[Classics] Anti-Dühring

10. Equality

We have already had more than one occasion to make ourselves acquainted with Herr Dühring’s method. It consists in dissecting each group of objects of knowledge to what is claimed to be their simplest elements, applying to these elements similarly simple and what are claimed to be self-evident axioms, and then continuing to operate with the aid of the results so obtained. Even a problem in the sphere of social life

“is to be decided axiomatically, in accordance with particular, simple basic forms, just as if we were dealing with the simple ... basic forms of mathematics” {D. Ph. 224}.

And thus the application of the mathematical method to history, morals and law is to give us also in these fields mathematical certainty of the truth of the results obtained, to characterise them as genuine, immutable truths.

This is only giving a new twist to the old favourite ideological method, also known as the a priori method, which consists in ascertaining the properties of an object, by logical deduction from the concept of the object, instead of from the object itself. First the concept of the object is fabricated from the object; then the spit is turned round, and the object is measured by its reflexion, the concept. The object is then to conform to the concept, not the concept to the object. With Herr Dühring the simplest elements, the ultimate abstractions he can reach, do service for the concept, which does not alter matters; these simplest elements are at best of a purely conceptual nature. The philosophy of reality, therefore, proves here again to be pure ideology, the deduction of reality not from itself but from a concept.

And when such an ideologist constructs morality and law from the concept, or the so-called simplest elements of “society”, instead of from the real social relations of the people round him, what material is then available for this construction? Material clearly of two kinds: first, the meagre residue of real content which may possibly survive in the abstractions from which he starts and, secondly, the content which our ideologist once more introduces from his own consciousness. And what does he find in his consciousness? For the most part, moral and juridical notions which are a more or less accurate expression (positive or negative, corroborative or antagonistic) of the social and political relations amidst which he lives; perhaps also ideas drawn from the literature on the subject; and, as a final possibility, some personal idiosyncrasies. Our ideologist may turn and twist as he likes, but the historical reality which he cast out at the door comes in again at the window, and while he thinks he is framing a doctrine of morals and law for all times and for all worlds, he is in fact only fashioning an image of the conservative or revolutionary tendencies of his day — an image which is distorted because it has been torn from its real basis and, like a reflection in a concave mirror, is standing on its head.

Herr Dühring thus dissects society into its simplest elements, and discovers in doing so that the simplest society consists of at least two people. With these two people he then proceeds to operate axiomatically. And so the basic moral axiom naturally presents itself:

“Two human wills are as such entirely equal to each other, and in the first place the one can demand nothing positive of the other” {D. Ph. 200}. This “characterises the basic form of moral justice” {201}, and also that of legal justice, for “we need only the wholly simple and elementary relation of two persons for the development of the fundamental concepts of law” {228}.

That two people or two human wills are as such entirely equal to each other is not only not an axiom but is even a great exaggeration. In the first place, two people, even as such, may be unequal in sex, and this simple fact leads us on at once to the idea that the simplest elements of society — if we accept this childishness for a moment — are not two men, but a man and a woman, who found a family, the simplest and first form of association for the purpose of production. But this cannot in any way suit Herr Dühring. For on the one hand the two founders of society must be made as equal as possible; and secondly even Herr Dühring could not succeed in constructing from the primitive family the moral and legal equality of man and woman. One thing or the other: either the Dühringian social molecule, by the multiplication of which the whole of society is to be built up, is doomed beforehand to disaster, because two men can never by themselves bring a child into the world; or we must conceive them as two heads of families. And in that case the whole simple basic scheme is turned into its opposite: instead of the equality of people it proves at most the equality of heads of families, and as women are not considered, it further proves that they are subordinate.

