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Absolute Spirit and Universal Self-Consciousness: Bruno Bauer's Revolutionary Subjectivism*

  • Douglas Moggach (a1)


Recent literature on the Young Hegelians attests to a renewed appreciation of their philosophical and political significance. Important new studies have linked them to the literary and political currents of their time, traced the changing patterns of their relationships with early French socialism, and demonstrated the affinity of their thought with Hellenistic theories of self-consciousness. The conventional interpretative context, which focuses on the left-Hegelian critique of religion and the problem of the realisation of philosophy, has also been decisively challenged. Ingrid Pepperle emphasizes instead the centrality of practical philosophy, notably Hegel's dialectic of objectification, arguing that Bruno Bauer in particular derives from this a doctrine of autonomy with politically revolutionary implications.



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1 Massey, M. C., Christ Unmasked: The Meaning of the Life of Jesus in German Politics (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1983).

2 Rihs, C., L'école des jeunes-Hégéliens et les penseurs socialistes français (Paris: Anthropos, 1978).

3 Lange, E. et al. Die Promotion von Karl Marx. Jena 1841. Eine Quellenedition (Berlin: Dietz, 1983).

4 Löwith, K., From Hegel to Nietzsche (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967); Stuke, H., Philosophie der Tat. Studien zur ‘Verwirklichung der Philosophie’ bei den Junghegelianern und den Wahren Sozialisten (Stuttgart: Klett, 1963).

5 Pepperle, I., Junghegelianische Geschichtsphilosophie und Kunsttheorie (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1978), 6870; , H. and Pepperle, I., Die Hegelsche Linke. Dokumente zu Philosophie und Politik im deutschen Vormärz (Frankfurt/M.: Röderberg, 1986), 1112.

6 Sass, H. M., “Bruno Bauer's Critical Theory”, Philosophical Forum 8 (1978) 93103; Sass, H. M., “The Concept of Revolution in Marx' Dissertation”, ibid., 141–142.

7 , H. and Pepperle, I., Die Hegelsche Linke, 19, 3536.

8 Bauer, B. (anon.), Die Posaune des jüngsten Gerichts über Hegel, den Atheisten und Antichristen. Ein Ultimatum (Leipzig: Otto Wigand, 1841). (All references to the Posaune are to this edition; all translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.)

9 Sass, H. M., “Bruno Bauer's Critical Theory”, 99, 106.

10 Notable among these critics were Ernst Hengstenberg, editor of the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung and a proponent of the Restoration bond of Church and State, and Heinrich Leo, member of the Historical School of Law. See Marx, K., “The Philosophical Manifesto of the Historical School of Law”, in Easton, L. and Guddat, K., eds., Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967), 96105; Rambaldi, E., Le origini della sinistra hegeliana (Florence: Nuova Italia, 1966), 614; and Jordan, E., Die Entstehung der konservativen Partei (Munich: Duncker und Humboldt, 1914), 144.

In “Der Verfall der Hegeischen Schule”, Literarische Anzeiger August-October 1838, Hengstenberg had argued that Hegel's teachings were atheistic and disruptive of social tranquility. Bauer, whose attack on Hengstenberg (see below, note 60) had already occasioned his transfer from Berlin to Bonn, now ironically assumes this very posture.

11 Hegel, G. W. F., Werke, Bd. 11: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion, Bd. 1 (Berlin, 1840). Bauer mentions in his correspondence of March 15, 1840, that the volume “can scarcely have appeared” (Briefwechsel zwischen Bruno Bauer und Edgar Bauer während der Jahre 1839–1842 aus Bonn und Berlin [Charlottenburg: Verlag von Egbert Bauer, 1844], letter 12, 4849). He indicates that he resumed work on the text in October 1839, as he was preparing his Johanneskritik (Briefwechsel, letter 1 [October 21, 1839]) and experiencing his transition to atheism. These letters are also cited in Barnikol, E., Bruno Bauer: Studien und Materialien, ed. Reimer, P. and Sass, H. M. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1972), 193. Bauer edited this text in collaboration with Philip Marheineke, who had published the first edition of Hegel's Philosophy of Religion in 1832 (Barnikol, , Bruno Bauer, 193n). Barnikol suggests (ibid., 195) that discrepancies between Bauer's citations of Hegel's Philosophy of Religion and the text of the second edition might be attributable to Marheineke's editorial revision. Marheineke is described as a leader of university protest against the theoretical reaction after 1840 (Obermann, K., Deutschland von 1815 bis 1849 [Berlin: DVW, 1967], 131f.). He defended Bauer during the latter's dismissal from the University of Bonn in 1842. Bauer however attacks Marheineke's tendency to vacillation and compromise in Die gute Sache der Freiheit und meine eigene Angelegenheit (Zurich und Winterthur: Verlag des literarischen Comptoirs 1842), 92.

