Edgar Bauer Promotes Anarchy

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Edgar Bauer Promotes Anarchy

Critique's Quarrel with Church and State

Book Excerpt

By: Edgar Bauer

Date: 1843

Source: Edgar Bauer, Der Streit der Kritik mit Kirche und Staat (Critique's Quarrel with Church and State) (Charlottenburg: Egbert Bauer, 1843; Bern: Friedrich Jenni, 1844), excerpts from Chapter 4, "The Christian State," Part III, "The Christian State and the Free Human Being," Section 3, "The Political Revolution," newly retranslated by Eric v.d. Luft.

About the Author: Edgar Bauer (1820–1886) was the younger brother of the radical Hegelian theologian Bruno Bauer (1809–1882) and a friend of both Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895).


Edgar Bauer became involved with subversive groups in 1839 while a student at the University of Berlin. His first book, Bruno Bauer and his Enemies (1842), defended his brother against political persecution and called readers to total revolution and anarchy. Their brother Egbert published his second book, Critique's Quarrel with Church and State, in 1843. It was the world's first sustained theoretical justification of terrorism to advance political and social agendas. Prussian authorities quickly suppressed it and Berlin police soon believed that they had confiscated all copies. But Edgar had smuggled a copy to Switzerland, where Jenni republished it in 1844 and smuggled copies into Prussia. Because of this book, Edgar was imprisoned from September 1844 until Prussia's general amnesty for political prisoners in March 1848.

Edgar began his anarchist and terrorist theorizing in Bruno Bauer and his Enemies, but Critique's Quarrel with Church and State is concerned almost entirely with encouraging violent means of anarchic political action. He built his theory upon the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and upon his construal of the Jacobin and Sansculotte influences on the French Revolution. Rousseau and Hegel would certainly have condemned his extrapolations or distortions of their respective philosophies. Rousseau was a Universalist who eschewed violence in any form. Hegel was a liberal constitutional monarchist, but Edgar held constitutions as too restrictive on human freedom and argued that to be a king in a free state was a capital crime that justified summary execution. While for Hegel the state was necessary and desirable, Edgar belabored the point that individual freedom is always impossible if government exists.

Edgar's revolutionary culture is starkly simple, and as such is its own contradiction. Modeled after the basest instincts of the Reign of Terror, it embodies the very inconsistencies that led to the downfall of Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794) and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), which Edgar deplored. Adopting the Sansculotte view that human freedom is identifiable with and only achievable by abrogating all restraint, he thus paradoxically, and against his own wishes, ensured that such freedom would never be achieved, since lack of restraint leads inexorably to tyranny.

Yet Edgar's faith in anarchy as pure freedom was unshakable. He permitted any degree of violence toward achieving this goal. He believed that the only worthwhile freedom was absolute freedom. The very existence of any government, especially the nation-state, necessarily curtails or cancels freedom. The state is thus the natural enemy of the whole human spirit, whose only aspiration is freedom. Natural human freedom, Rousseauian freedom, is stifled by industrial capitalism, bourgeois society, and their accompanying mentalities. Edgar thus saw all modern government as his enemy because it pretends to enfranchise and liberate its citizens while in fact controlling them politically and enslaving them to the economy.

The selection below, mainly an interpretation of the French Revolutionary events of 1793, shows Edgar at his most vehement, and could have been titled "The First Principles of Terrorism." Political theorists of all persuasions in the nineteenth century typically took the French Revolution as their point of departure. For them it was the most significant event in world history, the unique and unprecedented reversal of the established order, not just the overthrow of a monarchy, but the introduction of new ideas that turned the world upside-down.

