Articles by Frederick Engels in The Rheinische Zeitung

Polemic Against Leo

Written: between May 7 and 11, 1842
First published: in the Rheinische Zeitung No. 161, June 10, 1842
Marked with the sign ‘X’
Source: MECW, Volume 2;
Transcribed: in 2000 for by Andy Blunden.

From the Hasenheide, May. What Hegelian philosophy, according to the enlightened judgment of the Literarische Zeitung, has been unable to achieve, namely, construct a system of natural sciences based upon its principles, the Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung is now undertaking most successfully from its standpoint. On the occasion of a book by Professor Leupoldt in Erlangen, an essay in its latest issues signed H. L. (Leo) develops the programme of a total revolution in medicine the consequences of which are not yet foreseeable. [139] As always, Leo begins here with the Hegelings, although without naming them, speaks of the pantheistic, heathen trend which is said to have taken hold of modern natural science, and the “philosophical fondling of nature and subtle reconciliation of systems”, castigates the anatomistic view which would cure the individual man instead of whole generations and nations, and finally comes to the conclusion

“that sickness is the wages of sin, that physically connected generations answer jointly for their sins, and even spiritually, unless belief, given through God’s mercy, breaks the chain of punishment. Just as the individual is not, through his conversion, physically freed from punishment for the sin committed, e. g., if he has lost his nose as a result of sinful debauches he will not get it back through his conversion, so even today the teeth of the grandchildren quite naturally are set on edge by the sour grapes which their grandparents have eaten, and where firm belief does not intervene, not even the spiritual punishments cease. How often has a man, who lived in opulence and sin and withal appeared to have a happy end, left his son and grandson the seed of the most nerve-destroying morbidity which continued to rage in them until, in the most depressive stage of the abdominal disease, the great-grandson, in whom no word of mercy had yet found fertile soil, seized the razor in despair and executed on his own throat the punishment which the originator of his sufferings, his great-grandfather, deserved”.

Were it not for these views, the history of the world would seem to be the most crying injustice. — Leo then continues:

“The repentant noseless sinner can see in his mutilation only a memorial to God’s justice, and that which for the unbeliever was a punishment, becomes for the believer a new foundation for his faith.”

It is the same with nations:

“Spiritual as well as bodily diseases and disorders of the age are from a certain standpoint divine judgments, today just as much as in the age of the prophets.”

These are the philosophical — I meant to say religious principles on which Leo, who would be worthy to fraternise with a Ringseis, bases his new medical practice. What use is all that petty, piecemeal curing of single individuals, nay, of the single limb? Whole families, whole nations must be cured by the lump! If grandfather has a fever, the entire family, sons, daughters, grandchildren with wife and child, must swallow Peruvian bark! If the king has pneumonia every province should send a delegate to be bled, if you don’t prefer to take an ounce of blood per head from the entire population of so and so many millions straightaway as a precaution! And what results might this not have for the sanitary police! Nobody is to be allowed to marry who does not produce a doctor’s certificate that he is healthy, and that all his ancestors back to his great-grandfather were of sound constitution, and a certificate from the preacher saying that he and his ancestors, back to his great-grandfather, have kept strictly to a Christian, god-fearing and virtuous way of life, so that, as Leo says, it shall not come to pass that

“the sins of the fathers are visited on the children down to the third and fourth generation!”

Hence, the doctor has

“a position most dreadful in its responsibility and most terrifying in its consequences, for he can equally well be a messenger of God to the individual who exempts him as far as possible from joint suffering for sin, or a servant of the devil who with his power seeks to oppose God’s punishment and to make it ineffective”.

Again results for the state! The prescribed philosophical course for medical men must be abolished and replaced by a theological one; before his examination the medical student must submit a testimonial of his faith, and the practice of Jewish medical men, if it is not to be completely abolished, must at least be limited to their fellow believers. Leo goes on:

“The sick man, like the criminal, is sacer, the holy hand of God lies upon him -he who can heal, let him do so! But let him not fear the red-hot steel or the sharp iron, or the fierce hunger, where these alone can help. Feeble help is as harmful in medicine as in civil society.”

So cut and burn with a will! Where they used to do a miserable trepanning we now help by simply cutting the head off; where a heart condition is revealed, which i.. usually punishment for sins of love committed by the sick man’s mother, and the blood causes too much pressure on the heart, we provide an outlet for it by a stab with a knife in the heart; if someone is suffering from stomach cancer, we cut out his whole stomach — the old doctor Eisenbart of whom the people sing was really not so bad, it was only that his age did not understand him. It is the same, Leo concludes, with criminals; they are not alone culpable, but the nation is responsible with them, and the punishments which our easy-going time metes out are not harsh enough; there must be more beheading and torturing, otherwise we shall have more criminals than there is room for in the workhouses. Quite right! If a man murders, his whole family must be rooted out and every citizen of his home town receive at least twenty-five strokes with the rod for his joint culpability in this murder; where a brother lives in sin, all his brothers must be c — with him. And nothing but good can come from making punishments more severe. Now that beheading, as we have seen above, is no longer a punishment but merely a medical amputation to save the body, this manner of death must be deleted from the criminal codes and replaced by breaking on the wheel, quartering, piercing with the spit, burning, pinching with red-hot tongs, etc.

Thus Leo opposes a system of medicine and jurisprudence that has become heathenish with a Christian one, which will indubitably soon prevail everywhere. We all know how, in accordance with the same principles, he introduced Christianity into history and thus, for example, made the Hegelings, whom he sees as the children of the men of the French -Revolution, responsible for the blood shed in Paris, Lyons and Nantes, [140] even for the actions of Napoleon himself, and I only mention it here to demonstrate the delightful many-sidedness of the indefatigable man. We understand that a German grammar based on Christian principles is soon to be expected from him.