Ernst Bloch

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Ernst Bloch

Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) was a humanistic interpreter of Marxist thought, justifying and amplifying the religious and philosophical appeal of the beliefs of Karl Marx.

Bloch was born in Germany July 8, 1885, and studied, taught, and died there, but he lived in exile from the Hitler regime after 1933 and in the United States from 1938 to 1948. Later, he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig, German Democratic Republic, and director of its Institute for Philosophy, 1948-1957, and, after 1961, honorary professor at Tübingen in the Federal Republic of Germany.

After studying philosophy, music, and physics in Munich and Würzburg and Berlin, Bloch became a private student of the social philosopher Georg Simmel in the German capital. Later, in Heidelberg and again in Berlin, Bloch associated with the most seminal thinkers of the German Empire (and later the Weimar Republic), among them Max Weber, György Lukács, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Bertolt Brecht.

Bloch gained his fame as a humanistic interpreter of Marxist thought, explaining the thrust of Marx's historical materialism in terms of a tendency on the part of all things to become more and better than they are. The material origin of this tendency in human beings lies in human drives, and first of all in the drive to escape hunger; it evolves in the directions set by human hope. In this, humanity is at one with the material universe, which itself is as much shaped by what it has not yet become as by what it already seems to be: "possibility" is a characteristic of nature as such; and, indeed, so is "purpose," movement toward an end to history such that both movement and end will only be clear when complete. Human hope participates with nature in the striving toward this completion.

Nature itself may be said to be "aware" of, and lending direction to, this thrust, so that as long as there have been such dynamic "objects" in the world, there has also been this driving "subject." Where existentialists of the same period saw only anxiety (angst) emanating from the uprootedness of human beings, Bloch saw hope in their striving for completion. The future was thus a decisive category for Bloch. His major work was The Principle of Hope (Das Prinzip Hoffnung) in three volumes: 1954, 1955, and 1959.

Bloch believed he could discern the end goal of human hope in the society imagined by communists, a society no longer marked by its oppositions, contradictions, and antagonisms, but blessed with the absence of these and of human estrangement. The lack of completion in matter or nature itself expressed itself in human beings as nature became an "object" for human "subjects;" that is to say, as things notyet-what-they-could-be sparked and shaped the thinking of unfulfilled people, with the result that the latter were always at strife. The conditions of a communist society—e.g., total sharing—would presumably annul such limitations, fill in the gaps both materially and spiritually, and bestow peace.

It was Bloch's opinion that, in this treatment of matter and human history, he was taking the philosophy of Karl Marx a step or so further, justifying and amplifying its religious and philosophical appeal. The Communist Party where he taught in the German Democratic Republic, however, was annoyed by Bloch's inconsistencies: dialectical materialism had no room for such a "subjectivity" of "objective" matter, with the accompanying quasi-religious metaphysics. More centrally, Bloch was failing to see that not unfulfilled objects but a greedy "ruling class" taking over workers' products and their lives was the cause of alienation and strife in human affairs. The trouble was that Bloch's object-subject scheme was universal, making all people its prey and leaving all to settle subjectively for whichever remedies they preferred. If the real "object" to keep in view, however, was the class struggle, then the party was obviously the apt body of thinkers, or the best "subject," to show society the way.

These disagreements had their practical results as Bloch defended reformist aims behind the anti-Soviet uprisings in Poland in 1955 and in Hungary in 1956 while the party backed their suppression. The differences led to Bloch's departure for West Germany in 1961. Nonetheless, in the West Bloch continued to express his opposition to what he saw as capitalism, imperialism, and militarism; and he gave his support to "socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

On the other hand, Bloch's thinking made him of great interest to Christian readers, especially those who took modern political philosophy and notions of historical development seriously. Such Christians saw points of convergence with their theology. Both communist critics and Christians who welcomed Bloch spoke of his system as a "secular eschatology." This influence is explicit, for example, in Jürgen Moltmann and in works of the "theology of hope" appearing in the 1960s.

Some Bloch books were warehoused and not released for sale in the United States, where they are difficult to find. There are many commentaries in Europe, but almost none in the United States.

Works in German by Bloch include Freiheit und Ordnung (1946); Das Prinzip Hoffnung (1954, 1955, and 1959); Subjekt-Objekt, Erläuterungen zu Hegel (1951); Thomas Müntzer als Theologe der Revolution (1921); and Wissen und Hoffnung. Auszüge aus seinen Werken (1955).

Works in English by Block include Atheism in Christianity: the religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom (1972); Man on his Own. An essay on the Philosophy of religion (1970); On Karl Marx (1971); and A Philosophy of the Future (1970).

Further Reading

Bloch's work is represented in J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope (1967) and W. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God (1967). Many of the best references are in German: J. Habermas, "Ein marxistischer Schelling. Zu Ernst Blochs spekulativem Materialismus," in Theorie und Praxis (Berlin, 1963); Gottfried Handel, "Bloch, Ernst," in Philosophen-Lexikon, E. Lange and D. Alexander, editors (Berlin, 1982); and G. M. Tripp, Absurdität und Hoffnung. Zum Werk von Albert Camus und Ernst Bloch (Berlin, 1968). □

