Notes “On the Jewish Question”

We produce a religiosity in the state because of the divide between our position as individuals and community, civil society and politics, everyday reality and the otherworldliness of institutions that govern us. We bring religious consciousness to our existence, and the state remains religious because it addresses our desires for equality, liberty and fraternity in an un-real way. We are divided beings, but treat our legal reality as if it were our true life, but in fact it abstracts from our true life.

Everyday life is made to seem fortuitous, unreal, happenstance, without a questioning of the political or of power. The state exists precisely because these powers that divides us—property, class, etc. Indirectly the state secures those same divides by designating itself as neutral over those inequalities. It’s therefore complicit in those powers and consecrates them by claiming to be disinvested from them. It’s a ruse.

Existing powers and institutions are consecrated through the very process of the state’s relinquishing arbitration over those considerations. For instance, a “color-blind” state sounds prejudice free, but if race contains social power and positions race as an ordering power, then what does it mean that the state absolves itself from intervention in these realms?

Rights of man. Marx subjects them to critique. He sees the constitutions that codify these rights of man as in fact symptomatic of a society that is not yet free, not yet equal; they expose a lack of emancipation, true human emancipation.

Liberty: “Liberty, therefore, is the right to do everything that harms no one else.” The right to be withdrawn into yourself without hurting anyone else, this notion of liberty is devoid of all sociality—separating people from one another, atomistic. “An isolate monad.”

Property: “The right of man to private property is, therefore, the right to enjoy one’s property and to dispose of it at one’s discretion (à son gré), without regard to other men, independently of society, the right of self-interest.” Through liberty and property people begin to see others as the source of the limitation of their own rights, leading to a recoil from the social.

Equality: Has no political significance. All it is is the equal right before the law to have and protect self-interest. Not shared power or anything else, not substantive, just the right to be selfish.

Security: “Security is the highest social concept of civil society, the concept of police, expressing the fact that the whole of society exists only in order to guarantee to each of its members the preservation of his person, his rights, and his property. It is in this sense that Hegel calls civil society ‘the state of need and reason.’”

Security reinforces the atomistic notion of an individual separated from others, and wholly (or solely) interested in their own individual well-being. The state only serves to secure individual self-interest. Political life becomes the MEANS to pursue individual self-interest.

No “Man” in collective or popular sense. Only those atavistic, unequal, atomistic individuals.

“The political revolution resolves civil life into its component parts, without revolutionizing these components themselves or subjecting them to criticism. It regards civil society, the world of needs, labor, private interests, civil law, as the basis of its existence, as a precondition not requiring further substantiation and therefore as its natural basis.”

Material wealth then continues to operate as social power—thus perpetuating inequality in wealth and political power, which is reinforced through an atavistic, competitive civil society. Civil society is in this view seen as entirely depoliticized, or at least obscured. “The political revolution which overthrew this sovereign power and raised state affairs to become affairs of the people, which constituted the political state as a matter of general concern, that is, as a real state, necessarily smashed all estates, corporations, guilds, and privileges, since they were all manifestations of the separation of the people from the community. The political revolution thereby abolished the political character of civil society. It broke up civil society into its simple component parts; on the one hand, the individuals; on the other hand, the material and spiritual elements constituting the content of the life and social position of these individuals.”

As individuals, we’re not yet in control of our existence, we’re still controlled and overpowered by social powers. We have an affirmative political nomenclature, but we’re still not emancipated, we continue to be under the thumb of economic social power. “All emancipation is a reduction of the human world and relationships to man himself. Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one hand, to a member of civil society, to an egoistic, independent individual, and, on the other hand, to a citizen, a juridical person. Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his ‘own powers’ as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.” This requires a revolution in material relations. This is not an individual will, but something that emerges from certain conditions.

Marx and Engels are also wondering why you get Hegelian idealism and the ideology of the constitutional state—at their time in history? Why now, why here? They have still not figured out what human emancipation requires, and they’re not sure what kind of materialist approach would need to be achieve? But they see how social power and class result in particular political forms.

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