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Marx and the Judaic metaphor

Monday, 14 Apr 2014

Karl Marx on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn. The essential ingredients of a civil society, so feared by Luther as a new judaic paideuma, were openly affirmed as such by Karl Marx.

When Marx wrote of Christianity, he wrote of a full-blown Calvinistic, covenantal view of church and society as voluntary associations, which would eventually come to be accepted by all the denominations of the faith, openly or tacitly. Religion was no longer a life to be lived, but a private belief to be entered into voluntarily and practiced privately, outside of the economic sphere. Meanwhile, in this economic sphere, or civil society, Marx described how life was led in the ‘spirit’ of Judaism, by all.

Judaism has held its own alongside Christianity, not only as religious criticism of Christianity, not only as the embodiment of doubt in the religious derivation of Christianity, but equally because the practical Jewish spirit, Judaism, has maintained itself and even attained its highest development in Christian society. The Jew, who exists as a distinct member of civil society, is only a particular manifestation of the Judaism of civil society.*
From being the despised values of a persecuted minority that doggedly persisted in its pursuit of economic gain against the strictures of the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Vienne (1312), the source of disorder that brought down the vertical hierarchy of Christendom, the commercialism associated with the Jews, had become accepted as the new order. Marx asked, ‘what, in itself, was the basis of the Jewish religion?’ He answered; ‘practical need, selfishness’.
The monotheism of the Jew, therefore, is in reality the polytheism of the many needs, a polytheism which makes even the lavatory an object of divine law. Practical need, egoism, is the principle of civil society, and as such appears in pure form as soon as civil society has fully given birth to the political state. The god of practical need and self-interest is money.
Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities. Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world – both the world of men and nature – of its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.*
Man had exchanged the God of heaven for the ‘god of the world’, Mammon. Under no account is historical development in this era to be seen as a progression to a new Enlightenment; that would be falling into the trap of believing the victor’s history and philosophy. Man exchanged one belief for another: one based on the vision of attaining as close an alignment as possible to the cosmic order, the other based on money. Marx, writing 300 years later than Luther, recognised as an established fact that which Luther could see coming: money was at the foundation of the new secular order. Judaism was the metaphorical expression used by Marx for that which was now espoused by all.
The god of the Jews has become secularised and has become the god of the world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange.*
The worship of money now separated all men from reality, leaving nature to be a thing of dreams and pathos.
The view of nature attained under the domination of private property and money is a real contempt for, and practical debasement of, nature; in the Jewish religion, nature exists, it is true, but it exists only in imagination.*
There is a price for everything.
It is in this sense that [in a 1524 pamphlet] Thomas Münzer declares it intolerable “that all creatures have been turned into property, the fishes in the water, the birds in the air, the plants on the earth; the creatures, too, must become free.”*
A virtue is made of stripping all the values out of life, except the monetary ones. Contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in himself, which is contained in an abstract form in the Jewish religion, is the real, conscious standpoint, the virtue of the man of money. The species-relation itself, the relation between man and woman, etc., becomes an object of trade! The woman is bought and sold.*

National identity and all diversity are lost
The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general. *
The new ‘morality neither looks up to the divine, nor is it grounded in anything
The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely formal rites with which theworld of self-interest surrounds itself.
In the breakdown of the ties of familiarity and non-monetary relationships, all ties become contractual
Here,too, man’s supreme relation is the legal one, his relation to laws that are valid for him not because they are laws of his own will and nature,but because they are the dominant laws and because departure from them is avenged.*
And yet, the money-makers can break these laws with impunity, sowing the seeds of distrust.
Jewish Jesuitism, the same practical Jesuitism which Bauer discovers in the Talmud, is the relation of the world of self-interest to the laws governing that world, the chief art of which consists in the cunning circumvention of these laws.
Indeed, the movement of this world within its framework of laws is bound to be a continual suspension of law.*
Life as religion and work as rite had been superseded by the actions of practical necessity.
Judaism could not develop further as a religion, could not develop further theoretically, because the world outlook of practical need is essentially limited and is completed in a few strokes.

