Bruno Bauer (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Bruno Bauer was born on 6 September, 1809 in the town of Eisenberg
in Thuringia, south-eastern Germany. In 1815, Bauer’s family
moved to Berlin, where his father was employed in the royal porcelain
factory in Charlottenburg. At the University of Berlin
(1828–1834),he studied under Hegel, Schleiermacher, and the
Hegelians Hotho and Marheineke. On Hegel’s recommendation,
Bauer’s 1829 essay on Kant’s aesthetics won the Prussian
royal prize in philosophy. From 1834 to 1839, he lectured on theology
and biblical texts in Berlin. He was transferred to the theology
faculty at Bonn after publishing an attack on his colleague and former
teacher Hengstenberg. He taught in Bonn from 1839 till spring 1842,
when he was dismissed for the unorthodoxy of his writings on the New
Testament. The dismissal followed a consultation by the ministry of
education with the theology faculties of the six Prussian universities,
but no consensus emerged from the academic inquest. The order for
Bauer’s dismissal came directly from the King of Prussia,
Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who had decreed the suspension from state
employment of participants in a banquet to honour the South German
liberal Karl Welcker, held in Berlin in 1841. On that occasion, Bauer
had proposed a toast to Hegel’s conception of the state.

From 1842 to 1849, Bauer was active in political journalism and
historical research on the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. He
argued against the emancipation of Prussian Jews in 1842–43, seeing
this proposal as a political legitimation of particular religious
interests. He was the object of polemical attacks by Marx and Engels in
The Holy Family (1844) and The German Ideology
(written in 1845–46). With his brother Edgar, Bauer founded the
Charlottenburg Democratic Society in 1848, and stood unsuccessfully for
election to the Prussian National Assembly on a platform of popular

Remaining in Prussia after the defeats of 1848–49, Bauer continued
to produce work of biblical criticism and political analysis. He wrote
in the mid 1850s for Die Zeit, a government-sponsored
newspaper, in which his anti-liberalism took a conservative turn. He
contributed articles on European affairs to other newspapers, such as
Die Post, the Kleines Journal, and the New York
Daily Tribune
. From 1859–66 he collaborated with F.W.H. Wagener on
his conservative Staats- und Gesellschafts-Lexikon, editing
almost all 23 volumes, and writing numerous articles, several with
anti-Semitic themes. In 1865 he acquired a small farm in Rixdorf, on
the outskirts of Berlin. He died there on 13 April 1882.

Bauer was a prolific writer, publishing a dozen substantial books
and over 60 articles between 1838 and 1848 alone, but no critical
edition of these works exists. They included analyses of Hegel, the
Bible, modern theologies, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution
and its aftermath. The interpretation of Bauer’s work is problematic
for several reasons. Because of anonymous, pseudonymous, and
collaborative publication, some attributions are disputed; and
divergences exist between Bauer’s published texts and private
correspondence. In the anonymous Trumpet of the Last Judgement
(1841) and Hegel’s Doctrine of Religion and Art (1842), Bauer
spoke not in his own voice, but in the ironic guise of a conservative
critic of Hegel, attributing to Hegel his own revolutionary views.

Three lines of interpretation of Bauer can be distinguished. These
focus on his early work; his later writings have attracted little
critical attention. The first sees Bauer as a radical subjectivist,
whose social and religious criticism was closer to Enlightenment
rationalism than to Hegel (Sass, 1978; Brudney, 1998). The second,
largely influenced by Marx, insists on Bauer’s abandonment of the
Hegelian left after 1843 (Rossi, 1974; Pepperle, 1978). The third
emphasizes the continuity throughout the Vormärz of Bauer’s
thought and of his republicanism, based on the Hegelian idea of the
unity of thought and being (Moggach, 2003, 2006, 2011).

Bauer’s prize manuscript of 1829, De pulchri principiis,
presented the unity of concept and objectivity as the central idea of
Hegel’s idealism. It examined this unity as expressed in art, comparing
Hegel’s aesthetic theory to Kant’s Third Critique. The manuscript
supplemented the criticisms of Kant from Hegel’s Berlin Aesthetics
lectures with the logical analysis of categories provided by the 1827
Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Bauer argued
that while the Critique of Judgement attempted to bridge the
gap between thought and being, and thus opened the way to Hegel, it
reproduced the antinomies characteristic of the first two
critiques. Kant’s synthesis failed, since he continued to define the
concept as merely subjective, and the object as the unknowable
thing-in-itself, transcending the cognitive power. Self-consciousness,
or the subject of the transcendental unity of apperception, was
likewise impervious to cognition from the Kantian standpoint. In
Hegel’s syllogisms of the idea, objectivity attained rational form,
while the concept acquired an explicit, material existence. Beauty,
life, and idea were moments in the process which constituted the
actuality of reason. As the immediate unity of thought and
objectivity, art illustrated the inexhaustible fecundity of the
philosophical Idea. The manuscript underlined the opposition of faith
and reason in its critique of the religious conceptions of the unity
of thought and being. Faith was taken to be inimical to free inquiry,
which is the element of reason.

