Bauer, Bruno (1809–1882)

views updated


Bruno Bauer, the German theologian and historian, studied theology under P. H. Marheineke in Berlin, at the height of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's influence there. When Bauer became a docent at the University of Berlin in 1834, he joined Marheineke on the Hegelian right wing. When he transferred to the University of Bonn in 1839, however, he was already reacting theologically against right-wing Hegelianism. D. F. Strauss's Life of Jesus (18351836) rocked the theological world, but it seemed to Bauer not sufficiently critical, and helped to spur him on to his own investigations of the Gospels.

Bauer began with literary criticism of the Gospel texts themselves, without making any assumptions about the historical life of Jesus or the early church. The fourth Gospel was simply a work of reflective Christian art dominated by Philo's logos concept, impressive as such, but without historical basis (Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte des Johannes, Bremen, 1840). The situation was the same with regard to the Synoptic Gospels, except that they were based on the conception of the Messiah (Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker, 3 vols. Leipzig, 18411842.) Bauer adopted the conclusion of C. H. Weisse and C. Wilke that only Mark's Gospel was original, but argued further that there was no reason to assume any historical tradition behind this single literary source. Incongruities in Mark's text suggested that Mark had invented the events he related. Mark's story was accepted because it answered the spiritual needs of his age. Jesus was the man in whose consciousness the antitheses between heaven and earth, God and man, were reconciled. His character evoked the Messiah concept, into which his life was absorbed by Mark. Bauer's view seemed to undercut the historical basis of Christianity so sharply that the theological faculties of the Prussian universities were polled (with mixed results) as to whether Bauer should be dismissed from Bonn. Bauer sealed his fate with the article "Theological Shamelessness" (1814), in which he denounced the Christian faith as the source of lies and servile hypocrisy; he was dismissed in March 1842. Ultimately, Bauer denied the historicity of Jesus altogether, holding that Christianity was an amalgam of Stoic and Gnostic ideas in Jewish dress.

Meanwhile, Bauer had written his anonymous Die Posaune des jüngsten Gerichts über Hegel den Atheisten und Antichristen (Trumpet of the last judgment on Hegel the atheist and Antichrist, Leipzig, 1841), ostensibly from the standpoint of faith, attempting to show that the real result of Hegelian philosophy was neither the pantheism of Strauss nor the humanism of Ludwig Feuerbachmuch less a defense of the Gospelbut Bauer's own out-and-out atheism.

At that time living on a small estate in Rixdorf, near Berlin, Bauer gathered around himself a circle of "free spirits" (including his brother Edgar) who frequented Berlin cafes. Bauer wrote brilliantly ironical "critiques" of recent historical developments in which he announced the downfall of Western philosophy and culture. For a time he collaborated with Arnold Ruge and with other left-wing Hegelians. But Bauer was as contemptuous of their revolutionary programs as he was of the bourgeois establishment. He attacked the inconsistencies and misconceptions of both groups; special class interests, he argued, are blindly one-sided, and the masses are so much dead matter, and inimical to the spirit. Only criticism, without presupposition, reservation, or special pleading, can be pure, can replace blindness with true conceptions, and can bring about the fundamental change in human consciousness that would really be liberating. History will, by its own "logic," bring about the transformation which no deliberate program can institute: what criticism has destroyed in thought today, history will destroy in fact tomorrow. Bauer justified these views by means of a metaphysic of consciousness, according to which the world is the projection of the ego. Matter is the as yet unclarified aspect of the world; evil social conditions are the product of uncritical and self-alienated principles. Christianity, for example, freed the ego from its thralldom to the material world, but only through an alienation of spirit from matter that had in its turn created a new burden. But Bauer held that once Christianity's historical roots are exposed, its self-alienating power is broken; hence the importance of criticism. The same must be done with other forms of human bondage: revolutionary programs which do not reach to the roots of consciousness are futile.

Accordingly, Bauer attacked various reform movements as insufficiently radical. Jewish agitation for political rights, for example, was based on the separate religious identity of the Jew, and could never be defended on those grounds against those whose religious prejudices took a different form; the Jew could become free only by ceasing to be religious. Karl Marx answered this argument in his essay "On the Jewish Problem" (1844), and attacked Bauer as "St. Bruno" in The Holy Family: Critique of the Critical Critic, against Bruno Bauer and Consorts (1845). The real problem, according to Marx, was economic class behavior, and not the religious projections of that behavior. Bauer's view that social conditions could be changed by changing men's minds was a vestige of idealist-theological error, and the practical result of Bauer's theoretical radicalism would be political reactionism.

Bauer did in fact become a defender of Prussian conservatism, on the radical grounds that limited reform movements seemed to him to do more harm than good. But after 1850 his influence waned; though he continued to write prodigiously, his views were generally too eccentric to be relevant.

See also Conservatism; Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hegelianism; Marx, Karl; Philo Judaeus; Strauss, David Friedrich.


additional works by bauer

Vollständige Geschichte der Parteikämpfe in Deutschland während der Jahre 18421846, 3 vols. Charlottenburg, Germany: E. Bauer, 1847.

Die bürgerliche Revolution in Deutschland seit dem Anfang der deutsche-katholischen Bewegung bis zur Gegenwart. Berlin: G. Hempel, 1849.

Russland und das Germanentum. Berlin: n.p., 1853.

Die Hegelsche Linke. Edited by Karl Löwith. Stuttgart and Bad Cannstatt: F. Frommann, 1962. Includes Die Posaune and selections from Russland und das Germanentum.

Christus und die Cäsaren, der Ursprung des Christentums aus dem römischen Griechentum. Berlin: E. Grosser, 1877.

works on bauer

Hertz-Eichenrode, Dieter. Der Junghegelianer Bruno Bauer im Vormärz. Berlin: n.p., 1959.

Hook, Sidney. From Hegel to Marx. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1936. Pp. 89125.

Löwith, Karl. Von Hegel zu Nietzsche, 4th ed. Stuttgart, 1958. Pp. 120125; 322324; 366374. For an extensive bibliography see pp. 432433.

Schweitzer, Albert. Geschichte des Leben-Jesu-Forschung. Tübingen, 1926. Pp. 141161. Translated from the first German edition, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (1906), by W. Montgomery under the title The Quest of the Historical Jesus. London, 1910. Pp. 137160. Reprinted, New York: Macmillan, 1950.

Stephen D. Crites (1967)

About this article

Bauer, Bruno (1809–1882)

Updated About content Print Article