The First Hegelians: An Introduction
by Lawrence Stepelevich
As an identifiable philosophic movement, Young Hegelianism endured for less than two decades, from 1830 to 1848. It first appeared in Feuerbach’s ignored treatise, Gedanken uber Tod und Unsterblichkeit, and it made its last coherent expression in Karl Schmidt’s Das Verstandestum und das Individuum. This last work appeared anonymously in 1846, and caused as little concern as Feuerbach’s introductory work. By 1848, “the struggles of the school were ended, and it collapsed into itself, becoming insignificant in both intellectual and political life.” In sum, the school existed between two politically eventful poles, being born in the revolutionary year of 1830, and dying in the revolution of 1848. At its rise, it shared the optimism of its older literary brother, Young Germany, for at that time the rebellion of the; French against the reactionary visions of their King, Charles X, had sent a spasm of romantic hope throughout the whole European intellectual community. German intellectuals were no exception, and Heine recalled that when the news of the revolution was received, “each item was a sunbeam, wrapped in printed paper, and together they kindled my soul into a wild glow . . . Lafayette, the tricolor, the Marseillaise, — it intoxicates me.,, Bold, ardent hopes spring up, like trees with golden fruit. . . “ The long-delayed promises of the first French revolution were finally to be realized Certainly, the students of Hegel were prepared to accept his charge that they “grasp the spirit of the time, and each in his own place — consciously to bring it. . . from its lifeless seclusion into the light of day.”
In 1830, all who were to become the central figures of the Young Hegelian school were young men. At 28, Arnold Ruge was their senior member, Ludwig Feuerbach was 26, Max Stirner 24, David F. Strauss 22, Bruno Bauer 21. The rest, August von Cieskowski, Karl Schmidt, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Edgar, the brother of Bruno Bauer, were yet children. Of these, only the youngest members — as communists — would survive 1848 with some measure of social idealism. The older members, as their biographies indicate, found whatever solace they could in a pragmatic pessimism. Hegelianism itself would fade away, leaving only a trace in the persons of some prudent “Old Hegelians,” such as Johann Erdmann, who, in 1866, half-humorously referred to himself at the “letzten Mohikaner.”
The hopes of these Hegelians to engage in a free-flowing theological and cultural dialogue was tempered, then turned into bitter anger or sour silence in the face of an adamant union between a defensive church and a reactionary monarchy. The German revolution of 1848 came too late for the Young Hegelians, and as it was not born out of hope but of despair, it left all sides dissatisfied. In this view, Young Hegelianism is not seen in its usual light — as a confused extrapolation of Hegel’s original thought carried on by visionary disciples of little originality – – but rather as a graduated philosophic response to a debilitating union of religious dogmatism and political power.
Hegel himself lived only long enough to experience the first few external criticisms and inner developments of his thought, a system of thought by which he had intended — against Kant — to restore the dignity of metaphysics, the ideal content of religion, and the primacy of civil order. And so, what then had been understood to be a “Restoration philosophy” had yet to reveal its revolutionary potential. This unwelcome revelation of the esoteric “absolute” revolutionary character of Hegelianism was the vocation of Young Hegelianism.
Just as Hegel’s original thought explicitly focused upon the restoration of metaphysics, speculative theology and conservative social and political theory, so the first arguments concerning the worth of Hegel’s legacy followed serially upon these same three features. A few years before and after Hegel’s death, until 1835 — the publication date of Strauss’ Leben Jesu — the debate over the value of Hegelianism turned upon its metaphysical worth. After the Leben Jesu, and until shortly after Friedrich Wilhelm IV ascended the Prussian throne in 1840, attention fixed upon the theological implications of Hegelianism. By the early 1840’s, the religious debate suddenly gave way to arguments concerning the political and social tent of original Hegelianism. By 1848, Hegelianism was no longer a subject deemed worth of any further interpretive efforts.
