Notes to “Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right”



Comments, paragraph by paragraph, on the “Introduction” to Karl Marx’s book

Comment on paragraphs 1 and 2

The first two paragraphs introduce us to the new perspective adopted by Marx based on Feuerbach's critique of the essence of the Christian religion, a philosophical unmasking that becomes the presupposition of all criticism carried out by the Hegelian left, a process that Marx starts to target above all the state and civil society, as well as the German and world order.

Storming the sky, the sacred existence of error, it is up to the generic man and the new way of thinking and acting developed by the philosophy of praxis, which is the praxis of philosophy, to leave aside the realm of religious appearances denounced by Feuerbach as a fantastic reality. Critical intellectuals begin to focus on the immediately and concretely existing man; and in doing so they descend to earth, turn to the political critique of history, the state, civil society which ends up embracing the modern European world and the archaic German periphery. As he follows this path, Marx begins to have as his objective the establishment of authentic human reality in history.


Comment on paragraph 3

At the beginning of the paragraph, the consequences of the 'Feuerbachian' demolition are resumed. As established in The Essence of Christianity, man makes religion, not the other way around. From which it can be deduced that the religious sphere, when structured as man's alienation in the imaginary plane of transcendence, reveals itself to be distancing from man's authentic feeling of self, one of the characteristics of the inverted world. From this stems the basic task of the German left: to break the other veils that prevent the generic being from conquering itself through the revolutionary mutation of history. In other words, it is necessary to abandon the fantastic reality philosophically denounced by Feuerbach and then get to what really matters, the rejection of German political and social reality. It is necessary to escape from the theological sky to focus on earth, politics and history, dimensions that call for deciphering and overcoming. This is the beginning of the process of canceling human alienation.

It is important to note that the process of human liberation vis-à-vis the religious sphere is not necessarily irreversible. It may or may not be cyclical insofar as the dynamics of canceling religious illusions can lead to human liberation, to the generic man's conquest of himself, but in it man also risks failure, returning to the initial situation. In this case, the generic being resumes the figure from which it started: 'it has already been lost again'.

In the continuation, Marx emphasizes: generic being is not abstract, logical-speculative. On the contrary, the generic being is never "squatted outside the world". There is nothing beyond him and his world, since man is his relationship with himself and with the world of which he is a part. In place of transcendence is placed the world of man which, in its substantial reality, is not that of the individual, but rather the social world, the world of the State and civil society, the real, historical-concrete world such as human being. generic.

However – if analyzed more closely – the men yoked to “this State and this society” are the producers of religion because they are still trapped in alienation, far from their own authentic freedom. This state and this society, human artifacts, are what generate or maintain religious unreality, “an inverted consciousness of the world”. They are capable of this because in fact alienated man, religion and the state form the internally articulated trio of the upside-down world. We have, then, a certain homology between religion as an inverted consciousness of the world and all the other elements or spheres that interact with it, civil society and the State. The process that turns the world upside down catches almost everyone in its net. Almost all of them are facets of the same inversion that manifests itself on several levels, from the individual to the social, from the economic of civil society to the political par excellence of the State, passing through the religious domain itself.

As I read that paragraph, I thought of Gunnar Myrdal and his theory of cumulative causality. In Myrdal, this type of causality was thought of within the scope of theories of economic development. In Marx's case, something like cumulative circular causation can be imagined. Through it, an inverted world is produced by the very game of circularity established between its three main elements, religion, the State and civil society, religion being the ideal complement indispensable to the proper functioning of circularity. Religion, an inverted consciousness of this inverted world which, despite having been decisively overcome in the philosophical field, still predominates in other social spheres. This, the complex fantastical reality that must be aufgehoben through a new type of historical rupture that frees the generic being from its political, social and religious chains. In the case of Myrdal, it was a matter, more modestly, of breaking down the barriers of underdevelopment.

Next, religion is described as a general theory of the world upside down. It appears as an encyclopedic compendium, the world's logic turned upside down in popular form, a point of honor, the highest point on the scale of 'spiritualist' values. Because it is all this and more, it is also a feeling of enthusiasm, the moral sanction of the world as it is, its solemn complement. All these aspects suggest and confirm the breadth and depth of the religious phenomenon as the spiritual par excellence. Furthermore, this fantastic (ir)reality plays at least two other roles: that of the general basis of consolation and that of the general basis of justification. Those who live under the influence of the conjunction of these elements cannot escape the operational effects of both roles in a dialectic that encompasses the triad to be overcome: the State, civil society and religious dominance, expressions of the inverted world. Then, Marx denounces the fantastic realization of the human essence which, being in fact fantastic, has no real content, but only speculative.

We have, then, that the human essence is present in German history, but in the form of the false. The realization of the human essence that religion offers ends up proclaiming a hidden truth: its fantastic realization is untrue, illusory. The contradiction that religion carries with it ends up manifesting itself: an open contradiction between itself as error, as a compensatory fantastic consciousness of the world, and effective historical reality.

It is against this state of affairs that post-feuerbachian philosophy stands up, the young Marx in particular. The novelty: the inverted world began to face its opposite. From the rejection of the totality of the illusory, the possibility of the advent of the true State, the true society, the human essence as an irreversible break with alienation opens up. From the deepest conflict emerges the possibility of the generic man asserting himself in history. In other words: for Marx and his companions, in Germany in the 40s, the window opened for the creation of a completely different, effectively human, historical world.

This creative will is, in Marx's logic, the highest theoretical-political demand, all the more so because the stage into which modern Europe and archaic Germany entered calls for a new philosophy that is both critical and active, the only one really capable of theoretically and practically revolutionize the modern world and German backwardness. Hence the importance of Feuerbach's critique of religion for praxis practitioners. Hence, also and even more importantly, the shift in the philosophical focus: philosophy leaves behind the dimension of religious criticism itself and begins to prepare, in the critical sphere, the uprising against “that world whose spiritual form is religion”.

