Hegel and Marx

13.1 Hegel

Hegel’s absolute idealism (i.e., the doctrine that the universe is an objective reality consisting of ideas in the universal mind) is reflected in his notion of Spirit or Absolute. Spirit is, most generally, presented in the sum of all minds, but it is also distinct from mind; it encompasses the entire universe.

This view is a form of panentheism, the view that God is in every part of the universe but is also more than the universe. So, while the history of the world is the continual development of Spirit toward total self-consciousness and rationality, it is also an independent, free, self-determining being.

13.2 Marx

Marx accepted Hegel’s view that history unfolds in stages according to a rational pattern and applied this idea to economics and social conditions—and a significantly less optimistic view than his predecessor.

While Hegel thought the forces that guide history are essentially spiritual, Marx viewed history as a result of the material conditions of society. This blend of Marx’s own views with Hegel’s resulted in socialism, the political and economic doctrine that the means of production should be owned or controlled by the people, either communally or through the state. Its guiding principle is equality.

In contradistinction, Marx argues, capitalism is the economic mechanism of liberal societies, which allow the means of production to accrue to fewer people. Since, according to Marx, economics drives every society, its impact is felt everywhere. That means, in turn, that capitalism creates great inequality.

Since the means of production shape social relationships, those who own such means (the bourgeoisie) make up the dominant class—they possess the wealth, wield political power, and are in a position to exploit the lower class (the proletariat).

As the proletarian’s condition worsens, he experiences alienation. No longer valued as a person, but as a commodity (a worker, replaceable by other workers and machines), and since he is a mere cog in a larger assembly-line machine, he does not see the results of his labor and so no longer takes pride in his work. In a sense, his work is, for him, never finished, never completed.

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