Religion is the Opium of the People: An Investigation into the Intellectual Context of Marx's Critique of Religion

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    Marx is notorious for his claim that religion is the opium of the people and thus become famous as one of modern thought's most uncompromising critics of religion. In this article I look deeper into the philosophical connotations of Marx's opium metaphor by presenting and discussing other prominent thinkers' employment of similar metaphors. Thus, the article follows the trail of opium imagery in connection with different approaches to the criticism of religion. This leads to a discussion of the influence on Marx by G.W.F. Hegel, Bruno Bauer, Moses Hess, Ludwig Feuerbach and emphasizes the influence of Heinrich Heine and Immanuel Kant. The ensuing analysis of Marx's opium metaphor establishes thatMarx's thinking in A Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction is at a cross road. His dependence on German philosophy in 1843 is highlighted as the contextual background forMarx's shift from 1845 onwards to a focus on economic theory. The interpretation also underscores that even though Marx thought the criticism of religion was in the main complete within German philosophy he continued to make use of religiously coloured language in order to further the revolutionary agenda in his writings.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalHistory of Political Thought
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)354-387
    Number of pages33
    Publication statusPublished - May 2015


    • Religion is the opium of the people
    • Hegel
    • Heinrich Heine
    • Kant
    • Marx' s critique of religion
    • Philosophy of social critique
    • Philosophy of the young Hegelians

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