We have now to make an unpleasant announcement to the reader: that from this point on for some considerable time he will not get rid of these famous two men. In the sphere of social relations they play a similar role to that hitherto played by the inhabitants of other celestial bodies, with whom it is to be hoped we have now finished. Whenever a question of economics, politics etc., is to be solved, the two men instantly march up and settle the matter in the twinkling of an eye “axiomatically” {224}. An excellent, creative and system-creating discovery on the part of our philosopher of reality. But unfortunately, if we want to pay due regard to truth, the two men are not his discovery. They are the common property of the whole eighteenth century. They are already to be found in Rousseau's discourse on inequality (1754),[47] where, by the way, they prove axiomatically the opposite of Herr Dühring's contentions. They play a leading part with the economists, from Adam Smith to Ricardo; but in these they are at least unequal in that each of the two carries on a different trade — as a rule one is a hunter and the other a fisherman — and that they mutually exchange their products. Besides, throughout the eighteenth century, they serve in the main as a purely illustrative example, and Herr Dühring’s originality consists only in that he elevates this method of illustration into a basic method for all social science and a measure of all historical forms. Certainly it would be impossible to simplify further the “strictly scientific conception of things and men” {387}.

In order to establish the fundamental axiom that two people and their wills are absolutely equal to each other and that neither lords it over the other, we cannot use any couple of men at random. They must be two people who are so thoroughly free from all reality, from all national, economic, political and religious relations which are found in the world, from all sexual and personal peculiarities, that nothing is left of either of them beyond the mere concept: human being, and then they are of course “entirely equal”. They are therefore two complete phantoms conjured up by that very Herr Dühring who is everywhere scenting and denouncing “spiritistic” tendencies. These two phantoms are of course obliged to do everything which the man who conjured them into existence wants them to do, and for that very reason all their artifices are of no interest whatever to the rest of the world.

But let us pursue Herr Dühring’s axiomatics a little further. The two wills can demand nothing positive of each other. If nevertheless one of them does so, and has its way by force, this gives rise to a state of injustice; and this fundamental scheme serves Herr Dühring to explain injustice, tyranny, servitude — in short, the whole reprehensible history of the past. Now Rousseau, in the essay referred to above, had already made use of two men to prove, likewise axiomatically, the very opposite: that is, given two men, A cannot enslave B by force, but only by putting B into a position in which the latter cannot do without A, a conception which, however, is much too materialistic for Herr Dühring. Let us put the same thing in a slightly different way. Two shipwrecked people are alone on an island, and form a society. Their wills are, formally, entirely equal, and this is acknowledged by both. But from a material standpoint there is great inequality. A has determination and energy, B is irresolute, lazy and flabby. A is quick-witted, B stupid. How long will it be before A regularly imposes his will on B, first by persuasion, subsequently by dint of habit, but always in form voluntarily? Servitude remains servitude, whether the voluntary form is retained or is trampled underfoot. Voluntary entry into servitude was known throughout the Middle Ages, in Germany until after the Thirty Years' War.[48] When serfdom was abolished in Prussia after the defeats of 1806 and 1807, and with it the obligation of the gracious lords to provide for their subjects in need, illness and old age, the peasants petitioned the king asking to be left in servitude — for otherwise who would look after them when in distress? The two-men scheme is therefore just as “appropriate” to inequality and servitude as to equality and mutual help; and inasmuch as we are forced, on pain of extinction of society, to assume that they are heads of families, hereditary servitude is also provided for in the idea from the start.

But let this entire matter rest for the moment. Let us assume that Herr Dühring’s axiomatics have convinced us and that we are enthusiastic supporters of the entire equality of rights as between the two wills, of “general human sovereignty” {D. Ph. 229}, of the “sovereignty of the individual” {268} — veritable verbal colossi, compared with whom Stirner's “Ego” together with his Own[49] is a mere dwarf, although he also could claim a modest part in them. Well, then, we are now all entirely equal {200} and independent. All? No, not quite all.

There are also cases of “permissible dependence”, but these can be explained “on grounds which are to be sought not in the activity of the two wills as such, but in a third sphere, as for example in regard to children, in their inadequate self-determination” {200}.

