This collection of Karl Marx's early writing represents, in my opinion, some of the best material Marx ever wrote. This is a wonderful collection that includes translations of the early Paris Manuscripts from 1844 and Marx's notorious essay "On the Jewish Question." Since the latter essay is frequently misunderstood, I'll focus this review on the subject of the Jewish question.
In "On the Jewish Question," Marx takes issue with Bruno Bauer's assertion that the Jews in Germany during the 19th Century should seek political emancipation and equal rights in Germany by renouncing Judaism. Because Germany was a Christian state during this time, it was Bauer's contention that the Jews could not receive civic and political emancipation as Jews within a Christian state due to two mitigating factors: one, the natural egoism of the Jew, that is, the notion of the Jews as the "chosen people"; second , the tendency of the Christian state which permitted Jews to isolate themselves from other citizens of the state. In other words, Bauer reveals the contradiction behind the Jewish demand for emancipation in a Christian state. It is theologically inconsistent for the Jews to demand both equal political rights as well as the right to exclude themselves from the rest of the community which takes Christianity as the foundation of the state.
Because church and state were not separated in 19th Century Germany, Bauer concludes that the Jews needed to renounce their faith in order to become true citizens. By renouncing religion, Bauer assumes that the secularization of the German state will result, thus allowing for both Jews and Christians to exist equally as citizens politically emancipated from religion.
It is Marx's contention that when a state emancipates itself from religion, man remains an egoist. Man does not become a citizen of a realized political "state." What Bauer did not understand is that an "atheistic" state, or a state emancipated from religion, still allows religious belief to exist in the private sphere. Because Bauer was thinking within the confines of a Christian state, he felt that the secularization of the state would be sufficient to accommodate both Jews and Christians as equal citizens of the state. Bauer did not understand that the emancipation of the state from religion would still leave intact religious belief within the realm of civil society.
For Marx, true political emancipation involves the recognition of man's "species nature" as opposed to his egoistic life as it exists in civil society. While bourgeois society purports to distinguish the rights of the citizen (i.e., the general concerns of all people as members of an abstract state) from the rights of man (i.e., the liberty of men to worship and to dispense of their private property as they see fit), Marx claims that such a division acts as a façade for the justification of bourgeois civil society AS the state. It is the rights of man as a bourgeois, not as a citizen, that is considered true and authentic. True human emancipation should liberate man from egoism, not preserve it.
For Marx, alienation is overcome only when men recognize their species life, or the fact that, while all men are unique individuals, they remain part of the human whole. In other words, humans do not exist as individual monads apart from others. When egoistic action is valorized by civil society, our view of nature becomes fragmented. This fragmentation results from the objectification of nature as the source of property to be privatized, accumulated, or dispensed of at will. Furthermore, the labor of other men is objectified as capital to be bought and sold regardless of the physical and psychological well-being of the worker. This objectification may be overcome only through the recognition that humans exist in communal activity with others.
In the United States today, political egoism runs rampant. Right-wing political cults like Mormonism celebrate greed as divinely sanctioned. Climate change shows the libertarian ideal of the "isolated individual" able to do his thing without regard to others to be a complete lie. Republicans who preach the "divine community" of the family are caught with their pants down (literally) in truck stop restrooms pursuing their egoistic sexual needs with strangers. What's even more terrifying is that these people aspire to political control. We should all heed the words of Marx to understand the psychology of these people and do everything we can to keep them from the levers of power.