The Holy Family Chapter VI

3) Absolute Criticism’s Third Campaign

a) Absolute Criticism’s Self-Apology.
Its “Political” Past

Absolute Criticism begins its third campaign against the “Mass” with the question:

What is now the object of criticism?” [25]

In the same number of the Literatur-Zeitung we find the information:

Criticism wishes nothing but to know things.”

According to this, all things are the object of Criticism. It would be senseless to inquire about some particular, definite object peculiar to Criticism. The contradiction is easily resolved when one remembers that all things “merge” into Critical things and all Critical things into the Mass, as the “Object” of “Absolute Criticism”.

First of all, Herr Bruno describes his infinite pity for the “Mass.” He makes “the gap that separates him from the crowd” an object of “persevering study.” He wants “to find out the significance of that gap for the future” (this is what above was called knowing “all” things) and at the same time “to abolish it”. In truth he therefore already knows the significance of that gap. It consists in being abolished by him.

As each man’s self is nearest to him, “Criticism” first sets about abolishing its own mass nature, like the Christian ascetics who begin the campaign of the spirit against the flesh with the mortification of their own flesh. The “flesh” of Absolute Criticism is its really massive literary past, amounting to 20-30 volumes. Herr Bauer must therefore free the literary biography of “Criticism” — which coincides exactly with his own literary biography — from its mass-like appearance; he must retrospectively improve and explain it and by this apologetic commentary “place its earlier works in safety”.

He begins by explaining by a double cause the error of the Mass, which until the end of the Deutsche Jahrbücher[26] and the Rheinische Zeitung [27] regarded Herr Bauer as one of its supporters. Firstly the mistake was made of regarding the literary movement as notpurely literary”. At the same time the opposite mistake was made, that of regarding the literary movement as “a merely” or purely” literary movement. There is no doubt that the “Mass” was mistaken in any case, if only because it made two mutually incompatible errors at the same time.

Absolute Criticism takes this opportunity of exclaiming to those who ridiculed the “German nation” as a “blue stocking":

“Name even a single historical epoch which was not authoritatively outlined beforehand by the ‘pen’ and had not to allow itself to be shattered by a stroke of the pen.”

In his Critical naivety Herr Bruno separates “the pen” from the subject who writes, and the subject who writes as “abstract writer” from the living historical man who wrote. This allows him to go into ecstasy over the wonder-working power of the “pen”. He might just as well have demanded to be told of a historical movement which was not outlined beforehand by “poultry” or the “goose girl”.

Later we shall be told by the same Herr Bruno that so far not one historical epoch, not a single one, has become known. How could the “pen”, which so far has been unable to outlineany single” historical epoch after the event, have been able to outline them all beforehand?

Nevertheless, Herr Bruno proves the correctness of his view by deeds, by himself “outlining beforehand” his own “past” with apologetic “strokes of the pen”.

Criticism, which was involved on all sides not only in the general limitation of the world and of the epoch, but in quite particular and personal limitations, and which nevertheless assures us that it has been “absolute, perfect and pure” Criticism in all its works for as long as man can think, has only accommodated itself to the prejudices and power of comprehension of the Mass, as God is wont to do in his revelations to man.

“It was bound to come,” Absolute Criticism informs us, “to a breach of Theory with its seeming ally.”

But because Criticism, here called Theory for a change, comes to nothing, but everything, on the contrary, comes from it; because it develops not inside but outside the world, and has predestined everything in its divine immutable consciousness, the breach with its former ally was a “new turn” only in appearance, only for others, not in itself and not for Criticism itself.

“But this rum ‘properly speaking’ was not even new. Theory had continually worked on criticism of itself’ (we know how much effort has been expended on it to force it to criticise itself); “it had never flattered the Mass” (but itself an the more); lit had always taken care not to get itself ensnared in the premises of its opponent.”

“The Christian theologian must tread cautiously.” (Bruno Bauer, Das entdeckte Christenthum, p. 99.) How did it happen that “cautious” Criticism nevertheless did get ensnared and did not already at that time express its “proper” meaning clearly and audibly? Why did it not speak out bluntly? Why did it let the illusion of its brotherhood with the Mass persist?

“'Why hast thou done this to me?’ said Pharaoh to Abraham as he restored to him Sarah his wife. ‘Why didst thou say she was thy sister?'” (Das entdeckte Christenthum by Bruno Bauer, p. 100.)

“'Away with reason and language!’ says the theologian, ‘for otherwise Abraham would be a liar. It would be a mortal insult to Revelation!'” (loc. cit.)

“'Away with reason and language!’ says the Critic. For had Herr Bauer really and not just apparently been ensnared with the Mass, Absolute Criticism would not be absolute in its revelations, it would be mortally insulted.

“It is only,” Absolute Criticism continues, “that its” (Absolute Criticism’s) efforts had not been noticed, and there was moreover a stage of Criticism when it was forced sincerely to consider its opponent’s premises and to take them seriously for an instant; a stage, in short, when it was not yet fully capable of taking away from the Mass the latter’s conviction that it had the same cause and the same interest as Criticism.”

