Atheism, Progress and Revolution

  • Francesco Tomasoni
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 187)


The criticism of Christianity, based on the mythological interpretation of Scripture and the recovery by the subject of the alienated contents, took its inspiration from Schelling and Hegel, but, in the works of Strauss, Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, it took on more radical tones and lead to atheism. By denying the existence of a transcendental God in the name of man, these writers ended up by attacking Judaism even harder, since Judaism was held responsible for having introduced monotheism. The more attention turned from God to man, the more the religious point of view became insufficient also when considering Judaism. Judaism came to be judged on the basis of the need for civil and social emancipation. One significant example of this was the polemical work by Bruno Bauer, called The Jewish Question. Its harsh criticism of the parasitic nature and spiritual immobility of the Jews provoked the reaction of Marx. While Marx was prepared to accept certain criticisms about their fondness for money, he contested the charge of immobility: they were the most open expression of the modern world and were rooted in the very heart of the historical transformations. Although mainly concerned with anti-religious criticism, Feuerbach also found time for negative considerations about the Jews’ inherent character. At first, he supported the bizarre historical reconstructions ofDaumer and Ghillany, who gave a scientific semblance to a series of incredible falsehoods spawned by the vastly expanding anti-Jewish sentiment. Later on, Feuerbach disassociated himself from this movement and his comments took on a more positive tone. One example of the reaction against this wave of anti-Judaism was the position of Gotthold Salomon, who recalled the great humanism of Mendelssohn, seeing it as synonymous with the values of progressive liberalism. On the other hand, Moses Hess, with his past in the radicalism of left-wing Hegelianism, rejected such humanism and sought to return to his own Jewish roots as an indelible patrimony, linked to birth and the aspiration for a homeland. The theme of Judaism as “the last nationalist question” revealed an urgent modernity. This urgency had rending side-effects, as Zionism was to show. A new era was beginning and growing racism was paving the way for tragic consequences.


Jewish People Jewish History Jewish Tradition Harsh Criticism Jewish Question 
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    In the third edition, he omitted reference to the less well-known and weaker Ghillany, Das Wesen des Christentums, 22.Google Scholar
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    Eisenmenger, op. cit., I, 589, 605–14, 619.Google Scholar
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    To the review, which we considered earlier and which was published as a separate booklet, Salomon had responded with the book Der Charakter des Judenthums, Leipzig, 1817 (see Bruno Bauer, 54).Google Scholar
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    He published sermons and explanations of the feast days, as Festtage für alle Feyertage des Herrn, Hamburg, 1829.Google Scholar
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    In Bruno Bauer, 75 proudly declared that he had been teaching in them for years. Moreover, he had published many aids and didactic books, such as Hebräisches Elementarbuch zum bessern und stufengemäßen Erlernen des Hebräischen und Rabbinischen, Dessau 1919; Deutsche Volks- und Schulbibel für Israeliten, Altona 1837. For the passage from the maskilim to the pedagogues and preachers and for the link between spiritual edification and German Bildung with the assumption of bourgeois values, Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, 83–84, 89–90, 95–96, 120, 124–125, 132–139, 160.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 30 where, referring to the passage from Latin to German in philosophical language, he even said: “Mendelssohn has taught the Germans to love their language and to write with it!”, 31, 70–1. Salomon, on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, had published: Denkmal der Erinnerung an Moses Mendelssohn zu dessen Säkulärfeier im September 1829. Hamburg, 1829.Google Scholar
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  177. 909.
    Ibid., 105.Google Scholar
  178. 910.
    It is curious that Salomon uses the expression “all-grinding” here (p. 1) for Bauer’s criticism, which Mendelssohn had coined for Kantian criticism, recalling it, too, in its original reference (p. 31).Google Scholar
  179. 911.
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  180. 912.
    Ibid., 47–8, 78–9, 85–6.Google Scholar
  181. 913.
    Ibid., 32, 47, 82–3, 96, 84, 130.Google Scholar
  182. 914.
    Mosse, German Jews beyond Judaism, 7–8 recalls that “Rabbi Gotthold Salomon praised King David as a man of Bildung”. See also Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, 91–93, 131, 144.Google Scholar
  183. 915.
