comparison of marx and hegel concepts

G. W. F. Hegel (1770 – 1831 A.D.) is referred to as an idealist, who believed that the only thing that is truly in existence is “the ideal” rather than the ordinary.  This “ideal” came from the “Absolute Mind,” which was a perfect mind in Hegel’s opinion.  He believed that the Absolute Mind evolves itself before its can become self-aware.  Besides, everything there is in existence – including human beings and other entities – happens to be a manifestation of the Absolute Mind which contains “the ideal.”  Thus, the human community is synonymous to the Absolute Mind.  What is more, in order for the human community or the Absolute Mind to reach its highest potential, it must evolve in self-awareness throughout the history of humanity. [1]

The developmental stages of the Absolute Mind are known as “epochs” in Hegel’s terms.  And, the force which moves humanity or the Absolute Mind forward in evolution is called the “dialectic,” which is actually the beginning of change whereby the way things happen to be are differentiated from how they should be.  There is a “rising conflict” in Hegel’s dialectic, prodding humanity or the Absolute Mind forward on the path of development.  In the end, there is a “resolution.”  This change means that both perspectives on the ‘way things happen to be’ and ‘how they ought to be’ must have been altered.  Furthermore, this change entails a movement in human history.  Hence, the Absolute Mind grows into the Absolute Spirit, which “culminates within history.”[2]

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883 A.D.) is referred to as a left-wing follower of Hegel, for although he agreed with most of Hegel’s philosophy, he did not believe that the Mind or the Spirit was the force that moved human history.  Marx adopted his predecessor’s ideas on evolution or human development through history, plus the dialectic.  He furthered these philosophical notions of Hegel, but separated them from the idealism proposed by his predecessor.  Marx viewed himself as more empirically based, and therefore replaced the Absolute Spirit or the Absolute Mind with the idea of humanity’s material desires moving history.  Thus, the dialectic of Hegel was reinterpreted in the light of materialism.[3]

For Hegel, the epochs had been the stages of awareness in the Absolute Mind.  For Marx, these stages were based on economics, that is, an evolution of the desire for material achievements with respect to what was economically available in the present.  Marx identified five separate epochs or developmental stages of desire for material achievements, communism being the last epoch.  Communism for the philosopher was a stage in which humans reached their highest potential.  Capitalism, on the other hand, was the stage immediately preceding communism.  Marx also believed that it is the stage of capitalism that humanity is currently going through.  At the core of Marxism, therefore, lies the framework for a movement from capitalism to communism.[4]

Marx employed his own interpretation of the dialectic of Hegel to explain humanity’s move from capitalism to communism.  During the developmental stage of capitalism, he believed, the unhappy and poor working class will revolt against the capitalists who are seen to be unjust for the simple reason that there is no equality in the economy.  The revolution of the working class would be similar to Hegel’s “rising conflict” which would ultimately culminate in communism.[5]

Marx’s reinterpretation of Hegel’s ideas is referred to as historic materialism.  Both philosophers had been influenced in their thinking by the political events of their respective times.  And, both have managed to influence thinkers in different ways.  Many philosophers disagree with Marx’s materialist philosophy, believing instead that the “rising conflict” is not necessarily for economic reasons.  Others have found that the ideas of Marx are absolutely correct and representative of worldwide events in the present.[6]

Yet another notion put forward by the philosophies of both Hegel and Marx is that of alienation.  This concept gained prominence for the first time through Hegel’s writings.  David McLellan explains it thus:


In the opening sections of the Phenomenology of Mind Hegel attacked the views of

common sense and simplified natural science that the world consisted of discrete objects

independent of man’s consciousness.  Truth, for Hegel, was not to be found in knowledge that

was purified of any influence from man’s own desires and feelings.  Ultimately Hegel

considered that there could be no truth that was not intimately linked with the ongoing process

of human beings as thinking subjects; truth was their truth.  The supposed objectivity of the

world of nature was in fact an alienation, for man’s task was to discover, behind these

appearances, his own essential life and finally to view everything as a facet of his own self-

consciousness.  The same principle applied to the world of culture in which such spheres as art

and religion, if viewed as independent of man, constituted so many alienations to be overcome

by integration into the final understanding and recapitulation which was Absolute Knowledge.

The central actor in this process for Hegel was Spirit.  Hegel thought that reality was Spirit

developing itself.  In this process Spirit produced a world that it thought at first was external;

only later did it realize that this world was its own production.  Spirit was not something

separated from this productive activity; it only existed in and through this activity.  At the

beginning of this process Spirit was not aware that it was externalizing or alienating itself.