And so, within two decades, the “decomposition” — as Engels would have it — of the original Hegelian corpus was complete. It could well be at even Hegel, particularly the young Hegel of the Phenomenology of the Mind , would see in this dissolution a sad, yet comforting testimony to the “portentous power of the negative.” Certainly, if not the young Hegel, then the Young Hegelians — for they had much in common. But be that as it may, it is a fact that the old Hegel was among the first to join in the defense of his doctrines against some early objections. He set out, in the Berliner Jahrbucher , to refute five separate attacks on his metaphysical teachings. He soon tired of the game, having replied, somewhat contemptuously, to only two detractors, and excused himself by remarking — “must I quarrel with such rabble?” As to whether or not he would have continued to remain aloof is a question that his unexpected death left unanswered. The task of defending the Master fell upon his disciples, the ‘epigoni’, as they were first called, and they faced an ever more formidable opposition, an opposition which in time did not hesitate to use the power of the Prussian state to make its point.
Among these first defenders, none was more loyal than Carl Friedrich Goschel. He had come to Hegel’s defense in 1829, with a work entitled Aphorismen uber Nichtwissen und absolutes Wissen. The Aphorismen is remarkable by reason of its exalted view of Hegel’s thought, a vision which saw in Hegelianism the highest speculative expression of spiritual life, Or Christianity itself. Christianity and Hegelianism were related as premise to conclusion, and to be a true Christian was to be a Hegelian. Indeed, for, Goschel, becoming a Hegelian was not unlike undergoing a religious conversion, a philosophical “Pentacost,” for “without a rebirth no one can rise from the sphere of natural understanding to the speculative height of the living notion.” Further, as the reward of attention, God’s word could be esoterically discerned in the language of philosophy, and to find out that word, one must
willingly and fully transport thyself into the concepts of philosophy;… be only first disposed to endure and to accept them, and thou will experience in thy heart their life and truth, that is, their total agreement with the word of God, whose restatement [Uebersetzung] they are.”
Finally, and more significantly for the future of Hegelianism, it was defined as “the highest product of Christianity.” In this equation, Hegelianism is not the source of new truths, a “praxis” as von Cieszkowski will have it, but the fulfillment of past truths. On this point, Hegelianism divided into two schools, the “Old” and the “Young.” Hegel’s lavish praise of Goschel’s work not only insured Goschel’s primacy in the orthodox school of Hegelianism, but proved that Hegel himself was an “Old” Hegelian.
On this matter, Hegel is — just as Goschel — sensitive to the complaint of both rationalists and theologians that speculative philosophy, i.e. Hegelianism, would “by means of the Notion… create another truth.” This, as Hegel notes, is a totally mistaken view,
for in this higher sphere of thought is understood that which constitutes the innermost truth — the untruth of the difference between form and content, and that it is the pure form itself which seeks content.”
This essential unity of philosophical form and spiritual content, of Hegelianism as formulated Christinity, is the principle of conservative Hegelianism, of that which came to be known as “Old Hegelianism.” In this conservative perspective, original Hegelianism stood as the conclusion of thought, and not as a premise for future action. Carl Michelet, who stood in the 1840’s “on the dividing line between Old and Young Hegelians,”‘ tried to diplomatically unite them in order to lead them. To this end, he appealed to both sides that philosophy was not only “the Owl of Minerva” which introduced a night in which form and content joined, but equally a “cockcrow” which proclaimed a new dawn. But the schism had endured too long, and reached back into the very core of Hegelianism itself. Michelet failed to reconcile the “hostile brothers.”
Young Hegelianism can be said to have made one of its earliest appearances in a letter that Ludwig Feuerbach sent to Hegel in November of 1828. The letter was enclosed along with a copy of his recent doctoral dissertation, De Ratione, une, universali, infinita, and both testify to their author’s indebtedness to Hegel. Feuerbach was no less fulsome than Goschel in his praise of Hegel’s thought, expansively declaring it to be the “Incarnation of the pure Logos.” But still, Feuerbach took the opportunity to introduce his own perception of the import of Hegelianism. To Feuerbach, the knowledge gained through the study of Hegel should not merely
be directed to academic ends, but to mankind — for at the least, the new philosophy can make the claim that it is compelled to break through the limits of a school, and to reveal itself as world-historical, and to be not simply the seed in every spirit of a higher literary activity, but rather to become the expressed universal spirit of reality itself, to found, as it were, a new world-epoch, to establish a kingdom….There is now a new basis of things, a new history, a second creation, where… reason will become the universal appearance of the thing.