Throughout the 1830s, however, Bauer sought to reconcile thought
and being through the idea of rational faith. In Zeitschrift
für spekulative Theologie
, which he edited between 1836 and
1838, and in Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche
, he offered a speculative account of Christian doctrines as
exemplifications of logical categories. In the 1838 Religion of the
Old Testament
, Bauer depicted religious experience as a product of
self-consciousness. He proposed both a transcendental account,
stressing the conditions of possibility of religious experiences, and a
phenomenological sequence of their forms: a legalistic subordination to
an authoritarian deity in the early books of the Old Testament
expressed a merely external relation between God and man, while the
messianic consciousness of later books heralded a higher form, the
immanence of the universal in the community; but this consciousness
could only point up the inadequacy of the law, not yet propose the
effective overcoming of estrangement. The texts of the 1830s located
the logical structure which, for Bauer, defined the religious
consciousness: the immediate identity between particularity, whether of
a subject or a community, and the abstract universal, a unity achieved
without self-transformation. By 1839, Bauer deduced the political
implications of this view: the religious consciousness asserted this
immediate identity as a monopolistic, sectarian claim, excluding other
particulars from equivalent status. The essence of religion for Bauer
was now a hubristic particularism, which also conferred a transcendent
status on the universal, as a realm divorced from concrete social
relationships. This position received its fullest exposition in Bauer’s
Christianity Revealed (1843). He already sketched this
argument in Herr Dr. Hengstenberg, of 1839, publicly breaking
with orthodox and conservative versions of Christianity, and stressing
the discontinuity between Christianity and Judaism. By 1840–41, Bauer
would present the emancipated philosophical self-consciousness as
opposed to all forms of religious representation. His political
radicalism and republicanism were cemented by his recognition of the
structural identity between the private interests fostered by the
Restoration order, and the monopolistic religious consciousness.

Bauer’s political and theoretical radicalization is evidenced in his
biblical studies. The series is comprised of Critique of the Gospel
of John
(1840), and the three-volume Critique of the Synoptic
(1840– 42). Together with his 1838 study of the Old
Testament, these volumes criticized the stages of revealed religion,
and forms of self-alienated spirit in history. Bauer’s critique of
John’s gospel demonstrated the opposition between the free
self-consciousness and the religious spirit. His stated purpose was to
restore the Christian principle to its source in creative
self-consciousness; he did not yet openly oppose the principle itself,
but sought to differentiate it, as a rational idea, from ecclesiastical
dogmatism. The positivity of Christianity derived from the abstract
understanding, rather than from speculative reason, which led religious
experience back to its subjective roots. The rational core of
Christianity was the identity of God and man, but theology had built an
untenable doctrinal system on this foundation. Speculation now
undermined dogma; it was not confirmed by it, as Bauer’s mid-1830s
articles had maintained. In his correspondence, though not in this text
itself, Bauer indicated that this restoration of the Christian
principle was also its overthrow, as the unity of universal and
particular could now be grasped in more tangible and earthly forms.
Christianity was a necessary but now transcended stage in the
development of the human spirit, to be supplanted by new expressions of
autonomous self-consciousness.

In his critique of the Synoptics, Bauer’s object was more openly to
negate dogmatic Christianity, mobilized in defence of the absolutist
order. The incidents described in the gospels were products of the
religious consciousness, rather than factual reports. Bauer’s critique
of John convinced him that the gospel narrative was a purely literary
product, and he now argued that the Synoptics too contained no
historically authentic material. Bauer attempted to establish the
historical priority of Mark, and the specific elaborations undertaken
sequentially by Luke and Matthew. He depicted miracles as fallaciously
displaying the immediate causality of the universal in nature, and
criticized the naturalistic explanations favoured by theological
rationalism. The third volume of the series denied the historicity of
Christ. The Christian idea that God and mankind share the same essence
appeared as the religious representation of a single empirical
individual who assumed the universal power of spirit. Like his
contemporaries D.F. Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, Bauer understood this
synthesis instead as a project immanent in human history. As Bauer’s
political writings from this period show, he proposed that the
assumption of universality, and the transcendence of particular
interest, were historical tasks, undertaken by the state and the
republican citizenry. In the Synoptics texts, Bauer explicitly equated
Christianity and feudalism, and defended the freedom and equality of
self-consciousness. Religion and the absolutist state were mutually
sustaining, sharing the essential features of alienation and
repression. Christianity represented the completion of the religious
consciousness in pure abstraction, and the dissolution of all genuine ethical
bonds. Bauer contended that Judaism presupposed the subordination of
nature to religious interests, but still maintained the natural links
of kinship and ethnicity. Christianity eliminated this limited
Sittlichkeit in favour of the purely abstract self, thus
perfecting alienation and requiring its definitive resolution.

