4: Essay excerpt, Karl Marx’s “Introduction to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right,” German with English translation, 1843.
This work by Karl Marx, one of the chief philosophers behind modern socialist thought and himself ethnically Jewish, contains one of his most famous quotations on the function of religion, namely, that it is the “Opium des Volks,” or the “opium of the people.” Peretz was active in the socialist movement of his day, and wrote “If Not Higher!” while serving a three-month prison sentence for participating in a political gathering of workers, the right to assembly being denied by the Czarist authorities who then ruled Warsaw. His story comments on the same theme being discussed here by Marx: namely, the role that God and Heaven might have in, as Marx puts it, “die Welt des Menschen” — “the world of Man.”
Suggested Activity: Read the text together with the students, or have them take a first pass at it alone or with partners. As it is a dense text, ask them to annotate it as they go, highlighting phrases they think are important or revealing. Doing so will help them to isolate ideas that may be key to Marx’s argument.
Now discuss what that argument seems to be, and how it is different or similar to the one Peretz presents in his story. Note that Marx calls for the “Aufhebung der Religion” (“abolition of religion”). Is Peretz doing the same? What role does religion seem to play for him? Does he, though a secular Jew, seem to have more use for religious feeling than Marx? Peretz, after all, though critical of the Hasidim, wrote many stories in the style of Hasidic folktales, and instead of rejecting their guiding principles outright, instead molded them according to his own fashion and what he felt to be the demands of his age.
In what way might Marx and Peretz’s views of religion be alike, and why do you think Peretz might not go quite as far as Marx? (Or does he?) Whose viewpoint speaks more to the students, Marx’s or Peretz’s? Or neither?
Source: Karl Marx, “Zur Kritik der Hegel’schen Rechtsphilosophie - Einleitung” (“Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right - Introduction”), in Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals), 1:1, ed. Marx and Arnold Ruge (Paris: Bureau der Jahrbücher, February 1844), 71–72.
Translation by Mikhl Yashinsky.