To Feuerbach, Spirit, after “having worked for centuries upon its completion and development,” has finally revealed itself in Hegel’s philosophy. It is now the mission of Spirit, acting through its disciples — the Hegelians — to rationalize the world. In theological terms, which always seem natural in a Young Hegelian context, the redemption of the world by incarnate reason is now at hand, and from Feuerbach on, this “apocalyptic tone, this sense of historical revolution, was the essential ingredient of Young Hegelian metaphysic.”
The style of Feuerbach’s letter preludes the whole of Young Hegelian literature. It’s glimpse of an ideal future provoked a stylistic brilliance that was simply absent in the staid commentaries of the Old Hegelians. But this same apocalyptically inspired enthusiasm, as magnified in their later literature, threatened to degenerate into noisy propaganda, fitted for “manifestos, programs and theses . . . “ On the other side, the Old Hegelians ran the equal but opposite risk of falling into a cryptic, flat rechauffe of original Hegelianism. As being charged to preserve, rather than act upon the truth of Hegelianism, they had little to say for themselves. These Old Hegelians, such as von Henning, Hotho, Forster, Marheineke, Hinrichs, Daub, Conradi and Schaller,
preserved Hegel’s philosophy literally continuing its individual historical studies, but they did not reproduce it in a uniform manner beyond the period of Hegel’s personal influence. For the historical movement of the nineteenth century they are without significance.
The literary style of the two Hegelian schools mirrored their interests, and so, as the Old Hegelian, H.F. Hinrichs observed in 1842, “The style [Darstellungweise] of the right side is mostly aphoristic, that of the left, pamphleteering.”
In the early 1830’s, Goschel found a willing ally in his defense of Hegel’s metaphysical coherency in the person of Georg Andreas Gabler. Gabler could claim the honor of being once Hegel’s student in Jena, and would be further honored, in 1835, by being appointed to Hegel’s former chair at Berlin. Together they formed the nucleus of the Old Hegelian school, and both were pleased to find, in the young theologian Bruno Bauer, an energetic and talented defender of Hegel’s theological orthodoxy. Bauer, who had first heard Hegel lecture in 1828, was then — and for a decade thereafter — convinced that Hegelian metaphysics formed the rational core of traditional Christianity. His skill in defending this view was put to the test when he was selected by the Old Hegelians to be the first among them to confront, and so confute, Strauss’ newly-published Leben Jesu. This work put an end to the convoluted argumentation over the merits and demerits of Hegel’s metaphysics. The arguments were becoming, to be blunt, simply boring to all contenders. As one of the contestants, Johann Erdmann, more delicately remarked, “the interest in metaphysics — that is, the first point in which Hegel had shown himself to be a restorer, — was on the wane … the question of a logical foundation and of dialectical development was… soon regarded with perfect indifference.”
The second set of arguments, concerning the relationship of Hegelianism to orthodox Christian belief, insofar as it touched directly upon the existing theological-political nexus, determined the future course of Hegelianism, and its echoes are still being heard. To Bauer, Christianity was the proper content of Hegelian form; revelation found its most adequate rational expression in Hegelian thought. The content of Christian belief found its proper form in Hegelian philosophy. In short, Christian revelation and Hegelian reason were perfectly fitted to one another. To Strauss, on the other hand, representing a new, irreverent, and so “Young” Hegelianism, the relationship was one of pictorial representation against philosophic comprehension, of Vorstellung against Begriff. What Christianity portrayed was but the inkling of what Hegelianism comprehended, and to stay at the noetic level of Christianity in the face of Hegelianism was to decide in favor of ignorance.