In terms of political-strategic understanding of the text, it is important to emphasize that one of the intermingled unrealities that characterize the German world, the civil society-state dimension that active philosophy must cancel, emerges as an emanation or aroma of the other sphere, that of religious unreality. On the one hand is religion; on the other stand the State and civil society. Articulated with each other, they form what must necessarily be overcome/destroyed. As we will see later, this inverted German world is subsumed by another, that of modernity in which Germany, with its secular backwardness, occupies a subordinate place.


Comment on paragraph 4

Two relevant notions arise, two types of misery: religious and real. As each of them refers to the other, a dialectic persists in the interaction between both. One and the other are sustained as a whole by constituting a system of reciprocal support.

Religious misery, while expressing real misery in its own way, also seems to protest against it. Could this type of protest have a future as an instrument of effective social transformation? The text completely discards any emancipatory role of any social protest of a religious nature. Historically, the 'protest against real misery' is nothing more than the 'sigh of the oppressed creature', the 'spirit of a heartless world', the 'spirit of brutalized states of affairs'. No possibility, therefore, of religion playing, even indirectly, a positive transforming role in German reality. Religion, ontologically and historically, the opium of the people.


Comment on paragraph 5

On the one hand, the opposition between the people and the state. The people, an ambiguous category, is and is not the equivalent of another equally ambiguous category, civil society. On the other, the opposition between religion, the promise of illusory happiness, and real happiness as a requirement of generic man, no longer alienated from himself, no longer submissive to heaven. Religious alienation was philosophically overcome in such a way that the very success of the critique of the essence of Christianity led radical democratic thought to change its object. This change is at once philosophical and practical: essentially, the new thinking that is practical and vice versa is committed to the revolutionary transformation of the desolate state in which the German people find themselves. The people, in this fight that is theirs and that of the philosophers of praxis, must necessarily abandon all illusions, especially the religious ones that still remain a mass phenomenon, despite Feuerbach. Such survivals have their weight, but they are no longer insurmountable barriers. The status of religion has changed for less. From an insurmountable obstacle, it became a weakened adverse condition.

Reading the final part of the paragraph signals the metamorphosis: what was a philosophical critique of the fantastic consciousness inherent in religion, in a few years (The Essence of Christianity is from 1841) became the struggle for the revolutionary transformation of the whole structured by the convergence between religion, civil society and the State.

Philosophically, criticism ceases to be what it was, criticism of Christianity, and begins to focus, with Marx and others from the Hegelian left in full mutation, on the project of destroying overcoming the valley of tears, a moment that, once materialized, will be succeeded by the emergence of a totally different world. This was the expectation of those who even speculated with the outbreak, in a reasonably short time, of the radical-democratic revolution. Realized, the Marxist revolution would not only radically change the Germany of Frederick William IV, but, in the process, it would also have a decisive impact on the set of modern states and societies. In this historical upheaval to be experienced by the whole of Europe, the withering away of religion would be completed.


Comment on paragraph 6

A balance of the gigantic shock produced by Feuerbach and the left Hegelians from the critique of the essence of the Christian religion. In Weberian terms, perhaps we could say that criticism produced the disenchantment of a significant part of the inverted world, by reaching, albeit indirectly, the spheres of the family, civil society and the State. This disenchantment of the religious world (the 'plucking imaginary flowers from their shackles') does not end in itself. On the contrary, it demands that the shackles themselves be broken so that generic man can know and live the living flower of true reality. At the limit, the proposed break will also be the total revolutionizing of the European world, that is to say, the overcoming of the modern world in its two faces, the properly modern, Franco-British, and the medieval-modern or its opposite, embodied and symbolized by Germany .

In this path, the first step was taken by Feuerbach. The second, the revolutionary outbreak, an inaugural event that depends on the ability of man, hampered by history as estrangement, to finally dare to know, to dare to become a disillusioned man who has come to reason. When this historical reason is duly processed and incarnated, the disillusioned man will turn around himself, he being his own sun. Sun of himself, the generic man will think, act and, from this thinking-acting, finally build his reality hitherto denied by history. In other words, a transparent and full world is possible. Its establishment is indispensable and urgent. Your subscribe to history, imperious. In it, overcoming the realm of the illusory, humanity will live in a specular relationship with itself, with nature, with reality in its complete form, reality transformed into a concrete historical world.


Comment on paragraph 7

The young Marx's ambition is fully shown. The critique of religion has philosophically finalized its object. From what was established by the 'river of fire', divine transcendence is abolished, which gives disenchanted man the opportunity to emerge as thought, action and revolutionary construction of the world that will be, after all, real, not a complex structure of religious inversions, political, social, existential.

This change of axis – remaining in the critique of heaven loses meaning because the philosophical destruction of Christianity has been fully accomplished – means that the critique of the earth gains the foreground. The new stage has nothing to do with speculation. Quite the contrary, it manifests itself completely rooted in history. In what matters most, the post-Feuerbachian moment poses, for those who know how to read and interpret it radically, another gigantic task: to change political and social history. In the emptiness that is German misery, multifaceted modern-feudal anachronism or vice versa, but always anachronism, the abandonment of the beyond of truth is imposed so that the truth of this here can be established. Cisalpine Gaul is not to be confused with Transalpine, even though it borders it.

The proposed revolutionary mission arises as a response to German and European history in the mid-nineteenth century. But, in reality, as thought by those in praxis, the revolutionary mission is that of 'philosophy at the service of history'. This thinking-acting has its own profile, which makes it a mandated agent, a body of ideas that materialize in the bodies of men and women destined to bring about the great transformation. The goal proposed by this suppressive movement of previous philosophy, seen as a mere exercise of free speculative thinking, is the unmasking of the non-sacred forms of alienation that drown the generic man.

The critique of heaven having been completed, the philosophy that is reflected praxis has already begun the critique of the earth. In this regard, the paragraph gives some clues: (a) one criticism follows another; (b) the critique of religion is replaced by the critique of law; and (c) that of theology metamorphoses into a critique of politics.

No specific reference to political economy. The critique of political economy, we know, is on the way: Paris, 1844. But the great actor who for now (1843) occupies, in Marx's theory of revolution, the place of almost natural passivity, appears, albeit fleetingly. . At the other end, at the pole of activity, we know who is, the new philosophy, the praxis of revolutionary intellectuals.