The political application of the doctrine of self-consciousness can be
traced through two texts on the state, also dating from
1840–41. In The Evangelical State Church of Prussia and
, Bauer described the essence of the state as free
development. The state was the dialectical agency of historical
progress and of the universality of the will, manifesting the capacity
to abstract from any given content and express itself in ever new
forms. While signalling empirical tendencies which might limit the
state’s progressive function (the prominence of religious
interests, and hesitancy before the social question, the emergence of
new forms of urban poverty and exclusion), Bauer contended that the
genuine state, as the expression of freedom, was in constant
transformation. His surface claim was that the Prussian state is such
an institution, though his contemporary correspondence belied this
view. He defended the 1817 union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches
in Prussia as the political overcoming of religious oppositions, whose
basis had been eroded by the Enlightenment. Through its (still
abstract) grasp of the universal concept of man, against religious
particularity, the Enlightenment had transformed religious
consciousness into self-consciousness. (This process formed one of the
major themes of Bauer’s Christianity Revealed, along
with a critique of French materialism for its inadequate grasp of
freedom). The churches were now impotent to perpetuate their own
existence without the support of the state. Countering conservative
historians like F.J. Stahl, who championed the independence of the
churches, Bauer’s “The Christian State and Our
Times,” of 1841, again identified the state as the focus of
ethical life. Stahl’s position implied a derogation of the
spirituality of the state, presenting it as an agency of external
constraint, to uphold the orthodox ecclesiastical and political order
against the flow of history, and to defend a social order governed by
irrational privileges and immunities. Bauer denounced not only the
Christian state of Friedrich Wilhelm IV, but also the
formal Rechtsstaat, or liberal constitutionalism. For Bauer,
both these positions defined freedom as private interest, religious or
economic; but as particularity, these attitudes had to be purged away
in the name of a new political order. Bauer maintained that
Hegel’s view of freedom as universality was far in advance of
liberal views, even if the
Philosophy of Right was inconsistent or incomplete. This was
Bauer’s provocative claim at the Welcker banquet of 1841, which
occasioned his dismissal from the university. The elimination of
egoistic atomism by moral self-consciousness was the pre-requisite for
the republic, or the free state. Bauer contended that the existing
social order could not be deemed to be thoroughly rational, nor the
state to be the institution of freedom that it ought to be, as long as
the social question of urban destitution remained unresolved.