After the appearance of Strauss’ work, Hegelianism could no longer, without being suspect, play its old humble role of being the philosophic handmaid to Lutheran theology. With the Leben Jesu Hegelianism was transformed, in the eyes of a younger generation of philosophers, into at least the rival, if not the actual destroyer, of Christian orthodoxy. The work advanced with the same confident tone found in Feuerbach’s letter to Hegel, and it presented its conclusions with a blunt clarity. The conclusions were both simple and shocking: the Christ of the gospels was a myth generated out of the messianic longings of the Jews. Jesus actually existed, and his personality drew upon him the mantle of the Christ, but beyond that, little more can be said of Jesus. Finally, mankind is the actual Christ insofar as it is its own savior. It is this last optimistic, humanistic, and irreverent thesis which reveals Strauss as a Young Hegelian. The incarnation of the Logos, the Geist, was not restricted to the particularity of Jesus but was received into the total human race. The messianic ideal of a redemption of mankind
does not squander its fullness on one individual in order to be stingy lo everybody else. Its desire, rather, is to distribute its wealth among the multiplicity of individuals … Is not the idea of the unity of divine and human natures a real one in a more lofty sense when I regard the entire human race as its realization than if I select one man as its realization? Is not the incarnation of God from eternity more true than an incarnation limited to one point in time?”
In commenting upon this passage, William Brazill summarizes — “as there could be no man without God, so there could be no God without man. Humanity was the Christ.”
Given Strauss’ theoretic perspective, avowedly Hegelian, there could be no other practical consequence but that the individual, to be saved, i.e., to overcome his alienation, should consciously enter into the secular equivalent of the Christ, the community. The individual was called upon to participate fully “in the divine-human life of the race.” And so, at this early moment in its development, the dominant theme of Young Hegelianism is in evidence — a secularization of eschatological Christianity.
By a fine dialectical turn of fate, Bruno Bauer was chosen as the champion of Old Hegelianism, dialectical because within a few years he would be recognized as the leader of the Young Hegelians. Bauer’s first counter-arguments appeared in the Jahrbucher fur wissenschaftliche Kritik, then known less reverently as the “Hegel Gazette.” Bauer maintained that Hegelianism did not lead to a new quasi-religious truth, but provided the metaphysical foundation for traditional Christianity. In this, for example, the Incarnation could be understood as “the result of the encounter of receptivity and creative necessity and in this encounter all physiological questions are irrelevant.” Goschel and Gabler, among others, also contributed their criticisms of Strauss’ Hegelianism, Gabler in his inaugural address of 1835 as he accepted his chair at the University of Berlin, and Goschel, first with an essay and then with a book.
But the Young Hegelians, those who were to agree with Strauss — and at that time they could even number a very young Friedrich Engels — had seized the initiative. The Old Hegelians soon ceased to be a significant philosophical force since their arguments encountered extreme speculative difficulties, and in addition, the orthodox Lutherans and pietists had never asked for nor accepted their proffered help. These conservatives, led by the Berlin preacher Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, now saw in the shocking Leben Jesu only what they had always suspected of Hegelianism: atheism and Jacobinism. Indeed, Strauss had at least been an honest Hegelian, and even Hengstenberg could ironically remark that the Leben Jesu was “one of the most pleasing contributions in the field of recent theological literature.” This first judgment has been echoed by more recent commentators, such as John T. Noonan, who holds that Strauss’ Leben Jesu is properly Hegelian, in fact, even more than that — “more courageous than Hegel, Strauss is the better Hegelian.” In short, by the opponents of Hegel, Strauss’ Leben Jesu has been taken as the authentic theological expression of original Hegelianism. The political influence of the pietists and orthodox Lutherans, which peaked in the reactionary reign of Friedrich Wilhelm IV, insured that Hegelianism would soon lose all of its previous academic and political influence. A Hegelian would soon be forced to choose to remain prudently silent on political and religious issues, and so remain without influence, as the Old Hegelians, or to speak out, and suffer academic and political repression, as the Young Hegelians. Only a very few of the latter escaped this repression, and that long series of imprisonments, exiles, impoverishments and rejections which marked their collective careers, was shared by Strauss when he was removed from his teaching post at Tubingen.