The following paragraph refers to a project not carried out by Marx. From this project remained the notebooks that came to be known, when finally published, as Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.

In my view, paragraph 7 marks the end of the first part of the “Introduction” to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.

I leave paragraph 8 aside and move on to paragraph 9, the beginning of an analysis even more focused on the status quo German.


Comment on paragraph 9

At first reading, the text can be understood as 'transitional'. But, in fact, it is much more than that: it establishes a common thread for everything that will come. From it I extracted two main aspects: (a) the status quo German is characterized by such backwardness, when compared with the movement of 'modern nations', that, says Marx, erecting it as an object of criticism makes no sense. Focusing on this delay would result in insipid opposition to a manifest anachronism already fully deciphered. 'If I deny powdered wigs' – those of the Ancien Régime, evidently – 'I still keep powdered wigs', those of those who indulge in everyday German misery; and (b) even worse: in Marx's view, the German situation in 1843 predates that of France in 1789. The times of national histories are multiple, distinct, qualitatively different. If they are not well discriminated, they can play this kind of trick: the modern contemporary necessarily has as part of himself – duly marginal, when not in the process of absorption – everything that is non-coeval. But this articulation, the contemporaneity of the non-coeval, a phenomenon that, by manifesting a paradoxical disarticulating articulation, actually subtly reveals an immense capacity to deceive.

Consequently, what must be criticized, and at all costs completely transformed, is not the anachronistic situation prevailing in Germany. Criticism, in order to be effective and not superficial, is obliged to take current affairs into account in all its breadth. In Drummond's language, the present world, the present life, the present man, without mystification. For this very reason, this 'tour de force' cannot be restricted to Germany; it necessarily has to apprehend what goes on in the 'vital center of the present period'.

Now, what is the aim of criticism when Marx turns to this vital center? Define it as modelling, inspiring or benchmarking? No. This is servile mimicry, this is drowning in another criticism, strictly limited to anachronism, but having ready-made “superior” answers, which in essence have been given by the modern world, state and society. This is how Marx sees the matter. Hence, he rejects uncritical criticism, a mere copy of what happens 'beyond the Rhine'.

Would this type of criticism be capable of leading peripheral Germany, at the end of a hypothetical modernizing reform, to leave behind its anachronism and become contemporary with the advanced world? No. Why? Because merely adjusting to the contemporary, in addition to being irrelevant, is, for Marx, an impossible hypothesis to take shape, a thesis that he will strive to show throughout the article.

instead of that updating which has something of original ECLAC thinking, what it is about is destroying/overcoming both the anachronism called Germany and the world that the 'modern nations' created as states and societies revolutionized in French or English molds. It is about, instead of following the path of what has already been done, concentrating the strength of thinking and acting on the negative that will produce the double great revolutionary overcoming, the one that will encompass, in the same move or movement, the periphery and the center of the modern world. The historical way to resolve this situation, the way to overcome the dilemma embodied by the double face of the modern, is the radical democratic revolution, the only one effectively capable of transforming the Germany of anachronism into the lighthouse Germany of the real world. This alternative has nothing to do with the lighthouse Germany of the world that only emits light as a speculative philosophy. The lighthouse that Marx values ​​is of another type, itself dependent on the sure interweaving of certain revolutionary elements, and on the audacious overcoming of so many other obvious obstacles in Germany and in the modern world. Also dependent, the radical democratic revolution, on an astute vision of German history, object of the following paragraph.


Comment on paragraph 10

This passage requires, to be properly commented on, a knowledge of German history that escapes me. Perhaps, in a reading like mine, where contextualization is scarce, Marx is referring above all to the French Revolution and Napoleon. But he could also be considering another scenario closer in time, perhaps the situation in France after the 'glorious journeys' of 1830? Regardless of the possible interpretations, the paragraph confirms the strategic diagnosis: the mismatch between peripheral Germany and modern Europeans is tragic. 'Having our pastors at the fore, we found ourselves in the society of liberty only on the day of their burial.'

In developing the argument, Marx makes explicit the passive-retardatory meaning of German history since the victory of Protestantism in its mainly Lutheran version, an illusory revolution because restricted to the religious and philosophical plane. During the Reformation, the truly revolutionary tendency ended up being crushed when the insurgents failed in the Peasants' War. The German misery is summarized in a paragraph that covers an arc that lasted three centuries, since the posting by Luther, in the church of Wittenberg, of the 95 theses that led to the schism until the state of calamity prevailing in 1843.


Comment on paragraph 11

The text ruthlessly collects and reinforces the position of the left Hegelians, deeply critical of the historical school of law personified in Savigny. The greatest irony is the bridge established between, on the one hand, Savigny and his 'historically' founded conception of law, a bastion to be preserved at all costs by the right, and, on the other, the unveiled history of German misery. In short, in another reckoning, Marx exposes the complete contempt he had for the ideas of reactionary jurists, supporters of German constitutional-monarchical absolutism.


Comment on paragraph 12

Having settled accounts with the historical school of law, Marx returns to exercise his caustic irony, this time targeting the survivors of the Young Germany movement, so important in the early XNUMXth century. Marx rejects the liberal nationalists and their ideas, they having had some influence on the young Engels, and perhaps also on others on the Hegelian left. Opponents are described, with a large dose of venom, as “good-natured enthusiasts, German chauvinists by blood and enlightened liberals by reflection”. The liberal, good-natured side. The sanguine side, even more ridiculous, seeks freedom in the primitive Teutonic forests, which leads this type of current to confuse natural history with human history. These German chauvinists then end up making human freedom and wild boar freedom akin. "So let the ancient Teutonic forests alone."

Duly beaten both reactionary and liberal strands of thought, Marx moves on to the strongest part of the article. Paragraph 13 begins with a declaration of war.


Comment on paragraph 13

A hurried reading, especially if too concentrated on its initial passage, would lead us to think that in this paragraph the critique of the German situation in the old pre-Feuerbach molds would remain current, despite what was established in paragraph 9, in which the futility of continue to criticize German anachronism tout court. This interpretation is misleading. In fact, what Marx asserts is, in other words, what was previously established.