Criticism’s efforts had just not been noticed; therefore the Mass was to blame. On the other hand, Criticism admits that its efforts could not be noticed because it itself was not yet “capableof making them noticeable. Criticism therefore appears to be to blame.

God help us! Criticism was “forced” — violence was used against it — “sincerely to consider its opponent’s premises and to take them seriously for an instant”. A fine sincerity, a truly theological sincerity, which does not really take a thing seriously but only “takes it seriously for an instant”; which has always, therefore every instant, been careful not to get itself ensnared in its opponent’s premises, and nevertheless, “for an instant” “sincerely” takes these very premises into consideration. Its “sincerity” is still greater in the closing part of the sentence. It was in the same instant when Criticism “sincerely took into consideration the premises of the Mass” that it “was not yet fully capable” of destroying the illusion about the unity of its cause and the cause of the Mass. It was not yet capable, but it already had the will and the thought of it. It could not yet outwardly break with the Mass but the break was already complete inside it, in its mind — complete in the same instant when it sincerely sympathised with the Mass!

In its involvement with the prejudices of the Mass, Criticism was not really involved in them; on the contrary, it was, properly speaking, free from its own limitation and was only “not yet completely capable” of informing the Mass of this. Hence all the limitation of “Criticism” was pure appearance; an appearance which without the limitation of the Mass would have been superfluous and would therefore not have existed at all. It is therefore again the Mass that is to blame.

Insofar as this appearance, however, was supported by “the inability”, “the impotence” of Criticism to express its thought, Criticism itself was imperfect. This it admits in its own way, which is as sincere as it is apologetic.

“In spite of having subjected liberalism itself to devastating criticism, it” (Criticism) “could still be regarded as a peculiar kind of liberalism, perhaps as its extreme form; in spite of its true and decisive arguments having gone beyond politics, it nevertheless was still bound to give an appearance of engaging in politics, and this incomplete appearance won it most of the friends mentioned above.”

Criticism won its friends through its incomplete appearance of engaging in politics. Had it completely appeared to engage in politics, it would inevitably have lost its political friends. In its apologetic anxiety to wash itself free of all sin, it accuses the false appearance of having been an incomplete false appearance, not a complete false one. By substituting one appearance for the other, “Criticism” can console itself with the thought that if it had the “complete appearance” of wishing to engage in politics, it does not have, on the other hand, even the “incomplete appearance” of anywhere or at any time having dissolved politics.

Not completely satisfied with the “incomplete appearance”, Absolute Criticism again asks itself:

“How did it happen that Criticism at that time became involved in ‘mass-linked, political’ interests, that it — even” (!) — “was obliged” (!) — “to engage in politics

Bauer the theologian takes it as a matter of course that Criticism had to indulge endlessly in speculative theology for he, “Criticism”, is indeed a theologian ex professo. But to engage in politics? That must be motivated by very special, political, personal circumstances!

Why, then, had “Criticism” to engage even in politics? “It was accused — that is the answer to the question.” At least the “mystery” of “Bauer’s politics” is thereby disclosed; at least the appearance, which in Bruno Bauer’s Die gute Sache der Freiheit und meine eigene Sache links its “own cause” to the mass-linked “cause of freedom” by means of an “and”, cannot be called non-political. But if Criticism pursued not its “own cause” in the interest of politics, but politics in the interest of its own cause, it must be admitted that not Criticism was taken in by politics, but politics by Criticism.

So Bruno Bauer was to be dismissed from his chair of theology: he was accused; “Criticism” had to engage in politics, that is to say, to conductits”, i.e., Bruno Bauer’s, suit. Herr Bauer did not conduct Criticism’s suit, “Criticism” conducted Herr Bauer’s suit. Why did “Criticism” have to conduct its suit?

“In order to justify itself!” It may well be; only “Criticism” is far from limiting itself to such a personal, vulgar reason. It may well be; but not solely for that reason, “but mainly in order to bring out the contradictions of its opponents”, and, Criticism could add, in order to have bound together in a single book old essays against various theologians — see among other things the wordy bickering with Planck, [35] that family affair between “Bauer-theology” and Strauss-theology.

Having got a load off its heart by admitting the real interest of its “politics”, Absolute Criticism remembers its “suit” and again chews the old Hegelian cud (see the struggle between Enlightenment and faith in the Phänomenologie, see the whole of the Phänomenologie) that “the old which resists the new is no longer really the old”, the cud which it has already chewed over at length in Die gute Sache der Freiheit. Critical Criticism is a ruminant animal. It keeps on warming up a few crumbs dropped by Hegel, like the above-quoted proposition about the “old” and the “new”, or again that about the “development of the extreme out of its opposite extreme”, and the like, without ever feeling the need to deal with “speculative dialectic” in any other way than by the exhaustion of Professor Hinrichs. Hegel, on the contrary, it continually transcends “Critically” by repeating him. For example:

“Criticism, by appearing and giving the investigation a new form, i.e., giving it she form which is no longer susceptible of being transformed into an external limitation,” etc.

