The Holy Family, Chapter VII

2) The “Un-Critical Mass” and “Critical Criticism”

a) The “Obdurate Mass” and the “Unsatisfied Mass”

The hardness of heart, the obduracy and blind unbelief of “the Mass” has one rather determined representative. This representative speaks of the exclusively “Hegelian philosophical education of the Berlin Couleur” [39]

“The only true progress that we can make,” he says, “lies in the acknowledgment of reality. But we learn from you that our knowledge was not knowledge of reality but of something unreal.”

He calls “natural science” the basis of philosophy.

“A good naturalist stands in the same relation to the philosopher as. the philosopher to the theologian.”

Further he comments as follows on the “Berlin Couleur”.

“I do not think it would be exaggerating to try to explain the state of these people by saying that, although they have gone through a process of spiritual mouking, they have not yet altogether got rid of their old skin in order to be able to absorb the elements of renovation and rejuvenation.” “We must yet assimilate this” (natural-scientific and industrial) “knowledge”. “The knowledge of the world and of man, which we need most of all, cannot be acquired only by acuity of thought; all the senses must collaborate and all the aptitudes of man must be applied as indispensable instruments; otherwise contemplation and knowledge will always remain defective — and will lead to moral death.”

This correspondent, however, sweetens the pill that he hands out to Critical Criticism. He “makes Bauer’s words find their correct application”, he has “followed Bauer’s thoughts”, he agrees that “Bauer has spoken the truth” and in the end he seems to polemise, not against Criticism itself, but against a “Berlin Couleur” which is distinct from it.

Critical Criticism, feeling itself hit and, moreover, being as sensitive as an old maid in all matters of faith, is not taken in by these distinctions and this semi-homage.

“You are mistaken,” it answers, “if you have taken the party you described at the beginning of your letter for your opponent. Rather admit” (and now comes the crushing sentence of excommunication) “that you are an opponent of Criticism itself!

The miserable wretch! The man of the Mass! An opponent of Criticism itself! But as far as the content of that mass-type polemic is concerned, Critical Criticism declares its respect for its critical attitude to natural science and industry”.

All respect for natural science! All respect for James Watt and” (a really noble turn!) “no respect at all for the millions that he made for his relatives.”

All respect for the respect of Critical Criticism! In the same letter in which Critical Criticism reproaches the above-mentioned Berlin Couleur with too easily disposing of thorough and solid works without studying them and having finished with a work when they have merely remarked that it is epoch-making, etc. — in that same letter Criticism itself disposes of the whole of natural science and industry by merely declaring its respect for them. The clause which it appends to its’ declaration of respect for natural science reminds one of the first fulminations of the deceased knight Krug against natural philosophy.

“Nature is not the only reality because we eat and drink it in its individual products.”

Critical Criticism knows this much about the individual products of nature that “we eat and drink them”. All respect for the natural science of Critical Criticism!

Criticism is consistent in countering the embarrassingly importunate demand to study “nature” and “industry” with the following indisputably witty rhetorical exclamation:

“Or” (!) “do you think that the knowledge of historical reality is already complete? Or” (!) “do you know of any single period in history which is already actually known?”

Or does Critical Criticism believe that it has reached even the beginning of a knowledge of historical reality so long as it excludes from the historical movement the theoretical and practical relation of man to nature, i.e., natural science and industry? Or does it think that it actually knows any period without knowing, for example, the industry of that period, the immediate mode of Production of life itself? Of course, spiritualistic, theological Critical Criticism only knows (at least it imagines it knows) the main political, literary and theological acts of history. Just as it separates thinking from the senses, the soul from the body and itself from the world, it separates history from natural science and industry and sees the origin of history not in vulgar material production on the earth but in vaporous clouds in the heavens.

The representative of the “obdurate” and “hard-hearted” Mass with his trenchant reproofs and counsels is disposed of as a mass-type materialist. Another correspondent, not so malicious or mass-like, who places his hopes in Critical Criticism but finds them unsatisfied ‘ fares no better. The representative of the “unsatisfied” Mass writes:

“I must, however, admit that the first number of your paper was by no means satisfying. We expected something else.”

The Critical patriarch answers in person:

“I knew beforehand that it would not satisfy expectations, because I could rather easily imagine those expectations. One is so exhausted that one wishes to have everything at once. Everything? No! If possible everything and nothing at the same time. An everything that costs no trouble, an everything that one can absorb without going through any development, an everything that is contained in a single word.”