Bloch, Ernst

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BLOCH, ERNST (1885–1977), German philosopher. Bloch was born in Ludwigshafen, studied philosophy, musicology, and physics at the universities of Munich and Wuerzburg, and became doctor of philosophy under the direction of O. Kuelpe with a dissertation on "Rickert und das Problem der modernen Erkenntnis." From 1908 to 1912, he studied in Georg Simmel's seminary of philosophy and sociology in Berlin; from 1912 to 1914, he lived in Heidelberg, where he was a permanent guest in Max Weber's seminary. Living in Munich and Garmisch from 1914 to 1917, he was close to the expressionist painters. As a pacifist and opponent of the regime of German Emperor William ii, he lived in exile in Switzerland from 1917 to 1919. In his essay "Symbol – die Juden" (1911/12), which begins with the assertion, "The pride in being Jewish is now again awakened," Bloch analyzes the principal characteristics of Jewish identity in the era of modernity. His first book, Geist der Utopie (1918, 1923; Spirit of Utopia, 2000), which includes "Philosophy of Music, " is a metaphysical inquiry into the question of self-recognition and self-identity, marked by the influence of romanticism, mysticism, socialist utopianism, and both Christian and Jewish religiosity. Thomas Muenzer als Theologe der Revolution (1921) is marked by a revolutionary romanticism and simultaneously by the effort to bring to the fore the forgotten and repressed history of a radical messianic tendency in German Protestantism (linked to the Peasant's Revolt in the 16th century) opposed to Martin Luther. Three years after the publication of Spuren ("Tracks," 1930) – a book which has often been compared to the Einbahnstrasse by Walter *Benjamin, he was forced to leave Germany and live as a refugee in Switzerland, Austria, France, and Czechoslovakia. Erbschaft dieser Zeit, published in Zurich in 1935, explains the rise of Nazism by the phenomenon of "uncontemporaneousness (Ungleichzeitigkeit) in the consciousness of the German middle class. Leaving Prague in 1938, six months before the invasion of the Czech Republic by Nazi Germany, he emigrated via Poland to the United States, where he wrote his major work, Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The Principle of Hope), whose original title had been Träume vom besseren Leben ("Dreams of Better Life") – a great compendium of all the forms of wishful and utopian thinking in culture, religion, architecture, music, etc., based on the theory of the "antizipierendes Bewusstsein" ("consciousness in anticipation"). It also outlines a "philosophy of praxis" as "humanity in action, linking messianic hope and the Marxist project of the transformation of world. By the mediation of the category of "possibility," wishes are to be transformed into real human praxis. The second volume, Freiheit und Ordnung Abriss der Sozialutopien, is not only a synopsis of all manifestations of utopian thought in the history of philosophy, literature, architecture, music, etc., but also contains a chapter on Zionism ("Altneuland, Programm des Zionismus"), where Bloch's main concern is to criticize Theodor Herzl's "bourgeois Zionism" and to assert that Judaism should not become a territorial nationalism but acknowledge and preserve the best that was in Moses Hess' Utopia and transform it into a messianic international socialism. During his exile in the United States, Bloch also wrote Subjekt-Objekt. Erlaeuterungen zu Hegel (1951, enlarged ed.1962). In 1949, he returned to Europe, accepting a professorship in philosophy in Leipzig and the direction of the Institute of Philosophy. In December 1956, after the bloody repression of the Hungarian uprising by the Russians, he was publicly denounced by the Neues Deutschland (the official journal of the East German Communist Party s.e.d.) as a "revisionist," an "idealist," and a "mystical" philosopher, distracted by historical and dialectical materialism. After a political campaign against him, he finally was obliged to accept compulsory retirement in 1957. In August 1961, during a visit to the German Federal Republic, frightened by the news of the construction of the Berlin wall, he resolved not to return to Leipzig but to stay in Tuebingen, where he taught until his death. During the Six-Day War in June 1967 he was the most vocal speaker in an assembly organized at Frankfurt University to proclaim Israel's right to exist ("Frieden im Nahen Osten," 1967). During the 15 years of his last period, Bloch dedicated himself entirely to the publication of his complete writings (Gesamtausgabe) in 16 volumes, published by Suhrkamp. These included Naturrrecht und menschliche Wuerde (1961; Natural Law and Human Dignity), Philosophische Aufsaetze zur objektiven Phantasie (1969), Atheismus im Christentum (1968), Politische Messungen, Pestzeit, Vormaerz (1970), and Experimentum Mundi (1975). Tendenz-Latenz-Utopie, including the Gedenkbuch fuer Else Bloch-von-Stritzky (Memorial Book for Else Bloch-von-Stritzky, Bloch's first wife), followed in 1978.


S. Marcun, Ernst Bloch in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, rowohlt (1977); B. Schmidt (ed.), Materialien zu Ernst Blochs "Das Prinzip Hoffnung" (1978); R. Traub and H. Wieser (eds.), Gespraeche mit Ernst Bloch (1975); Utopie-marxisme selon Ernst Bloch. Hommages publiés par Gérard Raulet (1976); A. Muenster (ed.), Tagtraeume vom aufrechten Gang.Sechs Interviews mit ErnstBloch (1977); idem, Utopie, Messianismus und Apokalypse im Fruehwerk von Ernst Bloch (1982); B. Schmidt, Seminar: Zur Philosophie Ernst Blochs (1983); V. Caysa et al., Hoffnung kann enttaeuscht werden. Ernst Bloch in Leipzig (1992); M. Riedel, Ernst Bloch und die Tradition (1993). biographies: P. Zudeick, Der Hintern des Teufels. Ernst Blochs Leben und Werk (1985); A Muenster, L'utopie concrète d'Ernst Bloch. Une biographie (2001; (Ger. tr. Ernst Bloch. Eine politische Biographie (2004). correspondence: K. Bloch et al. (ed.) Ernst Bloch. Briefe (19031975), 2 vols. (1985).

[Arno Muenster (2nd ed.)]