    G. Battista Vaccaro, Socialismo e umanesimo nel pensiero di Moses Hess (1837–1847). Napoli: Bibliopolis, 1981, 25–27, where he observes, among other things, that “up to a certain age, Hess’ knowledge of German was fairly uncertain” (pp.25–6). For his father’s mistrust, see the letter to M. Levy, April 1831, in which he reveals his passion for the theatre, but confides that he can attend it only rarely on account of his father’s opposition and concludes: “it is one’s duty to respect even the prejudices of one’s parents, whenever they are not in contradiction with superior duties”,Google Scholar
  184. 915a.
    see in M. Hess, Ausgewählte Schriften, ed. Horst Lademacher. Köln: Melzer, 1962, 378–79.Google Scholar
  185. 916.
    Letter already quoted in M. Hess, op. cit., 377–78.Google Scholar
  186. 917.
    Die heilige Geschichte der Menschheit. Von einem Jünger Spinoza’s. Stuttgart: Hallbergersche Verlagshandlung, 1837, 80, 180, 184, 21.Google Scholar
  187. 918.
    He had only an indirect knowledge of him, see Vaccaro, op. cit., 38 and n.; Shlomo Na’aman, Emanzipation und Messianismus. Leben und Werke des Moses Hess. Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag, 1982, 62–3.Google Scholar
  188. 919.
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  189. 920.
    Vaccaro, op. cit., 41, 52.Google Scholar
  190. 921.
    Die heilige Geschichte, 80.Google Scholar
  191. 922.
    See Horst Lademacher, Apostel und Philosoph, in Hess, Ausgewählte Schriften, 10.Google Scholar
  192. 923.
    Die heilige Geschichte, 19, see also 80 where he defines mankind as “eine natürliche Erscheinung”.Google Scholar
  193. 924.
    Ibid., 20.Google Scholar
  194. 925.
    Na’aman, op. cit., 68.Google Scholar
  195. 926.
    See ibid., 58–9.Google Scholar
  196. 927.
    The same author, moreover, acknowledged that it was only an attempt to put chaos in order, see Die heilige Geschichte, 210.Google Scholar
  197. 928.
    Ibid., 80, 68.Google Scholar
  198. 929.
    See Na’aman, op. cit., 64–5, where it is pointed out how, for example, the parallelism he traced between the Davidian conquest of Zion with the consequent construction of the Temple and the Crusades must have been irritating for a Jew, especially of the Rhineland community, like Hess, (see Die heilige Geschichte, 120).Google Scholar
  199. 930.
    Die heilige Geschichte, 202.Google Scholar
  200. 931.
    Ibid., 338–41.Google Scholar
  201. 932.
    Na’aman, op. cit., 80–4. It is noteworthy that the synthesis of French and German culture already figured as a goal in Henriette Herz and Rahel Levin’s salons, see Hertz, op. cit., 131–132.Google Scholar
  202. 933.
    Die heilige Geschichte, 248–49.Google Scholar
  203. 934.
    Ibid., 252–53.Google Scholar
  204. 935.
    Ibid., 259, 261, 265.Google Scholar
  205. 936.
    Ibid., 296–97, 306.Google Scholar
  206. 937.
    Ibid., 274.Google Scholar
  207. 938.
    Ibid., 273, 276.Google Scholar
  208. 939.
    Ibid., 335, 280, 342–43, 308.Google Scholar
  209. 940.
    Ibid., 77–9.Google Scholar
  210. 941.
    Na’aman, op. cit., 89–91. For the burning disappointment that followed this enthusiasm, see what Hess wrote in Rom und Jerusalem, in Ausgewählte Schriften, 241–42, tr. Meyer Waxman, The Revival of Israel. Rome and Jerusalem, the Last Nationalist Question, 1918, repr. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995, 71–73.Google Scholar
  211. 942.
    On the negative aspect of this shift, see Na’aman, op. cit., 91, 98–99, 102–03.Google Scholar
  212. 943.
    The author declared that it had a strict continuity, see Ausgewählte Schriften, 381. Die europäische Triarchie, in M. Hess, Philosophische und sozialistische Schriften, ed. August Cornu and Wolfgang Mönke. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1961, 90–1, 101, 109, 122, 124, see Na’aman, op. cit., 85–8; Vaccaro, op. cit., 80–3.Google Scholar
  213. 945.
    Die europäische Triarchie, 129.Google Scholar
  214. 946.
    Ibid., 130. Furthermore, he emphasised that Idealism had fulfilled its mission (p. 115).Google Scholar
  215. 947.
