Marx, Bauer and Academic Freedom

While a lengthy exposition of Marx is more appropriate for a “scholarly” venue, I have long believed the academic community’s nineteenth-century persecution of Marx, and one of his colleagues has not been sufficiently exposed. Would Marx and Bruno Bauer have benefited from an AAUP, that was formed thirty-two years after the former’s death in 1883? The AAUP would have probably deferred engagement if it were during World War I or McCarthyism, but I would like to believe today the Association would have defended their academic freedom.

Marx was born in 1818, as the bicentennial of his birth nears, and intially attended the University of Bonn. While a provincial university, it was a place of mirth and partying, and Marx’s father, Heinrich, urged him after a year of study, to transfer to the more sedate and academic University of Berlin. He was admitted to the Law Faculty, which was as much a concentration in philosophy as it was in legal studies. It was at Berlin, when the undergraduate, began to think systematically about the world, and the essence of humanity. While pre-socialist and revolutionary in his development, the mind of Marx was beginning to churn with a critique of the prevailing orthodoxy, established by the philosophic world view of Hegel, who had taught at the University of Berlin.

Marx wrote his father a letter asking for forgiveness for the “often very disordered state of my mind, and forgive where my heart has seemed to err, overcome by my fighting spirit.” As the world would soon see, it was his heart and his fighting spirit, that left a legacy of voluminous writings and personal struggles that transformed and challenged the notion of class, caste and capitalist exploitation of the proletariat.

While at the University of Berlin, Marx joined a group of so-called Young Hegelians that encompassed faculty and students that challenged the Hegelian world view of religious alienation and an absolute spirit. Many of the Young Hegelians retained the architecture of Hegelian idealism, but used its dialectic to attack private property and religious orthodoxy, with a daring and magisterial secularisation of politics and society.

One of the Young Hegelians, Bruno Bauer, had studied under Hegel at Berlin. He was, at least initially, an idealist philosopher and lecturer, who became a mentor of Marx. Bauer would later reject and challenge the Hegelian philosophic universe, and encouraged Marx to seek an academic career and pursue a doctorate. Marx wrote a dissertation that suggests an early nineteenth-century version of distant learning. Marx titled his dissertation, “The Difference Between Democritus’ and Epicurus’ Philosophy of Nature.” He submitted it to the University of Jena that he never visited, and received his doctorate in 1841, without ceremony, at the ripe old age of twenty-three.

Bauer was subsequently fired from his academic position at Berlin in 1842, for his atheism and challenging the origins and meaning of the New Testament. There was an “investigation” and an “inquest,” and several faculties on various campuses were consulted. Yet it was the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who finally gave the order of dismissal, and Bauer went packing for upsetting the prevailing narrative and orthodoxy in his published works. And Germany, at the University of Göttingen, is where the dawn of academic freedom began in the eighteenth century?

Marx realised at this point, according to many sources, that he could not land a job in academia. While Marx would later attack Bauer’s views, he surveyed the situation: Bauer is my mentor, I have my doctorate, a year later Bruno is fired, where does that leave me? It left him out of academia. While Marx was not directly persecuted as an academic, since he never applied for a university appointment, it is clear he was aware of the blacklist. His writings, as a journalist and a published author of monumental works, would require continuous fleeing from Germany, France, and Belgium before arriving for a lengthy residency in London in 1849. So his assessment of the likelihood of his exclusion from any university position was supported by many incidences of intellectual repression.

Many disciplines are indebted to the luminescence of Marx: economics, philosophy, sociology, history and politics. His persecution for his political writings, and efforts to challenge competitive capitalism, ranging from his certain exclusion from academia and his many exiles, needs greater awareness. A national organisation that prides itself in protecting faculty in their scholarship, should be fully aware that one of the great thinkers of the modern period suffered due to the lack of academic freedom and state-supported viewpoint cleansing.

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