Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #10
Posted by jleavittpearl
“The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.”
In his penultimate thesis, Marx offers a resounding hammer-blow against Feuerbach, if not mid-19th-century materialism in toto. Having mapped out a new materialism, one based upon “sensuous human activity, practice,” one which does not reduce human reality to an abstract “man,” Marx here attempts a clarification of the distinction between his new materialism and that former.
In the “old materialism,” the philosophical foundation remained “civil society,” that is, the political product of human activity and praxis. Yet, this grounding of materialism in civil society is inescapably a grounding in irreality, in an abstract concept. For Marx, civil society does not possess true reality, for reality is found only in the practical enactment of human life.
In order to overturn this “old materialism,” Marx seeks a new foundation of philosophy, a grounding in “human society, or social humanity.” While certainly, at its face, “human society” appears to be a mere repetition of “civil society,” this thesis must be read in the context of the prior theses. For Marx, this distinction is essentially a question of source and product. “Human society” and “civil society” cannot be identical because the latter ideality is grounded in the former reality. It is true that, for Marx, human reality is essentially social, that is, communal; yet, this sociality is not “civil”: it is not institutionalized.
Grounding his philosophy in the reality of social humanity, Marx is therefore able to bypass institutionalized politics and found a new materialism upon the true essence of human value: sensuous practical activity, human life. Through this bypassing, Marx is no longer tied to the particularities of an historical civil or political instituition; he is not bound, as Hegel* and Feuerbach before him, to cauterize this political institution into a philosophical necessity. Rather, radical or revolutionary politics is now a possibility. In this way, the link between Marx’s philosophical and political thought manifests itself; a link which will be further clarified in his final, 11th thesis.
*(Hegel is notorious for his idealization of the Prussian state, which provided the grounding of the conservative “right Hegelianism”)