    Ibid., 130, 131, 133, 134.Google Scholar
  216. 948.
    Ibid., 135–36. Na’aman is particularly critical of this way, op. cit., 100, 102–3.Google Scholar
  217. 949.
    Die europäische Triarchie, 143.Google Scholar
  218. 950.
    Ibid., 158, 138, 160.Google Scholar
  219. 951.
    Über Staat und Religion, “Rheinische Zeitung”, 196, of 15 July 1842 in Philosophische und sozialistische Schriften, 188.Google Scholar
  220. 952.
    Na’aman, op. cit., 117–118. On the difficult and belated emancipation, even though, around 1840 most of the German middle class was favourable, see Nipperdey, op. cit., 250–53. On the effects of this delay upon the formation of a peculiar “subculture” and an invisible community, see Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, 6–7, 103, 139, 173–177.Google Scholar
  221. 953.
    Die europäische Triarchie, 105.Google Scholar
  222. 954.
    Philosophie der That, in Philosophische und sozialistische Schriften, 215, 216.bGoogle Scholar
  223. 955.
    Die eine und ganze Freiheit (1843), in Philosophische und sozialistische Schriften, 229, 227–28.Google Scholar
  224. 956.
    Vaccaro, op. cit., 62–4, 221–22; Zwi Rosen, Moses Hess’ Einfluß auf die Entfremdungstheorie von Karl Marx, in Juden im Vormärz und in der Revolution von 1848, ed. W. Grab and J. H. Schoeps. Stuttgart-Bonn: Burg Verlag, 1983, 177–80.Google Scholar
  225. 957.
    Über das Geldwesen, in Philosophische und sozialistische Schriften, 346–47, 345.Google Scholar
  226. 958.
    In a passage where, for example, he compared the rapacity of men to that of hyenas, he spoke of their “common natural right, of their “common quality, just like predatory animals, bloodsuckers, Jews, mercenary wolves”, ibid., 346.Google Scholar
  227. 959.
    Ibid., 345, Na’aman, op. cit., 91–2 accuses Hess of having done very little at a moment when the Jews were once again under accusation from the public opinion over the Damascus case. In Rom und Jerusalem, 241, tr. 70–71 he described how he felt pain at that moment and that he had left a reflection in his “old manuscripts” on that “barrier” still existing, even in “enlightened Germany”, between the Jews and the “surrounding nations”. He added that the pain which, at that time, was “transient” later became “a dominating trait of my character and a lasting mood of my soul”.Google Scholar
  228. 960.
    Über das Geldwesen, 334.Google Scholar
  229. 961.
    Ibid., 334–44.Google Scholar
  230. 962.
    As we have seen, Schacher and Krämerei were disparaging expressions used for the economic activity of the Jews, see also Rosen, op. cit., 185–86.Google Scholar
  231. 963.
    Rosen has sustained that it was Hess who influenced Marx and not only in his interpretation of Judaism, but also in the application of alienation to the economic sphere, op. cit., 176–90.Google Scholar
  232. 964.
    In the letter of 2 September 1841 to Berthold Auerbach, he called him “my God”, he who “unites in one person Rousseau, Voltaire, Holbach, Lessing, Heine and Hegel”, see Briefwechsel, ed. Edmund Silberner and Werner Blumenberg. s’-Gravenhage: Mouton, 1959, 80.Google Scholar
  233. 965.
    See Na’aman on this question, op. cit., 300–04, 326–28, 331, where he claims that the book anticipated the motives of Zionism, but had no direct influence on the formation of this movement, which discovered him later.Google Scholar
  234. 966.
    The pages dedicated to memories of his grandfather are particularly significant, Rom und Jerusalem, in Ausgewählte Schriften, 237, 259, tr. 64, 109.Google Scholar
  235. 967.
    Ibid., 253, see also 243, 265, tr. 96, also 76, 122.Google Scholar
  236. 968.
    Ibid., 232, 248, 259 tr. 52–53, 85–86, 113.Google Scholar
  237. 969.
    Ibid., 230–31, 238, tr. 51–52, 66.Google Scholar
  238. 970.
    Ibid., 262, see also 254, tr. 113, also 98.Google Scholar
  239. 971.
    Ibid., 265–66, tr. 123.Google Scholar
  240. 972.
    Ibid., 247, 253, tr. 84, 95–96.Google Scholar
  241. 973.
    Ibid., 223, tr. 43–44.Google Scholar
  242. 974.