What matters most, even because the The Essence of Christianity it is a flawless circle and nothing can be added to it: the critique of anachronistic reality has gone to another level. Now it's time to fight and wage war against what generates German misery, against what maintains it as a system of power. Now it's fight and war based on passion and reason. Philosophical criticism ceased to be purely philosophical. Philosophy became more than criticism: it became a permanent political practice, constant agitation, perennial denunciation, daily indignation. Because that's how it is, criticism has become a weapon, it is no longer a scalpel. It emerged as the head of a passion whose main objective is to destroy, in a repeal particular-universal, the decrepit world.

But if this revolutionary-theoretical practice is the product, in Germany of 1843, of the head of passion, it is worth asking: who would personify passion itself? What body is this, whose body is the head of Marx's critique? The answer: the proletariat, that actor, in terms of German history, just born, but already the lever that displaces everything by appearing in the drama.

Having sketched the picture from a bird's eye view, Marx's manifest interest in this exercise is clear: the need to define the situation, establish the main actors, indicate how the radical left should proceed, in this process expanding in order to accumulate forces that can lead it to exercise, in the approaching moment, a decisive effect. What is wanted is to abolish German imaginary reality, and, in so doing, to open the floodgates through which will flow concrete, conscious, reflected life, the free movement of generic man, effective freedom, everything that in Germany is contained and contained. stagnant.

What is concerned with the criticism that made this qualitative leap? To transform Germany in such a way and with such content that man, experiencing the dynamics of this change, emerges as an effectively generic being. Generic man true to himself, free at last from the chains of manifold alienation. Therefore, the first step is to describe the German reality well, to portray the suffocating pressure well. This is what paragraph 14 is about.


Comment on paragraph 14

A diagnosis of the pathology of German misery, of deaf, reciprocal pressure from all social spheres. This pressure – deaf, reciprocal, everyday – generates general irritation that is, however, epidermal, anodyne. The system of reciprocal pressures that annul each other points, in its action, to the passivity that pervades everything. Well analyzed, it is a factor preventing the emergence of whatever is endowed with a real transforming political and social meaning. Furthermore, this miserable stagnation is marked by a narrowness of perspectives that, dialectically, 'both recognizes and ignores itself'. The suffocating, reciprocal, irritating, passive and narrow pressure occupies a determined place. It is located, topologically, 'on the limits of a system of government'.

What limits are these? They are not analytically explained in the text, but we know that they appear, in general terms, as 'the limits of a system of government that lives off the conservation of all indigences'. In other words, a system that lives off the careful preservation of all the many miseries that afflict Germany. System of government, which in itself is also another indigence, that of the powerful. Another type of misery that, prevailing in government, permeates the world and the lives of the powerful by giving them dominion over the whole formed by civil society and the state. It is therefore a question of taking the first step, of painting a portrait of the German world and simultaneously using it as a weapon in the fight against everything that supports and is supported by anachronism.

The initial portrait or sketch is deepened in the following paragraph, which completes the description of Germany's misery as a spectacle.


Comment on paragraph 15

'What a show!' We see society divided into races (!?). Exclamation and interrogation from me to mark how out of the text and context this concept, so common in the XNUMXth century, seems to be for us, in the XNUMXst century. Obviously Marx should, instead of 'races', have used 'status classes', 'estates', 'classes', 'spheres' or something like that.

But the general design of the 'German spectacle', despite the 'racial' slippage, brings us elements to think about what matters most, the assembly of an adequate political strategy for the left, one of the core points of the article. The 'spectacle' makes it clear that even in disagreements, in conflicts between 'races', the Germany rejected by Marx is an illustration of dwarfism. In it, everything boils down to petty dislikes, bad conscience, gross mediocrity that connotes the endless and progressive internal division of a society moved by insignificant things. A society whose experience, for this very reason, boils down to the systematic alternation of powerlessness. At one pole, the inauthenticity of the modern-feudal situation itself; in another, the reciprocal suspicions between members of civil society. The anemic reality, marked in everyday social and political life by the authoritarian and homogeneous treatment imposed by the dominant power on each of the actors, groups and spheres subordinated to it. The masters proceed, in the face of the smallness of the dominated, in an invariable way: they act as if the existence of individuals, groups and institutions that together give life to civil society were a graceful concession. Ultimately, the effects of this somewhat voluntary servitude on the part of some, coupled with the governmental authoritarianism of others, end up generating yet another alienation: what the dominated receive is seen by them as a concession or manna that rains from the political-religious sky.

If this is the condition of civil society, that of rulers, however different it may be, is symmetrically precarious. Its greatness as a class or estate does not exist. They are large only in the number of heads of state, over 130 in Germany in the days of the young Marx. Homunculi, then, are dominated by homunculi. Civil society, permanent prey of the State, shows the immediate content of unhappy Germany.

Faced with this, and in opposition to this, paragraph 16 exposes what Marx expects from the new criticism, the one coming out of the head of passion.


Comment on paragraph 16

Successor and heiress of the unmasking of religion along Feuerbach's lines, radical-democratic criticism is struggle, action, war, hand-to-hand combat. In this warlike state, no imaginary act of a chivalrous nature should prevail as a guide to good manners. It is a fight without quarter, a fight to the death that recalls the dialectic of master and slave. Indispensable, in this revolutionary conflict, to be able to exert maximum effectiveness in destroying the enemy.

But who is the enemy? The continuation of the paragraph proclaims, to the reader's initial surprise, that the enemy, at first approximation, is multiple and one. Multiple: the Germans. Uno: the German people. Enemies, both temporary. Temporary enemies because still immersed in the illusion and resulting resignation whose name is alienation. Faced with these 'enemies', only effective, increased, incessant and daily pressure will be able to generate in them, as a first moment, the very awareness of the pressure, the initial realization, the triggering effect leading to the cancellation of self-deception and resignation, these yes, the real enemies within. External enemy, the monarchic-feudal-constitutional state. This transformation of 'enemies' into allies emerges as the real objective underlying the passion head's effort, as its endeavor to make public, as parties honteuses, the behavior of each of the spheres of German civil society. Only in this way, through this stripping forced by criticism, will the petrified relationships petrified in small and mediocre antipathies, in the individual and social bonds prevailing in the suffocated and suffocating society, be eroded. Only by being subjected to this shock treatment will each social sphere be able to dance the revolutionary dance that leads to another story.