12 Rosen, Z., Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1978), 63, cites some of this literature. There appears to be an error in his footnote 7 on the same page. The text refers to an article appearing in “Hengstenberg's Church Journal”, which would be the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, while in the note in question Rosen cites instead an article from the Young Hegelian journal Deutsche Jahrbücher 136–138 (1842), 543, edited by Arnold Ruge. Note that Bauer's first mention of the text occurs in a letter to his brother Edgar on August 16, 1841 (Briefwechsel, letter 44, 155), where he states, “Until my departure [end of August] I am preparing a great denunciation of Hegel; it is something of a trumpet blast [posaunenmässig] and should bring him only advantage”.

13 Rosen, , Bauer and Marx, 63, thinks that Ruge too was deceived by the “pietist” veneer of the text. The first mention of the Posaune in the Bauer/Ruge correspondence occurs in Bauer's letter of December 12, 1841 (E. Barnikol, Bruna Bauer, Manuscript, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, “Brief an Arnold Ruge”, #14, 11; also reproduced in Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe 1, 1/2, 263–264) (Barnikol, Ms., #14, 12; MEGA 1, 1/2, 265); both of these are some two months subsequent to the publication of the text. However, in a letter of August 17, 1841 to Ruge (Barnikol, Ms., #14, 9), Bauer informs Ruge of his plan to visit him in Dresden in the second half of September, where he has much to relate to him. That the plans for the Posaune were discussed at that time or at least prior to the publication of the text, is suggested by Ruge's enthusiastic correspondence with Stahr, Prutz, Michelet, Werner, and Ludwig Feuer bach (Barnikol, Ms., Quellenteil, 13 2 9 [f] [g] [h] [i] [j], November 1841), where no doubt is expressed over the political tendency of the Posaune. On December 17, 1841, Ruge wrote to Fleischer in Cleves, “You will read the Posaune with pleasure and guess the author easily, since you have him very close by [Bauer was still resident in Bonn]. For it is totally impossible to mystify anyone at all with this form. A real pietist could never in his life get so much out of Hegel” (Barnikol, , Ms., Quellenteil, 2329 [k], also in P. Nerrlich, Arnold Ruges Briefwechsel und Tagebuchblätter aus den Jahren 1825–1880, Bd. 1 [Berlin, 1886], 154–155). Rosen cites 247 of Nerrlich's text (63, note #8), but seems to miss these crucial references and their implications. There is no explicit mention of the text in Ruge's correspondence in the month of October, but a letter to Fleischer dated October 16, 1841 explains the central doctrine of the Posaune, the derivation of religious consciousness from self-consciousness (Barnikol, Ms., Quellenteil, 13 2 9 [d]), implying close familiarity with Bauer's theoretical development. It is noteworthy that Ludwig Feuerbach, on the other hand, seems unaware of the identity of the author of the Posaune, but not of its political and theoretical tendency, in a letter to the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, December 1841, where he insists on a difference between his own approach and that of the anonymous author: the latter is not directed against Hegel (therefore Feuerbach is not of the opinion that the text is pietistic), whereas his own method is directly opposed because it is based on the “simple truth of nature” against idealism and subjectivism (Barnikol, Ms., Quellenteil 23 2 23 [a]; also reproduced in Grün, Karl, Ludwig Feuerbachs Philosophische Charak terentwicklung. Sein Briefwechsel und Nachlass 1820–1850 [Berlin, 1874], 340). Note too that Otto Wigand, publisher of the Posaune, had just issued the first two volumes of Bauer's Critique of the Synoptics, and was active in Young Hegelian circles. Finally, Barnikol's remarks on postal censorship (Bruno Bauer, 48, 63) help to explain why references to Bauer's authorship of the Posaune are not more explicit.