In his vexation at the undue demands of the “Mass”, which demands something, indeed everything, from Criticism, which by principle and disposition “gives nothing”, the Critical patriarch relates an anecdote in the way that old men do. Not long ago a Berlin acquaintance complained bitterly of the verbosity and profusion of detail of his works — Herr Bruno is known to make a bulky work out of the tiniest semblance of a thought. He was consoled with the promise of being sent the ink necessary for the printing of the book in a small pellet so that he could easily absorb it. The patriarch explains the length of his “works” by the bad spreading of the ink, as he explains the nothingness of his Literatur-Zeitung by the emptiness of the “profane Mass”, which, in order to be full, wants to swallow everything and nothing at the same time.

Just as it is difficult to deny the importance of what has so far been related, it is equally difficult to see a world-historic contradiction in the fact that a mass-type acquaintance of Critical Criticism considers Criticism empty, while Criticism, for its part, declares him to be un-Critical; that a second acquaintance does not find that the Literatur-Zeitung satisfies his expectations, and that a third acquaintance and friend of the family finds Criticism’s works too bulky. However, acquaintance No. 2, who entertains expectations, and friend of the family No. 3, who wishes at least to find out the secrets of Critical Criticism, constitute the transition to a more substantial and tenser relationship between Criticism and the ‘.un-Critical Mass”. Cruel as Criticism is to the “hard-hearted” Mass which has only “common human reason”, we shall find it condescending to the Mass that is pining for redemption from contradiction. The Mass which approaches Criticism with a contrite heart, a spirit of repentance and a humble mind will be rewarded for its honest striving with many a wise, prophetic and outspoken word.

b) The “Soft-Hearted” Mass “Pining for Redemption”

The representative of the sentimental, soft-hearted Mass pining for redemption cringes and implores Critical Criticism for a kind word with effusions of the heart, deep bows and rolling of the eyes, as follows:

“Why am I writing this to you? Why am I justifying myself before you? Because I respect you and therefore desire your respect; because I owe you deepest thanks for my development and therefore love you. My heart impels me to justify myself before you ... who have upbraided me.... Far be it from me to obtrude upon you; judging by myself, I thought you might be pleased to have proof of sympathy from a man who is still little known to you. I make no claim whatsoever that you should answer my letter: I wish neither to take up your time, of which you can make better use, nor to he irksome to you, nor to expose myself to the mortification of seeing something that I hoped for remain unfulfilled. You may interpret my letter as sentimentality, importunity or vanity” (!) “or whatever you like; you may answer me or not, I cannot resist the impulse to send it and I only hope that you will realise the friendly feeling which inspired it” (!!).

Just as from the beginning God has had mercy on the poor in spirit, this mass-like but humble correspondent, too, who whimpers for mercy from Critical Criticism, has his wish fulfilled. Critical Criticism gives him a kind answer. More than that! It gives him most Profound explanations on the objects of his curiousity.

“Two years ago,” Critical Criticism teaches, “it was opportune to remember the Enlightenment of the French in the eighteenth century in order to be able to make use of those light troops, too, at a place in the battle that was then being waged. The situation is now quite different. Truths now change very quickly. What was then opportune is now an oversight.”

Of course it was only “an oversight” then too, but an “opportune” one, when the Absolute Critical All-high itself (cf. Anekdota, Book II, p. 89)[40] called those light troopsour saints”, our “prophets”, “patriarchs” etc. Who would call light troops a troop of “patriarchs"? It was an “opportune” oversight when it spoke with enthusiasm of the self-denial, moral energy and inspiration with which these light troops “thought, worked — and studied — throughout their lives for the truth”. It was an “oversight” when, in the preface to Das entdeckte Christenthum, it was stated that these “light” troops seemed invincible and any one well-informed would have wagered that they would put the world out of joint” and that “it seemed beyond doubt that they would succeed in giving the world a new shape”. Those light troops?

Critical Criticism continues to teach the inquisitive representative of the “cordial Mass":

“Although it was a new historical merit of the French to attempt to set up a social theory, they are none the less now exhausted; their new theory was not yet pure, their social fantasies and their peaceful democracy are by no means free from the assumptions of the old state of things.”