The anonymous Trumpet of the Last Judgement, or
Posaune (November, 1841), and its sequel, Hegel’s
Doctrine of Religion and Art
(1842), interpreted Hegel as
sounding a call for revolution, to bring this state into being. Bauer
claimed that the consequences of Hegel’s system were the overthrow of
church and state; and that Hegel’s conservative critics were right to
see him as the most dangerous adversary of the Restoration. Written
ironically as pietistic denunciations, Bauer’s two texts attributed to
Hegel a theory of infinite self-consciousness, in which the concept of
substance and a transcendent absolute were necessary but
self-annulling illusions. Recapitulating the issue in his own voice
in 1845, Bauer identified a tension in Hegel’s thought between Spinoza
and Fichte, between inert, undifferentiated substance and creative
form. The Posaune, however, argued that the Spinozist moment,
though necessary to Hegel’s dialectic, was fully assimilated to
infinite self-consciousness. In absolute spirit, properly understood,
all religious pretensions dissipated, while the absolute itself
dissolved into the critical activities of conscious individual
subjects. Nothing transcendent remained. Yet, the Posaune
recognized, Hegel also stressed the concept of substance. Its role had
to be accounted for. In its apparent transcendence, substance
disciplined the immediate, particular self. This was necessary
because, as Hegel argued, particularity cannot be the criterion of
theoretical or practical reason; rather, individuals must first
internalize substance, as a principle of universality, as a stage in
reaching infinite self-consciousness. The undifferentiated, pure
universal of substance subsumed all particularity, including the
self. This initial, Spinozist moment created an appearance of
pantheism in Hegel, which misled interpreters like D. F. Strauss. In
Bauer’s depiction, however, Hegel proceeded to dissolve substantiality
as a power independent of consciousness. This dialectical resolution
was not equivalent to renouncing objectivity, but meant that
substance, once it had demonstrated to the particular consciousness
the need to transcend itself, might not claim an immediate validity
either. Disciplining their own immediate interests, individuals could
then become the organs through which the universal attained conscious
form. The dialectical illusion of substance was a necessary stage,
because in it the unity of concept and objectivity could first be
glimpsed; but this illusion had to be overcome in further historical
and theoretical development. The subject must appear as potentially
universal, and the objective must show itself as a purposive order,
responding to the subject’s striving for rational freedom. This
development entailed transforming substance into the record of the
acts of conscious spirit, an inner relation of self-consciousness to
itself. Subjectivity thus assimilated the principle of universality,
which it now contained as its own character, not as something alien to
it. But this relation was not confined to an inward experience, since,
as Hegel maintained, reason must realize itself in the world. The
externalization of reason produced a historical sequence, including
the forms of alienated life. The stages in this sequence could be
grasped as moments in the unfolding unity of thought and being. Bauer
described self-consciousness, conceived as an immanent and subjective
universality, as the motive force of history, generating historical
content by taking up and transforming the given. As Bauer’s 1829
manuscript had also declared, at stake was not only the subjective
realisation of the concept, but the fate of the idea, the unity of
thought and being; and this required that the objectivity of the
historical process be equally emphasized. This historical and critical
idealism, which the Posaune attributes to Hegel, was politically
revolutionary: it affirmed the rights of free self-consciousness
against any positive institution which could not justify its existence
before rational thinking, against state, religion, and social

Bauer used his central concept of infinite self-consciousness, a
term taken from Hegel’s theory of subjective spirit, to reconfigure the
Hegelian absolute, bringing art and philosophy into close proximity,
and excluding religion as a form of alienated reason, while recognising
its past historical necessity. Bauer insisted on the immanence of the
universal in history, as the record of struggles for liberation, and of
alienation, which was necessary to discover the meaning of rational
autonomy. Bauer’s ethical idealism resembles a doctrine that Kant calls
perfectionism, or Vollkommenheit, a form of rational
heteronomy, one of whose meanings is that action is validated by its
contribution to historical progress. Bauer equated perfectionism and
autonomy, as an uncompromising commitment to remodel political and
social relations and institutions. Subjects acquired autonomy by
freeing themselves from particular interests, and by repudiating
transcendent universals, religious and political institutions which
claimed to be underivable from self-consciousness, and exempt from
history. Bauer denounced the ancien régime and its
Restoration surrogates as a feudal system of tutelage and irrational
privileges. Arrogating universality to itself, the authoritarian state
which arose over these exclusive particulars thwarted the self-activity
of its people, and concealed the source of its authority behind a veil
of religious sanctification. Bauer maintained that the state, and not
religion, was the principal adversary. Against this order of alienated
spirit, he insisted that the decisive political question was the source
of the state’s authority, whether in tradition and religious sanction,
or in the popular will. This question was to be resolved without
compromise. Bauer asserted that his objective was not merely political,
but social emancipation. The social question, the polarizations and
crises of civil society to which Hegel had been alert, could be
resolved not by direct appeals to the particular interests of one
class, but by a common republican struggle against multiform privilege.
The result of this combat would be the attainment of justice in all
spheres of social life.

Two texts, dating from late 1842 and early 1843, The Jewish
, and “The Capacity of Present-Day Jews and
Christians to Become Free,” elaborate Bauer’s critique of the
religious consciousness and of political reformism. The consequence of
their publication, however, was that Bauer forfeited his leading
position in the opposition movement, as he challenged one of its
central demands. The question was whether the explicitly Christian
state of Prussia could eliminate restrictions on Jewish participation
in civil institutions. While liberals and republicans advocated
emancipation, conservative opponents defended the state’s exclusive
confessional allegiance. Bauer’s interventions attacked the state for
defending privilege, and claimed that it used religion as a mask for
its interests in maintaining relations of subordination; but he also
criticized Jews and their supporters for claiming freedom on the basis
of a particular religious identity. Political and social freedom required the
renunciation of all particularistic ties with the past; thus, as a
precondition of juridical equality, Jews must renounce their religious
allegiance, as must Christians. Christianity demonstrated a
historically higher degree of consciousness, since it cancelled the
externality of the deity. But this was not a unilateral progress upon
Judaism, because Christianity, and especially Protestantism,
generalized alienation to encompass all aspects of life. The
superiority of Christianity consisted in its radical negativity, making
requisite a transition to a new and higher form of ethical life. By
exacerbating the contradiction between self-determination and
self-abasement, the way was cleared for an epochal resolution. These
interventions were censured by Marx, and by leading liberal spokesmen.
Bauer remained adamant that his position was the correct progressive

