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Moses Hess

Moses (Moshe) Hess (June 21, 1812 – April 6, 1875) was a secular Jewish philosopher and one of the founders of socialism.



Hess was born in Bonn, which was under French rule at the time. In his French-language birth certificate, his name is given as "Moises"; he was named after his maternal grandfather.[1] Hess received a Jewish religious education from his grandfather, and later studied philosophy at the University of Bonn, but never graduated.

He was an early proponent of socialism, and a precursor to what would later be called Zionism. His works included Holy History of Mankind (1837), European Triarchy (1841) and Rome and Jerusalem (1862). He married a Catholic working-class woman, Sibylle Pesch, in defiance of bourgeois values;in socialist literature the idea was propagated that she was a prostitute 'redeemed' by Hess, but that notion has been refuted by Hess' biographer Silberner.[2]

As correspondent for the "Rheinische Zeitung", a radical newspaper founded by liberal Rhenish businessmen (and for which Karl Marx also worked), he lived in Paris, fleeing to Belgium and Switzerland temporarily following the suppression of the 1848 commune and again during the Franco-Prussian war.



Hess originally advocated Jewish integration into the universalist socialist movement, and was a friend and collaborator of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Hess converted Engels to Communism, and introduced Marx to social and economic problems. He played an important role in transforming Hegelian dialectical idealism theory of history to the dialectical materialism of Marxism, by conceiving of man as the initiator of history through his active consciousness.

Hess was probably responsible for several "Marxian" slogans and ideas, including religion as the "opiate of the people." Hess became reluctant to base all history on economic causes and class struggle, and he came to see the struggle of races, or nationalities, as the prime factor of past history.


From 1861 to 1863 he lived in Germany, where he became acquainted with the rising tide of German Anti-Semitism. It was then that he reverted to his Jewish name Moses in protest against assimilationism. In this period he apparently returned to religion in the form of Spinoza's pantheism, which he somehow did not find incompatible with orthodoxy. He published Rome and Jerusalem in 1861. Hess interprets history as a circle of race and class struggles. He contemplated the rise of Italian nationalism and the German reaction to it, and from this he arrived at the idea of Jewish national revival, and at his prescient understanding that the Germans would not be tolerant of the national aspirations of others and would be particularly intolerant of the Jews. His book calls for the establishment of a Jewish socialist commonwealth in Palestine, in line with the emerging national movements in Europe and as the only way to respond to antisemitism and assert Jewish identity in the modern world.

Hess's Rome and Jerusalem. The Last National Question went unnoticed in his time, along with the rest of his writings. Most German Jews were bent on assimilation and did not heed Hess' unfashionable warnings. His work did not stimulate any political activity or discussion. Hess's contribution, like Leon Pinsker's Autoemancipation,[3] became important only in retrospect, as the Zionist movement began to crystallize and to generate an audience in the late nineteenth century. When Theodor Herzl first read Rome and Jerusalem he wrote about Hess that "since Spinoza jewry had no bigger thinker than this forgotton Moses Hess" and that he would not have written Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) if he had known Rome and Jerusalem beforehand. Wladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky honored Hess in The Jewish Legion in World War as one of those people that made the Balfour declaration possible, together with Herzl, Rothschild and Pinsker.

Hess died in Paris in 1875. As he requested, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Cologne. In 1961 he was re-interred in the Kinneret Cemetery in Israel along with other Socialist-Zionists such as Nachman Syrkin, Ber Borochov, and Berl Katznelson. The moshav Kfar Hess was named in his honour.


  • "You may don a thousand masks, change your name and your religion and your mode of life, creep through the world incognito so that nobody notices that you are a Jew yet every insult to the Jewish name will wound you more than a man of honour who remains loyal to his family and defends his good name."
  • "Even an act of conversion cannot relieve the Jew of the enormous pressure of German anti-Semitism. The Germans hate the religion of the Jews less than they hate their race - they hate the peculiar faith of the Jews, less than their peculiar noses."
  • "The race struggle is the primal one, and the class struggle secondary. The last dominating race is the German."
  • "Yet it seems that a final race struggle is unavoidable"
  • "The Messianic era is the present age, which began to germinate with the teachings of Spinoza, and finally came into historical existence with the great French Revolution."
  • "To this coming cult, Judaism alone holds the key. This "religion of the future" of which the eighteenth century philosophers, as well as their recent followers, dreamed [...] Each nation will have to create its own historical cult; each people must become like the Jewish people, a people of God."

