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Ruge, Arnold (1802-80)

Arnold Ruge was the most influential liberal writer and activist of the radical wing of Young Hegelianism. For him philosophy was a challenge to translate the humanist ideals of emancipation and self-determination into the realities of moral, cultural and political practice. As editor of powerful intellectual journals such as Hallesche und Deutsche Jahrbuecher (1838-43) with Theodor Echtermeyer, ‘Anekdota zur neuesten deutschen Philosophie und Publizistik’ (1843), ‘Deutsch-Franzoesische Jahrbuecher’ (1844) with Karl Marx, and ‘Die Akademie’ (1850), he became the leading promotor of liberal philosophy and civic emancipation in Germany. Ruge represented the citizens of Breslau in the Frankfurt Paulskirche parliament in 1848-9 and worked briefly with Alexandre Ledru-Rollin and Guizeppe Mazzini in establishing a short-lived ‘European Democratic Committee’ in London in 1849.

Ruge understood his critical educational, cultural and political activities as a direct calling from the heritage of European enlightenment and German idealism, thus transforming idealistic theory and vision into the realities of political practice and agitation. In this manner he promoted such radical figures as Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner, David Friedrich Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach.

1 Philosophy and revolution
Arnold Ruge, born 9 September 1802 in Bergen on the German island of Rügen, died in 1880 in Brighton, England after thirty-one years of exile. One of the most influential and radical German liberal intellectuals and democrats, he had to take refuge first in Paris and London in 1843 where he worked with Karl Marx, and again after 1849 in London and Brighton. Ruge was a successor to the tradition of academic philosophy which runs from the Enlightenment through Kant, Fichte and Hegel. But Kant’s concept of autonomy and Hegel’s model of emancipation still were only theoretical and academic: ‘Today we have to resolve not only the theoretical, but also the practical conflicts. Only the unity of free thought and free will, only the dissolution of the conflict between free thought and un-free mankind will result in the complete realisation of liberty’ (Ruge 1852: 18). Times have changed: ‘Our times are political, and politics work for the liberty of this world’, he wrote in 1842 (1985 vol. 2: 254) in his influential critique of Kant’s and Hegel’s reluctance to address real practical matters of political change.

It is by free and reasoning people that the unconscious self-determination of humankind will be elevated to self-conscious self-determination. Only the free person is the true person; the realization of liberty lies in emancipation and humanization - that is, in humanism. Ruge held that the humanism of the future will translate traditional principles of existing and historic religions into the ‘humanistic religion’, determined to realize the ‘essence of man through knowledge, beauty, and liberty’. Means to achieve these goals are ‘a constitution of society rooted in self-determined development, free communities, schools and academies of the sciences and arts’ resulting in a humanism which is characterized by ‘true religious practice in ethics and the education of all humans to their true essence in equal, political, and economic community’ (Ruge 1852: 26, 45).

2 Protestantism and romanticism
Contrary to Hegel’s complex and consensus-oriented hermeneutical interpretation of dialectical processes in personal development and in the history of ideas and in world history, Ruge in 1842 identified only two conflicting forces in history as well as in personal development: Protestantism and romanticism. Protestantism is the progressive and evolutionary progress of political, cultural and personal development, a self-reforming and self-emancipating principle, ‘free and autonomous as science which is an offspring of protestant reasoning’. Romanticism, the contradicting principle, dwells on emotions and sentiments, on ‘inwardness’ (‘Innerlichkeit’) which defines itself in antagonistic and dualistic terms against the outside world and its challenges (Ruge 1985 vol. 2: 128). Modern ‘romantic inwardness’ itself must be understood as a product of Protestant emancipation of individual conscience from heteronomous religious, metaphysical or political powers. In political terms, romanticism can easily be identified as the anti-emancipatory and reactionary force, and is politically represented by the suppressive and reactionary political powers on the European continent. While German Protestantism, in Ruge’s assessment, does not live up to its calling and heritage any more as it has become a part of the reactionary powers of romanticism, the principle of Protestantism has already emigrated into liberal philosophy and radical political theory. Ruge’s conflict theory - influenced by Bruno Bauer’s Manichean model of antithetical progress in philosophy and politics (see Bauer, B.) - becomes the blueprint for Marx’s concept of ideational antithetics between materialism and idealism, and of political and economic antithetics between capitalism and proletarism. It marks the departure of radical and confrontational antithetical Hegelianism from the non-confrontational dialectical method of Hegel.

3 Religion of humanism
Ruge regards his political vision of a socialist and democratic republic of responsible and freely contracting individuals as the manifestation of free religion, the religion of humanism. In Die Loge des Humanismus (The Lodge of Humanism) (1852) and Unser System (Our System) (1850) he outlines his cultural, social and political programme of the religion of humanism as the logical consequence of the history of visions, ethics and economics. He holds that religious principles such as work-ethics and virtues, love and solidarity, altruism and mutual understanding have to be released from the bondage of established churches and religious sects in the same way as individuals have to be freed from the dominating powers of heteronomous tutelage by reactionary and elitist models of government. Not only individuals, but also the institutions of society must be driven by self-determination and self-emancipation.