In his studies of the French Revolution and its impact on Germany,
Bauer traced the emergence of mass society, based on conformity and
inchoate particularism. The dissolution of the feudal estates by the
Revolution produced a purely atomistic society, characterized by the
assertion of individual property right. The attachment to private
economic interest made impossible a concerted opposition to privilege
and to the existing order, and had caused the ultimate defeat of the
revolutions that had spawned it. The Jacobinism of the French
Revolution, which Bauer in many ways endorsed, had been directed
against this attitude, but had failed to overcome it; and this
proprietary particularism now threatened the republican movement of
the Vormärz. The masses, encompassing both the proletariat and
the bourgeoisie, represented inertia and stagnation, and formed the
bulwark of the existing order. Their opposition to this order was
merely apparent. Liberalism unconsciously expressed this development
of mass society, defining freedom as acquisition. Bauer criticized
liberal constitutionalism as a vacillating, compromising attitude
toward the feudal regime. Even in its most advanced form, that
endorsed by Hegel, constitutionalism juxtaposed two diametrically
opposed principles of sovereignty, popular and princely, and was
unable to resolve the contention between them. Incipient socialism
shared the same terrain as liberalism, the defence of private
interest, but proposed inconsequent and unacceptable solutions to the
conditions which liberalism simply affirmed. For Bauer, socialism was
irredeemably heteronomous. The socialist movement, he claimed, sought
to organize the workers in their immediate, particular existence, and
not to transform them. He saw in the proletariat pure particularity,
and, unlike Marx, denied that this particularity could transform
itself into a genuine universal unless it first renounced its own
sectional interests. Bauer also anticipated the negative effects of a
socialist organization of labour. While criticizing capitalism for its
irrational competitive forms, he defended the principle of competition
itself as a necessary condition for progress, the independence of
persons, and the possibility of conscious, free
self-determination. Bauer’s pre-1848 work revived the classical
republican themes of the opposition of commerce and virtue, but gave
them a new shape, consistent with his Hegelianism. In 1842–43,
Bauer confidently predicted the triumph of republican principles and
institutions, though this confidence waned as the political crisis
deepened. In his two electoral addresses of 1848–49, he defended
popular sovereignty and the right of revolution, demanding that the
new constitution be promulgated as an act of revolutionary will, and
not received as a concession from the king. He also intensified his
critique of socialism for promoting heteronomy and dependency rather
than personal initiative and self-determination, and for appealing to
the existing, discredited absolutist state for the redress of social
grievances, rather than opposing this state with unbending

While he continued to proclaim the continuity of his thought,
Bauer’s late work was characterized by the definitive abandonment of
his Vormärz republicanism. The failure of 1848, he argued,
demonstrated the bankruptcy of the European philosophical tradition.
Instead of the triumph of republics, Bauer now foresaw an age of global
imperialism. The decisive political question after 1848 was the rise of
Russia. Bauer predicted that Russian pressure would promote a
pan-European union, as a stage in a movement toward a global
absolutism. The revolutionaries of 1848 still presupposed,
uncritically, that states were independent units. The next historical
period would initiate a genuine continental crisis. Anticipating
Nietzsche, Bauer contended that the impending collapse of European
civilisation would make possible a new beginning, a liberation from
traditional forms and values, together with their metaphysical and
religious sanctions. Bauer’s abiding opposition to liberalism now
induced him to collaborate in conservative causes; but his conservatism
was unconventional. Like Nietzsche, he continued to repudiate tradition
and religion. Because of his anti-Semitism, Bauer was claimed as a
precursor by some National-Socialist authors, though Ernst Barnikol,
for example, disputes a direct connection (Barnikol 1972, pp.

