The Holy Family Chapter VI 3)

f) The Speculative Cycle of Absolute Criticism and the Philosophy of Self-Consciousness

Criticism, having supposedly attained perfection and purity in one domain, therefore committed only one oversight “only” one “inconsistency”, that of not being “pure” and “perfect” in all domains. The “one” Critical domain is none other than that of theology. The pure area of this domain extends from the Kritik der Synoptiker by Bruno Bauer to Das entdeckte Christenthum by Bruno Bauer, as the farthest frontier post.

“Modern Criticism,” we are told, “had finally dealt with Spinozism; it was therefore inconsistent of it naively to presuppose Substance in one domain, even if only in individual, falsely expounded points.”

Criticism’s earlier admission that it had been involved in political prejudice was immediately followed by the extenuating circumstance that this involvement had been “basically so slight!” Now “the admission of inconsistency is tempered by the parenthesis that it committed only in individual, falsely expounded points. It was not Herr Bauer who was to blame, but the false points which ran away with Criticism like recalcitrant mounts.

A few quotations will show that by overcoming Spinozism Criticism ended up in Hegelian idealism, that from “Substance” it arrived at another metaphysical monster, the “Subject”, “Substance as a process”, “infinite self-consciousness”, and that the final result of “perfect” and “pure” Criticism is the restoration of the Christian theory of creation in a speculative, Hegelian form.

Let us first open the Kritik der Synoptiker.

“Strauss remains true to the view that Substance is the Absolute. Tradition in this form of universality, which has not yet attained the real and rational certitude of universality, that certitude which can be attained only in self-consciousness, in the o~ and infinity of self-consciousness, is nothing but Substance which has emerged from its logical simplicity and has assumed a definite form of existence as the power of the community.” (Kritik der Synoptiker, Vol. I, Preface, pp. vi [-vii]).

Let us leave to their fate “the universality which attains certitude”, the “oneness and infinity” (the Hegelian Notion). — Instead of saying that the view put forward in Strauss’ theory on the “power of the community” and “tradition” has its abstract expression, its logical and metaphysical hieroglyphic, in the Spinozist conception of Substance, Herr Bauer makes “Substance emerge from its logical simplicity and assume a definite form of existence in the power of the community”. He applies the Hegelian miracle apparatus by which the “metaphysical categories” — abstractions extracted out of reality — emerge from logic, where they are dissolved in the “simplicity” of thought, and assume “a definite form” of physical or human existence; he makes them become incarnate. Help, Hinrichs!

“Mysterious,” Criticism continues its argument against Strauss, “mysterious is this view because whenever it wishes to explain and make visible the process to which the gospel history owes its origin, it can only bring out the semblance of a press [... ] The sentence: ‘The gospel history has its source and origin in tradition’, posits the same thing twice — ‘tradition’ and the ‘gospel history'; admittedly it does posit a relation between them, but it does not tell us to what internal process of Substance the development and exposition owe their origin."'

According to Hegel, Substance must be conceived as an internal process. He characterises development from the viewpoint of Substance as follows:

“But if we look more closely at this expansion, we find that it has not come about by one and the same principle taking shape in diverse ways; it is only the shapeless repetition of one and the same thing ... keeping up a tedious semblance of diversity” (Phänomenologie, Preface, p. 12).

Help, Hinrichs!

“Criticism,” Herr Bauer continues, “according to this, must turn against itself and look for the solution of the mysterious substantiality ... in what the development of Substance itself leads to, in the universality and certitude of the idea and its real existence, in infinite self-consciousness.

Hegel’s criticism of the substantiality view continues:

“The compact solidity of Substance is to be opened up and Substance raised to self-consciousness” (loc. cit., p. 7).

Bauer’s self-consciousness, too, is Substance raised to self-consciousness or self-consciousness as Substance; self-consciousness is transformed from an attribute of man into a self-existing subject. This is the metaphysical-theological caricature of man in his severance from nature. The being of this self-consciousness is therefore not man, but the idea of which self-consciousness is the real existence. It is the idea become man, and therefore it is infinite. All human qualities are thus transformed in a mysterious way into qualities of imaginary “infinite self-consciousness”. Hence, Herr Bauer says expressly that everything has its origin and its explanation in this “infinite selfconsciousness”, i.e., finds in it the basis of its existence. Help, Hinrichs!

Herr Bauer continues:

“The power of the substantiality relation lies in its impulse, which leads us to the concept, the idea and self-consciousness.”

Hegel. says:

“Thus the concept is the truth of the substance.” “The transition of the substantiality relation takes place through its own immanent necessity and consists in this only, that the concept is the truth of the substance.” “The idea is the adequate concept.” “The concept ... having achieved free existence ... is nothing but the ego or pure self-consciousness” (Logik, Hegel’s Werke, 2nd ed., Vol. 5, pp. 6, 9, 229, 13).

Help, Hinrichs!

