Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Marx's humanism & its challenge

To: Members of "Modern Political Thought" and "Social & Political Theory"
From: Jeff Weintraub
Re: Marx's humanism & its challenge

Hi Gang,

Something that might interest you ... and serve as possible food for thought..

As you will recall, you read the first few pages of Marx's early essay entitled, in Tucker's translation, "Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction" (written in 1843, when Marx was 25). Here, in a very concentrated discussion, Marx sums up his critique of religion and then argues that we need to move beyond the critique of religion. Although Marx sees religion as inescapably built on illusions and thus an obstacle to understanding and improving the human condition, he rejects the idea that it is simply a mistake. Rather, it is the world-consciousness of an oppressed, alienated, and unfulfilled humanity. For Marx, such a world consciousness actually has more depth, more insight, and even--in a certain sense--more grasp of reality than one which just complacently or unthinkingly accepts inhuman conditions. But the solution is to change the world so as to make it less inhuman--something that Marx believes is, in fact, possible.
Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition that requires illusions.
The British political theorist Norman Geras, in a recent posting on his website (Normblog), calls attention to a passage near the end of the essay in which Marx once again sums up this position, in an even more striking and powerful way. (This passage is on p. 60 of the Tucker version; the translation from which Geras is quoting is slightly different.) I will take the liberty of bolding the most explosive formulations here.
The criticism of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest being for man - hence, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable being...
Geras clearly thinks that the view Marx expresses here has some immediate relevance to current issues--and I would say he's right about that, whether or not you fully agree with the rest of Marx's argument. So it may be worth pondering further.

Yours for humanism,
Jeff Weintraub

============================
Norm Geras (Normblog)
February 27, 2006
From the library of Marxism

Karl Marx, in the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right:
The criticism of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest being for man - hence, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable being...
Enslaved by other human beings; abandoned in this world; debased by one or another belief system; despicable because of who he is and not because of what he has done.

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