Page 110 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 8 (1949-1950)

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MOSES HESS— 1812-1875
(On the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of his Death)
M e y e r W a x m a n
NE who influences his own generation influences all gener-
ations, said Goethe. However, there are some whose influ-
ence on later generations exceeds that exerted in their own time.
To this class belongs Moses Hess.
Hess, as is well known, was swayed during a large part of his
life by all the liberal and radical movements which dominated
intellectual Germany during the first half of the nineteenth cen-
tury. In the thirties of that century, he was active in the ranks
of the young socialist movement and championed its ideals in
numerous articles in various literary organs. Somewhat later, in
the early forties, he oscillated towards the view of philosophical
anarchism which he developed in a long essay entitled “Philoso-
phy of Action.” In it he argued that the individual and the
concrete were
realities in life deprecating all abstract gener-
alities. He therefore demanded absolute freedom of action for the
individual. This proclivity towards individualism was in reality
contrary to his own social nature, and he soon modified this view
by declaring that the ego attains the highest development by
recognizing social life as its own. As a result of this change of
view, he became active in the communistic movement of his day.
Soon, though, he came under the influence of Karl Marx and
began to emphasize in many articles in socialistic organs the im-
portance of the class struggle and the need for the socialization
of the means of production by the producing agents, or, the
proletarian class.
These activities, both literary and social, gave Hess standing
in the movements of the day but not leadership and prominence.
Even his two larger works,
The Sacred History of Humanity by a
Young Spinozist
The European Triarchy
, failed to create a stir
at the time. The latter advocated an alliance between the three
leading nations of Europe (England, France, and Germany).
The former, presenting his philosophy of history, contained ideas
which applied in his later work,
Rome and Jerusalem
, towards the
elaboration of a view on the destiny of the Jews, influenced to a
degree a part of the history of that people and may even exert
further influence in the future.