    Ibid., 258, tr. 105.Google Scholar
  243. 975.
    Ibid., 227, 230, tr. 46–47, 50.Google Scholar
  244. 976.
    Ibid., 255, tr. 102.Google Scholar
  245. 911.
    Ibid., 242, tr. 74.Google Scholar
  246. 978.
    On the meaning of this reaction and its links with Zionism, see Na’aman, op. cit., 300–01.Google Scholar
  247. 979.
    Rom und Jerusalem, in Ausgewählte Schriften, 234–35, 240–43, tr. 56–57, 71–75.Google Scholar
  248. 980.
    Ibid., 241, see also 224, tr. 71, also 37.Google Scholar
  249. 981.
    Ibid., 237, 252, 260, tr. 64, 94, 111.Google Scholar
  250. 982.
    Ibid., 253, 255–56, 264, tr. 97, 101, 120.Google Scholar
  251. 983.
    Ibid., 230, 250, 268–70, 270–72, 253, 266, 265, tr. 49, 92, 127–131, 132–134, 96, 123–124, 122–123. Shlomo Avineri, Marxism and Nationalism, in The Impact of Western Nationalisms, by Jehuda Reinharz and George L. Mosse. London etc.: Sage Publications, 1992, 296–97 sees in Hess’ nationalism, a complement to the “reductionism” of Marx. For Hess, who was “close to Mazzini’s thinking”, the nation educated the individual to overcome his private interests. For this reason, the revolution that abolished classes would have eliminated conflict between nations, but not the nations themselves. Naturally, he was also aware of the rise of nationalism, and he applied it to the Jewish aspirations.Google Scholar
  252. 984.
    Rom und Jerusalem, 253, tr. 97–98.Google Scholar
  253. 985.
    Ibid., 225–26, 235, tr. 59.Google Scholar
  254. 986.
    Ibid., 247, tr. 84. On the subsequent insinuation of racism into Jewish assertions which, drawing on Gobineau, exalted the force of their own race, which had kept itself integral for thousands of years, see Mosse, Toward the Final Solution, 123–125.Google Scholar
  255. 987.
    Rom und Jerusalem, 262, see also 267, tr. 112–113, also 124.Google Scholar
  256. 988.
    Ibid., 252, 259, 262, tr. 96, 107, 112–113. For the “formative role” played by the criticism of the assimilation in the “genesis of subsequent ideologies, for example, Zionism”, see Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, 1. Google Scholar
  257. 989.
    Rom und Jerusalem, 266, 265, tr. 122, 121.Google Scholar
  258. 990.
    Ibid., 256, tr. 105.Google Scholar
  259. 991.
    Ibid., 268, 277, see also 233–34, tr. 251–260, also 54–55. Na’aman, op. cit., 304–05, 307, 317, 332 explains how this sympathy for France had contributed to determining the work’s alternating fortunes.Google Scholar
  260. 992.
    Rom und Jerusalem, 275, 276, tr. 149, 150.Google Scholar
  261. 993.
    Moreover, in his letter to Hess of 26 August 1862, Hajim Lorje expressed his agreement on behalf of the Generaldirektorium of the Kolonisationsvereins, see M. Hess, Briefwechsel, 404–06.Google Scholar
  262. 994.
    The fact that Hess and others saw links between Socialist ideals and Jewish tradition cannot be assumed as the basis of facile generalisations about the political opinions of the Jews, along the lines of the stereotype already mentioned and criticised by Gay, op. cit., 101, 107, 136–137, 161–162, 166.Google Scholar
  263. 995.
    On Auerbach’s loyalty to the ideal of the Bildung, championed by Mendelssohn and by which he sought to involve the people, see Mosse, German Jews beyond Judaism, 4–6, 10, 23–24, 26, 29, 46. On his criticism of contemporary Judaism for having reduced Enlightenment to science and on his effort to recover Mendelssohn’s spirit of reform under the banner of “acculturation without assimilation”, see Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, 141, 146–147, 150, 154.Google Scholar
  264. 996.
    Letter to the editorial office of the newspaper “Ben Chananja” del 22/8–5/9 in M. Hess, Briefwechsel, 403; see for all of this, Na’aman, op. cit., 310–14, 317, 319–22, 332.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesco Tomasoni
    • 1
  1. 1.Facoltà di Lettere e FilosofiaUniversità Del Piemonte OrientaleVercelliItaly

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