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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2010

Douglas Moggach
University of Ottawa


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.

Copyright © Canadian Philosophical Association 1989

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8 Bauer, B. (anon.), Die Posaune des jüngsten Gerichts über Hegel, den Atheisten und Antichristen. Ein Ultimatum (Leipzig: Otto Wigand, 1841)Google Scholar. (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.Google Scholar

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), 96105Google Scholar; Rambaldi, E., Le origini della sinistra hegeliana (Florence: Nuova Italia, 1966), 614Google Scholar; and Jordan, E., Die Entstehung der konservativen Partei (Munich: Duncker und Humboldt, 1914), 144.Google Scholar

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. 11Google Scholar: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion, Bd. 1 (Berlin, 1840)Google Scholar. 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, 4849Google Scholar). He indicates that he resumed work on the text in October 1839, as he was preparing his Johanneskritik (Briefwechsel, letter 1 [October 21, 1839]Google Scholar) 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), 193Google Scholar. 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, 193nGoogle Scholar). 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.Google Scholar). 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.Google Scholar

12 Rosen, Z., Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1978), 63Google Scholar, 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), 543Google Scholar, 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, 155Google Scholar), 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, 63Google Scholar, 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, 2329Google Scholar [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], 340Google Scholar). 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, 63Google Scholar) help to explain why references to Bauer's authorship of the Posaune are not more explicit.

14 Bauer, B., Die Gute Sache, 92Google Scholar. 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), 53Google Scholar. Engels, F., “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy”, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (New York: International, 1968), 602.Google Scholar

16 Rosen, , Bauer and Marx, 7475, 83, 170, 216Google Scholar, 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, 50Google Scholar), also cited in Barnikol, , Bruno Bauer, 195.Google Scholar

18 Ibid., citing Briefwechsel, 50Google Scholar. 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)Google Scholar, 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.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

20 Ibid., 74.

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

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

23 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 44.Google Scholar

24 This passage is also translated in Stepelevich, L. S., ed., The Young Hegelians, An Anthology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 177Google Scholar. 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, 1338Google Scholar. Compare Bauer's use of the term in “Dei deutschen Nationalen” (1842)Google Scholar, reproduced in Pepperle, Die Hegeische Linke, 411.Google Scholar

25 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 43.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

30 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 137.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

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, 222227Google Scholar. (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).Google Scholar

Note that in an earlier discussion of art in Die Posaune, 95105Google Scholar, 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.Google Scholar

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

37 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 142.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

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

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

47 Bauer, , Das entdeckte Christentum, 108f.Google Scholar

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

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)Google Scholar; Long, A. A., Hellenistic Philosophy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986)Google Scholar; and Lange, E. et al. , Promotion.Google Scholar

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, 388391Google Scholar; Lukacs, , The Young Hegel, 7489, 225235.Google Scholar

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

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

53 Bauer, 1 Synoptiker, 81.Google Scholar

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

55 Koigen, D., Zur Vorgeschichte des modernen philosophischen Sozialismus in Deutsch land (Bern, 1901), 48Google Scholar. Rosen, , Bauer and Marx, 84Google Scholar, correctly argues that Fichte is not decisive for Bauer's reading of Hegel. Cesa, Sinistra hegeliana, 306Google Scholar 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)Google Scholar. 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.Google Scholar

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).Google Scholar

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

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

63 Bauer, , 1 SynoptikerGoogle Scholar, VI. Rosen makes a similar point, Bauer and Marx, 7384Google Scholar, 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.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

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), 5671Google Scholar; Bauer, B., 1 Synoptiker, vii–viiiGoogle Scholar. 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.Google Scholar

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

70 Bauer, , 1 Synoptiker, 69.Google Scholar

71 Ibid., 69; cf. Hegel, , Die Phänomenologie des Geistes, 330Google Scholar. Rosen, , Bauer and Marx, 57Google Scholar, 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.Google Scholar: “The true positive can only be born when the negation has been serious and universal”; and Bauer, , Herr Dr. Hengstenberg, 6Google Scholar: “Everything positive is as such posited in opposition, is in itself negative”.

73 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 82.Google Scholar

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, 117127Google Scholar, where the problem is already clearly posed.

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

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

77 Bauer, , Die Posaune, 167.Google Scholar

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

79 Bauer, , “Bekenntnisse”, 86.Google Scholar