Young Marx And Man’s Alienation From Himself

young marx

So, we saw in the last post that Young Marx has shown how Humanity develops –without much choice– via a network of feedback loops which include the overlapping spheres of:  Nature, Workplace, Family, Society, and Economic Relations.

I like to note that Marx never at all mentions the shaping influence of GENETIC evolution on Man’s development.  This was an idea whose time was just about– but not quite yet– to come.

Later, an older Marx will also not much bother about the influence of Nature or of Family on the creation of the individual.  Instead, he will concentrate on the consciousness-shaping effects of the workplace and of Man’s economic relations.

Note also how un-Kantian Young Marx is.  Kant wowed the philosophical community by making the case that human consciousness creates its own world.  Marx is saying exactly the opposite… “Consciousness does not determine life,” he writes, “but life determines consciousness.”

For Young Marx, we are all products of our times.  Everything about us– our physicality, our thoughts, our manners, our cultures, our governments– all are determined by the era in which we live…  “The same spirit that builds philosophical systems in the brains of the philosophers builds railroads by the hands of the workers,” says Young Marx.  Yes, even philosophers are not above the determinative effects of their era…  After all, “philosophers do not grow out of the earth like mushrooms.  They are the fruit of their time.”


Unfortunately for us, our “times” produce craven individuals.  This is due, according to Marx, to (at least) three causes directly attributable to Society’s economic relationships:

1) even the most everyday transactions involve treason and fraud says Young Marx…  One man in a bargain is always attempting to get the better of the other man.

2) our system of finance, including the constant resort to credit analysis of individuals, introduces a new kind of shame and fear of shame into man’s relations with his fellow men

3) the alienation Man feels between himself, his work, and Nature


When Young Marx speaks of alienation of the worker, I don’t think it is emphasized enough by interpreters that he speaks of two kinds of alienation.  The first is the alienation from Nature, and the second is the alienation from Self.  Now, true enough, these two alienations fold back in upon each other and really become different manifestations of the same general alienation, but I think it behooves us to examine each sort of alienation individually.


Before the advent of the production line, when man was at work, he was at work in and upon Nature directly.  If he wanted a canoe, he chopped down and de-limbed and hollowed out a tree.  This is the situation in which the homo sapiens species, for most of its history, has evolved to become what it is today.  In this situation, Young Marx points out that “the labor of man is exchanged for the products of Nature.”  He juxtaposes this with today’s variety of the Man, who exchanges his labor –not directly for a product of Nature– but for something far more abstract… money (or, I would add, for something even more abstract, for the promise of money to come).

Even under the Land Lord and feudal systems of several centuries ago, when enterprises were things begun by the community’s leading men and the laborers they recruited, there still existed a personal relationship between human beings.  Today, however, in the large corporations, that human-to-human relationship is lacking… the relationship has changed from one of man-to-nature or man-to-man, to a relationship of a person to an abstraction, of man-to-money.


I suppose most people who know a little something about Karl Marx know that he was deeply influenced by the philosophy of HEGEL.  And this is very true, and Hegel’s influence can hardly be overstated (although, perhaps it has been from time to time).  Young Marx, writing in his Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy Of The States (Marx is about twenty-five years old when he writes this), acknowledges his debt to Hegel when it comes to the idea of “alienation” and “the divided identity.”

Hegel believed that there could be “alienation in unity,” such as a man’s alienation from his own will when he is serving the unified will of the community.  Key indicators of alienation within unity are:  subordination and dependence, usually due to the application of some external force upon the individual.  This external force creates the wedge dividing Man from himself.

By the time the twenty-eight-year-old Marx is writing with Engels in The German Ideology, he has developed Hegel’s concept of alienation farther, adapting it to the economic relations of the day.  When Young Marx contemplates the modern worker, he sees a being who is paradoxically working to enslave himself by producing the materials that perpetuate the economic system that keeps him chained to his alienating drudge-work

Says Marx…”Man’s own act becomes an alien power opposed to him and enslaving him instead of being controlled by him” and “our own production” become “an objective power above us, growing out of our control.”

In what are today called the Excerpt Notes, written in 1844, the twenty-six-year-old Marx writes that Man’s “life appears as the sacrifice of his life,” and “his production as the production of his destruction.”

The Alienation of Man from himself leads easily into another area on the receiving end of Young Marx’s ire– the modern economy’s extreme division of labor which reduces and narrows Man.  But I’ll get into that in the next post.

Other posts on YOUNG MARX by Hammering Shield…

Young Marx And The Job Hunt

Young Marx As Social Critic

Young Marx On Workplace Environment & Human Evolution

Young Marx On Division Of Labor & Consciousness

Young Marx On How Our Possessions Possess Us

Young Marx On Revolution

Young Marx On Why No Real Reform Can Come From Government

Young Marx On The Class Manipulation Of Morality

Young Marx:  SHAME Is Already A Revolution

Young Marx On When The Invisible Hand Becomes The Invisible Fist


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