The question of centralisation - Karl Marx

Karl Marx writes on state power and centralisation.

Tuesday, May 17, 1842

Articles by Karl Marx in The Rheinische Zeitung

The Question of Centralisation in itself and with regard to the Supplement to No. 137 of the Rheinische Zeitung Tuesday, May 17, 1842 [57]


Written: After May 17, 1842;
Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 182;
First Published: MECW, 1927.


 

"Germany and France with regard to the question of centralisation" with the sign ./. ./.

"Whether state power should issue from a single point or whether each province, each locality, should administer itself, and the central government, only acting as the power of the whole, should rule also the individual parts of the state when the state has to be represented externally-this is a question on which views are still very much divided."

The fate which a question of the time has in common with every question justified by its content, and therefore rational, is that the question and not the answer constitutes the main difficulty. True criticism, therefore, analyses the questions and not the answers. just as the solution of an algebraic equation is given once the problem has been put in its simplest and sharpest form, so every question is answered as soon as it has become a real question. World history itself has no other method than that of answering and disposing of old questions by putting new ones. The fiddles of each period are therefore easy to discover. They are questions of the time, and although the intention and insight of a single individual may play an important role in the answers, and a practised eye is needed to separate what belongs to the individual from what belongs to the time, the questions, on the other hand, are the frank, uncompromising voices of the time embracing all individuals; they are its mottoes, they are the supremely practical utterances proclaiming the state of its soul. In each period, therefore, reactionaries are as sure indicators of its spiritual condition as dogs are of the weather. To the public, it looks as if the reactionaries make the questions. Hence the public believes that if some obscurantist or other does not combat a modern trend, if he does not subject something to question, then the question does not exist. The public itself, therefore, regards the reactionaries as the true men of progress.

"Whether state power should issue from a single point", i.e., whether a single point should rule, or whether each province, etc., should administer itself and the central government act only externally as the power of the whole "in relation to the exterior" -the question of centralisation cannot be formulated in this way. The author [Moses Hess] assures us that

"this question, considered from a higher standpoint, falls away of itself as being futile", for "if man is really what he should be by his essence, individual freedom is not separate from general freedom". "If, therefore, one assumes a nation to be made up of righteous people, the question under consideration cannot arise at all." "The central power would Eve in all members, etc., etc." "But just as in general every external law, every positive institution, etc., would be superfluous, so would any central state power, etc. Such a society would be not a state, but the ideal of mankind." "One can make it astonishingly easy to solve the most difficult state problems if one looks at our social life from a high philosophical standpoint. And theoretically, such a solution of the problems is quite correct, indeed the only correct one. But it is a question here not of a theoretical, etc., but of a practical, naturally merely empirical and relative, answer to the question of centralisation, etc."

The author of the article begins with a self-criticism of his question. Seen from a higher standpoint, it does not exist, but at the same time we are told that, seen from this high standpoint, all laws, positive institutions, the central state power and finally the state itself, disappear. The author rightly praises the "astonishing ease" with which this standpoint is able to orient itself, but he is not right in calling such a solution of the problems "quite correct, indeed the only correct one", he is not right in calling this standpoint a "Philosophical" one. Philosophy must seriously protest at being confused with imagination. The fiction of a nation of "righteous" people is as alien to philosophy as the fiction of "praying hyenas" is to nature. The author substitutes "his abstractions" for philosophy. ...