Marx’s and Hegel’s Critique Essay

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The goal of the present essay was to discuss Marx and Hegel's criticism of liberalism. The debate also emphasized the similarities and differences between Marx's and Hegel's critiques of liberalism. Hegel's ideas on the idea of civic society and Marx's view of capitalism received particular attention. Besides, the solutions proposed by Hegel and Marx in solving poverty and alienation were discussed in the context of the modern society. Additionally, Marx’s and Hegel’s understanding of liberalism as an incomplete form of freedom and theories regarding the emancipation of humanity were also taken into consideration.

The philosophical construct of liberalism emerged in the 17th century in Europe. The era was marked by grand philosophical and scientific inquisitions. The new enlightenment on the social formation and human nature encouraged the growth of rational arguments, which were in most cases secular. Liberalism was a product of the intellectual enlightenment. In brief, liberalism is characterized by a social environment in which humans have the freedom to pursue their beliefs and economic interests without limitations from the state, the society, or the church (Sayers, 2007).

Marx’s Views on Liberalism

Hegel's writings on idealism primarily informed Marx's views on liberalism (Redding, 2015). Marx’s early writings touched on different facets of liberalism such as the emancipation of the Jews in Germany. Besides, Marx held the opinion that human liberation was indeed different from political emancipation and that humans needed social spaces to derive the necessities of life. According to Marx, justice and liberal rights were integral to safeguard the interests of different members of the society from persons who would subvert such liberties (Sayers, 2007). Thus, according to his view of liberalism, every human being was justified to take pleasure in his or her possessions without interference from fellow human beings. Therefore, based on this argument, it was deduced that Marx's view of liberalism regarded individualism as a permissible practice. Besides, Marx believed that the current legal provisions governing personal possessions advanced the notion that other human beings impeded individual free will (Sayers, 2007).

After considering the fundamental aspects of Marx’s philosophies, it was deduced that he was opposed to the belief that humans existed in the society as independent (atomized) entities that were not confined by social norms, culture, traditions, and societal expectations (Sayers, 2007). Thus, Marx’s views on liberalism and capitalism were different from the theories advanced in The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (Adam Smith Institute, 2017). Marx’s basis for the rejection of the theories advanced by Adam Smith was founded on empirical evidence, which holds even in the 21st century. Besides, atomism of humans as advanced by Adam Smith was not based on any historical context (Sayers, 2007). The position adopted by Marx was similar to Hegel’s views regarding human interdependence in the civil society.

Marx’s Views on Capitalism and Alienation

Marx regarded the emergence and sustenance of the liberal democratic state as indivisible from capitalism. Marx’s view was informed by empirical observations. For instance, capitalist societies were characterized by the relentless desire to amass commodities. The need to accumulate commodities (investments and wealth) was not confined by human needs or the ability of a commodity to satisfy certain necessities (Sayers, 2007). Capitalism considered commodities based on their absolute use value. It is worthy to note that the construct of use value concerned the value derived from the utilization of the commodity while the exchange value placed much emphasis on the labor resources invested in producing the given commodity (labor theory of value). Additionally, Marx’s posits that for the capitalist society to create value, more labor had to be invested in producing commodities with better exchange value (Sayers, 2007). The capitalist producer was obliged to remunerate the employees only a fraction of the entire value of the commodity while the surplus value was accumulated in line with the capitalist society’s need to accumulate wealth. The employer-employee relationship was regarded as exploitative. Nonetheless, employee exploitation is the hallmark of modern capitalism.