Ruge calls for free education, free religious societies, academies for the arts and sciences, for free speech and free public opinion, and a free economic market within a socialist framework guided by a culture of work ethics, justice, solidarity and equality. But such a vision, in his understanding, does not exclude the ‘organisation’ of free institutions of learning, arts, and crafts, of a system of labour organisational and distribution by state authorities. Heine called Ruge the grim doorkeeper of Hegelian philosophy; to be a philosopher for Ruge meant not only to analyse the good and to argue for it but also to will it and to fight for it.

See also: Hegelianism §3; Humanism; Stirner, M.; Strauss, D.F.


[Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London: Routledge]

List of works

Ruge, A. (1985-) Werke und Briefe, ed. H.-M. Sass, Aalen: Scientia, 12 vols.(To date the following volumes have been published: volume 2 (1988) Philosophische Kritiken 1838-1846; volume 3 (1988) Literarische Kritiken (1838-1846); volume 4 (1988) Politische Kritiken 1838-1846; volume 10
(1985) Briefwechsel und Tagebuchblaetter 1825-1847; volume 11 (1985) Briefwechsel und
Tagebuchblaetter 1848-1880.)

Ruge, A. (1846-8) Saemtliche Werke, 10 vols, Mannheim: J.P. Grohe.

Ruge, A. (1842) ‘Hegels Rechtsphilosophie und die Politik unserer Zeit’, Deutsche Jahrbücher für
Wissenschaft und Kunst 189, 190; trans. J.A. Massey as ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Law and the Politics
of Our Times’, in L. Stepelevich (ed.) The Young Hegelians, New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1983, 211-37.(Offers a critique of Hegel from a Young Hegelian standpoint.)

Ruge, A. (1843) ‘Eine Selbstkritik des Liberalismus’, Deutsche Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und
Kunst 1843 (1); trans. J.A. Massey as ‘A Self-Critique of Liberalism’, in L. Stepelevich (ed.) The
Young Hegelians, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983, 237-60.

Ruge, A. (1852) Die Loge des Humanismus (The Lodge of Humanism), Bremen: Arnold Ruge.(Ruge’s
thoughts on liberalism and humanism.)

Ruge, A. (1850) Unser System (Our System), Leipzig: Verlagsbureau; repr. Frankfurt: Neuer Verlag,
1903.(Detailed presentation of Ruge’s philosophical ideas.)

Ruge, A. (1854) New Germany, its Modern History, Literature, Philosophy, Religion and Art, London:
Holyoake & Co.(Identical to Die Loge des Humanismus, 1852.)

Ruge, A. (1868) Eight Lectures on Religion, St Louis, MO (German edition was published in Berlin in

References and further readings

Brazill, W.J. (1970) The Young Hegelians, New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press. (Concentrates on the interpretation of the ‘young Hegelian metaphysic’ (27-70) and Ruge’s role in promoting Young Hegelian politics (227-60); includes a bibliographical essay (283-96).)

Eßbach, W. (1988) Die Junghegelianer. Soziologie einer Intellektuellengruppe (The young Hegelians: Sociology of an Intellectual Movement), Munich: Fink.(An intellectual history of the ideas of Young Hegelian thought and their mode of argumentation.)

Loewith, K. (1964) From Hegel to Nietzsche. The Revolution in Nineteenth Century Thought, trans. D. Green, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.(Classic contribution on Young Hegelian theory-formation and the process of radicalization within the movement.)

Neher, W. (1933) Arnold Ruge als Politiker und politischer Schriftsteller (Arnold Ruge as politician and political writer), Heidelberg: Winter.(Describes Ruge’s political theory in the context of his political activities.)

Sass, H.-M. (1960) Untersuchungen zur Religionsphilosophie der Hegelschule (Studies on the religion philosophy of the Hegelian School), Phil. Diss. Münster: Universität Münster.(Dissertation, discussing Ruge’s humanist and liberal theory within the context of the Young Hegelian movement, also Ruge’s political role as editor of influential critical journals.)

Walter, S. (1995) Demokratisches Denken zwischen Hegel und Marx. Die politische Philosophie Arnold Ruges (Democratic thinking between Hegel and Marx: the political philosophy of Arnold Ruge), Düsseldorf: Droste.(Reconstructs and analyses Ruge’s political philosophy, and analyses his liberal ideas of transnationalism, international peace, European Unity and democracy.)

Zanardo, A. (1970-1) Arnold Ruge giovane hegeliano 1842-1849 (The young Hegelian Arnold Ruge 1842-1849), Contributo bibiografico Annali Istituto Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, 12, Milano: Istituto Feltrinelli. (Comprehensive annotated bibliograph, 1842-9.)

(c) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London: Routledge

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