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The German Ideology by Marx and Engels


2. Apologetical Commentary [122]

Although formerly, when in a state of humiliation (Cervantes, Chapters 26 and 29), Sancho had all kinds of “doubts” about accepting an ecclesiastical benefice, nevertheless, after pondering over the changed circumstances and his earlier preparation as beadle to a religious brotherhood (Cervantes, Chapter 21), he finally decided to “get” this doubt “out of his head”. He became archbishop of the island of Barataria and a cardinal and as such sits with solemn mien and arch-ecclesiastical dignity among the foremost of our Council. Now, after the long episode of “the book”, we return to this Council.

True, we find that “brother Sancho” in his new station in life has changed considerably. He now represents the ecclesia triumphans — in contrast to the ecclesia militans [Church militant] in which he was before. Instead of the belligerent fanfares of “the book” there is a solemn seriousness; “Stirner” has taken the place of the “ego”. This shows how true the French saying is: qu'il n'y a qu'un pas du sublime au ridicule. [There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous, an expression used by Napoleon on many occasions] Since he became a father of the church and began to write pastoral epistles, Sancho calls himself nothing but “Stirner”. He learned this “unique” way of self-enjoyment from Feuerbach, but unfortunately it befits him no better than playing the lute does his ass. When he speaks of himself in the third person, everyone sees that Sancho the “creator”, after the manner of Prussian non-commissioned officers, addresses his “creation” Stirner in the third person, and should on no account be confused with Caesar. [The reference is to Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de bello Callico written in the third person about himself]

The impression is all the more comical because Sancho commits this inconsistency only in order to compete with Feuerbach. Sancho’s “self-enjoyment” of his performance as a great man becomes here malgré lui an enjoyment for others.


The “special” thing that Sancho does in his “Commentary”, insofar as we have not “used it up” already in the episode, consists in his regaling us with a new series of variations on the familiar themes already played with such long-winded monotony in “the book”. Here Sancho’s music, which like that of the Indian priests of Vishnu knows only one note, is played a few registers higher. But its narcotic effect remains, of course, the same. Thus, for example, the antithesis of “egoistical” and “holy” is again thoroughly kneaded, this time under the signboards of “interesting” and “uninteresting”, and then of “interesting” and “absolutely interesting”, an innovation which, incidentally, could only be of interest to lovers of unleavened bread, in common parlance matzos. One should not, of course, blame an “educated” Berlin petty bourgeois for the belletristic distortion of the interested into the interesting.

All the illusions which, according to Sancho’s pet crotchet, were created by “school-masters” appear here “as difficulties — doubts”, which “only spirit created” and which “the poor souls who allowed themselves to be talked into these doubts” “should ... overcome” by “light-heartedness” (the famous getting out of one’s head) (p. 162). Then comes a “treatise” in which he considers whether “doubts” should be got out of one’s head by “thinking” or by “thoughtlessness”, and a critical-moral adagio in which he laments in minor chords:

“Thought must on no account be suppressed by rejoicing” (p. 166).

For the tranquillity of Europe, and especially of the oppressed old merry and young sorry England as soon as Sancho has become somewhat accustomed to his episcopal chaise percée, [night commode] he issues from this eminence the following gracious pastoral epistle:

“Civil society is not at all dear to Stirner, and he has no intention of extending it so that it swallows up the state and the family” (p. 189).

Let Mr. Cobden and Monsieur Dunoyer bear this in mind.


In his capacity of archbishop, Sancho immediately takes control of the spiritual police, and on page 193 he gives Hess a reprimand for confusing matters, which “are contrary to police regulations” and the more unpardonable the greater the efforts that our church father continually makes to establish identity. To prove to this same Hess that “Stirner” also possesses the “heroic courage of lying”, that orthodox quality of the egoist in agreement with himself, he sings on page 188: “But Stirner does not say at all — contrary to what Hess makes him say — that the whole mistake of previous egoists was merely that they were not conscious of their egoism.” Cf. “Phenomenology” and the entire “book”. The other quality of the egoist in agreement with himself — credulity — he displays on page 182, where he “does not dispute” Feuerbach’s opinion that “the individual is a communist”. A further exercise of his police powers consists in censuring (on page 154) all his reviewers for not having dealt “in more detail with egoism as Stirner conceives it”. Indeed, they all made the mistake of thinking that it was a question of actual egoism, whereas it was merely a question of “Stirner’s” conception of it.

The “Apologetical Commentary” also proves Sancho’s aptitude for acting as a church father by beginning with a piece of hypocrisy:

“A brief reply may be of benefit, if not perhaps to the reviewers named, then at least to some other reader of the book” (p. 147).

Here Sancho plays the devotee and asserts that he is prepared to sacrifice his valuable time for the “benefit” of the public, although he constantly assures us that he always has in view only his own benefit, and although he is only trying here to save his own clerical skin.

