Cripes, there’s a lot to say about today’s episode. Marx was never really a disciple of Feuerbach – he remained on friendly terms with him, which was a pretty big deal for Marx, who happily tore apart long standing friendships over minor doctrinal disputes. But Feuerbach, like Hegel before him, ultimately proved unwilling to go far enough for Marx’s taste. But before getting to that, perhaps we should look at the two on their own first.
Hegel is a giant, plain and simple. With most philosophers, if you veer far enough left or right, you can escape the gravitational pull of their ideas and proceed forward. Not so Hegel – the dialectic (the process of ideas producing their antitheses and eventually combining therewith into a higher synthesis that doesn’t entirely eliminate either of the two), as an explanatory tool for the progress of history, was so powerful that everybody used it. Marx and his crew shaved off its metaphysical wibblies and created dialectical materialism, the core of socialist and communist historical methods. On the other side of the spectrum, Christian scholars saw it as a way to breathe new life into the creaking contradictions of theology that the Enlightenment had bared to the world’s view. Hegel himself, in later life, used it to argue for an essentially conservative social program. This turn was rejected by the “Young Hegelians” under whom Marx studied, who saw it as Hegel defanging his own analytic cobra, and who therefore turned for inspiration to the works of the Young Hegel.
Incidentally, when I first was studying these guys in high school, it took me about a year to figure out that the Young Hegelians were a group of people who liked the works of the young Hegel, rather than a bunch of Hegelians who weren’t very old yet.
Feuerbach, who comes from an actually really fascinating family and deserves a close look if you’ve got the chance, is I think sort of relegated to “The Guy Who Links Hegel to Marx”, the implication being that he wasn’t as original as Hegel, nor as revolutionary as Marx, and whose whole intellectual purpose therefore was to sort of Hold Fort Hegel until Marx came along to do the job properly. And that’s too bad. Yes, he was often not willing to go as far as Marx in reinterpreting Hegel, but Marx often made himself a hard man to follow. If you want to see what the man could do, just look at the first, eh, twenty pages or so (the book is literally on the shelf two feet away, but damn I’m feeling lazy, so that’s going to have to do by way of pagination) of Feuerbach’s Thoughts on Death and Immortality – his history of the concept of personal immortality, and in particular, his description of the contorted notion of humility that arose therefrom, is worthy of Nietzsche for its bite and insight.
So, finally, what did Marx mean when he famously said that he had Turned Hegel On His Head? There’s lots that can be said here too, but basically it comes down to what the important things in history really are. For Hegel, we are all part of the project of the Spirit or Mind of the world, working itself out into ever higher forms through the dialectic. We bumble through our existence, erect ideas about our natures and then fight over them, and by the end of it all we have moved the notched one forward for the world spirit. Go team. Marx starts at the other end – with our STUFF – how we relate to our stuff, how we deal with making things with our hands and then watching that turned into profit for somebody else, how we group together or not to establish new relations vis a vis stuff. The overall mechanic is the same, that bourgeois fights king to make bourgeois kings which fight workers to make bourgeois factory worker kings, all very nice and dialectic, but it is being pushed from beneath by the material relations of society, rather than from above by the self-realizing push of the world spirit.
In another note about today’s comic, it should be noted that the Crane Stance was totally The Shit in about fifth grade – it was totally undefeatable (nobody saw Karate Kid II), and it was way easy to do. Fights on the playground broke down really fast to one kid doing a crane stance, triggering the other kid to do a crane stance, and thence to a lot of awkward hopping until the bell rang.
– Count Dolby von Luckner