It seems comic in the extreme when Herr Bauer says in his Literatur-Zeitung:

Strauss came to grief because he was unable to complete the criticism of Hegel’s system, although he proved by his half-way criticism the necessity for its completion”, etc.

It was not a complete criticism of Hegel’s system that Herr Bauer himself thought he was giving in his Kritik der Synoptiker but at the most the completion of Hegel’s system, at least in its application to theology.

He describes his criticism (Kritik der Synoptiker, Preface, p. xxi) as “the last act of a definite system”, which is no other than Hegel’s system.

The dispute between Strauss and Bauer over Substance and Self-Consciousness is a dispute within Hegelian speculation. In Hegel there are three elements, Spinoza’s Substance, Fichte’s Self-Consciousness and Hegel’s necessarily antagonistic unity of the two, the Absolute Spirit. The first element is metaphysically disguised nature separated from man; the second is metaphysically disguised spirit separated from nature; the third is the metaphysically disguised unity of both, real man and the real human species.

Within the domain of theology, Strauss expounds Hegel from Spinoza’s point of view, and Bauer does so from Fichte’s point of view, both quite consistently. They both criticised Hegel insofar as with him each of the two elements was falsified by the other, whereas they carried each of these elements to its one-sided and hence consistent development. — Both of them therefore go beyond Hegel in their criticism, but both also remain within his speculation and each represents only one side of his system. Feuerbach, who completed and criticised Hegel from Hegel’s point of view by resolving the metaphysical Absolute Spirit into “real man on the basis of nature”, was the first to complete the criticism of religion by sketching in a grand and masterly manner the basic features of the criticism of Hegel’s speculation and hence of all metaphysics.

With Herr Bauer it is, admittedly, no longer the Holy Ghost, but nevertheless infinite self-consciousness that dictates the writings of the evangelist.

“We ought not any longer to conceal the fact that the correct conception of the gospel history also has its philosophical basis, namely, the philosophy of self-consciousness” (Bruno Bauer, Kritik der Synoptiker, Preface, p. xv).

This philosophy of Herr Bauer, the philosophy of self-consciousness, like the results he achieved by his criticism of theology, must be characterised by a few extracts from Das entdeckte Christenthum, his last work on the philosophy of religion.

Speaking of the French materialists, he says:

“When the truth of materialism, the philosophy of self-consciousness, is revealed and self-consciousness is recognised as the Universe, as the solution of the riddle of Spinoza’s substance and as the true causa sui [Cause of itself]..., what is the purpose of the Spirit? What is the purpose of self-consciousness? As if self-consciousness, by positing the world, did not posit distinction and did not produce itself in all it produces, since it does away again with the distinction of what it produced from itself, and since, consequently it is itself only in production and in movement — as if self-consciousness in this movement, which is itself, had not its purpose and did not possess itself!” (Das entdeckte Christenthum, p. 113.)

“The French materialists did, indeed, conceive the movement of selfconsciousness as the movement of the universal being, matter, but they could not yet see that the movement of the universe became real for itself and achieved unity with itself only as the movement of self-consciousness” (1. c., pp. [114-] 115).

Help, Hinrichs!

In plain language the first extract means: the truth of materialism is the opposite of materialism, absolute, i.e., exclusive, unmitigated idealism. Self-consciousness, the Spirit, is the Universe. Outside of it there is nothing. “Self-consciousness”, “the Spirit”, is the almighty creator of the world, of heaven and earth. The world is a manifestation of the life of self-consciousness which has to alienate itself and take on the form of a slave, but the difference between the world and self-consciousness is only an apparent difference. Self-consciousness distinguishes nothing real from itself. The world is, rather, only a metaphysical distinction, a phantom of its ethereal brain and an imaginary product of the latter. Hence selfconsciousness does away again with the appearance, which it conceded for a moment, that something exists outside of it, and it recognises in what it has “produced” no real object, i.e., no object which in reality, is distinct from it. By this movement, however, self-consciousness first produces itself as absolute, for the absolute idealist, in order to be an absolute idealist, must necessarily constantly go through the sophistical process of first transforming the world outside himself into an appearance, a mere fancy of his brain, and afterwards declaring this fantasy to be what it really is, i.e., a mere fantasy, so as finally to be able to proclaim his sole, exclusive existence, which is no longer disturbed even by the semblance of an external world.

In plain language the second extract means: The French materialists did, of course, conceive the movements of matter as movements involving spirit, but they were not yet able to see that they are not material but ideal movements, movements of selfconsciousness, consequently pure movements of thought. They were not yet able to see that the real movement of the universe became true and real only as the ideal movement of selfconsciousness free and freed from matter, that is, from reality; in other words, that a material movement distinct from ideal brain movement exists only in appearance. Help, Hinrichs!

This speculative theory of creation is almost word for word in Hegel; it can be found in his first work, his Phänomenologie.

“The alienation of self-consciousness itself establishes thinghood.... In this alienation self-consciousness establishes itself as object or sets up the object as itself. On the other hand, there is also this other moment in the process that it has just as much abolished this alienation and objectification and resumed them into itself.... This is the movement of consciousness” (Hegel, Phänomenologie, pp. 574-75).

