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The Young Hegelians, later known as the Left Hegelians, were a group of students and young professors at the University of Berlin following Georg Hegel's death in 1831. The Young Hegelians were opposed to the mainstream Right Hegelians who held the department chairs and other prominent positions in the university and the government.
The Right Hegelians felt that the series of historical dialectics had been completed, and that Prussian society as it existed was the culmination of all social development to date, with an extensive civil service system, good universities, industrialization, and high employment. The Young Hegelians believed that there were still further dialectical changes to come, and that the Prussian society of the time was far from perfect as it still contained pockets of poverty, government censorship was in place, and non-Lutherans suffered from religious discrimination.
The Young Hegelians interpreted the entire state apparatus as ultimately claiming legitimacy based upon religious tenets; specifically Lutheranism in contemporary Prussia, but they generalized the theory to be applicable to any state backed by any religion. All laws were ultimately based on Biblical tenets.
As such, their plan to undermine what they felt was the corrupt and despotic state apparatus was to attack the philosophical basis of religion. In the process, they became the first objective, non-religious Biblical scholars since Spinoza in his Theologico-Political Treatise.
David Strauss wrote Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus), where he argued that the original teachings of Jesus had slowly been perverted and warped over the centuries for political purposes. Strauss argued that Jesus' original message was to the poor and downtrodden of society, not to the establishment. These teachings had been usurped by the establishment to manipulate and oppress the populaces of the world by promising them a reward in the afterlife if they keep in their place and don't stir up unrest or rebellion against the rich. This stands in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus, who was leading a mass movement of the poor, and thus Strauss felt that state religion was invalid.
Bruno Bauer went further, and claimed that the entire story of Jesus was a myth. He found no record of anyone named "Yeshua of Nazareth" in any then extant Roman records. (Subsequent research has, in fact, found such citations, notably by the Roman historian Tacitus and the Jewish historian Josephus.) Bauer argued that almost all prominent historical figures in antiquity are referenced in other works (e.g., Aristophanes mocking Socrates in his plays), but as he could not find any such references to Jesus, it was likely that the entire story of Jesus was fabricated.
Ludwig Feuerbach wrote a psychological profile of a believer called Das Wesen Christentums (The Essence of Christianity). He argues that the believer is presented with a doctrine that encourages the projection of fantasies onto the world. Believers are encouraged to believe in miracles, and to idealize all their weaknesses by imagining an omnipotent, omniscient, immortal God who represents the antithesis of all human flaws and shortcomings.
Another Young Hegelian, Karl Marx, was at first sympathetic with this strategy of attacking Christianity to undermine the Prussian establishment, but later formed divergent ideas and broke with the Young Hegelians. Marx concluded that religion is not the basis of the establishment's power, but rather ownership of capital -- land, money, and the means of production -- lie at the heart of the establishment's power. Marx felt religion was just a smokescreen to obscure this true basis of establishment power, and indeed, was a vital crutch for the oppressed proletariat -- "the opium of the people," their sole solace in life which he would not wish to take away.
Max Stirner would occasionally socialize with the Young Hegelians, but held views much to the contrary of these thinkers, all of whom he consequently satirized and mocked in his nominalist masterpiece Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (The Ego and Its Own).
The Young Hegelians were not popular at the university due to their radical views on religion and society. Bauer was dismissed from his teaching post in 1842, and Marx and other students were warned that they should not bother submitting their dissertations at the University of Berlin, as they would certainly be poorly received due to their reputations.
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