In 1837, Strauss took up his own defense by writing a set of rejoinders to his numerous critics. In introducing that section of his work dealing with the objections of the Hegelians, Strauss established a new mode of classifying the Hegelians. Borrowing the terms used to designate the relationships of the French politicians to the Ancien Regime, Strauss classed all Hegelians as either of the “right” or the “center,” or the “left.” This philosophical-political classification was popular from its inception, and has remained so to this day. Strauss used it in an exclusively theological context, but with the right-wing Hegelians, such as Bauer, Goschel, and Gabler, accepting both the unity of the divine and human nature in Jesus as well as the factuality of the miracle-stories. Those on the left, — such as Strauss — would deny both. As for the center-wing, — such as Rosenkranz — they would hold only to the divinity of Jesus, and follow Strauss in other matters. On the whole, however, as Horton Harris has commented, the classification was confusing, for this difference was solely a question of definitions, and the line between centre and left was extremely ill-defined.”
Whatever virtues such a schema might possess have been purchased at the cost of provoking a category mistake. The political categories of “left” and “right” cannot simply be superimposed upon Young and Old Hegelianism. In this regard, it can be noted that the liberal or socialistic interpretations of Hegelianism did not openly begin until the 1841 appearance of Arnold Ruge’s Deutsche Jahrbucher. Prior to that time, and from the publication of the Leben Jesu, Young Hegelianism had developed within a theological context. Strauss himself, as a matter of fact, was politically a conservative, as were all of the Young Hegelians up until 1840 — unless Moses Hess is considered, whose socialistic Die heilige Geschichte der Menschheit appeared in 1837.
However, this theological context of early Young Hegelianism did fall within a larger political context, and in that same year in which the Leben Jesu appeared the Mainz Commission, established by the Frankfort Diet, had condemned the Young German movement for “attacking the Christian religion and the social order.” The conservative equation of the two would insure the censure of Young Hegelianism as well.
In retrospect, perhaps the most striking feature of the Leben Jesu is not its content, but its intention. Strauss had — with that particular naivete found in youthful genius — imagined that the religious clique which gathered in the Royal court would gladly respond to the evidently well meaning rationality of his work. As he concluded in a lengthy letter defending his teaching post:
If all those who have accepted the critical and sceptical elements of the time wanted to resign from the ministry, only the unscientific faith would finally remain to it; the critical doubting would devolve onto the educated in the congregation and the Church would have to split into two halves between which, finally, agreement would be no longer possible; but as against this, so long as the sceptical and critical direction remains represented in the ministry, such a mediation, and therewith a continuing progress of religious and theological education is assured.”
Such candor and confidence regarding the therapeutic effects of criticism had little effect upon his judges, as he was removed from his teaching post. He had repeated Feuerbach’s imprudence of 1830, who, being warned that to publish his speculations on death and immortality would ruin his career, proceeded to do both.
An extended controversy between Bauer and Strauss never occurred, for although Bauer was still eager to debate, Strauss took Bauer’s “foolish piece of pen-pushing” as unworthy of reply. With this, Strauss’ contribution to the Young Hegelian movement came to an end. By 1840, after unsuccessfully attempting to regain respectability with a compromising third edition of the Leben Jesu, and after a short and disastrous attempt to teach at Zurich, he turned to a career of writing unorthodox theological treatises.