Marx's thought of 1843 rigidly establishes two revolutionary roles by assigning one task to the philosophy of praxis, another to the 'inert element'. One, for the passionate-thinking head; another, for the passive body of the proletariat. Both tasks, revolutionary demands of real history. But one of them is the agenda of intellectuals mobilized by the philosophy of praxis; the other, that of the people, which at the limit is confused with the proletariat. Before, the flowers of religion were plucked so that generic man would abandon sacred illusions; now also the flowers of profane illusions must be uprooted. Without this further step, the people of which the proletariat forms a part will not succeed in breaking its own chains. Therefore, it is necessary to 'teach the people to be terrified of themselves'. Indispensable, in this way, to instil courage. At the limit, Marx almost repeats Rousseau who advocated forcing the people to be free. The hand-to-hand combat of criticism that is no longer philosophy is justified because it fulfills a need of the German people, detected by philosophy itself. Without it, without its acting and thinking, neither the people as a whole nor the proletariat as an essential part of it will be able to emerge from misery, stagnation, sluggishness.

Completing the paragraph, an allusion to Hegel's teleology: '(…) the needs of peoples are exactly the final causes of their satisfaction'.

From the next paragraph, Marx will start to deal with the relationship between German misery and the modern world of advanced nations.


Comment on paragraph 17

Initially, it emphasizes the interaction between the backward German world and the modern European world, both revealing elements of the same totality. Hence the German anachronism may be of interest to modern peoples and nations. The reason for this deceptively abstract interest of the moderns in the periphery that begins on the Rhine is based on the fact that German misery manifests the perfection of the ancien régime disguised under a monarchical-constitutional guise. On the other hand, there is specific concrete interest of the 'advanced'. Conscious or not, something is equally perceptible to the 'moderns', even if disguised under the guise of European constitutionalism: the ancien régime it still persists, recycled form and content, as 'the hidden defect of the modern state'. Consequently, the real picture of the world that is modeled is characterized by extreme complexity. The hidden defect lives in the modern. In Germany, the hidden defect is a manifest reality as an anachronism. Worse than Germany, only Russia.

Despite the two great revolutions – Marx does not speak of the American revolution, perhaps because slavery was maintained there –, the states and societies revolutionized from 1789 and the first industrial revolution did not free themselves from the burden of the past. On the contrary, they incorporated into the modern State much of what was characteristic of absolutism. This excerpt from Introduction to Hegel's Critique of Law reminds me of Tocqueville The Old Regime and the Revolution, the study of the silent reuse, by the revolutionary French – and, in a way, by the pragmatic British – of much of what had been built by the monarchical-absolutist order. In the modern state of the mid-nineteenth century, says Marx, much of the old regime remains. So will Tocqueville say, 13 years later.

The historical repetition of what was great degenerates into comedy, the original movement having assumed, in its grandeur, the dimension of tragedy. This formulation by Marx of 1843 will be resumed, nine years later, in The 18th of Brumaire, tragedy remaining, comedy being replaced by farce.

Marx then advances a theory of the decline of the existing world order that has something Hegelian about it. The dynamics of decadence sets in from the moment that the principle that governs order is challenged by another that also wants to be the world. Inevitably, when we read the writing in 1843, we think about the decline of the United States and the rise of the People's Republic of China, the two movements that frame the dispute for the hegemonic place in the current world order, a process that goes through its long moment of indetermination, state of affairs that will persist until one of the contenders gives up. It is also opportune to think about the process that led to the dissolution of the USSR.

In the next paragraph, Marx dissects German anachronism again.


Comment on paragraph 18

At the beginning, a variant of the tale in which the king is naked. Let's see: (a) the German regime is an anachronism, a flagrant contradiction between two principles, the absolutist and the constitutional, which coexist in it in a bastard, comical way; (b) as a result, the modern ancien régime it reveals itself as its own nullity exposed to the modern world; (c) the regime's belief in itself is belief rather than science. It is a belief in the unreal that precariously sustains the world upside down, but which – one of the aspects of comedy – demands from the modern world, within which the regime is a consummate anachronism, the recognition of the obviously non-existent, its modern side; (d) the very essence of the absurd embodied by the falsely modern state, monarchical-absolutist in essence, but 'constitutional' as an external polish, is precisely its side ancien régime; (and) therefore, its existence boils down to a constant operation of hiding the absolutist side under the guise of 'constitutional modernity'. The consequence of the card game between these two opposing essences makes hypocrisy and sophistry traits and practices inherent to the State. The king is naked. Or, in another formulation: “The modern ancien régime is just the comedian of a world order whose real heroes are dead.”

Moving on to the concluding part of the paragraph, which can be read as a variant of the astuteness of Hegelian Reason, Marx, by directing our attention to the solidity of History that defies revolutionaries, but which even so every so often leads an ancient form to the tomb, emphasizes : what was heroic, dramatic or tragic ends up being reduced to the comic. In this excerpt, he explores the exhaustion of the historical process that marked Europe in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, manifested in successive stages. In the European case, the process will only be canceled if humanity “happily separates itself from its past”.

This way of exploring the meaning of history in fieri allows a disenchanted approach to the decadence of the French Revolution. In a way, this same view of the exhaustion of historical processes in their various phases is found again in the analysis of the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. In this admirable text, Marx exposes all the stages that, from the days of February 1848, will extend to the anticlimax, December 1851, when Napoleon the Little strikes his blow and destroys the second Republic. Before this outcome, the reader follows the tortuous path trodden by France, marked by the exhaustion of all parliamentary political alternatives available to the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and the middle class largely represented by the republicans. The role of the proletariat disappeared after the June massacres, right at the beginning of the revolution.

The irony reappears at the end: the overthrow of German anachronism will be experienced with the joy of those who deny their past. 'It is this joyful historical destiny that we claim for the political powers of Germany'.