Indeed! The grounds of dependence are not to be sought in the activity of the two wills as such! Naturally not, for the activity of one of the wills is actually restricted. But in a third sphere! And what is this third sphere? The concrete determination of one, the subjected, will as inadequate! Our philosopher of reality has so far departed from reality that, as against the abstract term “will”, which is devoid of content, he regards the real content, the characteristic determination of this will, as a “third sphere”. Be that as it may, we are obliged to state that the equality of rights has an exception. It does not hold good for a will afflicted with inadequate self-determination. Retreat No. 1.

To proceed.

“Where beast and man are blended in one person the question may be asked, on behalf of a second, entirely human, person, whether his mode of action should be the same as if persons who, so to speak, are only human were confronting each other {201} ... our hypothesis of two morally unequal persons, one of whom in some sense or other has something of the real beast in his character, is therefore the typical basic form for all relations which, in accordance with this difference, may come about ... within and between groups of people” {202}.

And now let the reader see for himself the pitiful diatribe that follows these clumsy subterfuges, in which Herr Dühring turns and twists like a Jesuit priest in order to determine casuistically how far the human man can go against the bestial man, how far he may show distrust and employ stratagems and harsh, even terrorist means, as well as deception against him, without himself deviating in any way from immutable morality.

So, when two persons are “morally unequal” {202}, there again is no longer equality. But then it was surely not worth while to conjure up two entirely equal people, for there are no two persons who are morally entirely equal. — But the inequality is supposed to consist in this: that one person is human and the other has a streak of the beast in him. It is, however, inherent in the descent of man from the animal world that he can never entirely rid himself of the beast, so that it can always be only a question of more or less, of a difference in the degree of bestiality or of humanity. A division of mankind into two sharply differentiated groups, into human men and beast men, into good and bad, sheep and goats, is only found — apart from the philosophy of reality — in Christianity, which quite logically also has its judge of the universe to make the separation. But who is to be the judge of the universe in the philosophy of reality? Presumably the procedure will have to be the same as in Christian practice, in which the pious lambs themselves assume the office of judge of the universe in relation to their mundane goat-neighbours, and discharge this duty with notorious success. The sect of philosophers of reality, if it ever comes into being, will assuredly not yield precedence in this respect to the pious of the land. This, however, is of no concern to us; what interests us is the admission that, as a result of the moral inequality between men, equality has vanished once more. Retreat No. 2.

But, again, let us proceed.

“If one acts in accordance with truth and science, and the other in accordance with some superstition or prejudice, then ... as a rule mutual interference must occur {216}... At a certain degree of incompetence, brutality or perversity of character, conflict is always inevitable... It is not only children and madmen in relation to whom the ultimate resource is force. The character of whole natural groups and cultured classes in mankind may make the subjection of their will, which is hostile because of its perversity, an inevitable necessity, in order to guide it back to the ties held in common. Even in such cases the alien will is still recognised as having equal rights; but the perversity of its injurious and hostile activity has provoked an equalisation, and if it is subjected to force, it is only reaping the reaction to its own unrighteousness” {D. Ph. 217}.

So not only moral but also mental inequality is enough to remove the “entire equality” of the two wills and to call into being a morality by which all the infamous deeds of civilised robber states against backward peoples, down to the Russian atrocities in Turkestan, can be justified. When in the summer of 1873, General Kaufmann ordered the Tatar tribe of the Yomuds to be attacked, their tents to be burnt and their wives and children butchered — “in the good old Caucasian way”, as the order was worded — he, too, declared that the subjection of the hostile, because perverted, will of the Yomuds, with the object of guiding it back to the ties held in common, had become an inevitable necessity, that the means employed by him were best suited to the purpose,[50] and that whoever willed the end must also will the means. Only he was not so cruel as to insult the Yomuds on top of it all and to say that it was just by massacring them for purposes of equalisation that he was recognising their will as having equal rights. And once again in this conflict it is the elect, those who claim to be acting in accordance with truth and science and therefore in the last resort the philosophers of reality, who have to decide what are superstition, prejudice, brutality and perversity of character and when force and subjection are necessary for purposes of equalisation. Equality, therefore, is now — equalisation by force; and the second will is recognised by the first to have equal rights through subjection. Retreat No. 3, here already degenerating into ignominious flight.

