Who Was Moses Hess? Originally Published January 15-16, 2021.

Moses Hess (originally Moritz Hess), was born on January 21, 1812, in Bonn, Germany, and passed away on April 6, 1875, in Paris, France. 

Along the way, this journalist, philosopher, and early modern Zionist influenced Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Theodor Herzl, and many others in important ways.  Hess’ first work published was The Holy History of Mankind, by a Young Spinozist (1837).  He continued to be influenced by Spinoza. 

Writing in 1842 and 1843 for the Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland Newspaper, which he helped found and edit, and which was the first socialist daily paper in Cologne and was suspended by the Prussian government in March 1843), he met Karl Marx there, and they collaborated.  Thereafter, Hess worked for other publications such as Der Gesellschaftsspiegel, a socialist monthly.  Marx would later diverge from Hess’ socialism to communism, and would attack Hess in print within Marx’ The Communist Manifesto (1848). 

Hess later shifted, as well, toward tempering his idealism, taking a more scientific determinist point of view.  He still would be mocked by Marx and Engels in their The German Ideology.  When the Revolution of 1848 came to Germany, Hess was forced to flee.  His father passed away in 1851, and left him with an inheritance that provided subsistence.  After wandering throughout Europe, in 1853 he settled in Paris.   However, he returned in 1861 to Germany. 

In 1862, Hess published Rome and Jerusalem:  A Study in Jewish Nationalism, which later influenced Zionist leaders such as Theodor Herzl.  Hess contended that Jews would remain homeless and considered outsiders until gaining a country to call our own, and he put forth the notion of a socialist agricultural country.  His ideas served to separate Zionism from Judaism.  In 1863 Hess served briefly as delegate from Cologne for the newly founded Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (a political party), in Leipzig, before returning to Paris where he contributed studious works to the Archives Israélites de France.  He also contributed as a Freemason to Le Monde Maçonnique, a broad history of Freemasonry.

In Paris, he would serve as a correspondent for the Chicago Staats-Zeitung (1865–70), the Social-Democrat (1865–67), once again for the Rheinische Zeitung (1868–70), and the Volksstaat (1869–70).  During the Franco-Prussian War, he had to leave France, moving to Belgium, but he returned to Paris after the war, where he would compose the first volume of Dynamische Stofflehre, discussing dynamic material theory applied to cosmic life; general phenomena of movement; and the eternal cycle of cosmic life, containing maps of the sky, and images of planets, comets and nebulae, which was published after his death by his widow.

Hess’ father was an ordained rabbi, but moved in 1817 to Cologne, owning and running a grocery and sugar refinery, and becoming a community leader.  Hess remained in Bonn with his mother and his grandfather, who provided him a Jewish education, sending him to Cologne only once he was 14 (after his mother died), to work with his father. Hess managed over his father’s objections to go on to study philosophy at the University of Bonn from 1837-1839.  He was all about improving the world and the plight of the individual, rather than running a sugar factory.  In 1841, he published Die Europaeische Triarchie, proposing that England, France, and Germany meld into one country for the good of all.  That work would set the trajectory of the rest of his life, contemplating the common good and cooperation in broader and broader universes.