The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer

By Douglas Moggach | Go to book overview

2
“FREE MEANS ETHICAL “: IDEALISM, HISTORY,
AND CRITICAL THEORY

Bauer's critical theory attains its mature form after 1839, with the complex interweaving of aesthetic and ethical motifs in an original, Hegelian republicanism. The diffuseness of Bauer's writings requires us first to examine the model synthetically, reconstructing it from its many fragmentary expositions, and exploring its general outlines, as it applies to the subjective andthe objective dimensions of history. We can then trace its detailedelaboration through the writings of the Vormäarz. The Hegelian idea of the unity of thought and being, expressed in the language of infinite self-consciousness, is fundamental to Bauer's conception of the historical process, the necessity it contains, andthe critical judgements it elicits. In the 1840s, Bauer employs the concept of infinite self-consciousness to describe this unity. This concept replicates features of Hegelian objective spirit anddevelops the relation between self-consciousness andits historical manifestations. Bauer proposes to derive legitimate and determinate content for this consciousness through a specific form of ethical idealism, to which the previous literature on the Left Hegelians has been insufficiently attentive: a conception of an evolving Sittlichkeit infuses his model of immanent critique, his doctrine of autonomy, and his repudiation of heteronomy. The thought of the historical process as a whole permits a universal perspective from which to make judgements on the existing order. These judgements articulate Bauer's republicanism in the 1840s, though the limits of his political critique will also appear in a sharpened dichotomy between universal and particular interests, especially apparent after 1843. We must first restrict our attention to the formal aspects of the critical theory. The substance of Bauer's conception of history, and of his republicanism, will be treated subsequently, as these ideas unfold more concretely in his texts of 1839 to 1849.

Bauer's central concept, infinite self-consciousness, is clearly of Hegelian origin. Hegel describes personality as the ability to give oneself one's own determinations, to transform given particularity into conscious individuality by investing it with reflective choice. In the beautiful

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