When we reach paragraph 19, it is explicit, from its first sentence, the thesis to be defended until the end of the article. When modern socio-political reality passes through the sieve of criticism, the philosophy of praxis rises to truly human problems. It is therefore outside the status quo German, or arrives at its object by considering another object. By expressing himself in this way, Marx illustrates the German backwardness from another angle, this time through his rejection, at times mocking, of the perspective defended by the protectionist political economy then represented by the nationalism of Georg Friedrich List.


Comment on paragraph 19

Seen with today's distance, the thesis itself seems to indicate that Marx was just beginning his studies of political economy, his economic vision of 1843 being far removed from that of maturity, as expressed in The capital. The reader's immediate sensation is that Marx, then studying Adam Smith and other classical political economists, when criticizing List condemns him for his pastism. But, which is nonetheless symptomatic, it misses the opportunity to also criticize liberal political economy as the other face of protectionism, each of them immersed in their respective reality, the British as the incarnation of the modern, the German as an emanation of anachronism.

Perhaps most valuable in the paragraph is Marx's emphasis: the relationship of industry, of the world of wealth in general, to the political world constitutes 'one of the fundamental problems of the modern age'. Within this fundamental problem, the British liberal position would be characteristically contemporary, while List's would reveal another facet of the anachronism that proclaims as new what the modern world has already abandoned.

In this framework, the criticism of German industrialism can, today, and especially in underdeveloped countries, be read as a mistake. But if we take into account above all the desire for revolution that animates Marx and his companions, the radical left democrats, the criticism of List and the protectionist political economy appears almost as if it were a logical derivation.

What Marx rejects is the desire that animates List, so opposed to that of revolutionaries. To escape England, do you have to imitate old-fashioned England? For Marx, in trying to escape what is a trap for backward countries, Smith-style economic liberalism, German protectionists strive to repeat something old fashioned. For this reason, Marx sees List as a defender of an outdated thought that he also inserts in the German anachronism. In other words, as anachronistic, List, in terms of economic policy, as the state ancien régime disguised as a constitutional monarchy.


Comment on paragraph 20

After criticizing List, Marx returns to the German political sphere. It is then when he alerts to a series of elements that further illuminate the insurmountable gap between Germany and the modern European world, exactly what the protectionist political economy intended to obviate in its own sphere. For Marx, German political development does not exist, a fact that would have been exhaustively proven in the course of his analysis of society, the State, the government and the prevailing modern-absolutist regime.

Important point: a free individual does not make a political summer. If he takes part, as an individual, in the 'problems of the present', that participation is socially and politically sterile. What effectively counts: the social and the political. In this context, what is decisive is the people, the mass, the civil society to be mobilized. That is true, yes, but only in terms. It is valid as a power, but it will only really become valid after the totality embodied by the people converges with the praxis of revolutionary intellectuals. Only then and finally will the mass of civil society rise, together with those of the philosophy of praxis, in the insurrection in which the proletariat will play a crucial role.

The paragraph also hints at the fascination of educated Germans with Greece, a phenomenon that dates back at least to the XNUMXth century. The mention of Anacarsis, one of the seven wise men, at the same time reveals the German imaginary 'vis-à-vis' Greece and signals a certain rancidity of European universalism that had been structured via colonialism. “Fortunately, we Germans are not Scythians'...


Comment on paragraph 21

The paragraph emits multiple signals regarding themes that will be further considered both in the 'Introduction' and in other texts by a Marx in an accelerated process of creating his revolutionary perspective.

Among these themes, let us note: (a) the appearance of the idea of ​​prehistory as that period that was experienced by the ancients within the mythological imagination. The idea is transferred by Marx to the German situation, marked by a very special prehistory, that of purely philosophical thinking; (b) by seeing speculative philosophical thinking as prehistoric, Marx returns to denounce the German singularity, the avant-garde being only in terms of philosophy. Otherwise, anachronism, generalized misery, material and spiritual. In short, Germany as a synonym for backwardness; (c) precisely because German philosophy is certainly contemporary with the modern world, if you want to abolish German misery, you have to critically reject the modern world in its entirety, including the philosophical dimension in which the Germans excel. The critique of this monumental philosophy is justified because Hegelian speculation is situated 'in the center of the problems before which the present says:'That is the question'.

The final sentence of the paragraph, an example of Marx's revolutionary-democratic radicalism of 1843. For the advanced nations, the challenge of “a practical break with modern political conditions” has already been launched. In other words, modern nations are challenged to materialize another revolutionary movement, qualitatively different from the one of 1789.

In Germany, which has not even reached the modern political stage, the rupture with the advanced political conditions will also, obligatorily, be “a critical rupture with the philosophical reflection of these conditions”. In order for this to happen, Germany is already, given the incessant activity of the new radical democratic philosophers, preparing for the outbreak of the revolutionary moment that lies ahead. A sign, this preparation, that the overcoming of German misery will be done simultaneously with the cancellation, in the advanced countries, of their own situation, at the same time modern and unsustainable. Humanity is preparing to experience the joy of sending various forms of history to the cemetery.


Comment on paragraph 22

The essence of 22 seems to be the thesis exposed in the opening sentence. Let's see: (a) in historical terms, only the German philosophy of law and the State is contemporary with the modern world. But this punctual contemporaneity refers only to the plane that Marx calls 'official'. There is, therefore, another, unofficial, distinct from the first and opposite to it. This second pole is characteristically corrosive, it is the critique of existing conditions, it is hand-to-hand combat that publicly denounces the prevailing anachronism. Criticism, therefore, which is action, denunciation, exposition of parties honteuses and much more. As such, it moves in another universe than that of limited 'partial movements'. As it is, in essence this critique is the German nation as a total liberating movement. Combat, yours, which manifests itself at all levels, from the practical to the philosophical. Criticism that ultimately embodies the desire nourished by those in praxis: to leave behind, aufgehoben, modern German philosophy, expression of the 'official plan'.

