Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy

by András Gedö


The revised English-language edition was prepared in consultation with the author, who reviewed and revised the draft translation. Ultimate responsibility for any differences between the English-language edition and the original version as revised by the author rests with the editor and publisher.

Quotations in the text and notes that were published originally in a language other than German have been translated from the German edition of the present book unless an English-language source is cited.

Because of its particular relevance to the English-language reader, the last chapter, taken from another work of the author, * was added at the author’s suggestion. Unfortunately, limitations of space required some shortening of the author’s original notes to compensate for this addition, although they contained valuable bibliographical material and commentary. The full notes may be found in the original German edition.

Marxist Educational Press

* András Gedö, “Von der bürgerlichen Philosophie zum Marxismus," in Über die historische Notwendigheit des ideologischen Klassenhampfes / Von der bürgerlichen Philosophie zum Marxismus, ed. Manfred Buhr and András Gedö (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1976), pp. 28-62.


Philosophy in the USA renounced, by implication, the idea of American exceptionalism earlier than did political ideology. Pragmatism, regarded for a time as the American philosophy, proved unable either to supersede or incorporate other varieties of bourgeois thinking. As soon as it had lost its dominance (and neopragmatism never reasserted the claim to be the quintessentially American school), the notion of American exceptionalism was buried in philosophy. Attempts to reformulate an “American” ideology recur even today; nevertheless, it is clear that the experience of the “American” crisis is a part of the general crisis consciousness of the bourgeois world. Conceptions and currents taken as belonging exclusively to the United States actually borrowed their tenets from the general content of crisis consciousness and became moments of this content.

This book deals with philosophical tendencies of bourgeois crisis consciousness, and the confrontation of crisis philosophy with Marxism. It does not claim to give a an overall picture of late-bourgeois philosophy; it mentions only in passing such phenomena as the Frankfurt School or philosophical structuralism, and such theoretical problems as Marxist concepts of philosophy or the historical nature of knowledge. Other Marxists, as well as I myself, have discussed such problems elsewhere; those considered here are only in the context of the main tendencies of crisis philosophy. My forthcoming essay “Crisis Consciousness, Philosophy, Marxism: Second Thoughts” outlines new developments, including the implications of the “American” crisis; I plan to return to other points in future works.

The subject matter of this book is peculiarly philosophical; it is therefore not only about philosophy. This subject matter, as well as my Marxist convictions, dictates the scope of its treatment. The debates between crisis philosophy and dialectical materialism cannot be squeezed into a closed branch of scholarship, but are carried on simultaneously in the groves of academic


philosophy and in regions of intellectual life far removed from philosophy.

Crisis philosophy turns against the humanism of the classic bourgeois age, its optimism of cognition, its seeking of dialectic between thought and deed. On the other hand, even while polemicizing against this classic bourgeois thinking, crisis philosophy necessarily clashes with Marxism. T. S. Eliot has worded the enduring philosophical content of crisis consciousness in lines which are quoted as epigraph in Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York, 1976):

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless intention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

The poetic and philosophical controversy with Goethe is obvious. Goethe said:

Tis writ, ‘In the beginning was the Word.’
I pause, to wonder what is here inferred.
The Word cannot set supreme high:
A new translation will I try. . . .
Does Thought create, and work rule the hour,
’Twere best: ‘In the beginning was the Power.’
Yet, while the pen is urged with willing fingers,
A sense of doubt and hesitancy lingers,
The spirit comes to guide me in my need,
I write, ‘In the beginning was the Deed.’ (Faust, I)

Through its new thought and new deed, Marxism maintains and develops this legacy; like Goethe’s idea, its negation in crisis philosophy and also its evolution in dialectical materialism concern not merely philosophy but the whole intellectual attitude and deeds of all people.

Marxism cannot be quarantined, nor, even in the USA, is it confined to an ideological ghetto. The protagonists of anti-Marxism in the capitalist part of Europe are worried not only about the “American” crisis, but also about the attractive force of Marxism in the US academic world, where Marxism is growing both extensively and intensively, despite the obstacles it must surmount. The invectives against Marxism have become more vehement in recent years, but the realization of its actuality has spread. Interest is renewed in Marxist political economy, usually ignored by philosophical “neo-Marxisms.” Ideas taken from


materialist dialectics and arguments drawn from Marxism are appearing in debates about science, in the criticism of “anti-scientism” or sociobiology, in discussions on the interrelationship between the objectivity of knowledge and its social embedment.

R. I. Heilbroner’s recent title, Marxism: For and Against (New York, 1980), is significant. He defines his starting point: “Marxism is an unsettling presence in the modern world, the source of the most passionate hopes and fears, the most contradictory visions.” Heilbroner argues that “there is a recognizable identity to Marxist thought . . . a set of premises exists that defines Marxist thought.” He continues:

This framework of premises . . . allows us to see Marxism as embodying the promise of a grand synthesis of human understanding—a synthesis which begins with a basic philosophic perspective, goes on to apply this perspective to an interpretation of history, moves thereafter to an analysis of the present as the working-out of historical forces in the existing social order, and culminates in an orientation to the future that continues the line of analysis in an unbroken trajectory of action.

Writings such as the present one, arguing for Marxism, differ from Heilbroner’s views in several respects but do not deny that the performance of the theoretical tasks outlined by Marx and undertaken by Marxism is an unfinished process, nor do they claim that Marx was infallible. Heilbroner’s book, in its heterogeneous and contradictory character, demonstrates both the inevitability of the approach to Marxism and the difficulties along the way.

This book was written in Hungary, my native country, under socialist conditions. Investigating the problematic I relied on works of Marxists in the socialist world and in the United States and other capitalist countries; I have borrowed from their ideas more extensively than can be credited in particular notes.

My acknowledgments are due to Salomea Genin, who translated the book. I am indebted also to Doris Grieser Marquit for editing, and Erwin Marquit for acting as consultant for the English-language edition, and for their devoted, friendly support.

I also thank Jörg Schreiter for his consultation on the translation. Translator and editors did their utmost. I hope that it does not prove a vain attempt.

Budapest, August 1981                            András Gedö

SOURCE: Gedö, András. Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy, translated by Salomea Genin; edited by Doris Grieser Marquit. Minneapolis: Marxist Educational Press, 1982. (Studies in Marxism; v. 11) [Original German edition: Philosophie der Krise. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1978.] Publisher’s Note, p. 2; Author’s Preface to English-Language Edition, pp. 9-11.

©1982 Marxist Educational Press.

András Gedö — Vita (Bibliography)

The Contemporary Attack on Science” by András Gedö

The Historical Character of the Concept of Nature” by András Gedö

Why Marx or Nietzsche?” by András Gedö

András Gedö et al on Lukács (1957)

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

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