Karl Marx, 1845
The primary shortcoming of all materialism prior to Marx has been an emphasis on the theoretical at the expense of the practical. Feuerbach is not immune to this charge. Without giving proper weight to the practical, questions of truth become scholastic; only in practice can the reality and power of man’s truth be proven.
Moreover, this emphasis on the theoretical over the practical sabotages any efforts to educate man. While prior materialists are correct to think that man is a product of his circumstances, and, as a result, changing man requires changing those circumstances, what they neglect to attend to is the difficulty of educating the educator. There must necessarily be a two-tiered system, with one, superior group educating the other. This education can only be understood as “revolutionizing practice.”
Starting out with religious self-alienation, Feuerbach seeks to “resolve the religious world into its secular basis.” In doing so, he forgets to ask what sort of contradiction must be contained within the secular basis to allow for this alienation. therefore, true critique cannot stop by identifying that the religious is based in the secular; it must go on to critique the secular basis.
Feuerbach also makes the mistake of presuming the human essence to be “an abstraction inherent in each single individual.” Rather, it is the conglomeration of social interactions. His inability to conceptualize the dynamism of the human essence forces him to essentialize the religious sentiment, as something ahistorical, rather than the product of a particular society.
Ultimately, limited by their inability to conceptualize social life as practical, the contemplative materialist remains isolated, a single individual thinking in isolation from others. Whereas this old, contemplative materialism took civil society as its basis, the new, practical materialism takes “socialized humanity” as its basis. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (145).