Friedrich Engels, the Young Hegelians

The Young Hegelians: Critique, Alienation, and Society

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

For the young Marx, “the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism.” He spoke as part of a debate that raged in the decades following Hegel’s death. Thinkers on the right—the so-called Right Hegelians—took Hegel’s understanding of religion, spirit (Geist), and history as a positive affirmation of the Prussian state, its institutional structures, and Protestant orthodoxy. Their left-wing opposition—the so-called Young Hegelians, among them Ludwig Feuerbach, David Strauss, Bruno Bauer, as well as Marx and Engels—turned instead to a radical critique of religion itself, preserving Hegel’s social ideas while aiming to give them a new socio-political orientation. How did the Young Hegelians turn Hegel on his head? How, as Marx argued (interpreting Feuerbach), does the critique of religion provide the “philosophical foundation to socialism”? And, in what ways did the Young Hegelians initiate a new mode in Western thinking, displacing philosophical idealism for a materialist conception of nature and history?

In this course, we will survey the writings of the Young Hegelians, from Strauss’s application of the principles of “higher criticism” to the life of Jesus as a historical figure—wholly man and no part “divine”—to Feuerbach’s proposition that Christianity is essentially a self-alienated form of human self-consciousness, which then provided the context for Marx and others’ theory of alienation. What does a secular interpretation of Hegel look like? How did the Young Hegelian new form of critique formulate a different social and juridical basis for the state? How can the self-realization of our “species-being” produce a radical transformation of the political-cultural order? 

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 07 — June 28, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open