Marx’s view on liberalism informed his views on capitalism because he argued that the modern capitalist society coerced skilled employees to trade their labor for wages, albeit indirectly. Therefore, the capitalist system would indirectly force producers to become mere wage earners (Sayers, 2007). The uneven economic landscape perpetuated by capitalism created a disproportionate distribution of income and the inability to achieve economic self-sufficiency without relying on formal employment (Sayers, 2007). Initially, the capitalist system of work was regarded as economic emancipation. However, with time it degenerated into a form of open slave trade. Consider why, the capitalist system deprived skilled persons, especially those with a formal education, the requirements needed for individual productivity and the warranties enshrined in the traditional construct of feudalism (Perelman, 2007). Thus, skilled persons were obliged to trade their skills to the capitalists. Nonetheless, it is worthy to note that such persons were necessitated by circumstances to market their skills after they had been deprived of their means of self-sustenance.

Given that capitalists enjoyed the monopoly of regulating the means of production, they unethically used their resources to exploit the employees. Therefore, it was deduced that humans living in a capitalist society were not economically free; their freedom was limited by the construct of liberal capitalism. Concisely, Marx’s views on capitalism illustrated that the model of capitalism was premised on the mass exploitation of economically-disabled workers to enrich the capitalists (Sayers, 2007). Therefore, for humans to be free, the capitalist system had to be replaced with communism. Besides, skilled employees had to be provided with tools for economic self-sustenance.

Therefore, based on Marx’s writings, it was deduced that he opposed the capitalist approach to labor. Marx’s approach on alienation offers useful insights regarding the basis for his opposition to modern day liberalism and capitalism. According to Marx’s philosophy, societies had used labor to alienate skilled workers (Sayers, 2007). Labor had become a potent force that alienated humans based on their levels of productivity and wages. It is worthy to note that alienation had its roots in commodity fetishism (Sayers, 2007) – the misconception that non-living things possess human-like powers and therefore they could influence human actions. Marx's further posits that the modern form of liberalism fueled by capitalism were detrimental to a majority of persons in the society who were classified as workers.

In light of the various challenges posed by capitalism, alienation, and liberalism, Marx’s suggested that the only viable solution was the adoption of communism (Hardt, 2010). The preference for communism was driven by the fact that workers would not be disenfranchised from their labor or alienated based on the social-political differences in the communist system. The current construct of liberal democracy, according to Marx created a wedge between politics and the civil society; the differences were further buttressed by the state, which safeguarded the interest of the capitalists.

Hegel’s Views on Liberalism

Until recently, Hegel’s views on liberalism were regarded as radical (Thompson, 2017). Hegel’s approach on liberalism was widely misconstrued as an apologist to the shortcomings of rationalism and an advocate for radicalism and belief in metaphysics. However, in reality, Hegel’s views mirrored the current state of liberalism in the postmodern world. Hegel’s writing pointed to the republican-based elucidation of liberalism and modernity (Thompson, 2017). The above assertion was informed by the fact that Hegel’s philosophies emanated from a school of thought that perceived liberalism as a force that would enable humans in the society to attain a better appreciation of themselves and the community to which they belonged (Thompson, 2017). The adoption of rationalism would enable humans to appreciate the fact that their existence was intertwined with other members of society. It was, therefore, be concluded that Hegel's view of liberalism had similarities to republicanism, a concept that advocated for the universal good of all humankind in the society. However, his construct of republicanism was different because it appreciated the dynamics of liberalism.

It is worthy to note that Hegel's criticism of liberalism helps in the delineation of weaknesses and strengths of classical liberalism. However, in his critique of liberalism, Hegel adopted a middle ground – a common trend among contemporary communitarians (Thompson, 2017). On the one hand, Hegel was critical of the individualistic tendencies that characterize modern liberalism. On the other hand, he did not advocate for the society to adopt ancient practices of feudalism and social relations based on familial ties. Therefore, it was deduced that Hegel’s views were that modern liberalism should foster human dignity, mutual recognition, personal freedoms, and rights (Bellamy, 2005; Seymour & Gagnon, 2012). Hegel’s fundamental argument is that strict adherence to individualism as advocated by classical liberals would be detrimental to the society.

