Karl Marx as a Radical Protestant Infidel?

15 Nov

At the Religion in American History blog, Janine Giordano Drake reviews a new book by Jonathan Sperber: Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life.

What Drake picks up from Sperber’s book is intriguing: Marx was grounded less in secularized Judaism that in the radical Protestantism of the 19th century. Drake writes:

Marx’s father, Heinrich Marx, converted to Protestantism in 1819 in order to escape the prohibition of Jews from government positions within Germany. Sperber argues that if all he wanted was an opportunity to get appointed to a legal office, Heinrich could have become Catholic. He writes, “Going from Judaism to Protestantism in deeply Catholic Trier meant exchanging one form of minority existence for another.” Marx, he argues, was the son of a man who appreciated the radical Protestant tradition for its rejection of the close ties of the Roman Catholic church with the Prussian government. He appreciated the  French Revolution’s Enlightenment and Deist ideals, saw these democratic impulses more aligned with Protestantism than the ancient Roman Church. After his father died, a librarian found in Heinrich’s library a copy of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. 

At the same time, Sperber argues, Marx also defended minority Catholics around the world against a Protestant Prussian government. While he personally rejected religion as a Young Hegelian, he did not support the “Society of Free Men,” a group which asked all members to cut ties with Christian churches. He called this attitude “revolutionary romanticism, their addiction to their own genius, their dubious seeking of fame.” Marx did not object to private faith as much as he did to dogmatic religious institutions. He was not a lifestyle radical, either–he strove for a traditional nineteenth century marriage and a middle class upbringing for his kids, and did not call for others to reject these visions of the good life. Rather, argues Sperber, Marx was a political radical who sought to “move toward a criticism of the social and political circumstances that encouraged and enforced [religious institutions’] orthodoxy.”

For the entirety of Drake’s comments, see here:

Religion in American History: Karl Marx as a Radical Protestant Infidel?.


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