(b) as a result, only a critique that is also a theoretical revolution can, along with overcoming German misery, also cancel out its modern, philosophical side. This one, born in the territory of misery, but being, without a shadow of a doubt, supremely contemporary, is what must be left behind. It is essential, therefore, to go beyond everything that exists both in the modern and in the anachronistic. This, the task of the head of a passion destined to mobilize, through political action and the critique of official philosophy, the people, the mass, the proletariat.

On this level, Marx launches his warning: the future of the German nation depends on the Germans (the people, the masses, civil society, the proletariat... avoiding two paths (the practical party and the theoretical party) that do not lead anywhere. The essential thing is for the people to come to terms with their oneiric history. Therefore, it is necessary to revolutionary cancel both the real, miserable conditions, and the expression of this situation, its abstract continuation, the official philosophy.

In the concluding part of the paragraph it is reasonably clear that the text is part of a fierce debate within the German left. In this debate, Marx has his own position. Let's see: (a) in the German left there are two parties and a third position, that of Marx, which criticizes and overcomes both tendencies; (b) a practical party and a theoretical party are fighting each other; (c) the practical party wants to concentrate on activism wholly untethered to theory, and to justify its position it invokes 'the germ of real life', the soil from which it elaborates its vision of Germany, its revolution or, perhaps, of its reformation; (d) the practical party denies philosophy by 'turning its back on it', that is, it abandons philosophy, but this rejection is expressed in mere 'furious and banal phraseologies'; (e) the practical party, says Marx, is right to deny philosophy, but is blind to the fact that philosophy can only be denied, suppressed (aufgehoben), if historically held.

Having made the criticism of the practical party, in the following paragraph Marx rejects the theoretical party.


Comment on paragraph 23

Essentially, Marx asserts that: (a) the theoretical party limits the fight to a mere philosophical critique of the German world. Innocent, he ignores that philosophy is part and ideal complement of that same world; (b) theorists criticize practitioners, but behave uncritically with respect to themselves, that is, they depart from the real presuppositions of philosophy, but accept its results or else present, as results and requirements of philosophy, elements elaborated in other domains; and (c) the fundamental defect of the theoretical party is the belief that philosophy can be realized without suppressing it.

Having presented the objections to both parties, Marx proceeds to examine, in paragraph 23, the resilience of the Hegelian philosophy of law and the State.


Comment on paragraph 23

At the outset, a side note: for anyone who has read Marx's notebooks on Hegel's philosophy of law, it is clear that although both texts, that of Criticism of the Philosophy of Law and the 'Introduction to the Critique', condemn Hegelian abstraction and logicism, the two critiques are cast in different terms. In the notebooks, Marx writes for himself; in the 'Introduction', for the German and European left. It makes a huge difference. In the notebooks, Marx is much more caustic and iconoclastic. In the Introduction, more restrained.

Anyway, in paragraph 23, because Hegel is the most complete of the speculative philosophers, Marx proposes that the critique must be developed on two levels. One of them, the analysis of the modern State and the advanced European reality. At another level, the critique must be 'the decided negation of German political and legal consciousness in every way'. So, two movements: one of them, which links Hegel with modern Europe; the other, much more focused on the internal political-legal conscience of Germany.

Marx stresses that German speculative philosophy itself is an element of a greater whole, that formed by the modern European State. This State has as its philosophical-legal foundation the same basis that sustains the German speculative philosophy. The point essentially shared by Hegel and the jurists and political philosophers 'over the Rhine' is the systematic concealment of the actual man, the total, generic man, the concrete man in his concrete life. In place of this terrestrial reality, Hegel and modern Europeans prefer the abstraction of the legal sky. For this reason, both Hegelian thought and that of the modern State operate a strategy of dissimulating the real, of denying facts, of denying the generic man. At most, in a futile effort, both try to satisfy the total man, but always in an imaginary form. As such, Marx argues that “in politics, Germans think what other nations have done”.

In this German way of thinking, in which action belongs to other peoples, Marx reiterates: (a) the German philosophical-legal singularity embodied in Hegel's thought, in this field Germany at least matching modern Europe; and (b) as a result, Germany is the theoretical conscience of the modern world. The thesis is fascinating, but the demonstration is perhaps fragile.

Let's see a little gait. At the same time that speculative thought shone, abstract and presumed glare, it also always walked the same path, that of one-sidedness and the atrophy of reality. Brilliant, abstract, presumptuous glare, the Hegelian is one-sided thinking that denies concrete reality. But what would be the atrophied reality mentioned by Marx? The reality of German misery, itself a curve of which Hegelian thought is the outer point, in essence philosophy belonging to another curve, that drawn by modern European states? We stay in the mystery.

But we are also informed that the status quo defended by the German political system, that of the reign of Frederick William IV, expresses, as a “Germanic-Christian” state, the completion of the ancien régime. True, this point is only clear on appearance. It all depends on what we mean by 'finish'. Now, finishing can mean culmination, the last touches. For example, finishing a work of art. But finishing can also connote undoing, something that is in dilution, exhausting itself. We stand between the culmination of beauty and the annihilation of something. Or perhaps Marx meant that the status quo embodied in the German political system is, while it 'perfects' (its 'constitutional monarchical' side), the continued affirmation of the ancien régime as the real foundation of the thing. The system, then, would say Raul Seixas, a walking metamorphosis whose inexorable future is the finish that undoes what's left, what still exists as survival, reminiscence. Of course, in Marx's thinking, that the undoing, the completion of the system, will be carried out by the radical democratic revolution, or there will be no undoing. The revolution defended by those of the philosophy of praxis, the only way to effectively overcome the reigning misery.

But there is another status quo, that of German political science, the specifically Hegelian level. This one, unlike the previous one, expresses the 'unfinished state of the modern State'. The problem is that the reader is not entirely sure whether this incompleteness applies only to variants of the modern state or whether it also includes German misery. Perhaps it is reasonable to interpret that both situations, both finishes, that of the political system and that of the philosophical system, that of the absolute and 'constitutional' monarchy and that of the Hegelian philosophical formulation as its ideal complement, will both be finished with the outbreak of the revolution theorized by Marx as exposed at the end of the article. Excessive reader speculation?