Hegel’s Views on Civil Society and Poverty

Hegel’s views on poverty and civil society were founded on the fact that humans within a family setting are united by shared feelings while the community was regarded as an organized system of needs. The ability of the liberal society to remain united was dependent on its ability to satisfy societal needs through a synergistic relationship of the factors of production. Additionally, the unity of the liberal state was sustained by the common good (Bellamy, 2005). Hegel postulated that the federal estate was defined by its ability to uphold some moral goals that were perceived to take precedence compared to the needs of the majority population over which they rule. According to his views on liberalism, the government was subordinate to its citizenry, and its powers were derived from its ability to maintain an institutional framework that advances some semblance of social equity and dispute resolution mechanisms (Bellamy, 2005).

Hegel refuted the construct that that humans existed in the society as independent atomized objects. His primary view was that humans in the social sphere had converging interests and therefore their "rights collided” thus facilitating social coexistence (Bellamy, 2005). Besides, the particular individual as envisioned in his theories could not survive in isolation because humans were mostly interdependent in the society. Given the fact that all humans were interrelated, the welfare and subsistence of a person in the society were interdependent with and only secured through the welfare and sustenance of the needs of other persons (Sayers, 2007). For instance, the system adopted in the division of labor created an impression of human autonomy, because different persons within the society produced different products and services. Nonetheless, in reality, the different activities were interconnected because one person made commodities that satisfied the needs of another person (Sayers, 2007). Besides, Hegel observed that that powerful individual in the society (regarding social power or wealth), had more social authority.

Hegel believed that human coexistence further advanced the universality of the society, which he regarded as the second facet of the civil society. Therefore, it was deduced that Hegel believed that the solution to the current challenges attributed to liberalism involved adopting aspects of socialism and communalism. Besides, Hegel advocated for rational freedom and autonomy as tools for the emancipation of human beings.

Similar to Marx’s view, Hegel also observed that modern liberalism as advanced by capitalism had largely contributed to the erosion of the “universal” and “particular” facets of society. Hegel observed that on the one hand, the system of the division of labor enhanced the interdependence among persons within the society. However, on the other hand, a division of labor as currently practiced isolated one segment of society from the other (Bellamy, 2005). The division of labor encouraged the association of persons with similar interests while alienating those with different interests. A case point, persons in the higher echelons of society such as wealthy capitalists, doctors, and engineers, had less in common with casual laborers. Such differences impaired social relations in the community. Thus, Hegel viewed atomism within the society as a threat to the sustainability of modern civil society. Besides, Hegel believed that poverty in the civil society would be eliminated through the adoption of national pluralism and the establishment of moral collectivism as a substitute for individualism (Seymour & Gagnon, 2012). The introduction of the two normative elements in the society could enable governments governing civil societies to resolve the underlying factors that caused poverty.

Contrasting Marx’s and Hegel Views on Liberalism

Despite the numerous points of convergence between Hegel’s and Marx’s views on liberalism; their philosophies differed on various aspects. One of the differences was that Marx’s did not concur with Hegel’s view that humans were mere objects in metaphysical fiction (Burbidge, 2017). Marx regarded individualism as normal while Hegel considered as detrimental to the civil society. Additionally, the philosophical views advanced by Marx suggested that the only solution to the challenges of liberalism and capitalist free enterprise was for the society to adopt communism (Hardt, 2010). Such radical proposals could not be implemented in capitalist societies. It is worthy to note that Hegel proposed viable solutions to the inadequacies of liberalism. The proposals included the adoption of adoption of national pluralism, republicanism, and the establishment of moral collectivism as a substitute for individualism

Additionally, Marx did not base his opposition to liberalism on the historical context of modern civilization. Hegel’s primary view was that liberalism, as espoused in human freedom, was mediated by the emergence of commerce and Christianity. According to Hegel, the protestant reformation partly contributed to modern liberalism because it advanced the notion that the value is premised on individual conscience.