Thereby we have finished with the “special” of the “Commentary”. The “unique” feature, which, however, occurs already in “the book”, on page 49 1, has been kept by us in reserve not so much for the “benefit” of “some other reader” as for “Stirner’s” own benefit. One hand washes the other, from which it indisputably follows that “the individual is a communist”.

— Thought and Language —

One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.

We have shown that thoughts and ideas acquire an independent existence in consequence of the personal circumstances and relations of individuals acquiring independent existence. We have shown that exclusive, systematic occupation with these thoughts on the part of ideologists and philosophers, and hence the systematisation of these thoughts, is a consequence of division of labour, and that, in particular, German philosophy is a consequence of German petty-bourgeois conditions. The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life.

Sancho, who follows the philosophers through thick and thin, must inevitably seek the philosophers stone, the squaring of the circle and elixir of life, or a “word” which as such would possess the miraculous power of leading from the realm of language and thought to actual life. Sancho has been so infected by his long years of association with Don Quixote that he fails to notice that this “task” of his, this “vocation”, is nothing but the result of his faith in weighty philosophical books of knight-errantry.

Sancho begins by showing us once again the domination of the holy and of ideas in the world, this time in the new form of the domination of language or phrase. Language, of course, becomes a phrase as soon as it is given an independent existence.

On page 151, Sancho calls the modern world “a world of phrases, a world where in the beginning was the word”. He describes in more detail the motives for his chase after the magic word:

“Philosophical speculation strove to find a predicate which would be so universal as to include everyone in itself.... in order that the predicate should include everyone in it, each should appear in it as subject, i.e., not merely as what he is, but as who he is” (p. 152).


Since speculation “sought” such predicates, which Sancho had previously called vocation, designation, task, species, etc., therefore actual people up to now “sought” themselves “in the word, the logos, the predicate” (p. 153). Up to now one has used the name when one wanted to distinguish in language one individual from another, merely as an identical person. But Sancho is not satisfied with ordinary names; because philosophical speculation has set him the task of finding a predicate so universal that it would include in itself everyone as subject, he seeks the philosophical, abstract name, the “Name” that is above all names, the name of names, name as a category which, for example, would distinguish Sancho from Bruno, and both of them from Feuerbach, as precisely as their own proper names, and which would nevertheless be applicable to all three and also to all other people and corporeal beings — an innovation which would introduce the greatest confusion into all bills of exchange, marriage contracts, etc., and at one blow put an end to all notaries and registry offices. This miraculous name, this magic word, which in language spells the death of language, this asses’ bridge leading to life and the highest rung of the Chinese celestial ladder is — the unique. The miraculous properties of this word are sung in the following stanzas:

“The unique one should be only the last, dying statement of you and me, should be only that statement which is transformed into opinion:
"a statement that is no longer a statement, “a muted, mute statement” (p. 153).
"With him” (the unique one) “what is not expressed is the chief thing” (p. 149). He “is without determination” (ibid.).
"He points to the content, lying outside or beyond the concept” (ibid.).
This is “a concept without determination and cannot be made more definite by any other concept” (p. 150).
This is the philosophical “christening” of worldly names (p. 150).
"The unique is a word devoid of thought.
"It has no thought content."
"It expresses a person” “that cannot exist a second time, and consequently cannot be expressed either;
"For if he could be expressed actually and completely, then he would exist a second time, he would exist in the expression” (p. 151).

Having thus sung the properties of this word, he celebrates in the following antistrophic stanzas the results obtained by the discovery of its miraculous power:

“With the unique one the realm of absolute thoughts is completed” (p. 150).
"He is the keystone of our world of phrases” (p. 151).
"He is logic that comes to an end as a phrase” (p. 153).
"In the unique one, science can merge in life,
"By transforming its this into such-and-such a one,
"Who no longer seeks himself in the word, the logos, the predicate” (p. 153).

True, as regards his reviewers Sancho has had the unpleasant experience of learning that the unique, too, can be “fixed as a concept”, and “that is what the opponents do” (p. 149), who are so opposed to Sancho that they do not feel at all the expected magical effect of the magical word, but instead sing, as in the opera: Ce nest pas ça, ce nest pas ça! With great exasperation and solemn seriousness Sancho turns particularly against his Don Quixote-Szeliga, for in him the misunderstanding presupposes an open “rebellion” and a complete misapprehension of his position as a “creature”.


“If Szeliga had understood that the unique, being a completely empty phrase or category, thereby is no longer a category, he might, perhaps, have recognised it as the name of that for which he still has no name” (p. 179).