For Bauer, the revolutions of 1848 were so closely connected with
the Enlightenment, Kantian, and Hegelian projects that their failure
sounded the death-knell of philosophy and its claims to rational
individual autonomy. Bauer’s late critique assimilated Hegel with
Spinoza and the metaphysics of substance, understood as the negation of
form and subjectivity. Unlike his Vormärz position, he asserted in
texts of 1852 and 1853 that Hegel had yielded to the influence of
Spinoza, effacing individuality, and submerging concrete particulars
under illusory, abstract logical categories. Bauer now described the
Hegelian idea as being itself a transcendent illusion. Its inability to admit
concrete particulars derived from the substantiality of the system
itself. The result was that Hegel had discounted individuality in
favour of conformity. While prior to 1848 Bauer proclaimed that Hegel
had taught “the republic and the revolution,” he now decried the
absolutist tendencies of the Hegelian system, whose oppressive unity
paralleled the historical trend toward an all-encompassing political
despotism. Bauer accused philosophy of contributing to an inexorable
process of levelling and uniformity in the post-revolutionary state
(Bauer, Russland und das Germanenthum, I, pp. 40–54). These
criticisms anticipated Rudolph Haym’s polemic in Hegel und seine

In common with many post-1848 intellectuals, Bauer’s abandonment of
metaphysics led him to a new conception of critique as a positive
science or empirical investigation. Bauer no longer contended that
history represents an unfolding dialectic of self-consciousness.
Critique was to permit the observer to examine historical phenomena
without distortion or partiality, and without an a priori systemic
concern. Bauer maintained that scientific research must remain
independent of ecclesiastical and political tutelage. Its objective
was to determine the relation of nature to rights and freedom of the
will (concepts which the late Bauer retained, while rejecting their
metaphysical foundations); but critique did not enjoin practical
intervention in political affairs. The correct stance was now
disinterested contemplation of the inevitable processes of cultural
decay and regeneration, and an attempt to salvage one’s own
independence from the general wreckage of philosophical systems and
political life.

The conclusion of this new critique was that the future belonged not
to the republican people, or to separate national states, but to a
transnational imperialism, involving the confrontation of two
absolutist programmes. In one of these, the Western European,
political absolutism arose over modern mass society as its necessary
complement. Bauer had earlier criticized this configuration as an
outmoded form of state, to be supplanted by the republic; he now
described it as the result of an incomplete political development,
which would issue in a contention for world domination. Within the
Western European form, Bauer distinguished two variants: Bismarck’s
state socialism, imitating eighteenth-century Prussian militarism,
attempted to subject economic production to political control,
suppressing innovation and personal independence; while Disraeli’s
romantic imperialism sought to level and subordinate English society
before a paternalistic monarchy. In opposition to the west, the second
major absolutist form was that of Russia, a substantial power with
limited internal distinctions. Its cohesiveness derived from the
fusion of political and ecclesiastical power, and the absence of the
modern idea of subjectivity. Bauer noted that Hegel had mistakenly
discounted this zone from world history. Like the anarchist Michael
Bakunin, Bauer claimed that Russia owed its original state formation
to Germany; but Russia had otherwise been impervious to western
philosophical influence, adopting only what served its immediate,
concrete ends. Animated by hatred and shame of its past
insignificance, Russia too was ambivalent. It did not directly provide
the solution to the contemporary political crisis, but elicited a
decisive struggle with the west. The vigour of an alien adversary
would force Europe to transform itself, and offered the only remaining
prospects of a cultural renewal. Preceding any such renewal would be
the extension of imperialism across the continent and the globe, and
the clash of rivals for dominance within the new empire. Bauer
concluded that world war was inevitable.

Bauer’s prognosis anticipated aspects of Karl Kautsky’s 1915 theory
of ultraimperialism, though without the latter’s optimism that this
trend heralded a reduction in conflicts among contenders for hegemony.
Imperialism, moreover, did not stimulate, but hampered economic growth,
since insecurity and permanent military mobilization undermined
productive activity. The historic function of the globalizing process
was to eliminate national identities, laying the basis for an eventual
cosmopolitan rebirth. Bauer saw nationalism as a dissipated force. The
emerging world order was framed not by the defence of national
interests, but by a struggle for transnational supremacy among elites
with no local loyalties. The growing centralization of political power
was abetted by the levelling forces of the socialist movement, with its
own internationalist pretensions. This trend also underlay what Bauer
called political pauperism, a generalised disqualification of
individuals from participation in political activity. The conclusion of
this process would be to perfect mass society, which Bauer had analyzed
since the 1840s. The principle of substance, non-differentiation, and
conformity would reach its ultimate extension, and could then be
overthrown. World imperialism would issue in an all-embracing
catastrophe, the apocalyptic end of the old, Christian-Germanic order.
Only then would new cultural possibilities emerge. Though these could
not be predicted in detail, they would involve the emergence of an
unprecedented creative individuality, freed from religious and
metaphysical illusions.