Comparison of Hegel’s and Marx’s Views on Liberalism

Hegel considered individuals in the society as interdependent (Bellamy, 2005). Besides, he argued that the needs of one person in the society could only be sustained through shared initiatives. According to the abstract right concept, humans expressed their liberalism through the pursuit of personal fulfillment of particular needs and requirements, which were natural to human beings. According to Hegel, humans obtained fulfillment primarily through the possession of commodities (Bellamy, 2005); in line with Marx's views on the capitalist accumulation of commodities (commodity fetishism). Both Marx and Hegel concurred that poverty and alienation in liberal societies were because of the capitalist system in the division of labor.

Additionally, both Marx and Hegel shared similar sentiments regarding the fact that capitalism advanced individualistic possessiveness and weakening of the social bonds. It is worthy to note that modern liberalism facilitated individualism and the commodity fetishism that characterizes modern day capitalism. Additionally, Hegel argued that the developmental process for human personality had partly contributed to the development of modern liberalism primarily because personalities had fortified norms and social rules. Similar to Marx’s views on modern liberalism, Hegel raised fundamental questions on the moral basis of the current system of commerce because it was skewed in favor of the capitalists.


Based on the philosophical arguments advanced in the essay, it was deduced that both philosophers had valid arguments and points of view that informed their philosophical approach on liberalism. In spite of the fact that the Hegel and Marx lived in a social setting that was markedly different from the 21st century, their arguments pointed out the dangers of unchecked liberalism and the free market as espoused by contemporary capitalism. Hegel was instrumental in advocating for moral and normative rationalism, republicanism, and national pluralism. Besides, the philosopher also called for the assimilation of ethics and morality in modern liberalism and capitalism as a solution to poverty and the emancipation of humankind. However, Hegel’s idealism was subverted by communism and materialism theories advanced by Marx.

After considering Hegel and Marx's view of liberalism, it was deduced that their philosophical approaches converged. Both philosophers agreed that modern market liberalism resulted in social inequalities through the division of labor and specialization. Hegel proposed that given the interdependence among humans, the welfare and subsistence of a person in the society was dependent on and only secured through the welfare and sustenance of the needs of other persons. Therefore, Hegel postulated that the division of labor should not limit the liberty and the expression of one’s individuality. Nonetheless, it was noted that Marx considered individualism as normal in line with the materialist theory. However, Marx was opposed to the capitalist division of labor because it encouraged the exploitation of those trading their skills for wages. Marx’s proposals concerning the adoption of communist economic policies to emancipate humankind from the yolks of capitalism were considered radical and fundamentally untenable.

Vital insights were derived from Hegel’s and Marx criticism of liberalism. The insights included the fact that humans were not yet free even though they lived in a free and liberal society. Human freedom in liberal societies was tied to the societal expectations and the capitalist system of labor. Besides, it was deduced that the adoption of communism and rational individualism would not emancipate humanity.


Adam Smith Institute. (2017). The Wealth of Nation. Retrieved November 5, 2017, from

Bellamy, R. (2005). Hegel and Liberalism. In Rethinking Liberalism (pp. 3–21). A&C Black.

Burbidge, J. W. (2017). The Future of Hegelian Metaphysics. In Crisis and Critique (Vol. 4, pp. 49–62).

Hardt, M. (2010). The Common in Communism. Rethinking Maxism, 22(3), 346–356.

Perelman, M. (2007). Primitive accumulation from feudalism to neoliberalism. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 18(2), 44–61.

Redding, P. (2015). Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Retrieved November 6, 2017, from

Sayers, S. (2007). Individual and Society in Marx and Hegel: Beyond the Communitarian Critique of Liberalism. Science & Society, 71(1), 84–102.

Seymour, M., & Gagnon, A.-G. (Eds.). (2012). Multinational federalism : problems and prospects. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thompson, M. J. (2017). Freedom and Universality : Hegel ’ s Republican Conception of Modernity. Crisis and Critique, 4(1), 405–422.

July 07, 2023

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