Ernst Bloch

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The soul must accept guilt in order to destroy existing evil, lest it incur the greater guilt of idyllic withdrawal, of seeming to be good by putting up with wrong.

Ernst Simon Bloch (July 8, 1885August 4, 1977) was a German Marxist philosopher.


  • Only an atheist can be a good Christian.
    • Atheismus im Christentum 1968, english translation: Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom 1972
  • How absurd it must seem for an immortal soul to be destined for Heaven or Hell, and yet be sitting in a kitchen, as a maid, or to see oneself objectified as a mechanic! how falsely the usual sunrise waked us, the clock dial, the city street the job! How wrongfully people find themselves in these systems — our time isn't there, our space isn't there, our space isn't even here... the whole social story of waking, and certainly the day of the mechanic, is false.
    • Traces (1930), p. 27
  • In death too, there is always something of the rich cat that lets the mouse run before devouring it
    • Traces (1930), p. 30
  • On bourgeois ground … change is impossible anyway even if it were desired. In fact, bourgeois interest would like to draw every other interest opposed to it into its own failure; so, in order to drain the new life, it makes its own agony apparently fundamental, apparently ontological. The futility of bourgeois existence is extended to be that of the human situation in general, of existence per se.
    • The Principle of Hope (1959), N. Plaice, trans. (1986), p. 4

Man on His Own: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion (1959)

Religion im Erbe: Eine Auswahl aus seinen religionsphilposophischen Schriften (1959), as translated by E. B. Ashton (1970)
  • Aber es steht doch in der Regel so, daß die Seele schuldig werden muß, um das schlecht Bestehende zu vernichten, um nicht durch idyllischen Rückzug, scheingute Duldung des Unrechts noch schuldiger zu werden.
    • The soul must accept guilt in order to destroy existing evil, lest it incur the greater guilt of idyllic withdrawal, of seeming to be good by putting up with wrong.
      • p. 36
  • Even where Marx did not soften his main drive to a "revolutionary development," it was still aimed at capitalism alone (a relatively young and derivative cancer) and not equally at the age-old, lasting core of all enslavement, cruelty and exploitation: at militarism, feudalism and the supremacist world at large.
    • p. 38
  • Desgleichen kann es ... keinem Zweifel unterliegen, daß die unterschiedslos ideologische Verdächtigung jeder Idee, ohne Bedürfnis, selbst eine zu exaltieren, das Lichtere nicht ermutigt.
    • Indiscriminate ideological suspicion of any idea, without the urge to exalt an idea of one's own, will discourage rather than promote lucidity.
      • p. 38
  • ... wenn der Marxismus atheistisch fix mit Status quo bleibt, um der Menschenseele nichts als einen mehr oder minder eudämonistisch eingerichteten »Himmel« auf Erden zu setzen - ohne die Musik, die aus diesem mühelos funktionierenden Mechanismus der Ökonomie und des Soziallebens zu ertönen hätte.
    • Marxist fixation on an atheistic status quo ... offers the human soul nothing but a more or less eudaimonistically furnished "heaven on earth" without the music we ought to hear from this effortlessly functioning economic and social mechanism.
      • p. 38
  • Denn wir müssen sterben, mit kurzem Verzug, und vielleicht brauchen die Leichen keinen so weiten Faltenwurf, den Weg alles Fleisches zu gehen. Der brüderlich innere Reichtum wird nicht minder kurzer Spuk, verwest zu Baumrinde wie Rübezahls falsche Schätze: zeigt sich in ihm keine Kraft, gar den Tod zu bestehen, zu besiegen, mithin nicht nur von unten an hindurch zu gehen, sondern auch an sich selbst ein kräftig oberer Teil zu sein und das Wesenselement des ewigen Lebens.
    • We must die without much delay, and corpses may not require such expansive wrappings, in order to go the way of all flesh. The inner wealth of brotherhood will be the same ephemeral spectre, rotting into tree bark like the spurious treasure of Rübezahl, the German mountain spirit, unless it shows it has the strength to withstand even death, and conquer death; and thus not only to undergo it but to be strongly above it as an essential part of eternal life.
      • p. 41
  • In ourselves alone the absolute light keeps shining, a sigillum falsi et sui, mortis et vitae aeternae [false signal and signal of eternal life and death itself], and the fantastic move to it begins: to the external interpretation of the daydream, the cosmic manipulation of a concept that is utopian in principle. Finding this concept, finding the right for whose sake it behoves us to live, to be organized, to have time—this is where we are headed, why we are clearing the metaphysically constitutive trails afresh, calling for what is not, building into the blue that lines all edges of the world; this is why we build ourselves into the blue and search for truth and reality where mere factuality vanishes.
    • p. 43
  • Evil does not approach us as pride any more, but on the contrary as slumber, lassitude, concealment of the "I." … It may make us so quickly contented, that any definitive fire will die down. The venomous, breathtaking frigid mist seems able … to harden hearts and fill them with envy, obduracy and resentment, with bloody scorn for the divine image and light, with all the causes of the only true original sin, which is not wanting to be like God.
    • p. 62
  • The Roman came into the Promised Land that had become less and less as promised. The rich got along quite well with the foreign occupation; it provided protection from desperate peasants and patriotic resistance fighters. It provided protection from prophets who could be labeled "agitators" now, without any qualms.
    • p. 121
  • Jesus' own coming was by no means so introverted and other-worldly as a Pauline reinterpretation—always welcome to the ruling class—would have it. ... To Jesus, the kingdom of this world was the devil (John 8:44). This is why he never suggested allowing it to go on; he did not conclude a non-aggression pact with it.
    • p. 123
  • All Joachimism was an active struggle against the social principles of a Christianity which from St. Paul on would ally itself with the class society in a thousand compromises, a Christianity whose earthly salvation practice is itself a single catalog of sins, down—or up—to the last link: the understanding which Fascism was shown by the Vatican.
    • p. 138
  • In the same society in which the processes of production and distribution will go on far out at the circumference, the essential human concerns will move to the center, to the end, into the teleological questions of "where to" and "what for."
    • p. 142
  • Now to get back to our given Church: it lives almost entirely for modesty and moneyed piety. It zealously inveighs against the harm done to Joseph and the sheep, but it has made its arrangements with the upper classes and serves as their spiritual defender. It bristles at see-through blouses, but not at slums in which half-naked children starve, and not, above all, at the conditions that keep three quarters of mankind in misery. It condemns desperate girls who abort a foetus, but it consecrates war, which aborts millions. It has nationalized its God, nationalized him into ecclesiastic organization, and has inherited the Roman empire under the mask of the Crucified. It preserves misery and injustice, having first tolerated and then approved the class power that causes them; it prevents any seriousness about deliverance by postponing it to St. Never-Ever's Day or shifting it to the beyond.
    • p. 144