When I transform something I make it something essentially different. Since every form is also an “external limitation”, no form is “ susceptible” of being transformed into an “external limitation” any more than an apple of being “transformed” into an apple. Admittedly, the form which “Criticism” gives to the investigation is not susceptible of being transformed into any “external limitation” for quite another reason. Beyond every “external limitation” it is blurred into an ash-grey, dark-blue vapour of nonsense.

“It” (the struggle between the old and the new) “would, however, be quit. impossible even then” (namely at the moment when Criticism “gives” the investigation “the new form”) “if the old were to deal with the question of compatibility or incompatibility ... theoretically.”

But why does not the old deal with this question theoretically? Because “this, however, is least of all possible for it in the beginning, since at the moment of surprise” (i.e., in the beginning) it “knows neither itself nor the new”, i.e., it deals theoretically neither with itself nor with the new. It would be quite impossible if “impossibility”, unfortunately, were not impossible!

When the “Critic” from the theological faculty further “admits that he erred intentionally, that he committed the mistake deliberately and after mature reflection” (all that Criticism has experienced, learnt, and done is transformed for it into a free, pure and intentional product of its reflection) this confession of the Critic has only an “incomplete appearance” of truth. Since the Kritik der Synoptiker [B. Bauer, Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker][28] has a completely theological foundation, since it is through and through theological criticism, Herr Bauer, university lecturer in theology, could write and teach it “without mistake or error”. The mistake and error were rather on the part of the theological faculties, which did not realise how strictly Herr Bauer had kept his promise, the promise he gave in Kritik der Synoptiker, Bd. 1, Foreword, p. xxiii.

“If the negation may appear still too sharp and far-reaching in this first volume too, we must remember that the truly positive can be born only if the negation has been serious and general.... In the end it will be seen that only the most devastating criticism of the world can teach us the creative power of Jesus and of his principle.”

Herr Bauer intentionally separates the Lord “Jesus” and his “principle” in order to free the positive meaning of his promise from all semblance of ambiguity. And Herr Bauer has really made the “creative” power of the Lord Jesus and of his principle so evident that his “infinite self-consciousness” and the “Spirit” are nothing but creations of Christianity.

If Critical Criticism’s dispute with the Bonn theological faculty explained so well its “politics” at that time, why did Critical Criticism continue to engage in politics after the dispute had been settled? Listen to this:

“At this point ‘Criticism’ should have either come to a halt or immediately proceeded further to examine the essence of politics and depict it as its adversary; — if only it had been possible for it to be able to come to a halt in the struggle at that time and if, on the other hand, there had not been a far too strict historical law that when a principle measures itself for the first time with its opposite it must let itself be repressed by it ...”

What a delightful apologetic phrase! “Criticism should have come to a halt” if only it had been possible ... “to be able to come to a halt"! Who “should” come to a halt? And who should have done what “it would not have been possible ... to be able to do"? On the other hand! Criticism should have proceeded “if only, on the other hand, there had not been a far too strict historical law,” etc. Historical laws are also “far too strict” with Absolute Criticism! If only they did not stand on the opposite side to Critical Criticism, how brilliantly the latter would proceed! But à la guerre comme à la guerre! In history, Critical Criticism must allow itself to be made a sorry “story” of!

“If Criticism” (still Herr Bauer) “had to ... it will at the same time be admitted that it always felt uncertain when it gave in to demands of this” (political) “kind, and that as a result of these demands it came into contradiction with its true elements, a contradiction that had already found its solution in those elements.”

Criticism was forced into political weaknesses by the all too strict laws of history, but — it entreats — it will at the same time be admitted that it was above those weaknesses, if not in reality, at least in itself. Firstly, it had overcome them, “in feeling”, for “it always felt uncertain in its demands”; it felt ill at ease in politics, it could not make out what was the matter with it. More- than that! It came into contradiction with its true elements. And finally the greatest thing of ally The contradiction with its true elements into which it came found its solution not in the course of Criticism’s development, but “had”, on the contrary, “already” found its solution in Criticism’s true elements existing independently of the contradiction! These Critical elements can claim with pride: before Abraham was, we were. Before the opposite to us was produced by development, it lay yet unborn in our chaotic womb, dissolved, dead, ruined. But since Criticism’s contradiction with its true elements “had already found its solution” in the true elements of Criticism, and since a solved contradiction is not a contradiction, it found itself, to be precise, in no contradiction with its true elements, in no contradiction with itself, and — the general aim of self-apology seems attained.

Absolute Criticism’s self-apology has a whole apologetical dictionary at its disposal:

“not even properly speaking”, “only not noticed”, “there was besides”, “not yet complete”, “although — nevertheless”, “not only — but mainly”, “just as much, properly speaking, only”, “Criticism should have if only it had been possible and if on the other hand”, “if ... it will at the same time be admitted”, “was it not 1. natural, was it not inevitable”, “neither ...” etc.

Not so very long ago Absolute Criticism said the following about apologetic phrases of this kind:

“'Although’ and ‘nevertheless’, ‘indeed’ and ‘but’, a heavenly ‘Nay’, and an earthly ‘Yea’, are the main pillars of modern theology, the stilts on which it strides along, the artifice to which its whole wisdom is reduced, the phrase which recurs in all its phrases, its alpha and omega” (Das entdeckte Christenthum, p. 102).