Marx’s Feuerbachian Metaphysics: The Self-estrangement of Man
Although ideas of estrangement and alienation had figured so largely in the Phenomenology (published in 1807) they attracted no special attention until the early 1840s, when Hegel himself had been dead for a decade. The reason for their neglect is well known. The ideas belonged to the critical part of Hegel’s philosophy and echoed the progressive idealism of his youth. As the constellations of power and opinion that shaped the Restoration period grew up during the European struggle against Napoleon, the audience for such ideas vanished. Hegel himself covered his tracks. His later works blurred the sharp distinction made in the Phenomenology between religion as a merely human and historical phenomenon, and religion seen from the standpoint of theological metaphysics. The distinction was not revived in Germany until after the French revolution of 1830, when radical intellectuals began to challenge the reactionary prolongation of the ancien régime in Prussia, their first target being the established religion. As the hegemony of Hegelianism over Prussian academic philosophy started to totter, Hegel’s heirs divided up his intellectual estate. To the Young Hegelians loosely grouped around Feuerbach’s atheistic humanism fell the task of refurbishing the weapons of philosophical criticism lying embalmed in the master’s works, and turning them against their maker. Amongst these ideas were those of man’s self-alienation and self-estrangement in history, which thus began to acquire new content and new currency amongst these dissident few.
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