless conception of the world will not prevail until practice overturns the structures which continually reproduce false theory. But in order that practice may overturn these structures theory must first deliver an understanding of the world we are in. We should not therefore cease to interpret the world. (Those who think this was part of Marx's message cannot readily explain why he should have believed that Capital was worth writing.)
Philosophy harbors a tradition in which it seeks to realize itself in the world. The tradition is at least as old as Plato whose Republic weaves a prescriptive social and political theory around a central strand of metaphysics. For Plato the ideal perceived by philosophy would have a chance of realization only in the improbable but not impossible event that a philosopher should find himself with political power or a powerful politician should become a philosopher: “Neither cities nor states nor individuals will ever attain perfection until the small class of philosophers whom we termed useless but not corrupt are providentially compelled whether they will or not to take care of the State and until a like necessity be laid on the State to obey them; or until kings or if not kings the sons of kings or princes are divinely inspired with a true love of true philosophy. That either or both of these alternatives are impossible I see no reason to affirm.”37 A union between philosophical insight and worldly power was necessary to bring philosophical insight into the structure of the world to make philosophy real to realize it as one might say. And that union might come to be although it was unlikely; its advent would be a matter of pure chance.
Feuerbach's ideal was a free and equal human community. He thought to promote it by propagating an awareness that religious belief was illusory a projection of human properties onto something nonexistent Clarity of mind was the route to regeneration of reality. Human consciousness had reached a stage at which Feuerbach's lesson could be seized and absorbed.
Marx reversed Feuerbach's program for rescuing humanity from illusion and alienation. Thought will never correspond to reality hence be truthful until reality itself is changed for it is a distorted reality which generates distortions of thought. Feuerbach demanded that people give up illusions about their condition. He should have demanded that they overthrow the condition which continues to produce illusion even when the illusions have been exposed theoretically. When social circumstances induce discord between thought and reality the enemy of illusion must operate on reality itself not in thought alone. Only what practice achieves can dissipate the mist that clouds clear thinking.
Thus Marx is not in the Eleventh Thesis simply expressing an activist's impatience with the analytical response to people's mistakes. He is not announcing his discontent with merely intellectual victories. He is rather insisting there will be no secure intellectual victory as long as all that happens is that intellectuals do good intellectual work.
It is false that whereas Feuerbach's concern is theory Marx's is practice. Their primary interest is the same. Both want to suppress illusion and Marx's complaint is that theorizing alone will not do so. The goal with respect to which “the chief thing still remains to be done” (see section 20 above) is to secure intelligibility in a transparent world. By beating In mind that common aim we can understand the critique of Feuerbach as motivated by something other than a difference of temper of or of circumstance. There is a genuine disagreement with Feuerbach arising out of a shared desire to destroy illusion and initiate a harmony of reality and thought.
The illusions occupying these thinkers survive theoretical exposé cording to Marx because theory does not cure the conditions which produce them. And that is because they are not in the first instance errors of thought but distortions in the world (relevantly parallel to those which produce mirages) which theory is impotent to rectify. For Marx social conditions must themselves be conflicted to generate a conflict between reality and appearance between how things are and how they seem.
In the text in which the opium sentence appears (see section 1 above) Marx said that “you cannot abolish’38 philosophy without making it a reality.” As long as reality falls short of the philosophical prescription philosophy will persist “as an independent realm … in the clouds” (Fourth Thesis). The perennial philosophical elaboration of a world superior to the real one will endure as long as the real world fails to meet the standards of philosophy and once it does philosophy will disappear or unite with life. There will not be two worlds a deficient real world and a compensating perfect world elaborated by philosophy.
But the philosopher is impotent to change reality acting on his own Social reality can be subverted only by powers within social reality. And subversive power was to be found only in the most suffering class in that reality: the new industrial proletariat. In the proletariat said Marx philosophy would find its material weapon and the proletariat would find its spiritual weapon in philosophy. The Platonic union of philosophy and power (see section 22 above) thereby returns in a revolutionary and democratic form.
Marx writes: “Philosophy cannot be made a reality without the abolition of the proletariat; the proletariat cannot be abolished without philosophy being made a reality.”39 The first is true because the existence of the proletariat proves the woeful inadequacy of reality: as long as that is a proletariat philosophy has not been realized. And the second is true because so Marx thought the proletariat cannot be abolished without a revolution which harmonizes society once and for all. You cannot abolish the working class without abolishing all class divisions.
These reflections then give rise to the idea of an extraordinary alliance between the most exalted manifestation of humanity in the truth-seeking philosopher and its most debased and deformed manifestation in the oppressed outcasts. When Engels said that “the German working class movement is the inheritor of German classical philosophy”40 he intended that the movement would realize in practice what the philosophers had vainly sought to realize through theory alone. The Platonic alliance of philosophy and power reappears but it is not now an accident as the one that Plato projected was (see again section 22 above).
According to the Hegel Critique. Introduction which is the text from which the opium sentence comes “the … task of philosophy … once the holy form of human self-alienation has been unmasked is to unmask self-alienation in its unholy forms. Thus the criticism of heaven turns into the criticism of the earth the criticism of religion into the criticism of law and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.”41
To carry through those criticisms an alliance of philosophy with proletarian agency was required. I shall explain in Lecture 6 why that alliance has not and will not come to pass and why too therefore socialism if it is to come at all cannot come by mere delivery of what is gestating in the womb of capitalism. The obstetric promise has been confounded.