Frederick Engels

Schelling and Revelation

Critique of the Latest Attempt of Reaction
Against the Free Philosophy [121]

Source: MECW Vol, 2, p. 191
Written: in late 1841/early 1842;
First published: anonymously in Leipzig;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden in 1999; proofed and corrected in February 2005.

For a decade there hung on the mountains of South Germany a thundercloud which gathered in ever darker menace against North-German philosophy. Schelling appeared again in Munich; it was understood that his new system was approaching completion and would oppose the domination of the Hegelian school. He himself spoke out resolutely against that school, and its other opponents, when all arguments had to give way before its conquering might, still had the resort of pointing to Schelling as the man who would ultimately demolish it.

Hence Hegel’s disciples must have welcomed Schelling’s arrival in Berlin six months ago and his promise to submit to the public verdict his by then completed system. One could hope no longer to have to hear the irksome, empty chatter about him, the great unknown, and to see at last what there was in it. Besides, with the fighting spirit which has always distinguished it and the self-confidence it possessed, the Hegelian school could only welcome the opportunity to try its strength with a famous opponent; Schelling had, indeed, long ago been challenged by Gans, Michelet and the Athenäum, and his younger pupils by the Deutsche Jahrbücher.

So the thundercloud came up and discharged itself in thunder and lightning which from Schelling’s rostrum began to excite all Berlin. Now the thunder has died away, the lightning has ceased, has it found its target, is the structure of the Hegelian system, proud palace of thought, going up in flames, are the Hegelians hastening to save what can still be saved? So far nobody has witnessed anything of the kind.

And yet everything had been expected of Schelling. Had not the “Positives” been down on their knees groaning about the great drought in the land of the Lord and imploring that the rain cloud hanging on the far horizon might draw nearer? Was it not just as of old in Israel, when Elijah was entreated to drive out the then priests of Baal? And when at last he came, the great exorcist, how all the loud, shameless denunciation, all the wild raging and shouting, suddenly ceased so that not a word of the new revelation should be lost! How the valiant heroes of the Evangelische and the Allgemeine Berliner Kirchenzeitung, of the Literarischer Anzeiger and Fichte’s magazines drew back modestly to make room for the St. George who was to slay the dreadful dragon of Hegelianism, which breathed the fire of godlessness and the smoke of obscuration! Was there not a silence in the land as if the Holy Ghost was about to descend, as if God Himself wished to speak out of the clouds?

And when the philosophical Messiah mounted his wooden, very poorly upholstered throne in the Auditorium maximum, when he promised deeds of faith and miracles of revelation, what jubilant cries greeted him from the camp of the Positives! How all tongues were full of him in whom the “Christians” had placed their hopes! Was it not said that the bold hero would venture alone like Roland into enemy territory, plant his banner in the heart of enemy country, blast the innermost citadel of wickedness, the unconquered fastness of the Idea, so that the enemies, left without base or centre, could no longer find counsel or any place of safety in their own country? Was it not proclaimed that the fall of Hegelianism, the death of all atheists and non-Christians, was to be expected by Easter 1842?

Everything has turned out differently. The Hegelian philosophy lives on, on the rostrum, in literature, in the young; it knows that all the blows dealt it up to now could do it no harm and calmly proceeds on its own course of inner development. Its influence on the nation, as proved if only by the increased rage and activity of its opponents, is rapidly growing, and Schelling has left almost all his hearers dissatisfied.

These are facts which not even the few adherents of the new Schellingian wisdom will be able to dispute with valid arguments. When the prejudices formed against Schelling were found to be all too fully confirmed, there was at first embarrassment as to how reverence for the old master of science should be reconciled with that frank, resolute rejection of his claims that was owed to Hegel. He soon helped us out of this dilemma, however, when he expressed himself on Hegel in a manner which released us from all consideration for the alleged successor and conqueror. It will therefore not be taken amiss if in my judgment I follow a democratic principle and without regard to persons confine myself to the matter and its history.