Incidentally, the phrase that the alien will is recognised as having equal right precisely through equalisation by means of force is only a distortion of the Hegelian theory, according to which punishment is the right of the criminal;

“punishment is regarded as containing the criminal’s right and hence by being punished he is honoured as a rational being” (Rechtsphilosophie, § 100, Note).

With that we can break off. It would be superfluous to follow Herr Dühring further in his piecemeal destruction of the equality which he set up so axiomatically {224}, of his general human sovereignty {229} and so on; to observe how he manages to set up society with his two men, but in order to create the state he requires a third because — to put the matter briefly — without a third no majority decisions can be arrived at, and without these, and so also without the rule of the majority over the minority, no state can exist; and then how he gradually steers into calmer waters where he constructs his socialitarian state of the future where one fine morning we shall have the honour to look him up. We have sufficiently observed that the entire equality of the two wills exists only so long as these two wills will nothing; that as soon as they cease to be human wills as such, and are transformed into real, individual wills, into the wills of two real people, equality comes to an end; that childhood, madness, so-called bestiality, supposed superstition, alleged prejudice and assumed incapacity on the one hand, and fancied humanity and knowledge of truth and science on the other hand — that therefore every difference in the quality of the two wills and in that of the intelligence associated with them — justifies an inequality of treatment which may go as far as subjection. What more can we ask, when Herr Dühring has so deep-rootedly, from the ground up, demolished his own edifice of equality?

But even though we have finished with Herr Dühring’s shallow, botched treatment of the idea of equality, this does not mean that we have finished with the idea itself, which especially thanks to Rousseau played a theoretical, and during and since the great revolution a practical political role, and even today still plays an important agitational role in the socialist movement of almost every country. The establishment of its scientific content will also determine its value for proletarian agitation.

The idea that all men, as men, have something in common, and that to that extent they are equal, is of course primeval. But the modern demand for equality is something entirely different from that; this consists rather in deducing from that common quality of being human, from that equality of men as men, a claim to equal political resp. social status for all human beings, or at least for all citizens of a state or all members of a society. Before that original conception of relative equality could lead to the conclusion that men should have equal rights in the state and in society, before that conclusion could even appear to be something natural and self-evident, thousands of years had to pass and did pass. In the most ancient, primitive communities, equality of rights could apply at most to members of the community; women, slaves and foreigners were excluded from this equality as a matter of course. Among the Greeks and Romans the inequalities of men were of much greater importance than their equality in any respect. It would necessarily have seemed insanity to the ancients that Greeks and barbarians, freemen and slaves, citizens and peregrines, Roman citizens and Roman subjects (to use a comprehensive term) should have a claim to equal political status. Under the Roman Empire all these distinctions gradually disappeared, except the distinction between freemen and slaves, and in this way there arose, for the freemen at least, that equality as between private individuals on the basis of which Roman law developed — the completest elaboration of law based on private property which we know. But so long as the antithesis between freemen and slaves existed, there could be no talk of drawing legal conclusions from general equality of men; we saw this even recently, in the slave-owning states of the North American Union.

Christianity knew only one point in which all men were equal: that all were equally born in original sin — which corresponded perfectly to its character as the religion of the slaves and the oppressed. Apart from this it recognised, at most, the equality of the elect, which however was only stressed at the very beginning. The traces of community of goods which are also found in the early stages of the new religion can be ascribed to solidarity among the proscribed rather than to real equalitarian ideas. Within a very short time the establishment of the distinction between priests and laymen put an end even to this incipient Christian equality. — The overrunning of Western Europe by the Germans abolished for centuries all ideas of equality, through the gradual building up of such a complicated social and political hierarchy as had never existed before. But at the same time the invasion drew Western and Central Europe into the course of historical development, created for the first time a compact cultural area, and within this area also for the first time a system of predominantly national states exerting mutual influence on each other and mutually holding each other in check. Thereby it prepared the ground on which alone the question of the equal status of men, of the rights of man, could at a later period be raised.