Bauer likened the present crisis to the end of the classical world
in Roman imperialism. His studies in the 1850s located the origins of
Christianity in the second century CE, concluding that the first
gospel was written under Hadrian (117–138 CE), though slightly predated
by some of the Pauline epistles. Bauer traced the evolution of
Christian ideas from Hellenism and Stoicism, deriving the logos
doctrine of John’s gospel from Philo and neo-Platonic sources. As in
Herr Dr. Hengstenberg, he denied that Christianity had emerged
directly from Judaism. More than in his early work, though, he now
stressed the revolutionary power of the early Christian religion, as a
source of liberation for the excluded and impoverished elements of the
Roman Empire. His final book described Christianity as the socialist
culmination of Greek and Roman history. Responding to this argument in
his very positive obituary of Bauer, Friedrich Engels acknowledged the
importance of Bauer’s late work for the socialist critique of religion
(Sozialdemokrat, 1882). In 1908, Karl Kautsky’s book, The
Origins of Christianity
, applied Bauer’s thesis.

Bauer’s late writings identified sentiment and pietistic
feeling-certainty, rather than autonomous reason, as the principal
force in shaping modern subjectivity. His studies of the Quakers and of
pietism described passive inwardness and sentiment as the dominant
characteristics of the German Enlightenment. The practical reason of
Kant and Fichte merely translated the inner voice of pietist conscience
into a rationalist idiom. Bauer also described pietism as the end of
Christianity, since it destroyed dogma in favour of inner illumination
and personal moral rectitude. Consistent with his Christianity
, Bauer continued to define positive or statutory
religions by their exclusive dogmas and symbols; and he still saw the
general course of history as dissipating these dogmas, as mere
illusions. He discounted the mobilizing potential of religion in the
modern imperial order. In the Posaune, he had denounced
Schleiermacher’s efforts to restore dogmatic Christianity through an
appeal to feelings of dependency. Now he claimed that the force of
sentiment, contrary to Schleiermacher’s supposition, was to dissolve
dogmatic religion into personal conviction. The new world empire would
end with the inner erosion of religious belief. Not rational
speculation, but sentiment, would effect this transformation.

A stringent anti-nationalism and a marked anti-Semitism
characterized Bauer’s later thought. He defended German culture against
its political appropriation by the Prussian and Austrian regimes, but
criticized its insufficiencies, in Goethe, for example, who remained
enthralled to the metaphysical tradition. Bauer stressed that Germany
was not a racial unit, but a historical and cultural artefact,
reinforced by racial mixing, and not by racial purity (Barnikol 1972,
p. 393). It is clear, however, that some elements were excluded from
the mix: unlike his earlier treatment of the Jewish question as
historical, cultural, and religious, he now asserted that a natural
distinction of race created an impassable divide between Jews and
Europeans (Bauer, “Present Position of the Jews,” 1852).
His claim that the political significance of the Jews throughout the
political spectrum was a testimony to the debility of European culture
and to the approaching crisis was greeted by National-Socialist

Bauer’s late work contains prescient observations on globalization
and world war, and has affinities with a variety of twentieth-century
ideological forms, from socialism to imperialism and anti-Semitism. In
contrast, his early work bespeaks an original, Hegelian republicanism,
and offers cogent analyses of Restoration political thought and the
rise of mass society. His intellectual legacy is complex and

Bauer’s bicentennary in September 2009 was the occasion for a
three-day international conference, held at the
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Jena, and in Bauer’s nearby
birthplace of Eisenberg, to examine his problematic legacy for
philosophy, theology, and social thought. The conference sought to
retrieve the complex theoretical debates underlying the collapse of
the Hegelian system. Bauer’s reformulation and radicalisation of Hegel
were contrasted with the criticisms of Ludwig Feuerbach, Max Stirner,
and Karl Marx; and the specific character of his Vormärz
radicalism was underlined, whether in his republicanism or in his
theological insights and critique. Disputed issues involved the
content, continuity, and political bearing of Bauer’s pre-1848 works,
his relations with his contemporaries in the Hegelian School, the
question of his anti-Semitism, and his attitudes toward imperialism
and history after 1848. Also highlighted was the later Bauer’s
reception by twentieth-century conservatives such as Carl Schmitt. The
Proceedings of the conference were published in 2010 (Kodalle and
Reitz, eds., 2010)