Only gradually did Spirit realize that the world was not external to it.  It was the failure to

realize this that constituted, for Hegel, alienation.  This alienation would cease when men

became fully self-conscious and understood their environment and their culture to be

emanations of Spirit.  Freedom consisted in this understanding, and freedom was the aim of



Hegel’s system of alienation had already existed in the area of religion.  Spiritualists, including the Christians, had believed that man was ultimately responsible for his own development and awareness that must take him through the developmental stages.  Moreover, for Christ as well as the followers of various religions, including Buddhism, alienation was meant to be concluded with the awareness that truth is one, or all is one.  No wonder, all disciples of Hegel gave in to his concept of alienation.  However, for many of them alienation appeared as a challenge to be overcome in order for man to reach his highest potential.  Thus, many of Hegel’s believers attempted to reinterpret the concept in view of the fact that virtually nothing in their world appeared to have crossed the important stage of alienation to help humanity in the realization of its highest potential.  The main concern of these philosophers was that humanity at large could not be expected to realize the singular truth proposed both by religion and by Hegel.  Hence, it was difficult to explain alienation in light of the difficulties posed through the crossing of this stage of human development with respect to the Absolute Mind’s conflicts that urge humanity forward in the making of history.  What is more, Marx totally rejected the idea of the Absolute Mind or Absolute Spirit.  As a matter of fact, Marx’s main criticism of the philosophy of Hegel was that the existence of alienation could not be expected to cease with the supposed extermination of the outside world in the mind of one who realizes that all is one.  Rather, in Marx’s view, the outside world had to be established a relationship with in order for man to reap the economic benefits of social interaction.  All the same, Marx gave in to the view that all is one when he expressed that the outside world is actually a part of the nature of man.[8]  In Marx’s terms, the Absolute Spirit in Hegel’s philosophy was “nature” in reality.  But whereas Hegel did not explain how man’s social interaction with the outside world would economically benefit him after he has realized that all is one, Marx believed that this interaction was crucial to the successful culmination of alienation, and economic benefits were the sole reason to conclude alienation.

Marx also included alienation in his philosophy.  In essence, he used two words to express his concept of alienation: “Entfremdung and Entäusserung.”  The first conveyed the concept of alienation by way of which two individuals are separated from each other.  The second entails alienation from one’s own sense of self and eventually material desires.  These two divisions of alienation are different from Marx’s “objectification,” which is explained as a “neutral process” that may be good or bad, depending on the circumstances.[9]

To explain his concept of alienation, Marx described “political alienation” in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.  In this important piece of literature, Marx wrote that the state was alienated from the essence or desires of the common man, and it was only an imagined belief that the state was connected in its own beliefs to the civil society as well as the family.  Even though the state encompasses the civil society as well as the family in its policymaking, these entities will always be essentially separated in their motives.  Marx also wrote on “alienated labor” in his Paris Manuscripts.  In this, the philosopher described that the worker is essentially alienated from the product of his labor, and the more he works, the greater is his sense of alienation, which may eventually lead him to lose his employment and enter a period of starvation.[10]  This is because the worker is not producing the products that he would actually want to produce for himself.  Rather, working for another entity, the worker inevitably feels at loss, and alienated.

There are four kinds of alienated labor described by Marx.  First, the producer of the product is alienated from the product of his labor.  Second, the entire process of production is alienated from the worker, seeing as he lacks control over the process.  Third, nature is alienated from all men, including the worker, given that a disruption of work caused by nature cannot be controlled by the worker even if it means that he would have to starve without work.  Lastly, the worker and all men are separated or alienated from other human beings, seeing as every individual has his own particular interests at heart.[11]

At the heart of Marx’s concept of alienation is its conclusion that mankind must reach its highest potential passing the significant stepping stone called alienation.  Although Hegel, too, had discussed alienation with a view to ending it through the reaching of one’s highest potential, both philosophers differed in the meaning and focus of their particular concepts of alienation.  Whereas Hegel believed that man had to essentially acquire the knowledge that all is one, in order to reach his highest potential, Marx wrote that man is his own creator who forms as well as develops himself by developing and changing the external world in cooperation with other men.  Even though man is alienated from his fellow men, he must work in cooperation with them because without cooperation it is impossible for mankind at large to achieve its highest potential.  Man must, moreover, be the master of his circumstances and the world because it is his nature to be in control of all processes, and also to be the initiator of processes or the entity that the process originates in.  Without man, there is no process.  Hence, man must seek to take charge of the process rather than to be subdued by it.  All the same, the common man has become alien to his own nature, writes Marx.[12]  This is the reason why the disciples of Hegel could not easily find a way to explain and realize the process of leaving the epoch of alienation to reach the highest potential of humanity.  Hegel had neither explained the Absolute Spirit in empirical terms that Marx would have been inclined to accept; nor had he described the culmination of alienation in terms of social interaction for economic benefits that Marx would have agreed with.