For his part, Bauer continued to exercise his Hegelianism in the cause of religious orthodoxy. However, in 1839, Bauer — displaying an innocence equal to Strauss — took it upon himself to question Hengstenberg’s biblical interpretations. Hengstenberg was not at all prepared to receive a rebuke from a young Hegelian privatdocent, and Bauer was persuaded, for his future well-being, to accept a post at the University of Bonn. At Bonn, Bauer’s faith in both Christianity and his fellow academics was lost. His loss of faith was precipitated not only by the immanent logic of his own theological principles, but by his confrontation with the Leben Jesu . In 1840, Bauer recalled that prior to this work, the disciples of Hegel “had lived like the blessed gods with patriarchal calm in the realm of the Idea,” but with it, “the lightning of thought struck into the kingdom of the Idea and disturbed the dream.” This dream, of course, being the old Hegelian one of the unity between history and the Idea, between events and Hegelian philosophy. Bauer not only lost his faith, but his hope in conducting critical and free-ranging theological discussions within the context of the Prussian university system. In June of 1841, he had the temerity — or again, ignorance — to send a first copy of his most infamous work, the Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker, to the reactionary culture minister, J.G. Eichorn. The Minister sent a letter to the theological faculties of all Prussian universities asking two simple questions: was Bauer a Christian? and should he be allowed to teach on a theological faculty? The answers were mixed, but overall negative. In March of 1842, Bauer was formally forbidden to teach at any Prussian university. The reaction of the authorities is understandable in light of what Bauer had maintained in the Kritik. His general conclusions were similar to those of Strauss, i.e., that humanity was divine, but he went beyond Strauss’ reduction of Jesus to mere humanity by considering him as a fictional entity. In sum, the gospels were nothing but the further offshoots of an original literary fiction by an unknown author who had simply intended to present his own philosophic viewpoint in the person of a fictional Jesus.
Bauer’s highly publicised removal established him as the “spiritual leader” of the Berlin Young Hegelians. Engels celebrated Bauer’s return with an anonymous mock-epic, Der Triumph des Glaubens. Besides permitting an insight into the pre-Marx Engels, and the notorious Young Hegelian circle of Die Freien, the poem is a fine example of the literary course being taken by intellectuals out of favor with the established powers: it is marked by a reckless, almost desperate bravado. Here, in 1842, the course of the school had already turned from optimism and willing orthodoxy into an ironic pessimism that could only terminate in a sour compliance or outright rebellion. The vision of a bright future marked by the progressive incarnation of reason, as projected in August von Cieszkowski’s 1838 Prologomena to the Wisdom of History was replaced by the decision to engage in a “ruthless criticism of everything existing.” By 1842, the repressive policies of Friedrick Wilhelm IV had taken full effect, although he had ascended the throne with the hopes, if not the blessings, of the Young Hegelians. Certainly some, such as Friedrick Koppen, the lifelong friend of Marx, had first enthusiastically envisioned the new king as Friedrick the Great redivivus .
The new King indicated his philosophic inclinations early in his reign, when he invited the aging Schelling to Berlin. In November of 1841, the lecture series began, a pleasant focus for the anti-Hegelians, such as Henrich Leo and Karl Schubarth, and an insult against “free philosophy” according to the Young Hegelians.
In that same year of 1841, three events of great significance occurred within the Young Hegelian school: the publication of Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, the publication of Bauer’s Trumpet of the Last Judgment Against Hegel the Atheist and Anti-Christ , and the first issue of Ruge’s Deutsche Jahrbucher. With each event, a decisive turn was marked in the relationship of Young Hegelianism to Christianity, Hegelianism, and Prussianism .
The Essence of Christianity theologically concluded what Strauss had doctrinally initiated, the absolute reduction of God to Man, the transformation of theology into anthropology. Henceforth, theological issues would be translated into human issues, and theological criticism would be replaced with social criticism. Marx, in 1843, summed up the matter in a famous passage:
For Germany, the criticism of religion has been largely completed; and the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism.The profane existence of error is compromised once its celestial oratio pro eris et focis has been refuted. Man, who has found in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a supernatural being, only his own reflection, will no longer be tempted to find only the semblance of himself — a non-human being — where he seeks and must seek his true reality.”
The second event, the publication of Bauer’s Trumpet, set about — by selectively employing the actual texts of Hegel — to demonstrate that the “Philosopher of the Restoration” was covert atheist and revolutionary. This “unmasking”, a familiar Young Hegelian conceit, destroyed the possibility of any future rapprochment between them and the conservatives, — be they religious, political, or philosophical. After the Trumpet, the disciples of Hegel would be compelled to choose between two warring camps: that of the conservative and Christian wing, and that of the revolutionary atheists. The line which presently separates Hegelians such as Marcuse, Kojeve, and Lukacs from others such as Findlay, Knox, and Kroner, was first drawn by Bruno Bauer.