“Self-consciousness has a content which it distinguishes from itself... This content in its distinction is itself the ego, for it is the movement of superseding itself.... More precisely stated, this content is nothing but the very movement just spoken of; for the content is the Spirit which traverses the whole range of its own being, and does this for itself as Spirit” (loc. cit., pp. [582-] 583).

Referring to this theory of creation of Hegel’s, Feuerbach observes:

“Matter is the self-alienation of the spirit. Thereby matter itself acquires spirit and reason — but at the same time it is assumed as a nothingness, an unreal being, inasmuch as being producing itself from this alienation, i.e., being divesting itself of matter, of sensuousness, is pronounced to be being in its perfection, in its true shape and form. Therefore the natural, the material, the sensuous, is what is to he negated here too, as nature poisoned by original sin is in theology” (Philosophie der Zukunft p. 35).

Herr Bauer therefore defends materialism against un-Critical theology, at the same time as he reproaches it with “not yet” being Critical theology, theology of reason, Hegelian speculation. Hinrichs! Hinrichs!

Herr Bauer, who in all domains carries through his opposition to Substance, his philosophy of self-consciousness or of the Spirit, must therefore in all domains have only the figments of his own brain to deal with. In his hands, Criticism is the instrument to sublimate into mere appearance and pure thought all that affirms a finite material existence outside infinite self-consciousness. What he combats in Substance is not the metaphysical illusion but its mundane kernel — nature; nature both as it exists outside man and as man’s nature. Not to presume Substance in any domain — he still uses this language — means therefore for him not to recognise any being distinct from thought, any natural energy distinct from the spontaneity of the spirit, any power of human nature distinct from reason, any passivity distinct from activity, any influence of others distinct from one’s own action any feeling or willing distinct from knowing, any heart distinct from the head, any object distinct from the subject, any practice distinct from theory, any man distinct from the Critic, any real community distinct from abstract generality, any Thou distinct from I. Herr Bauer is therefore consistent when he goes on to identify himself with infinite self-consciousness, with the Spirit, i.e., to replace these creations of his by their creator. He is just as consistent in rejecting as stubborn mass and matter the rest of the world which obstinately insists on being something distinct from what he, Herr Bauer, has produced. And so he hopes:

It will not belong
Before all bodies perish.[36]

His own ill-humour at so far being unable to master “the something of this clumsy world” he interprets equally consistently as the self-discontent of this world, and the indignation of his Criticism at the development of mankind as the mass-type indignation of mankind against his Criticism, against the Spirit, against Herr Bruno Bauer and Co.

Herr Bauer was a theologian from the very beginning, but no ordinary one; he was a Critical theologian or a theological Critic. While still the extreme representative of old Hegelian orthodoxy who put in a speculative form all religious and theological nonsense, he constantly proclaimed Criticism his private domain. At that time he called Strauss’ criticism human criticism and expressly asserted the right of divine criticism in opposition to it. He later stripped the great self-reliance or self-consciousness, which was the hidden kernel of this divinity, of its religious shell, made it self-existing as an independent being, and raised it, under the trade-mark “Infinite Self-consciousness”, to the rank of the principle of Criticism. Then he accomplished in his own movement the movement that the “philosophy of self-consciousness” describes as the absolute act of life. He abolished anew the “distinction” between “the product”, infinite self-consciousness, and the producer, himself, and acknowledged that infinite self-consciousness in its movement “was only he himself”, and that therefore the movement of the universe only becomes true and real in his ideal self-movement.

Divine criticism in its return into itself is restored in a rational, conscious, Critical way; being in-itself is transformed into being in-and-for-itself and only at the end does the fulfilled, realised, revealed beginning take place. Divine criticism, as distinct from human criticism, reveals itself as Criticism, pure Criticism, Critical Criticism. The apologia for the Old and the New Testament is replaced by the apologia for the old and new works of Herr Bauer. The theological antithesis of God and man, spirit and flesh, infinity and finiteness is transformed into the Critical-theological antithesis of the Spirit, Criticism, or Herr Bauer, and the matter of the mass, or the secular world. The theological antithesis of faith and reason has been resolved into the Critical-theological antithesis of common sense and pure Critical thought. The Zeitschrift für spekulative Theologie[37] has been transformed into the Critical Literatur-Zeitung. The religious redeemer of the world has finally become a reality in the Critical redeemer of the world, Herr Bauer.

Herr Bauer’s last stage is not an anomaly in his development; it is the return of his development into itself from its alienation. Naturally, the point at which divine Criticism alienated itself and came out of itself coincided with the point at which it became partly untrue to itself and created something human.

Returning to its starting-point, Absolute Criticism has ended the speculative cycle and thereby its own life’s career. Its further movement is pure, lofty circling within itself, above all interest of a mass nature and therefore devoid of any further interest for the Mass.