14 Bauer, B., Die Gute Sache, 92. The Posaune was banned and confiscated in Prussia on December 15, 1841 (Barnikol, Ms., Bd. 1, #47).

15 Schuffenhauer, W., Feuerbach und der junge Marx (Berlin: DVW, 1972), 53. Engels, F., “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy”, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (New York: International, 1968), 602.

16 Rosen, , Bauer and Marx, 7475, 83, 170, 216, suggests misinterpretation through error or negligence, although he also mentions certain “pragmatic considerations” (76: elimination of religion, development of freedom, etc.), which condition the Bauerian approach. He sees Bauer deviating from his atheistic interpretation of Hegel in 1845 (101).

17 Briefwechsel, letter 12 (March 15, 1840, 50), also cited in Barnikol, , Bruno Bauer, 195.

18 Ibid., citing Briefwechsel, 50. It is important to note that Bauer's revolutionary Hegel is not an entirely fictional creation. For Bauer Hegel lends himself to such an interpretation, once his central concepts are critically appropriated and transformed. It is not simply a matter of liberating the esoteric from the exoteric, as the hidden essence is itself contradictory and must be purged of its positivity. Bauer gives a clear account of his critical procedure in Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker, vol. 1 (Leipzig: O. Wigand, 1841), xxi; and in Rezension: Bremisches Magazin für evangelische Wahrheit gegenüber dem modernen Pietismus”, in Ruge, A., ed., Anekdota zur neuesten deutschen Philosophie und Publizistik, vol. 2 (Zurich und Winterthur: Verlag des literarischen Comptoirs, 1843), 131.

In freeing the Hegelian system of its inner positivity, Bauer formulates the classic “left” reading of Hegel. This critical confrontation can perhaps be taken as a paradigm of the liberation of the new principle from its entanglements with the old, and can thus throw light on the difficult problem of determinate negation in Bauer (see below, notes 65–67).

19 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 6.

20 Ibid., 74.

21 On fideism, see Bauer, B., “Theologische Schamlosigkeiten”, Deutsche Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und Kunst, 117120 (November 15–18, 1841), 465479.

22 On theological rationalism, see Bauer, B., “Rezension: Einleitung in die Dogmengeschichte, von Theodor Kliefoth”, Anekdota, vol. 2, 140, 154.

23 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 44.

24 This passage is also translated in Stepelevich, L. S., ed., The Young Hegelians, An Anthology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 177. Stepelevich trans lates “Wäischen” as “Wild Men”, rather than as French, foreigners, or indeed Gauls, all of which are lexically more correct. Luther's usage of Wälschen as the French, with derogatory connotation, is established in Grimm's Deutsches Wörterbuch, vol. 13 (Leipzig, 1922), 1332, 1338. Compare Bauer's use of the term in “Dei deutschen Nationalen” (1842), reproduced in Pepperle, Die Hegeische Linke, 411.

25 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 43.

26 Ibid., 52–54, 57.

27 Ibid., 42.

28 Ibid., 47, 48.

29 Ibid., 45 and passim. In this respect Bauer's argument resembles that of Hegel's first writings. See Lukacs, Georg, The Young Hegel (London: Merlin, 1975), 74145.

30 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 137.

31 Ibid., 57–59, 63–64, 137–149. Cf. the dialectical movement of sense-certainty and perception in Hegel, G. W. F., Die Phänomenologie des Geistes (Frankfurt/M.: Ullstein, 1970), 6584.

32 Ibid., 139.

34 Ibid., 142–143. This question is treated in greater detail in Bauer's anonymous continuation of the Posaune, Hegels Lehre von der Religion und Kunst von dem Standpunkt des Glaubens aus beurteilt (Leipzig: O. Wigand, 1842), 138157, 222227. (Bauer admits the authorship of Hegels Lehre slightly later in 1842, in Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker und des Johannes [Braunschweig: Fr. Otto, 1842], 316).

