'On the Jewish Question' by Karl Marx (1843)


This essay was written as a responce to two essay's published by Bruno Bauer in 1843, The Jewish Question and The Capacity of Present-day Jews and Christians to Become Free.

The German Jews want emancipation.

...the Jew by his very nature cannot be emancipated.

...as a Jew he is in religious opposition to the dominant religion.

Once Jew and Christian recognise their respective religions as nothing more than different stages in the development of the human spirit, as snake-skins cast off by history, and man as the snake which wore them, they will no longer be in religious opposition, but in a purely critical and scientific, a human relationship. Science will then be their unity. But oppositions in science are resolved by science itself.

The state is the intermediary between man and man's freedom. Just as Christ is the intermediary to whom man attributes all his divinity, all his religious constraints, so the state is the intermediary to which man transfers all his non-divinity, all his human unconstraint.

... this distinction [i.e., between the church and the secular state] emerges only in so far as divisions occur in the ecclesiastical sphere itself. It is only in this way that the state, above the particular church, has attained to the universality of thought- its formal principle- and is bringing this universality into existence.

Criticism... has every justification in forcing the state which bases itself on the Bible into intellectual disarray in which it no longer knows whether it is illusion or reality and in which the infamy of its secular ends - for which religion serves as a cover - comes into irreconcilable conflict with the integrity of its religious consciousness, which sees religion as the aim of the world. This state can free itself from its inner torment only by becoming the bailiff of the Catholic Church. In the face of this Church, which declares the secular power to be its servant, the state- the secular power which claims to rule over the religious spirit- is powerless.

...the religious spirit can never be truly secularized. [...] Religion remains the ideal, unsecular consciousness of its members.

The members of the political state are religious because of the dualism between individual life and species-life, between the life of civil society and political life. They are religious inasmuch as man considers political life, which is far removed from his actual individuality, to be his true life and inasmuch as religion is here the spirit of civil society and the expression of the separation and distance of man from man. Political democracy is Christian inasmuch as it regards man- not just one man but all men- as a sovereign and supreme being; but man in his uncultivated, unsocial aspect, man in his contingent existence, man just as he is, man as he has been corrupted, lost to himself, sold, and exposed to the rule of inhuman conditions and elements by the entire organization of our society- in a word, man who is not yet a true species-being. The sovereignty of man- but of man as an alien being distinct from actual man- is the fantasy, the dream, the postulate of Christianity, whereas in democracy it is a present and material reality, a secular maxim.

It remains for us to consider ... the droits de l'homme as distinct from the droits du citoyen [the rights of man as distinct from the rights of the citizen].

Constitution of Pennsylvania, Article 9, 3: 'All men have received from nature the imprescriptible right to worship the Almighty according to the dictates of their consciences and no one can of right be compelled to follow, to institute or to support against his will any religion or religious ministry. No human authority can under any circumstances whatsoever intervene in questions of conscience and control the powers of the soul.'

The limits within which each individual can move without harming others are determined by law, just as the boundary between two fields is determined by a stake. The liberty we are here dealing with is that of man as an isolated monad who is withdrawn into himself.

...the right of man to freedom is not based on the association of man with man but rather on the separation of man from man. It is the right of this separation.

The practical application of the right of man to freedom is the right of man to private property.

The right to property is that right which belongs to each citizen to enjoy and dispose at will of his goods, his revenues and the fruit of his work and industry.

The right to private property is therefore the right to enjoy and dispose of ones' resources as one wills, without regard for other men and independently of society: the right of self-interest. The individual freedom mentioned above, together with this application of it, forms the foundation of civil society.

Equality, here in its non-political sense, simply means equal access to liberty as described above, namely that each man is equally considered to be a self-sufficient monad.

Article 9 (Constitution of 1793): 'Security consists in the protection accorded by society to each of its members for the conservation of his person, his rights and his property.'

...not one of the so-called rights of man goes beyond egoistic man, man as a member of civil society, namely an individual withdrawn into himself, his private interest and his private desires and separated from the community.