By its very nature, the religion of practical need could find its consummation not in theory, but only in practice, precisely because its truth is practice.*

There  had been a fundamental shift from a social organism that was founded on the principle of unity in multiplicity to one in which qualitative differences were eroded within a fragmenting society.
Judaism reaches its highest point with the perfection of civil society, but it is only in the Christian world that civil society attains perfection. Only under the dominance of Christianity, which makes all national, natural, moral, and theoretical conditions extrinsic to man, could civil society separate itself completely from the life of the state, sever all the species-ties of man, put egoism and selfish need in the place of these species-ties, and dissolve the human world into a world of atomistic individuals who are inimically opposed to one another.
Christianity sprang from Judaism. It has merged again in Judaism.*
It is to this extent that, within the metaphorical parameters of Marx’s critique, the dominant western culture became Judaic. Marx’s summary of his position on this profound cultural shift was selected by Julian Evola for inclusion in Revolt Against the Modern World, for the terse way that it captured a major turning point in western thought.
What are the mundane principles of Judaism? Practical necessity and the pursuit of one’s own advantage. What is its earthly god? Money. The Jew has emancipated himself in a typically Jewish fashion not only in that he has taken control of the power of money, but also in that through him, money has become a world power and the practical Jewish spirit has become the spirit of the Christian people. The Jews have emancipated themselves insofar as the Christians have become Jews. The god of the Jews has become secularised and has become the god of the earth. The exchange is the true god of the Jews.**
The antithesis between these ‘mundane principles of Judiasm’ (driven by economic and monetary goals) and a declining tradition founded on a divine principle, however the latter might manifest itself in different cultures, would be the principle point of conflict in world history, rendering other political differences quite minor. In a world of ‘atomistic individuals who are inimically opposed to one another’, individual rights become the central concern of political philosophy, whether they find expression on the political left or right. One side might argue that the coercive state is going to protect those individual rights, the other might say that a limited state is going to allow those individual rights to flourish, but it is essentially no longer the general good, but the individual’s pursuit of the good life that counts.

In economics, the ‘mundane principle’ of pursuing one’s own advantage leads to an acceptance of the view that private vices contribute to the common wealth. This would have been shocking to the Medieval mind, even assuming it could understand it. The idea that benevolence is not really important, but that the pursuit of personal gain is, was the kind of thinking that the church councils of the high Middle Ages sought to expunge with the banning of usury.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.)
However acceptable to the modern world, Smith’s statement would have been heresy to all levels of society in the Middle Ages.

If the political and economic orders are principally about ‘egoism and selfish need’, science cannot be about speculating on the vertical order, the cosmic order, the harmonious chain of being. It is driven toanalyse things so that we can better advance what we desire; it is about learning to exploit nature in such a way that the needs of the individual are satisfied. It was noted above that a money-based rule ofquantity ensured that man’s experience of space became just as desacralised as time, being equally indifferent to its contents. Science came to reflect this development by divorcing phenomena from their contexts. Science would from now on approach the world from a distance, with each phenomenon examined in isolation as a problem to be solved.

This single point of view of the absolute subject, who beholds objects that have been abstracted out of the real world, unworlded into an abstract space conditioned by mathematics, would have a revolutionising impact upon art, where ‘egoism and selfish need’ would find expression in the desacralised and homogenious space that allowed for the development of depth-perspective. All images were subordinated to the point of view of a single subject who therefore determined all the properties of the phenomena within the frame. This was not an objective view of phenomena, it was highly subjective and representative of the position taken by western philosophy generally, i.e. it is the subject who will dictate to phenomena how they will be. This distanced experience of the world was the polar-opposite to the total engagement and immersion of traditional man in hyper-realism.

*K. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (Paris, 1844), Marxists’ Internet Archive, (Cited 7.3.13)
**K. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (Paris, 1844), 209-12, quoted in J. Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 1969.

John Dunn.

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