Date: Mon, 9 Mar 98 14:58
Subject: Religion and philosophy
Dear Andy (and whoever else is listening),
I think a good way to get the hang of Marx's attitude to philosophy, and also the meaning of his idea of critique, is to use religion as an analogue. As you remember, his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law: Introduction, begins by stressing the importance of the critique of religion. He is not engaged in an 'atheistic' denunciation of superstition, but an explanation of religion as 'the heart of a heartless world'.
'Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world. ... The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up the state of affairs which needs illusions. The critique of religion is therefore in embryo the critique of the vale of tears, the halo of which is religion.'
I don't want to conflate religion and philosophy and religion, but to point out that philosophy, too, is 'inverted'. (As with so many other things, Marx gets the germ of this notion from Hegel.) Marx does not say that the study of religion is a waste of time - he approves of Feuerbach's work precisely for that reason - and he is certainly not presenting a better kind of religion! What is important here is that the false reflection of an alienated, inhuman, world is itself alienated, but not only alienated. Just as only humans can be inhuman, philosophy, religion, the state, marriage, and all the other aspects of the 'superstructure' which communism has to transcend, contain a human side as well, and are not just to be thrown away, but 'sublated'. (Even poverty: see the 1844 Manuscripts. 'Not only wealth, but likewise the poverty of man - under the assumption of socialism - receives in equal measure a human and therefore social significance.')
By the way, I don't want to frighten people off when I refer to writers like Heidegger. Nor do I want to give the impression that I have studied them all! (Heidegger's own philosophy, in particular, is dreadful to read, I found - although the old bastard's stuff on the history of philosophy is amazing.)
I am rather setting out work that I hope other people will undertake. My delight at joining in your discussions is partly due to the possibility that we can achieve some kind of informal division o labour here. My advanced state of senility makes me anxious for such a thing to happen!