Karl Marx vs. Adam Smith Karl Marx

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Karl Marx vs. Adam Smith

Karl Marx:

As a university student, Karl Marx (1818-1883) joined a movement known as the Young Hegelians, who strongly criticized the political and cultural establishments of the day. He became a journalist, and the radical nature of his writings would eventually get him expelled by the governments of Germany, France and Belgium. In 1848, Marx and fellow German thinker Friedrich Engels published "The Communist Manifesto," which introduced their concept of socialism as a natural result of the conflicts inherent in the capitalist system. Marx later moved to London, where he would live for the rest of his life. In 1867, he published the first volume of "Capital" (Das Kapital), in which he laid out his vision of capitalism and its inevitable tendencies toward self-destruction, and took part in a growing international workers' movement based on his revolutionary theories.

Karl Marx's Early Life and Education

Karl Marx was born in 1818 in Trier, Prussia; he was the oldest surviving boy in a family of nine children. Both of his parents were Jewish, and descended from a long line of rabbis, but his father, a lawyer, converted to Lutheranism in 1816 due to contemporary laws barring Jews from higher society. Young Karl was baptized in the same church at the age of 6, but later became an atheist. After a year at the University of Bonn (during which Marx was imprisoned for drunkenness and fought a duel with another student), his worried parents enrolled their son at the University of Berlin, where he studied law and philosophy. There he was introduced to the philosophy of the late Berlin professor G.W.F. Hegel and joined a group known as the Young Hegelians, who were challenging existing institutions and ideas on all fronts, including religion, philosophy, ethics and politics.

Karl Marx Becomes a Revolutionary

After receiving his degree, Marx began writing for the liberal democratic newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, and he became the paper's editor in 1842. The Prussian government banned the paper as too radical the following year. With his new wife, Jenny von Westphalen, Marx moved to Paris in 1843. There Marx met fellow German émigré Friedrich Engels, who would become his lifelong collaborator and friend. In 1845, Engels and Marx published a criticism of Bauer's Young Hegelian philosophy entitled "The Holy Father." By that time, the Prussian government intervened to get Marx expelled from France, and he and Engels had moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Marx renounced his Prussian citizenship. In 1847, the newly founded Communist League in London, England, drafted Marx and Engels to write "The Communist Manifesto," published the following year. In it, the two philosophers depicted all of history as a series of class struggles (historical materialism), and predicted that the upcoming proletarian revolution would sweep aside the capitalist system for good, making the workingmen the new ruling class of the world.

Karl Marx's Life in London and "Das Kapital"

With revolutionary uprisings engulfing Europe in 1848, Marx left Belgium just before being expelled by that country's government. He briefly returned to Paris and Germany before settling in London, where he would live for the rest of his life, despite being denied British citizenship. He worked as a journalist there, including 10 years as a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, but never quite managed to earn a living wage, and was supported financially by Engels. In time, Marx became increasingly isolated from fellow London Communists, and focused more on developing his economic theories. In 1864, however, he helped found the International Workingmen's Association (known as the First International) and wrote its inaugural address. Three years later, Marx published the first volume of "Capital" (Das Kapital) his masterwork of economic theory. In it he expressed a desire to reveal "the economic law of motion of modern society" and laid out his theory of capitalism as a dynamic system that contained the seeds of its own self-destruction and subsequent triumph of communism. Marx would spend the rest of his life working on manuscripts for additional volumes, but they remained unfinished at the time of his death, of pleurisy, on March 14, 1883.