Criticism is talking here about Fourierism — if it is talking about anything — and in particular of the Fourierism of La Démocratie pacifique[41]. But this is far from being the “social theory” of the French. The French have social theories, but not a social theory; the diluted Fourierism that La Démocratie pacifique preaches is nothing but the social doctrine of a section of the philanthropic bourgeoisie. The people is communistic, and, as a matter of fact, split into a multitude of different groups; the true movement and the elaboration of these different social shades is not only not exhausted, it is really only beginning. But it will not end in pure, i.e., abstract, theory as Critical Criticism would like it to; it will end in a quite practical practice that will not bother at all about the categorical categories of Criticism.

“No nation,” Criticism chatters on, “has so far any advantage over another. If one can succeed in winning some spiritual superiority over the others, it will be the one which is in a position to criticise itself and the others and to discover the causes of the universal decay.”

Every nation has so far some advantage over another. But if the Critical prophecy is right, no nation will have any advantage over another, because all the civilised peoples of Europe — the English, the Germans, the French — now “criticise themselves and others” and “are in a position to discover the causes of the universal decay”. Finally, it is high-sounding tautology to say that “criticising”, “discovering”, i.e., spiritual activities, give a spiritual superiority, and Criticism, which in its infinite self-consciousness places itself above the nations and expects them to kneel at its feet and implore it for enlightenment, only shows by this caricatured Christian-Germanic idealism that it is still up to its neck in the mire of German nationalism.

The criticism of the French and the English is not an abstract, preternatural personality outside mankind; it is the real human activity of individuals who are active members of society and who suffer, feel, think and act as human beings. That is why their criticism is at the same time practical, their communism a socialism in which they give practical, concrete measures, and in which they not only think but even more act, it is the living, real criticism of existing society, the recognition of the causes of “the decay”.

After Critical Criticism’s explanations for the inquisitive member of the Mass, it is entitled to say of its Literatur-Zeitung:

“Here Criticism that is pure, graphic, relevant and adds nothing is practised.”

Here “nothing self-existing is given”; here nothing at all is given except criticism that gives nothing, that is, criticism which culminates in extreme non-criticism. Criticism has underlined passages printed and reaches its full bloom in excerpts. Wolfgang Menzel and Bruno Bauer stretch a brotherly hand to each other and Critical Criticism stands where the philosophy of identity stood at the beginning of this century, when Schelling protested against the mass-like supposition that he wanted to give something, anything except pure, entirely philosophical philosophy.

c) Grace Bestowed on the Mass

The soft-hearted correspondent whose instruction we have just witnessed stood in a comfortable relationship to Criticism. In his case there was only an idyllic hint of the tension between the Mass and Criticism. Both sides of the world-historic contradiction behaved kindly and politely, and therefore exoterically, to each other.

Critical Criticism, in its unhealthy, soul-shattering effect on the Mass, is seen first in regard to a correspondent who has one foot already in Criticism and the other still in the profane world. He represents the “Mass” in its inner struggle with Criticism.

At times it seems to him “that Herr Bruno and his friends do not understand mankind”, that “they are the ones who are really blinded”. Then he immediately corrects himself:

“Yes, it is as clear as daylight to me that you are right and that your thoughts are correct; but excuse me, the people is not wrong either.... Oh yes! The people is right.... I cannot deny that you are right.... I really do not know what it will all lead to: you will say ... well, stay at home.... Alas! I can no longer stand it.... Alas! One might otherwise go mad in the end.... Kindly accept... Believe me, the knowledge one has acquired sometimes makes one feel as stupid as if a mill-wheel were turning in one’s head.”

Another correspondent, too, writes that he “is occasionally disconcerted”. One can see that Critical grace is about to be bestowed on this mass-type correspondent. The poor wretch! The sinful Mass is tugging at him on one side and Critical Criticism on the other. It is not the knowledge he has acquired that reduces this pupil of Critical Criticism to a state of stupor; it is the question of faith and conscience; Critical Christ or the people, God or the world, Bruno Bauer and his friends or the profane Mass! But just as bestowal of divine grace is preceded by extreme wretchedness of the sinner, Critical grace is preceded by a crushing stupefaction. And when it is at last bestowed, the chosen one loses not stupidity but the consciousness of stupidity.