Note that in an earlier discussion of art in Die Posaune, 95105, Bauer seems to reverse the priority of religion to art within the Hegelian system of absolute spirit. In religion self-consciousness is alienated and seemingly passive, whereas art reveals the activity of spirit though still in a material element.

35 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 146.

36 Bauer, , Das entdeckte Christentum (Zurich und Winterthur: Verlag des literarischen Comptoirs, 1843), 37.

37 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 142.

38 Ibid. 68.

39 Ibid. 45, 81.

40 Ibid. 5–13, 43–45, 79–96, 117–127.

41 Ibid. 82.

42 Ibid. 80, 81. Cf. Cesa, C., Studi sulla Sinistra hegeliana (Urbino: Argalia, n.d.), 303305, 319.

43 Ibid., 82.

44 “To understand Bauer, one must understand our time. What is our time? It is revolutionary”, Bauer, Edgar, Bruno Bauer und seine Gegner (Berlin: Jonasverlag, 1842), 4, 5.

45 See Bauer's text of 1845, “Charakteristik Ludwig Feuerbachs”, Wigands Vierteljahrschrift 3, 8688.

46 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 68, 70, 8085, 120122, 163168.

47 Bauer, , Das entdeckte Christentum, 108f.

48 Among the vast literature on this subject, see Lypp, B., Asthetischer Absolutismus und Politische Vernunft (Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1972); and Heidegren, C. G., Filosofi och Revolution (Stockholm: Symposion, 1984).

49 These reflections on the Stoics are offered tentatively, with particular reference to Epictetus. See Rist, J. M., ed., The Stoics (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978); Long, A. A., Hellenistic Philosophy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986); and Lange, E. et al. , Promotion.

50 In his early works Hegel himself had identified externalization, positivity and alien ation, but later he creates a historically differentiated vision of positivity in respect to the stages of evolution of spirit. Not all externalization is positivity, but only that which stands opposed to the higher development of freedom. This distinction opens the way to the conceptualization of objective spirit as the (relative) realization of the strivings of spirit. This latter conception is introduced in Frankfurt, in the 1800 introduction to the Berne manuscript The Positivity of the Christian Religion. It is still present in the Lectures in the History of Philosophy, whose final version is given in 1831. See Hegel, , Lectures on the History of Philosophy, vol. 3 (London: Kegan Paul, 1895), 158, 379380, 384, 388391; Lukacs, , The Young Hegel, 7489, 225235.

51 Bauer, B., Religion des Alten Testaments (Berlin, 1838), discussed by Sass, H. M., “Bruno Bauer's Critical Theory”, 93.

52 Notably in Bauer's contributions to the Anekdota, vol. 2.

53 Bauer, 1 Synoptiker, 81.

54 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 146148, citing Hegel's Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion, Bd. 1 (2nd ed.; Berlin, 1840), 6365.

55 Koigen, D., Zur Vorgeschichte des modernen philosophischen Sozialismus in Deutsch land (Bern, 1901), 48. Rosen, , Bauer and Marx, 84, correctly argues that Fichte is not decisive for Bauer's reading of Hegel. Cesa, Sinistra hegeliana, 306 n., also denies a direct Fichtean influence: it is not Fichte's philosophy, but the Fichtean element in Hegel which Bauer develops. This position is consistent with Bauer's own argumentation in “Charackteristik Ludwig Feuerbachs”, 86–88.

56 Bauer, B. (anon.), Die evangelische Landeskirche Preussens und die Wissenschaft (Leipzig: O. Wigand, 1840). This text was banned at the same time as the Posaune.

57 Private economic interest and religious particularity have an identical theoreticallogical structure but a different systematic place in the historical dialectic, the former being the modern form of particularity. Rosen, Bauer and Marx, proposes a more constrictive interpretation of egoism as primarily the religious consciousness, thereby minimizing Bauer's critique of possessive individualism, which is central to his conception of revolution and of modern mass society.