The feudal Middle Ages also developed in their womb the class which was destined, in the course of its further development, to become the standard-bearer of the modern demand for equality: the bourgeoisie. Originally itself a feudal estate, the bourgeoisie developed the predominantly handicraft industry and the exchange of products within feudal society to a relatively high level, when at the end of the fifteenth century the great maritime discoveries opened to it a new career of wider scope. Trade beyond the confines of Europe, which had previously been carried on only between Italy and the Levant, was now extended to America and India, and soon surpassed in importance both the mutual exchange between the various European countries and the internal trade within each individual country. American gold and silver flooded Europe and forced its way like a disintegrating element into every fissure, rent and pore of feudal society. Handicraft industry could no longer satisfy the rising demand, in the leading industries of the most advanced countries it was replaced by manufacture.

But this mighty revolution in the conditions of the economic life of society was, however, not followed by any immediate corresponding change in its political structure. The political order remained feudal, while society became more and more bourgeois. Trade on a large scale, that is to say, particularly international and, even more so, world trade, requires free owners of commodities who are unrestricted in their movements and as such enjoy equal rights; who may exchange their commodities on the basis of laws that are equal for them all, at least in each particular place. The transition from handicraft to manufacture presupposes the existence of a number of free workers — free on the one hand from the fetters of the guild and on the other from the means whereby they could themselves utilise their labour-power — workers who can contract with the manufacturer for the hire of their labour-power, and hence, as parties to the contract, have rights equal to his. And finally the equality and equal status of all human labour, because and in so far as it is human labour, found its unconscious but clearest expression in the law of value of modern bourgeois political economy, according to which the value of a commodity is measured by the socially necessary labour embodied in it.[*3] — However, where economic relations required freedom and equality of rights, the political system opposed them at every step with guild restrictions and special privileges. Local privileges, differential duties, exceptional laws of all kinds affected in trade not only foreigners and people living in the colonies, but often enough also whole categories of the nationals of the country concerned; everywhere and ever anew the privileges of the guilds barred the development of manufacture. Nowhere was the road clear and the chances equal for the bourgeois competitors — and yet that this be so was the prime and ever more pressing demand.

The demand for liberation from feudal fetters and the establishment of equality of rights by the abolition of feudal inequalities was bound soon to assume wider dimensions, once the economic advance of society had placed it on the order of the day. If it was raised in the interests of industry and trade, it was also necessary to demand the same equality of rights for the great mass of the peasantry who, in every degree of bondage, from total serfdom onwards, were compelled to give the greater part of their labour-time to their gracious feudal lord without compensation and in addition to render innumerable other dues to him and to the state. On the other hand, it was inevitable that a demand should also be made for the abolition of the feudal privileges, of the freedom from taxation of the nobility, of the political privileges of the separate estates. And as people were no longer living in a world empire such as the Roman Empire had been, but in a system of independent states dealing with each other on an equal footing and at approximately the same level of bourgeois development, it was a matter of course that the demand for equality should assume a general character reaching out beyond the individual state, that freedom and equality should be proclaimed human rights And it is significant of the specifically bourgeois character of these human rights that the American constitution,[51] the first to recognise the rights of man, in the same breath confirms the slavery of the coloured races existing in America: class privileges are proscribed, race privileges sanctified.