Here, therefore, Sancho expressly recognises that he and his Don Quixote are striving towards one and the same goal, with the only difference that Sancho imagines that he has discovered the true morning star, whereas Don Quixote, still in darkness

Swims in the wild liver-sea
of the unfathomable world.
[Meister Kuonrat von Wurzeburc, Diu guldin Smitte, Verse 143]

Feuerbach said in his Philosophie der Zukunft, p. 49:

“Being, based on sheer inexpressibles, is therefore itself something inexpressible. Yes, the inexpressible. Where words end, only there does life begin, only there can the secret of being be deduced.”

Sancho has found the transition from the expressible to the inexpressible, he has found the word which is simultaneously more and less than a word.

— Language and Life —

We have seen that the whole problem of the transition from thought to reality, hence from language to life, exists only in philosophical illusion, i.e., it is justified only for philosophical consciousness, which cannot possibly be clear about the nature and origin of its apparent separation from life. This great problem, insofar as it at all entered the minds of our ideologists, was bound, of course, to result finally in one of these knights-errant setting out in search of a word which, a& a word, formed the transition in question, which, as a word, ceases to be simply a word, and which, as a word, in a mysterious superlinguistic manner, points from within language to the actual object it denotes; which, in short, plays among words the same role as the Redeeming God-Man plays among people in Christian fantasy. The emptiest, shallowest brain among the philosophers had to “end” philosophy by proclaiming his lack of thought to be the end of philosophy and thus the triumphant entry into “corporeal” life. His philosophising mental vacuity was already in itself the end of philosophy just as his unspeakable language was the end of all language. Sancho’s triumph was also due to the fact that of all philosophers he was least of all acquainted with actual relations, hence philosophical categories with him lost the last vestige of connection with reality, and with that the last vestige of meaning.

So now go forth, pious and faithful servant Sancho, go or, rather, ride forth on your ass, to your unique’s self-enjoyment, “use up” your “unique” to the last letter, the unique whose miraculous title, power and courage have already been sung by Calderón in the following words:

The unique —
The valiant fighter,
the generous leader,
the gallant knight,
the illustrious Paladin,
the always faithful Christian,
the fortunate Admiral of Africa,
the sovereign King of Alexandria,
the judge of Barbary,
the Cid of Egypt,
Marabout, and Grand Seignior
of Jerusalem.
[Calderón, La puenta de Vantible, Act 1. The words “The always faithful Christian” have been inserted by Marx and Engels]

“In conclusion, it would not be unsuitable to remind” Sancho, the Grand Seignior of Jerusalem, of Cervantes’ “criticism” of Sancho in Don Quixote, Chapter 20, page 171, Brussels edition, 1617. (Cf. the “Commentary”, p. 194.)

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Close of the Leipzig Council

After driving all their opponents from the Council, Saint Bruno and Saint Sancho, also called Max, conclude an eternal alliance and sing the following touching duet, amicably nodding their heads to one another like two mandarins.

Saint Sancho.

“The critic is the true spokesman of the mass.... He is its sovereign and general in the war of liberation against egoism.” (The book, p. 187.)

Saint Bruno.

“Max Stirner is the leader and commander-in-chief of the Crusaders” (against criticism). “At the same time he is the most vigorous and courageous of all fighters.” (Wigand, [Bruno Bauer, “Charakteristik Ludwig Feuerbachs"] p. 124.)

Saint Sancho.

“We pass on now to placing political and social liberalism before the tribunal of humane or critical liberalism” (i.e., critical criticism). (The book, p. 163.)

Saint Bruno.

“Confronted by the unique and his property, the political liberal, who desires to break down self-will, and the social liberal, who desires to destroy property, both collapse. They collapse under the critical” (i.e., stolen from criticism) “knife of the unique.” (Wigand, p. 124.)

Saint Sancho.

“No thought is safe from criticism, because criticism is the thinking mind itself ... Criticism, or rather he” (i.e., Saint Bruno). (The book, pp. 195, 199.)

Saint Bruno (interrupts him, making a boss).

“The critical liberal alone ... does not fall [before] criticism because he himself is [the critic].” [Wigand, p. 124.]

Saint Sancho.

“Criticism, and criticism alone, is abreast of the times.... Among social theories, criticism is indisputably the most perfect.... In it the Christian principle of love, the true social principle, reaches its purest expression, and the last possible experiment is made to release people from exclusiveness [and] repulsion; it is a struggle against egoism in its simplest and therefore its most rigid form.” (The book, p. 177.)

Saint Bruno.

“This ego is ... the completion and culminating point of a past historical epoch. The unique is the last refuge in the old world, the last hiding-place from which the old world can deliver its attacks” on critical criticism....... This ego is the most extreme, the most powerful and most mighty egoism of the old world” (i.e., of Christianity).... “This ego is substance in its most rigid rigidity.” (Wigand, p. 124.)


After this cordial dialogue, the two great church fathers dissolve the Council. Then they silently shake hands. The unique “forgets himself in sweet self-oblivion” without, however, getting “completely lost”, and the critic “smiles” three times and then “Irresistibly, confident of victory and victorious, pursues his path”.