Karl Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” (1844) has fueled discussions around his early intellectual development as a Young-Hegelian thinker as well as debates about an allegedly distinct form of anti-Semitism native to Left-Hegelian and later to left-thinkers in general, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. In this essay, I argue that Marx’s assessment of contemporary Judaism is motivated by an underappreciated criticism of Hegelian historiography. Surveying the genealogy of the Hegelian treatments of Judaism between Hegel and Marx, I distinguish Marx’s intervention as a reaction to non-materialistic teleological historiography. This historiography assumes dialectical movement and demands practical change from those considered foreign to the movement. In contrast, this article suggests that Marx’s primary target is the belief that Judaism has been sublated into Christianity, that the abnormality lies not in Judaism’s historical persistence, but in the Christian pretense that the material contradictions Judaism was a response to have been overcome. Against the teleological nature of all renditions of Hegelian historiography, including Marx’s later historical-materialism, his “On the Jewish Question” weaponizes a hitherto unrecognized anti-teleological argument against the assimilationist views it responds to, of the kind that should evoke Nietzschean genealogy.
This project would not have been possible without Professor James Redfield’s support and enthusiasm. I would like to acknowledge my colleagues Sofi gijing Jovanovska and Jason Yonover for enduring some of the texts examined here at our reading group upon my request. I would like to also thank the editors and the reviewers for their helpful feedback on this project.
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