Another aspect of recent Bauer research is a closer specification
of his 1840’s perfectionist ethic, through the application to his
thought of the concept of ‘post-Kantian perfectionism’
(Moggach 2011). In Leibniz or Christian Wolff, pre-Kantian
perfectionist doctrines, of Aristotelian inspiration, stressed the
ethical objective of happiness (broadly understood as material,
intellectual, and spiritual wellbeing) and the complementarity of
properly understood individual interests. Post-Kantian perfectionism
acknowledges Kant’s critique of these earlier eudaemonist forms
(described by him as ‘rational heteronomy’), with their
implications of political tutelage and paternalistic
‘enlightened despotism’. Unwilling to relinquish the
terrain of self-fashioning and self-realisation, however, which Kant
depoliticises but retains in his doctrine of virtue, post-Kantian
perfectionists like Schiller, Fichte, or Bauer seek a reformulation
rather than a complete repudiation of perfectionist ethics, one that
would be compatible with modern republican forms of life. Instead of
happiness, these new versions stress the central value of freedom as a
process or a conquest. The end in light of which actions, relations,
and legal forms and institutions can be assessed is rational
self-determination and the promotion of the necessary political and
social conditions of its exercise. Whereas the older perfectionism had
in general envisaged the thriving of a relatively fixed human nature,
the post-Kantian versions stress the historical variability of
cultural experiences and the determinability rather than the fixity of
the self, its openness to critique and self-conscious fashioning. In
contrast to older views, the harmony and complementarity of interests
is a problematic task, an aspect of rational self-shaping, rather than
a preconceived given. The diversity and conflictual character of
modern life, the culture of diremption as Schiller and Hegel had
described it, must be taken into account as the material element of a
post-Kantian perfectionist ethic. Bruno Bauer’s conceptions of history
and emancipation in the 1840s, it has been argued, are consistent with
this approach.

A contrasting tendency in recent research is to revive older views
of the Hegelian School as a whole, or in particular of Bauer, as
philosophically vacuous and politically disengaged, or else
politically counterproductive. Such a view originated in Marx’s
devastating depictions in the Holy Family, in Arnold Ruge’s
polemics with the Berlin Hegelians known as Die Freien (“The
Free”) in late 1842–43, and in other contemporary sources
such as Rudolf Haym (1857), who attributed the failures of the
Revolution of 1848 to the excessive radicalism of Hegel’s
youthful followers. An analogous judgement has recently been made on
the Hegelian movement (de Vos, 2012), with the New Hegelians being
distanced from Hegel as promoters of mere ideology rather than serious
engagement with philosophical and political issues. While rejecting
such negative judgements on the Hegelian School as a whole, the editor
of a recent important documentary collection from the period is highly
critical of Bruno Bauer, arguing that both his philosophical
importance and his personal prominence in the Hegelian movement have
been inflated in recent research (Hundt 2010, Apparat,
pp. 43–44). In his otherwise very positive review, Michael
Quante offers a rejoinder to Hundt’s conclusions on Bauer
(Quante, 2010, 201–02). In other recent work, Sorensen (2011)
validates Bauer’s republican credentials before 1848, and
examines his subsequent disillusionment, along with that of his fellow
Left-Hegelian radicals after the defeat of the revolutions.

A recent French edition of La trompette du jugement
(trans. Henri-Alexis Baatsch, with a commentary by
Nicolas Dessaux titled “De Marx comme trompettiste”)
contains a translation of Bauer’s anonymous 1841 text, Die
Posaune des jüngsten Gerichts
. This new translation slightly
revises Baatsch’s earlier translation of La Trompette du
jugement dernier contre Hegel, l’athée et
l’antéchrist. Un ultimatum
(1841). Dessaux’s
commentary revives the authorship debate surrounding Die
and its continuation, Hegel’s Lehre der
Religion und Kunst
(1842), by attributing much of the earlier
text to Karl Marx, though previous literature has challenged similar
claims. The grounds offered by Dessaux are that Marx possessed the
requisite philosophical and biblical competence to compose the text
himself, and that it contains typically Marxian turns of phrase. The
issue of Marx’s potential collaboration on these texts had been
raised previously; for example, the 1967 reissue of Hegels
by Scientia Verlag, Aalen, had identified Marx as the
possible author of the section of that text entitled “Hegels
Haß gegen die heilige Geschichte und die göttliche Kunst
der heiligen Geschichtsschreibung” (pp. 67–227). For earlier
literature that questions the attribution to Marx, see Moggach 2003
(p. 222, note 59). The question of possible collaboration is also
discussed in Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), David
Ryazanov and Viktor Adoratsky (eds.), 1929, I/2, p XLIV.

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