Letters of Marx and Engels, 1846
Source: MECW Volume 38 p.
Written: 18 October 1846;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.
At last, after much reluctance, I have brought myself to read Feuerbach’s twaddle [Das Wesen der Religion] and have discovered that we can’t go into it in our critique [Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlooks]. Why, you will see when I have given you the gist of it.
‘Das Wesen der Religion’, Epigonen, Vol. 1, pp. 117-78.
‘Man’s sense of dependence is the basis of religion’, p. 117.
As man is dependent first of all on Nature, so ‘Nature is the first, original object of religion’, p. 118.
('Nature is simply a general term to denote beings, things, etc., which man distinguishes from himself and his products')
The first religious manifestations are festivals at which natural processes, changes of season, etc., are symbolised. The particular natural conditions and products in the midst of which a tribe or a people lives, become part of its religion.
In his development man was assisted by other beings which, however, were not beings of a higher order, angels, but beings of a lower order, animals. Hence animal worship (there follows an apology in which pagans are defended against the attacks of Jews and Christians, trivial).
Nature, even in the case of Christians, always remains concealed behind religion. The attributes upon which the difference between God and Man is founded, are attributes of Nature (primal, basic). Thus omnipotence, eternity, universality, etc. God’s true content is no more than Nature; i.e. in so far as God is seen only as the creator of Nature and not as a political and moral law-giver.
Polemic against the creation of Nature by an intelligent being, against creation out of nothing and so on — for the most part vulgar materialism ‘humanised’, i. e. translated into cosy German, fit to touch the citizen’s heart. — Nature in natural religion is not the object as nature, but as
‘personal, live, sentient being ... as emotional being, i.e. subjective human being’ (p. 138).
Hence men worship it and seek to influence it with human incentives. This is primarily because Nature is fickle.
‘The sense of dependence on Nature, combined with the idea of Nature as an arbitrarily active, personal being, is the basis of sacrifice, the most important act in natural religion’ (p. 140).
But since the aim of sacrifice is a selfish one, it is man who is the final goal of religion, the divinity of man its final aim.
Next come trivial glosses and solemn disquisitions to the effect that primitive people who still adhere to natural religion, deify things they regard as unpleasant, such as plague, fever, etc.
‘As man, from a purely physical being, becomes a political being, distinguishing in general between himself and Nature, concentrating upon himself’ (!!!), ‘so his God also becomes a political being distinct from Nature.’ ‘Hence man’ arrives at ‘the distinction between his being and Nature, and consequently at a God distinct from Nature, initially only by uniting with other men into a community in which powers distinct from Nature [Feuerbach has ‘powers of nature’ — Naturmächten] and existing only in the mind or the imagination’ (!!!), ‘the power of the law, of opinion, of honour, of virtue, becomes the object of his sense of dependence....'
(This hideous sentence appears on p. 149.) The power of Nature, the power over life and death, is degraded to an attribute and tool of political and moral power. Intermezzo on p. 151 on oriental conservatives and accidental progressives.
‘In the Orient, man does not let man blind him to Nature.... To him the King himself is not objectified as an earthly, but as a celestial, divine being. But beside a god, man only disappears where the earth is emptied of gods.... Only there do men have space and room for themselves.'
(A nice explanation for the stability of Orientals. It’s all those idols and the space they take up.)
‘The Oriental is to the Occidental what the countryman is to the townsman, the former is dependent on Nature, the latter on men,’ etc., etc., ‘hence only townsmen make history'
(here, and here alone, we catch a distant, if somewhat evil-smelling, breath of materialism).
‘Only he who is able to sacrifice the power of Nature to the power of opinion, his life to his name, his existence in the flesh to his existence in the mouths and minds of posterity, is capable of historical deeds.'
Voilà. Everything that is not Nature is imagination, opinion, balderdash. Hence, too, ‘human “vanity” alone is the principle of history'!
P. 152: ‘As soon as man becomes conscious of the fact that ... the consequence of vice and folly is unhappiness, etc., that of virtue and wisdom, ... happiness, and hence that intelligence and will are the powers determining the fate of man ... he will also see Nature as a being dependent on intelligence and will.'
(Transition to monotheism — Feuerbach distinguishes the above illusory ‘consciousness’ from the power of intelligence and will.) With the domination of the world by intelligence and will, supernaturalism makes its appearance, creation from nothing, and monotheism, which is further specifically elucidated in terms of the ‘unity of the human consciousness’. Feuerbach deemed it superfluous to point out that without the One King, the One God could never have come into being, that the Oneness of the God controlling the multifarious natural phenomena and holding together the conflicting forces of Nature is only the image of the One, the Oriental Despot who apparently or in fact holds together conflicting individuals whose interests clash.
Lengthy drivel against teleology, aping the old materialists. At the same time Feuerbach commits the very howler in regard to the real world which he accuses the theologians of committing in regard to Nature. He makes bad jokes at the expense of the theologians’ assumption that without God Nature would dissolve into anarchy (i. e. without belief in God, it would be reduced to tatters), that God’s will, intelligence, opinion is what binds the world; and he himself believes that it is opinion, the fear of public opinion, of laws and other ideas, which now holds the world together.