(Quotes from Rome and Jerusalem by Moses Hess)

  • "The Christian... imagines the better future of the human species... in the image of heavenly joy... We, on the other hand, will have this heaven on earth."

(Quote from A Communist Confession of Faith by Moses Hess)[4][5]

Works by Hess

  • Holy History of Mankind (1837)
  • European Triarchy (1841)
  • On the Monetary System (1845) could this title be "On the Essence of Money [Uber das Geldwesan] see art and English trans in: Julius Kovesi, "Values and Evaluations", (Peter Lang, New York, 1998, American University Studies, ser V, vol 183) p. 127-207}
  • Communist Confession of Faith (1846), London (do not mistake with Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith authored mainly by Engels and with minor help of League of the Just/Communist League leaders Wilhelm Wolff and Karl Schapper[6])
  • Rome and Jerusalem (1862)


  1. ^ Shlomo Avineri, Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism, p. 7
  2. ^ Avineri, p. 17
  3. ^ Leon Pinsker, Autoemancipation
  4. ^ The Parasites' Paradise, 16th paragraph
  5. ^ Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism
  6. ^ Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith

External links


  • Edmund Silberer, Moses Hess. Geschichte seines Lebens (Leiden 1966), (in German)
  • Shlomo Na'aman, Emanzipation und Messianismus. Leben und Werk des Moses Heß (Frankfurt a.M./New York,1982)(in German)
  • Shlomo Avineri, Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism (New York, 1985).
  • Kay Schweigmann-Greve, Jüdische Nationalität aus verweigerter Assimilation. Biographische Parallelen bei Moses Hess und Chajm Zhitlowsky und ihre ideologische Verarbeitung. In: Trumah, Journal of the Hochschule for Jewish Studies Heidelberg, Vol 17, 2007 p. 91-116 (in German)


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Moses Hess (June 21, 1812April 6, 1875) was a German philosopher who is considered one of the founders of communism and zionism.


Hess' Diary

  • In the Jewish Quarter [Judengasse] was I born and educated; until my fifteenth year, they tried to beat the Talmud into me. My teachers were inhuman beings [Unmenschen], my colleagues were bad company, inducing me to secret sin; my body was frail, my spirit raw.
    • Hess' Diary, September 16, 1836
  • I was supposed to devote myself only to the Talmud. But the Talmud utterly repelled me, thought I was still a pious Jew-boy [Judenkind]. I wanted to satisfy my craving to be active, to do something: this craving looked for a sphere for itself because none was offered it. I did not want to be a good-for-nothing - and therefore I became a writer.
    • Hess' Diary
  • My main problem was, naturally, religion: from it I moved later on to the principles of ethics. First to be examined was my positive religion [ie. Judaism]. It collapsed. So I wanted to base myself on naturaly religion: but my agony was so great, that this [foundation] also collapsed before my eyes. Nothing, nothing remained. I was the most miserable person in the world. I became an atheist.
    • Hess' Diary p. 40
  • A writer? What education did I receive? None. Where did I study? Nowhere. What did I study? It does not matter. I nonetheless became a writer immediately, because I wrote more than I have ever read; hence I thought more than I had food for thought.
    • Hess' Diary
  • The vocation of man, as that of any other creature, is to be active in all his being. But man cannot act as an individual. The essence of his life activity is cooperation with other individuals of his species. Outside this cooperation, outside of society, man does not achieve any specific human activity. But so long as this co-operation is arbitrarily ruled by accidentality, so long as it is not organized, man remains limited and constricted in his life-activity....
    • Bestimmung des Menschen, p. 275
  • The focus of all life is its economy, the mode through which every living creature produces its material existence. I know no other criterion for the evaluation of social life except that of social economy. In society, just like anywhere else, the mode of production is the focus around which revolve all the modes of life: in the historical life of conscious beings, it is also the focus of all modes of consciousness.
    • Hess to Herzen, March 1850, Briefwechsel p. 253

External links

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