Notes on the Sociology of Religion (13)

John C. Rankin

Marx, Karl, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” from Karl Marx, Early Writings, translated by T.B. Bottomore (London, C.A. Watts & Co., LTD.,), pp. 43-44 (-59).


  1. Up front summary: In transition from capitalism to communism and socialism, man-made religion (there is none other) is a necessary but transitional opiate; after which true happiness will triumph.
  2. Background: a) 1818-1883, rabbinic and Lutheran families, Prussian-Jewish political theorist and economist, Universities of Bonn and Humboldt, thesis on The Differences Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature; b) The Communist Manifesto (1848), where society = class struggle, where feudalism yields to capitalism yields to communism, and finally to a classless socialism under the dictatorship of the proletariat; c) influences of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Engels (compatriot); “Jewish Question”; d) The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) and Das Kapital (1859); e) power to transform human nature by human exercise of political power; f) Friedrich Hayek’s critique of Marx in The Road to Serfdom (1944).
  3. Brief Content: a) “For Germany, the criticism of religion has been largely completed; and the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism” (p. 43); b) “The basis of irreligious criticism is this: man makes religion; religion does not make man” (p. 43); c) “Man is the human world, the state, society” (p. 43), and religion is an inverted reality that needs to be conquered; d) “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” (pp. 43-44);  abolish illusion of religion for real happiness; f) “It is the task of history, therefore, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. The immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, is to unmask human self-alienation in its secular form not that it has been unmasked in its sacred form. Thus the criticism of heaven is transformed into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics” (p. 44) = thesis point; g) pp. 44-59 = specific critiques of Hegel’s philosophy of right − 1. Martin Luther started the critique of religion from within, did not go far enough; now religion must be fully abolished, 2. No traditional class in society can accomplish revolution – must be the newly formed proletariat, the disenfranchised poor, alone, who can do it…
  4. Critique: reactionary, facile and unprobing assumptions, theologically, philosophcally and sociologically, in service to a political manifesto rooted in a de facto “will to power.”