Essays on the Philosophy of Music (1985)

  • We hear only ourselves.
For we gradually become blind to the outside world.
Whatever we shape leads back around ourselves again. It is not so much exclusively self-oriented, not so much hazy, floating, warm, dark and incorporeal as the feeling always of being simply with ourselves, simply self-aware. It is material and it is experience with alien affiliations. But we walk in the forest and feel we are or might be what the forest is dreaming. We pass between the pillars of its tree trunks, small, spiritual and invisible to ourselves, as their sound, as that which could not become forest again or external appearance of day and visibility. We do not possess it, that which all this around us—moss, curious flowers, roots, trunks and streaks of light is or signifies—because we are it itself and are standing too close to it, the spectral and still ineffable nature of consciousness or interiorisation. But the sound burns out of us, the heard note, not the sound itself or its forms. This, however, shows us our path without alien means, our historically inward path, as a fire in which not the vibrating air but we ourselves begin to quiver and to cast off our cloaks.
  • "The Philosophy of Music: Dream", p. 1; originally "Philosophie der Musik: Traum" in: Ernst Bloch, Geist der Utopie (1918)
  • For an alternative translation see The Spirit of Utopia, Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 34

Quotes about Ernst Bloch

  • Gramsci's remarks are rich and stimulating, but in the last analysis they follow the classical Marxist pattern of analysing religion. Ernst Bloch was the first Marxist author who radically changed the theoretical framework—without abandoning the Marxist and revolutionary perspective. In a similar way to Engels, he distinguished two socially opposed currents: on one side the theocratic religion of the official churches, opium of the people, a mystifying apparatus at the service of the powerful; on the other the underground, subversive and heretical religion of the Albigensians, the Hussites, Joachim di Fiori, Thomas Münzer, Franz von Baader, Wilhelm Weitling and Leo Tolstoy.
    • Michael Löwy, The War of Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America (1996), p. 15
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