If Edgar had a hero, it was another wayward disciple of Rousseau, Robespierre, the effective dictator of France from the triumph of the Jacobins over the Girondists on June 2, 1793, until the coup d'état of 9 Thermidor and his death by guillotine on July 28, 1794. Although Edgar disagreed with Robespierre's authoritarian policies, he understood why they were necessary, sympathized with Robespierre's motives, and praised him for bringing violent purges into the revolutionary mix. Viewing the Reign of Terror through the lens of Hegelian historicism, i.e., the belief that historical forces shape events, Edgar saw Robespierre as an innocent victim of circumstance, forced into authoritarianism only because he needed a means to exterminate supporters of both the old regime and the new spirit of compromise. Edgar's Robespierre remained an idealist to the end, and killed only for the sake of promoting and safeguarding human freedom.

As a latter-day Jacobin and Sansculotte, Edgar, like most of the Young Hegelians, adored the French Revolution and thought he had it completely analyzed so that, if the word could be spread, the next revolution would not fail. Edgar thus took the short step from Bruno's idea of the rightful dominance of critical spirit over the phlegmatic masses to the self-righteousness of the terrorist. His books, pamphlets, and speeches in the early 1840s threatened the Prussian regime with a return to the French Revolution in general and the Reign of Terror in particular. As far as we know, he committed no violent political acts himself, but strongly encouraged them, especially during the 1848 revolutions.


They often enough reproach us that our loftiest fantasies indeed go no further than wanting to restore the French Revolution. They say that we seek our ideals here among the anarchists of 1793 and that our heroes are the Jacobins. But they are quite mistaken. Our project would then in fact be nothing but a reaction, and in all history no reaction has ever brought any good with it. Do they think we are blind? Do they think that we cannot see the consequences of the Revolution? The consequences of the Revolution were the empire of Napoleon and the restoration of Louis XVIII. An observant historian will notice that any new, merely political revolution will come to nothing but the restoration of legitimacy....

...The Reformation taught us the great lesson that we cannot thoroughly heal any evil in any organism unless we subject that entire organism to new laws of life. . . . The French Revolution is a similar case. As the Revolution returned toward so-called primal human rights, it sought to realize these rights within the state, but that was nothing but the attempt to make humans free within the state, as if such a thing were possible, and the result proved that it is not possible. If revolution is to succeed, then we must understand freedom more broadly and must jettison its exclusively political character. . . .

. . . The Revolution resulted from the life of the state. . . . The freedom party took as its premise that everyone must take part in the life of the state, pretentiously displayed the word "people," and decreed that the people were the only legitimate power in the state. The individual would not be tolerated who called himself to a higher traditional right, who claimed all state power so that he exclusively would have the enjoyment of freedom and would make the people's living conditions dependent upon his mere grace. Let no law exist unless the people's reason has agreed to it. Let no right exist unless it finds its confirmation in the advantage of the state and in the demand of universal equality. The freedom party was in the right. But, for itself, on its own terms, the other party was also in the right. The other party proved that the natural representative of state power was the king, that the king's right to dominance could not be permitted, and that the law would be shaken if the king could no longer sustain the inherited rights of many citizens.

The beginning of the Revolution was . . . the constitutional mediation between these two parties, an armistice in which the rights of each were somewhat curtailed, i.e., in which injustice was done to each. Monarchy retained its hereditary privilege, but the king was now appointed by the people, no longer by God. . . .

. . . The Revolution went further. The internal contradiction of constitutional organization asserted itself. . . . Monarchy was abolished. The execution of Louis XVI should have been a lesson to all peoples that in a free state it is a crime to be called "king." It should have taught them that nothing sacrosanct and inviolable may be placed ahead of the people. But now, they believed, they had achieved the free state and the true republic.

Anarchy, the start of all good things, was there at least. A hopeful demolition was approaching. Religion was abolished yet preserved and raised to a higher level. But that anarchy was an anarchy within the state. Could the state survive without stability, police rule, or severe military control? Of course not! And that was the revolutionaries' mistake, their only mistake. They believed that true freedom could become actual in the state and they failed to see that all the strivings toward freedom since the start of the Revolution had naturally moved against the state. Robespierre indeed wished for a universal equality, so that even the Sansculottes, the most deprived, could have a voice and take part in the life of the state. . . . But . . . the Revolution did not go far enough because it could not go far enough, and because of that it had to go very quickly backwards. Robespierre undoubtedly saw himself pushed in that direction . . . Even the splendidly striving yet despondent terrorists had to reach their end on the guillotine in order to maintain equality. The people deserted politics, which after all had not brought them any freedom. They returned to their dull, ordinary interests; and the reaction, i.e., the attempt to restore the state and make it sacred again, found every door open to it.

