School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Karl Marx -
Marx Becomes a Young Hegelian

 


The Person The Work
Introduction The Overall Doctrine
Marx Becomes a Young Hegelian Class Theory
Parisian Days: Marx Becomes a Socialist Alienation
The End of Apprenticeship The Sociology of Knowledge
The Founding of the First International Dynamics of Social Change
 

Marx Becomes a Young Hegelian

After uneventful years at the Trier Gymnasium, the young Marx, following his father's advice, registered at the age of seventeen at the faculty of law in the University of Bonn. In 1836 he left Bonn to transfer to the University of Berlin. Although this transfer seems to have been motivated by nothing more than the desire of a provincial to move to the more exciting and lively atmosphere of the capital, it was to prove the decisive turning point in the young man's career.

Hegel was already dead when Marx entered the University of Berlin, but his spirit still dominated it fully. And Marx, after but a short period of resistance, surrendered to that spirit.

His teachers at the faculty of law, Savigny in jurisprudence and Gans in criminal law, exerted some influence over the young Marx. Savigny, the founder of the Historical School of Jurisprudence, impressed him with his historical erudition and his power of argumentation. Gans taught him methods of theoretical criticism in the light of philosophy of history. But it was not these older Hegelians or near-Hegelians who converted the young man to his new vision; it was a group of near-contemporaries, the Young Hegelians. These young philosophers had formed a little band of heretics who, though in many respects beholden to the master, had moved away from his teachings. Through them Marx was initiated into the Hegelian world system at the same time as he became a member of a group of iconoclasts who irreverently began to raise awkward and critical questions about major parts of the great man's synthesis.

The informal Doktorklub, of which Marx now became a member, was comprised of young marginal academics--a radical, somewhat antireligious, and more than slightly bohemian lot. Outstanding among them were the brothers Bruno and Edgar Bauer, both radical and freethinking Hegelians of the Left, and Max Stirner, the later proponent of ultra-individualistic anarchism. Under the influence of these men Marx abandoned law and resolved to devote himself to philosophy. He also became a "man-about-town," frequenting the advanced salons of the capital, as well as the beer cellars, where the Young Hegelians debated for hours on end the fine points of Hegelian doctrine.

In these student years Marx saw himself as a future professor of philosophy. In fact, Bruno Bauer, who had recently been appointed to the University of Bonn, promised that he would find him a position there. But soon after this, Bauer himself was dismissed for his antireligious, liberal views, and Marx abandoned forever his hope for an academic position. His student days came to an end with the submission to the University of Jena in 1841 of his thesis, On the Differences between the Natural Philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus. The dissertation was a fairly traditional exercise, except for a flaming antireligious preface which, upon the advice of his friends, was not submitted to the academic authorities. Marx faced an uncertain future: he was now twenty-three years of age, an amateur philosopher who had made a marked impression in advanced salons and bohemian gatherings, but had otherwise no prospects for a career.

It is no wonder that when an early admirer, the socialist firebrand Moses Hess, asked him to become a regular writer for the new liberal-radical and bourgeois paper Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne, he grasped the opportunity. He became its editor-in-chief ten months later after writing a number of outstanding contributions. Back in his native Rhineland as an editor of a leading radical publication, Marx for the first time became involved in the immediate practical battles of the day. He wrote a series of articles on social conditions, among them, the misery of the Moselle vine-growing peasantry and the harsh treatment of the poor received for the theft of timber in forests to which they thought they had a communal right. These articles attracted considerable attention, and Marx began to be regarded as a leading radical publicist. But his editorship was short-lived. He had to battle with the censor continuously and to use all his ingenuity to get his thinly veiled democratic and republican propaganda past their scrutiny. When he acidly portrayed the Russian government as the chief bulwark of reaction in Europe, his own government's tolerance gave out. The Russian Emperor Nicholas I, who happened to have read one of Marx's attacks, complained to the Prussian ambassador, and consequently the Rheinische Zeitung was suppressed. The whole adventure had lasted only half a year and Marx was again without a position.

Soon afterward, in April 1843, he married his childhood sweetheart, Jenny von Westphalen, to the dismay of most of her family who grumbled about the misalliance with a social inferior, indeed, one who had no standing whatever.

Following their marriage, the young couple stayed in Bad Kreuznach for several months. During those idyllic months of honeymoon and young love, Marx filled five large exercise books with extracts from nearly a hundred volumes of political and social history and theory, including Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws and Rousseau's Social Contract. In November 1843, despairing of any hope to attain a position in the increasingly reactionary atmosphere of Germany, Marx and his wife left for Paris.

From Coser, 1977:59-61.



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010