  1. What about Marx’s background could have contributed to his views later in life?

  1. What are two to three accomplishments/creations of Marx AND what effects have they ha don the world?

Adam Smith:

Adam Smith was born on June 5, 1723, at Kirkcaldy. His father had died two months before his birth, and a strong and lifelong attachment developed between him and his mother. As an infant, Smith was kidnapped, but he was soon rescued. At the age of 14 he enrolled in the University of Glasgow, where he remained for three years. The lectures of Francis Hutcheson exerted a strong influence on him. In 1740 he transferred to Balliol College, Oxford, where he remained for almost seven years, receiving the bachelor of arts degree in 1744. Returning then to Kirkcaldy, he devoted himself to his studies and gave a series of lectures on English literature. In 1748 he moved to Edinburgh, where he became a friend of David Hume, whose skepticism he did not share.

Theory of Moral Sentiments

In 1751 Smith became professor of logic at the University of Glasgow and the following year professor of moral philosophy. Eight years later he published his Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith's central notion in this work is that moral principles have social feeling or sympathy as their basis. Sympathy is a common or analogous feeling that an individual may have with the affections or feelings of another person. The source of this fellow feeling is not so much one's observation of the expressed emotion of another person as one's thought of the situation that the other person confronts. Sympathy usually requires knowledge of the cause of the emotion to be shared. If one approves of another's passions as suitable to their objects, he thereby sympathizes with that person.

Sympathy is the basis for one's judging of the appropriateness and merit of the feelings and actions issuing from these feelings. If the affections of the person involved in a situation are analogous to the emotions of the spectator, then those affections are appropriate. The merit of a feeling or an action flowing from a feeling is its worthiness of reward. If a feeling or an action is worthy of reward, it has moral merit. One's awareness of merit derives from one's sympathy with the gratitude of the person benefited by the action. One's sense of merit, then, is a derivative of the feeling of gratitude which is manifested in the situation by the person who has been helped.

Smith warns that each person must exercise impartiality of judgment in relation to his own feelings and behavior. Well aware of the human tendency to overlook one's own moral failings and the self-deceit in which individuals often engage, Smith argues that each person must scrutinize his own feelings and behavior with the same strictness he employs when considering those of others. Such an impartial appraisal is possible because a person's conscience enables him to compare his own feelings with those of others. Conscience and sympathy, then, working together provide moral guidance for man so that the individual can control his own feelings and have a sensibility for the affections of others.

The Wealth of Nations

In 1764 Smith resigned his professorship to take up duties as a traveling tutor for the young Duke of Buccleuch and his brother. Carrying out this responsibility, he spent 2 years on the Continent. In Toulouse he began writing his best-known work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. While in Paris he met Denis Diderot, Claude Adrien Helvétius, Baron Paul d'Holbach, François Quesnay, A.R.J. Turgot, and Jacques Necker. These thinkers doubtless had some influence on him. His life abroad came to an abrupt end when one of his charges was killed.

Smith then settled in Kirkcaldy with his mother. He continued to work on The Wealth of Nations, which was finally published in 1776. His mother died at the age of 90, and Smith was grief-stricken. In 1778 he was made customs commissioner, and in 1784 he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Smith apparently spent some time in London, where he became a friend of Benjamin Franklin. On his deathbed he demanded that most of his manuscript writings be destroyed. He died on July 17, 1790.

The Wealth of Nations, easily the best known of Smith's writings, is a mixture of descriptions, historical accounts, and recommendations. The wealth of a nation, Smith insists, is to be gauged by the number and variety of consumable goods it can command. Free trade is essential for the maximum development of wealth for any nation because through such trade a variety of goods becomes possible.

Smith assumes that if each person pursues his own interest the general welfare of all will be fostered. He objects to governmental control, although he acknowledges that some restrictions are required. The capitalist invariably produces and sells consumable goods in order to meet the greatest needs of the people. In so fulfilling his own interest, the capitalist automatically promotes the general welfare. In the economic sphere, says Smith, the individual acts in terms of his own interest rather than in terms of sympathy. Thus, Smith made no attempt to bring into harmony his economic and moral theories.

  1. What about Smith’s background could have contributed to his views later in life?

  1. Discuss the Wealth of Nations, how and why was it created? What is its overall impact on society today?

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