As is well known, however, from the moment when the bourgeoisie emerged from feudal burgherdom, when this estate of the Middle Ages developed into a modern class, it was always and inevitably accompanied by its shadow, the proletariat. And in the same way bourgeois demands for equality were accompanied by proletarian demands for equality. From the moment when the bourgeois demand for the abolition of class privileges was put forward, alongside it appeared the proletarian demand for the abolition of the classes themselves — at first in religious form, leaning towards primitive Christianity, and later drawing support from the bourgeois equalitarian theories themselves. The proletarians took the bourgeoisie at its word: equality must not be merely apparent, must not apply merely to the sphere of the state, but must also be real, must also be extended to the social, economic sphere. And especially since the French bourgeoisie, from the great revolution on, brought civil equality to the forefront, the French proletariat has answered blow for blow with the demand for social, economic equality, and equality has become the battle-cry particularly of the French proletariat.

The demand for equality in the mouth of the proletariat has therefore a double meaning. It is either — as was the case especially at the very start, for example in the Peasant War [see Engels’ work Peasant War in Germany]— the spontaneous reaction against the crying social inequalities, against the contrast between rich and poor, the feudal lords and their serfs, the surfeiters and the starving; as such it is simply an expression of the revolutionary instinct, and finds its justification in that, and in that only. Or, on the other hand, this demand has arisen as a reaction against the bourgeois demand for equality, drawing more or less correct and more far-reaching demands from this bourgeois demand, and serving as an agitational means in order to stir up the workers against the capitalists with the aid of the capitalists’ own assertions; and in this case it stands or falls with bourgeois equality itself. In both cases the real content of the proletarian demand for equality is the demand for the abolition of classes. Any demand for equality which goes beyond that, of necessity passes into absurdity. We have given examples of this, and shall find enough additional ones when we come to Herr Dühring’s fantasies of the future.

The idea of equality, both in its bourgeois and in its proletarian form, is therefore itself a historical product, the creation of which required definite historical conditions that in turn themselves presuppose a long previous history. It is therefore anything but an eternal truth. And if today it is taken for granted by the general public — in one sense or another — if, as Marx says, it “already possesses the fixity of a popular prejudice”,[52] this is not the effect of its axiomatic truth, but the effect of the general diffusion and the continued appropriateness of the ideas of the eighteenth century. If therefore Herr Dühring is able without more ado to let his famous two men conduct their economic relations on the basis of equality, this is so because it seems quite natural to popular prejudice. And in fact Herr Dühring calls his philosophy natural because it is derived solely from things which seem to him quite natural. But why they seem natural to him is a question which of course he does not ask.


[47] Rousseau's Discours sur l'origine et les fondemens de l'inégalité parmi les hommes was written in 1754 and published in 1755.

[48] The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) — an all-European war caused by the struggle between Protestants and Catholics. Germany became the main arena of this war, and consequently the object of military pillage and the predatory claims of the belligerents.

[49] This refers to Stirner's Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, Leipzig, 1845; for criticism of it see The German Ideology by Marx and Engels.

[50] Engels' main source of data on these events was, evidently, the American diplomat Eugene Schuyler's Turkistan. Notes of a Journey in Russian TurkistanKhokandButharaand Kuldja, in two volumes, Vol. II, London, 1876, pp. 356-59.

[*3] This derivation of the modern ideas of equality from the economic conditions of bourgeois society was first demonstrated by Marx in Capital. – Note by Engels

[51] The American Constitution of 1787, officially proclaiming the USA a federal republic, was the most progressive bourgeois constitution of its time. Yet it virtually legalised slavery. Marx wrote on this: "The Constitution ... recognises slaves as property and obliges the Union government to protect this property" (see MECW, Vol. 19, p. 36).

[52] Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Bd. 1, 2. Aufl., Hamburg, 1872, p. 36 (Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 3, A, 3: The Equivalent Form of Value).

In Anti-Dühring, Engels quotes from the 2nd German edition of Vol. I of Capital. He used the 3rd German edition of Capital, Vol. I only when he revised Part II, ChapterX for the 3rd edition of Anti-Dühring.

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