It is a curious thing that a people which is just beginning to free itself, to tear down all the barriers between the different section of the people and to found a political community, that such a people should solemnly proclaim the rights of egoistic man, separated from his fellow men and from the community (declaration of 1791), and even repeat this proclamation at a time when only the most heroic devotion can save the nation and is for that reason pressingly required, at a time when the sacrifice of all the interests of civil society becomes the order of the day and egoism must be punished as a crime. (Declaration of the Rights of Man, etc., 1793).

...political life declares itself to be a mere means whose goal is the life of civil society.

While the 'unlimited freedom of the press' ... is guaranteed as a consequence of the right to individual freedom, the freedom of the press is completely destroyed, for 'the freedom of the press should not be permitted when it compromises public freedom' [note: 'Robespierre Jeune', Histoire parlementaire de la revolution francaise by Buchez and Roux, Vol. 28, p. 159]. This therefore means that the right to freedom ceases to be a right as soon as it comes into conflict with political life, whereas in theory political life is simply the guarantee of the rights of man, the rights of individual man, and should be abandoned as soon as it contradicts its goal, these rights of man.

This man [the egoistic man which Feudal society dissolved into as it sank into its foundations], the member of civil society, is now the foundation, the presupposition of the political state. In the rights of man the state acknowledges him as such.

...man was not freed from religion- he received the freedom of religion. He was not freed from property- he received the freedom of property. He was not freed from the egoism of trade- he received marked freedom.

...man, as member of civil society, inevitably appears as unpolitical man, as natural man. The rights of man appear as natural rights.

... the relation between the Jewish and Christian religions, as well as their relation to criticism. Their relation to criticism is their relation 'to the capacity to become free'.

The theological problem as to who has the better chance of gaining salvation- Jew or Christian - is here repeated in a more enlightened form: who is the more capable of emancipation? The question is no longer: which gives freedom, Judaism or Christianity? Rather it is the reverse: which gives more freedom, the negation of Judaism or the negation of Christianity?

The emancipation of the Jews is, in the last analysis, the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.

The Jews have emancipated themselves in so far as the Christians have become Jews.

Judaism has kept going alongside Christianity not simply as a religious critique of Christianity and an embodiment of doubts about the religious origins of Christianity but also because the practical Jewish spirit, Judaism, has managed to survive in Christian society and has even reached its highest level of development there [note: The German word Judentum- 'Judaism'- could also be used to mean 'commerce'. Marx plays on this double meaning of the word.]. The Jew, who is a particular member of civil society, is only the particular manifestation of the Judaism of civil society.

Judaism has managed to survive not despite history but through it.

Civil society ceaselessly begets the Jew from its own entrails.

...egoism, is the principle of civil society and appears as such in all its purity as soon as civil society has fully brought forth the political state. The god of... self-interest is money.

Money is the jealous god of Israel before whom no other god may stand. [...] The god of the Jews has been secularized and become the god of the world.

The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general.

Jewish Jesuitry, ...is the relationship of the world of self-interest to the laws that dominate it; the wily circumvention of those laws constitutes the principle skill of that world.

Indeed, the motion of that world within its laws is necessarily a continual supersession [Aufhebung] of the law.

Judaism could not create a new world; it could only draw the new creations and conditions of the world into the province of its own activity, since practical need, whose understanding is only at the level of self-interest, is passive and incapable of extending itself in directions of its own choosing; instead, it finds itself extended in line with the development of social conditions themselves.

Judaism reaches its peak with the completion of civil society; but civil society first reaches its completion in the Christian world.

Christianity sprang from Judaism. It has now dissolved back into Judaism.

Christianity overcame real Judaism only in appearance. It was too refined, too spiritual, to do away with the crudeness of practical need except by raising it into celestial space.

Christianity is the sublime thought of Judaism and Judaism is the vulgar application of Christianity.

...the Christian egoism of eternal happiness inevitably becomes the material egoism of the Jew.

... in present-day society we find the essence of the modern Jew not in an abstract but in a supremely empirical form, not only as the narrowness of the Jew but as the Jewish narrowness of society.

As soon as society succeeds in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism- the market and the conditions which give rise to it- the Jew will have become impossible.

The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.