In the course of an argument against teleology, Feuerbach appears as an out-and-out laudator temporis praesentis [Eulogist of the present; paraphrase of ‘laudator temporis acti’ — Horace, Ars Poetica]: The very high death-rate among children in the early years of life is attributable to the fact that
‘Nature in its opulence sacrifices without compunction thousands of individual members'; ... ‘it is the result of natural causes that ... e.g., one child in 3-4 dies in the first year of life, and one child in 25 in the fifth year, etc.'
With the exception of the few passages here specified, there is nothing worthy of note. Of the historical development of the various religions one learns nothing. At most they provide examples to support the above trivialities. The main bulk of the article consists in polemic against God and the Christians, altogether in his previous manner, except that now that he’s run dry, and despite all his repetitions of the old drivel, dependence on the materialists is much more blatantly apparent. If one were to make any comment on the trivialities concerning natural religion, polytheism, and monotheism, one would have to compare them with the true development of these forms of religion, which means they would first have to be studied. But so far as our work is concerned, this is as irrelevant to us as his explanation of Christianity. The article casts no fresh light on Feuerbach’s positive philosophical attitude, and the few theses worthy of criticism which I have cited above only confirm what we have already said. If the fellow still holds any interest for you, try and get hold of Vol. I of his Collected Works, either directly or indirectly, from Kiessling; he’s written a kind of preface to it which might yield something. I have seen passages from it in which Feuerbach speaks of ‘ailments of the head’ and ‘ailments of the stomach’, a feeble apology, as it were, for not concerning himself with matters of real import. Exactly what he wrote and told me eighteen months ago.
I have just received your letter which, because of my move, had remained at my old lodgings for a few days. I'll give the Swiss publishers a try. But I hardly imagine that I'll find a taker [refers to attempts to find a publisher for The German Ideology]. None of the fellows have the money to print 50 sheets. In my opinion we shall get nothing printed unless we split the things up and try to place the volumes separately, first the philosophical stuff, which is the most urgent, and then the remainder. 50 sheets at once is so dangerously big that many publishers won’t accept it simply because they cannot.
Then, of course, there was Kühtmann, or whatever his name is, in Bremen, who was turned against us by Moses [Hess] and Weitling; the fellow wanted to print bannable books but not pay much; we could quite well approach him with this manuscript. What do you say to splitting the stuff up and offering one volume here and the other there? Vogler knows Kühtmann’s address in Bremen. I've just about finished List.
I saw the things in the Volks-Tribun [Aus einem Privatbriefe von Wilhelm Weitling — from W. Weitling’s letter to H. Kriege of 16 May 1846, Die kommunistischen Literaten in Brüssel und die kommunistische Politik, An unsere Freunde and Adresse der deutschen Socialreformer zu Philadelphia an Hermann Kriege und die Socialreformer in New York, Der Volks-Tribun, 20, 27 June, 4 and 18 July 1846] about three weeks ago. Never before have I come across anything so ludicrously stupid. Brother Weitling reached the peak of infamy in that letter to Kriege. As for the details, incidentally, I can no longer remember enough to make any comment on them. I too am of the opinion that we should reply  to both Kriege’s and the Straubingers’  proclamation, rubbing their noses in the fact that they are denying having said what we reproached them for saying, while at the same time proclaiming in their reply the very stupidities they are denying; and that Kriege in particular, with his high moral pathos and indignation at our mockery, should get the dressing-down he deserves. Since these copies are at the moment going the rounds of the Straubingers here, I shall have to wait 4-5 days before I can get hold of them.
The Straubingers here are baying ferociously at my heels. Notably 3-4 ‘educated’ workers who have been initiated into the secrets of true humanity by Ewerbeck and Grün. But by dint of a little patience and some terrorism I have emerged victorious with the great majority behind me. Grün having abjured communism, these ‘educated’ ones showed a strong inclination to follow suit. At that I went into action, so intimidating old Eisermann that he no longer turns up, and launched a debate on the pros and cons of communism and non-communism This evening a vote will be taken on whether the meeting is communist or, as the ‘educated’ ones say, ‘in favour of the good of mankind’. I am certain of a majority. I stated that, if they were not communists, I didn’t give a fig for them and would attend no more. This evening Grün’s disciples will be definitely overthrown, and then I shall have to start from scratch.
You can’t imagine what demands these educated Straubingers made on me. ‘Leniency’, ‘gentleness’, ‘warm brotherliness’. But I duly trounced them and every evening managed to silence the whole opposition of 5, 6, 7 fellows (for at the start I had the whole boutique against me). More anon about all this business, which shows up Mr Grün in a variety of lights.
Proudhon is expected here in a fortnight. Then the sparks will fly.
There’s been some talk of a periodical here. [Die Pariser Horen] That manikin with the cigar, Mäurer, maintains that he will be able to raise the money for it. But I shan’t believe the fellow until the money’s actually there. If anything comes of it, we have so arranged matters that the thing will be entirely in our hands. I have authorised Mäurer, the ostensible editor, to print his own drivel in it, this being unavoidable. All the rest will pass through my hands, and I have an absolute veto. What I write will, of course, be pseudonymous or anonymous. At all events, should the thing materialise, it will not fall into the hands either of Hess or of Grün, or of any other muddled school. It would have its uses as a new broom, but not a word to anyone until it has materialised; it should be decided within the week. Farewell and write soon.