In any case, the question of the revolution comes to the forefront from paragraph 24 onwards.


Comment on paragraph 24

The task of criticism in its new phase, in its new face, is duly explained: it, which goes far beyond the previous one, the critique of the essence of Christianity, is at once philosophical, as a critique of Hegelian speculation, and practical- politics, while thought immersed in various praxis that seek to revolutionize Germany. Theoretical and practical philosophy, guided by concrete tasks.

In this context, Marx asks himself: can Germany be revolutionized? This is the question that opens the next paragraph.


Comment on paragraph 25

The question is obviously rhetorical, revolution has to break out in the realm of modern absolutist comedy. Its realization will elevate Germany to the highest historical plane. The total reconfiguration of the state and society will be carried out based on radicalism aimed at the decisive affirmation of all those who have always been repressed. When the revolutionary event is completed, the concrete life of the generic man, his total freedom, expressed in thinking, acting, learning and much more, will be effective. Germany will jump directly from anachronism to a new historical stage that goes far beyond, qualitatively beyond, European modernity.

Then, when dealing with the weapon of criticism and the critique of the weapon, Marx outlines his first theory of revolution. He emphasizes: in opposition to the material power that is established in Germany, another material power has come to exist. Converging with this new revolutionaryly contesting material power, Marx exalts the critical-practical side embodied by the philosophy of praxis, an effort that leaves both the practical and the theoretical parties behind. The dimension of theory, by transforming itself into a material force, unites with the opposing material power stricto sensu. Both, together and overlapping, will revolutionize the country. Absolute certainty that this event is on the agenda, as long as the praxis party's radical proposal is a beacon and guide. Now, as being radical is grasping the thing by the root, it follows that, since the generic man is the root of everything, what is at stake is obtaining the dialectical fusion of two material forces, the originally philosophical one and the new one, that of the proletariat immersed in the people. This merger would bring both the end of the anachronistic German world and the opening of doors for similar emancipatory movements in modern Europe.

Then, Marx pays homage to Feuerbach while distancing himself from him. At that point, he presents his conception of the radical democratic revolution as the historical form, still in gestation, of overcoming the modern state in general and German backwardness in particular. At this point, it is convenient to read again the first paragraph of the Introduction (p. 145): “In Germany, the critique of religion is essentially over; and the criticism of religion is the presupposition of all criticism”. The demo now started is another. The critique that is genetically based on Feuerbach became revolutionary critique, theory and action of the radical democratic revolution.

The importance of theory as theoretical emancipation, Marx asserts at the end of the paragraph, has specific practical relevance in German history. This statement takes him on a historical flight on the subject of the German revolution from Luther to 1843. That is, a flight from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century, from Luther to the moment lived by Marx and seen by him as a pre-revolutionary period, which was confirmed five years later.

The reader's attention is called to certain features of German history, useful for assessing the pre-revolutionary situation: (a) there is no revolution, even the kind started by Luther, that dispenses with a theory. In Luther's case, a theology; (b) what in 1517 began in the head of an Augustinian monk, in 1843 is beginning in the head of the philosopher. The monk, we know who he is. But who is the philosopher? The young thinker? If that is so, and that is how it seems to be at the first moment of reading, not without reasons those of the doctor club and the entire Hegelian left were from time to time astonished at the Moor's audacity. More likely, however, that, when the text is well read, the philosopher is a collective, that of philosophers of praxis defenders of the radical revolution; (c) observations about Luther became classics, at least in the Marxist context. They are an attractive summary of the oppositions between Catholicism, on the one hand, and Lutheranism/Protestantism, on the other; (d) among Marx's comments on Protestantism as a 'revolution', it is worth highlighting his assessment that, despite Luther's proposal being a 'false solution', the monk had elaborated the 'correct way of posing the problem'. His efforts, which resulted in the great schism, threatened to destroy Roman Catholicism, thus contributing both to the emergence of the modern world and also, at the end of the Reformation, to the establishment of German misery; (e) the final part of the paragraph turns to the analysis of how Protestant theology, embodied in Luther, was not and could not have been revolutionary. Instead, revolutionary was the Peasants' War, 'the most radical event in German history' until 1843. But the peasant revolution failed 'because of theology'. That is, even with Münzer it was impossible for Protestant theology to direct the revolutionary process. It lacked the theoretical ground available, three centuries later, to Marx and those in praxis.

This essential difference between Reformation-era and nineteenth-century radicals reinforces the revolutionary expectations of the young Marx. “Today, with the failure of theology itself, our 'status quo', the least free fact of German history, will shatter against philosophy” (p. 152).

Having made this historical overview, Marx goes to the heart of the question he himself raised, that of the viability of the radical, democratic-humanist revolution.

Let us move on to paragraph 26, enunciation of the x of the problem: “However, a radical German revolution seems to be posed with a fundamental difficulty”.


Comment on paragraph 26

From it until the conclusion of the article, Marx seeks to demonstrate that the moment of truth is coming, and why this moment is of type x, not y.

In the first theoretical approximation of the radical revolution as the only way out for Germany, he highlights: (a) revolutions, in order to occur, require the conjunction of two elements: a liability, the material base; another, theoretical-active, critical thinking that 'seeks to realize itself'; (b) for that, the theory has to become effective in a people. That is, to be the realization of popular needs; (c) the radical-democratic revolution will leave behind the monstrous discrepancy between the demands of thought and the banal responses that the mediocre German reality gives them; and (d) at the heart of this problem lies the “discrepancy of civil society with the state and with itself”. Despite the announced arrival of a revolutionary epoch of a new type, Marx continues to wonder about the conditions for coupling theoretical needs with practical demands. In his words: 'It is not enough for thought to try to realize itself; reality must compel itself towards thought'. This convergence in time, this meeting of two needs that intertwine in the pre-revolutionary conjuncture, is what authorizes the expectation of the outbreak of the radical event in a short period of time.

Having established the main terms of his first theory of revolution, Marx proceeds to analyze the difficulties to be faced by radical democrats.

*Tadeu Valadares is a retired ambassador.


Karl Marx. Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2005, 184 pages.


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