In line with Feuerbach’s radical humanism, and Bauer’s radical criticism, there was yet one factor needed to complete the full formulation of mature Young Hegelianism: political radicalism. This third element was contributed by Ruge, who, in 1841, set forth in the preface to the first issue of his Deutsche Jahrbucher a call for Hegelians to enter into the political struggles of the day. The rejection of doctrinal servility in both theology and philosophy must be followed by a rejection of political servility, which was the pre-condition for all free criticism. His call was heeded by the most radically politicized of the Young Hegelians, such as Michael Bakunin, Karl Nauwerk, and Edgar Bauer — the brother of Bruno. But because of the expanding inner divisions within the frustrated group, and the constant pressure of governmental censorship and academic rejection, Ruge’s efforts to form a political.party about the banner of Young Hegelianism soon ailed. In 1843, the Deutsche Jahrbucher was prohibited to be published even in liberal Saxony, and the ill-fated Deutsch-franzosische Jahrbucher, co edited with Marx in the Spring of 1844, was the last sad act in Ruge’s political drama.
Given the three declarations of 1841, from Feuerbach, Bauer, and Ruge, the Young Hegelian movement had set itself against the total spectrum of orthodoxy, religious, philosophical, and political. The insurrection failed on all counts, and after the abortive revolution of 1848, Germany entered into a period of reaction whose marks are yet in evidence.
In the Fall of 1844, Max Stirner’s singular masterpiece, Die Einzige und sein Eigentum — The Ego and Its Own , made its appearance. With this, Young Hegelianism reached a final and angry impasse. As “le dernier maillon de la chaine hegelien,” Stirner left nothing standing except the pole of naked self-assertion. With Stirner, Hegelianism, as a system, had reached a dialectical limit and had been transformed into its opposite. The optimistic drive to rationalize the whole of reality which had motivated the earliest of the Young Hegelians had finally withered into an irrational egoism. But Nicholas Lobkowitz has stated the matter with the greatest possible clarity:
Hegel had idealized the existing world. His disciples from Strauss to Marx felt forced to translate Hegel’s idealizing description of the world into a language of ideals to be achieved. In the course of this development they also tried to concretize Hegel’s abstract idealizations by translating talk about religion into talk about mankind, talk about the state into talk about existing bourgeois society, etc. Stirner might be described, and in any case was understood by Marx as the man who made the final step in this development — a step which leads beyond Hegelian idealism and negates it. For Stirner achieved the final concretization of Hegelianism by reducing all Hegelian categories to the naked individual self; he denounced not only a certain type of ideal, but all ideals whatsoever . “
But even after Stirner, the logic of Hegelianism and the logic of events had to produce yet one final statement, a statement upon the school by one who had followed the course of criticism to the point where criticism rejected itself, to a point beyond Stirner — who could retain the title of the “final critic.” This last judge upon the school was Karl Schmidt, who wrote an extraordinary and now-forgotten work, Das Verstandestum und das Inviduum. In it, Schmidt traced his, and the whole Young Hegelian via dolarosa from beginning to end. In retrospect, Schmidt recognized that throughout the whole history of the school an uncritical dogmatism had prevailed, a dogmatism that led its possessor into an unconscious apotheosis of his particular ideals. Even the hypercritical Stirner “stands with his enemies on the same ground. He is just as these, an idealist. He revels in his ideals and dreams thereby of a world full of egoists, of an egoistic world which should come to pass.” Schmidt has passed through Young Hegelianism only to arrive at one certain truth: “I am only myself.” With this modest conclusion, the movement called Young Hegelianism came to an end.
For anyone wishing to pursue the subject further, I have appended a bibliography of recent general studies concerning Young Hegelianism.