Young Hegelians - History

History

It was the outcry caused by David Strauss' The Life of Jesus in 1835 which first made the 'Young Hegelians' aware of their existence as a distinct group, and it was their attitude to religion that distinguished the left and right from then onwards (August Cieszkowski is a possible exception to this rule). Despite the lack of political freedom of speech in Prussia at the time King Wilhelm III, under the influence of his relatively enlightened minister of religion, health and education Altenstein, allowed pretty much anything to be said about religion so long as there was practical obedience to his enforced merging of Calvinism and Lutheranism and spreading of Protestantism in Catholic areas. Thus the Young Hegelians at first found it easier to direct their critical energies towards religion than politics. A major consolidator of the Young Hegelian movement was the journal Hallische Jahrbücher (1838–41) (later Deutsche Jahrbücher (1841–43)) which was edited by Arnold Ruge and received contributions from many of the other Young Hegelians (and, in its infancy, Old Hegelians). It attacked Catholicism and orthodox Protestantism but was initially politically moderate, taking the line that Prussia was the embodiment of historical reason, which required that it evolve by peaceful reform towards a bourgeois egalitarian state with a constitutional monarchy, Protestant religion (though without a dominating state church) and freedom of speech. Another nucleus of the Young Hegelian movement was the Doctor's Club in Berlin (later known as 'the Free'), a society of intellectuals founded in 1837 and led by Bruno Bauer who, by 1838, was writing the most anti-Christian pamphlets in Germany at the time.

The radicalization and politicization of the movement occurred when the new king, upon whom the Young Hegelians had pinned their hopes of political reform, Frederick William IV, came to power in 1840 and curtailed political freedom and religious tolerance more than before. In philosophy the radicalization took the form of a breach with Hegel’s doctrine of the Prussian state as the fulfillment of history. In religion it manifested as a rejection of Christianity even in its most diluted pantheistic form and an adoption of atheism (led by Bauer and Feuerbach). In politics the Young Hegelians dropped much of Hegel's political theory and for the most part turned to republicanism - the exceptions being Moses Hess, who mixed Hegelianism with communism, and of course Marx and Engels. In all these areas a central change was the adoption of certain ideas of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, especially the notion that the self-transcendence of the world by man was a possibility and duty, but one that could never be conclusively fulfilled.

Although they spread democratic ideas throughout Germany to some extent, the intellectual exertions of the Young Hegelians failed to connect with or stir any wider social movement, and when the Deutsche Jahrbücher was suppressed in 1843 the movement started to disintegrate.

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