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Ludwig Feuerbach and the political theology of restoration

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At the height of Marx's admiration for Ludwig Feuerbach, he nonetheless complained that Feuerbach referred ‘too much to nature and too little to politics’. Marx's comment set the tone for subsequent assessments of Feuerbach's politics. For however radical Feuerbach may have been in certain spheres, the assumption remains that his political intentions were exhausted in vague evocations of ‘Love’ as the bond of humanity. Indeed, scholars have generally believed that it was Marx who translated Feuerbach from ‘theology’ to ‘politics’. I intend to argue that this perspective fails to recognize not only the unity of theological and political critique in Feuerbach's work during the 1830s and early 1840s, but also the specific means by which he hoped to realize his political-theological goals.

Feuerbach will emerge from this account as a social critic who was deeply troubled by the historical development of ‘civil society’, that sphere of social life where the rules of the market prevail and individuals pursue their self- interest. Because he repeatedly associated Christianity with civil society, he sought to overcome both in the same act of critique: Christian civil society would be replaced by atheist ‘human society’. Feuerbach's politics should be understood as a radical response to a problem posed by Rousseau and faced by Hegel: the question of the relationship between ‘citizenship, commerce, and Christianity’. Feuerbach addressed an eighteenth-century concern about the threat posed to political virtue by the egotism of both commerce and Christianity; but his answer expressed his membership in the loose constellation of intellectual forces which were beginning to challenge the industrial and political transformation of western Europe in the nineteenth century.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Berkeley.

Publication date: January 1, 1992

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