Thus Napoleon's tyrannical empire was a necessary consequence of the inconsistent Revolution. If we ever want to live in a state, then of course we must get used to its differences, its imperious police, its surveillance, its stability, its medals, and its privileges. Terrorists gladly accepted their medals from the emperor, incarnate republicans allowed him to make them counts and dukes, and almost without becoming inconsistent. At least it was the state and its particulars that made them inconsistent. Indeed even the reaction was not satisfied with the empire, for had not the empire been created by the Revolution? . . .

If the political revolution does not know how to overcome itself, then it does not understand how to banish the abstraction of the state or how to proceed to the comprehension of full communal freedom. Thus it will always, again and again, arrive only at legitimacy and the tyranny of stability. Always whatever exists will place itself above the freedom of the spirit—and with perfect right, since freedom is dangerous to whatever exists.

The political revolution serves us as nothing more than proof that it alone cannot get things done. It is an instructive example, and that may be enough. It is, in itself, a complete historical phenomenon. It can never, and should never, return in its old form. . . .

Indeed we do not deny that the eternal struggles of revolution in search of freedom continue to work themselves out in history. Nor do we deny that their course will be similar to that of the [French] Revolution. But we do deny that the lessons of the Revolution will pass away without a trace in history, and we deny that modern historical development will arrive at the same abstract goal at which the Revolution stopped in order to roll back downhill.

We hold that the new experiments that various peoples are making with political freedom are precisely useful to show humankind that there is nothing for them in political freedom or in the glorified constitutional and republican forms of the state. The attempts at a state, at which these peoples now toil, will eventually lead them beyond the state. History will teach them that the very word, "freedom," is hostile to the state. . . .

The state has more and more increased its power to stagnate. Rule is by the majority of property owners, who profit from no change. Ideas are suppressed. Free expression is persecuted by trials in the press, and the free spirit who loves the fresh air of movement groans under the burden of a dull, bourgeois, egoistic regime. That is what a constitution leads to—and must lead to. Just give a constitution enough time and it will become as oppressive as any other form of the state. Its laws will clothe themselves in the tyranny of law in general.

Freedom, which has grown smart through experience, certainly does not lack time to rebel against these laws. But the constitutional form of government will not sign its own death warrant. It will not voluntarily give up its laws to the progress that criticizes them.

Thus it is clear that nothing can exist except eternal struggle, namely, the life-and-death struggle by which those laws will be destroyed. But if freedom begins this annihilating struggle, will it contradict itself and sanctify new laws? Or will it finally tear everything down once and for all?


Until the 1970s, Edgar Bauer was known only to a handful of academicians studying the Young Hegelians of the 1840s. As such, his direct impact on subsequent terrorist ideology has been minimal. His indirect impact, on the other hand, has been substantial, as his works were used by more famous anarchist or terrorist writers such as Max Stirner (1806–1856), Karl Heinzen (1809–1880), Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876), Johann Joseph Most (1846–1906), and Sergei Nechaev (1847–1882). Marx and Engels each criticized the Bauer brothers severely, but these others generally agreed with Edgar's views on freedom and violence.



Luft, Eric v.d. "Edgar Bauer and the Origins of the Theory of Terrorism," in The Left-Hegelians: New Philosophical and Political Perspectives, edited by Douglas Moggach and Andrew Chitty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology, translated by S. Ryazanskaya. Moscow: Progress, 1964.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Holy Family, or, Critique of Critical Critique, translated by R. Dixon. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1956.

Stirner, Max. The Ego and His Own, translated by Steven Byington, revised and edited by David Leopold. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.