58 This is analogous to the universal as Unterscheidungslos discussed by Bauer in Die Posaune, 137.

59 Ibid., 70, 82, 137.

60 Bauer, , Herr Dr. Hengstenberg. Ein Beitrag zur Kritik des religiösen Bewusstseins. Kritische Briefe über den Gegensatz, des Gesetzes und des Evangeliums (Berlin: Dümmler, 1839).

61 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 99, 100. See also Bauer, B., “Leiden und Freuden des theologischen Bewusstseins” in Anekdota, vol. 2, 89112.

62 Caudwell, C., Illusion and Reality (New York: International, 1946), 75 ff., Studies and Further Studies in a Dying Culture (New York: MRP, 1971), 193228.

63 Bauer, , 1 Synoptiker, VI. Rosen makes a similar point, Bauer and Marx, 7384, without, however, stressing the complex and subtle dialectical process by which Bauer develops his concept of universal self-consciousness.

64 Cf. Bauer, B., “Der Christliche Staat und unsere Zeit”, Hallische Jahrbücher für deutsche Wissenschaft und Kunst, 135140 (June 7–12, 1841), 537558.

65 This appears to be the conclusion of Bauer, Das Entdeckte Christentum.

66 Baronovitch, L., “Two Appendices to a Doctoral Dissertation: Some New Light on the Origin of Karl Marx's Dissociation from Bruno Bauer and the Young Hegelians”, Philosophical Review 8 (1978), 234.

67 Cf. Bauer, B., “Die Fähigkeit der heutigen Juden und Christen, frei zu werden”, in Herwegh, G., ed., Einundzwanzig Bogen aus der Schweiz (Zurich und Winterthur: Verlag des literarischen Comptoirs, 1843), 5671; Bauer, B., 1 Synoptiker, vii–viii. That Bauer's ontology is limited does not appear to warrant the conclusion that he is not an ontological thinker.

68 Buhr, M., Revolution und Philosophie (Berlin: DVW, 1965), 5153.

69 Cf. Bauer, B. (anon.), “Bekenntnisse einer schwachen Seele”, Deutsche Jahrbücher, 148149 (June 23–24, 1842), 81; Bauer, , “Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik?”, Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung 8 (July 1844), 1826; Bauer, B., “Die Gattung und die Masse”, Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung 10 (September 1844), 4248.

70 Bauer, , 1 Synoptiker, 69.

71 Ibid., 69; cf. Hegel, , Die Phänomenologie des Geistes, 330. Rosen, , Bauer and Marx, 57, cites this passage from 1 Synoptiker as a simple contradiction with Bauer's general outlook on the universality of self-consciousness; he misses Bauer's conflation of substance and positivity at this point.

72 Cf. Bauer, , 1 Synoptiker, xxiii n.: “The true positive can only be born when the negation has been serious and universal”; and Bauer, , Herr Dr. Hengstenberg, 6: “Everything positive is as such posited in opposition, is in itself negative”.

73 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 82.

74 Free activity is opposed to subjugation, “staatliche Bevormundung”, and atomistic egoism. Besides outright feudalist reactionaries, the partisans of the old order comprise all those who are incapable of rising above immediate individual interests and therefore unable to grasp the principles of universal self-consciousness. This includes liberal constitutionalism. The Posaune anticipates the sharp critique of reformism in the texts of 1842–1848. See Die Posaune, 5658, 117127, where the problem is already clearly posed.

75 This characterization persists from Die gute Sache (1842), 1 to Vollständige Geschichte der Parteikämpfe in Deutschland (1846).

76 Bauer's articles of the summer of 1842 are particularly devoted to this problem.

77 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 167.

78 Ibid., 164, explicitly the “Verdachtssystem der Jakobiner”.

79 Bauer, , “Bekenntnisse”, 86.

* The author wishes to express his thanks to the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, for making available to him its extensive collection of published and manuscript sources.

Absolute Spirit and Universal Self-Consciousness: Bruno Bauer's Revolutionary Subjectivism*

  • Douglas Moggach (a1)


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