Marx was, of course, using Hegel’s philosophies to develop his own ideas.  Jesus had said, ‘Man cannot serve two masters, both God and money.’  So, while Hegel’s ideas were focused on the Absolute Spirit, which could easily be understood as the Spirit of God that Jesus explained was poured into the body of the Son of Man to become his soul; Marx concentrated on money as the sole developer of human history.  Marx’s notion of the culmination of alienation was also based on the fruits of social interaction in terms of their monetary value.

Hegel’s concept of alienation also developed from the notion of the Spirit, for he believed that alienation could only be ended when mankind realized its highest potential through the awareness that all is one.  Marx, on the other hand, described the end of alienation with respect to man’s essential nature.  Although the philosopher did not explain the nature of man with regards to the religious concept of the Spirit, it is obvious that Marx was referring to the same Spirit that must be acknowledged in Hegel’s philosophy.  The only difference between the “Spirit” and the “nature” in terms of man’s realization of his highest potential appears to be a difference in vocabulary.

Marx has been successful in his criticism of and contribution to Hegel’s philosophy only in terms of his focus on economics.  It is true that the Absolute Spirit is not an empirically based concept.  Marx could see nature but could not see the Absolute Spirit.  Yet, I would not reject the notion of the Absolute Spirit altogether.  After all, there are countless people in the world that express their belief in Hegel’s Absolute Spirit because they have experienced miracles of the same Spirit, which may or may not be open to empirical testing.  Hegel had believed that man only had to realize his oneness with the Spirit for alienation to end.  Following the successful culmination of alienation, all would have gone well in any case.[13]  Marx believes in extending this argument by replacing the word “Spirit” or “Mind” with “nature.”  He trusts that the Spirit is different from nature.  Hegel may have argued that it is not, given that all is one, and so nature must also be Spirit.  Even so, Marx would add to his explanation of the culmination of alienation by stating that even after man has realized that he is one with nature, he must be using his social interactions as perfectly as possible for economic benefits.  Moreover, the man who has realized that he is one with nature, must take charge of the economic processes so as to benefit most.  This self-realized man may also be able to be of economic benefit to society as a whole.  This is the reason why it will be possible to realize the highest potential of mankind through a successful culmination of alienation in one man; and this is same reason that Marx’s criticism of and contribution to Hegel’s philosophy is successful in terms of its focus on economics.

In Hegel’s philosophy, all men must realize that they are one with the Absolute Spirit in order for all of them to reach their highest potential.  Marx is successful because in his philosophy, all men do not have to realize that they are a part of nature.  Even one self-realized man could benefit society economically.  Besides, the criticism that Hegel’s philosophy has met is ruled by the fact that it is virtually impossible for all men to fully realize themselves, given the differences in intellect and social circumstances that are apparent among human beings.  Marx would add that even one man through cooperation with his fellow beings may be able to benefit them economically.

Additionally, Marx discusses the concept of man’s nature to be in control of processes.[14]  The processes in a manufacturing plant, for instance, are collectively controlled by a variety of people.  Now if the worker too would take charge of a process because he has realized that he is a significant part of the process, the other entities would have to lose a certain level of control to him, unless of course, everybody is of one mind.  Everybody would have to be of one mind if the interests of all are to converge.  Hence, every person would have to realize that he is of one mind with the rest.  Is it plausible? – Perhaps not.  Given the apparent differences in the use of intellect between human beings, perhaps everybody should not even be expected to realize that they are of one mind.  Of course, Marx would replace the word “mind” with “nature.”  All the same, the success of his criticism and contribution remains in the fact that it does not require every man to realize himself in the process of economic achievement.  Instead, Marx successfully points the way for economic achievement through his criticism of and contribution to Hegel’s philosophy by his emphasis on the man who takes charge of the processes, and thereby could cooperate with his fellow beings also to benefit them economically.  The reader must assume that the self-realized man in Marx’s philosophy would economically benefit the rest of humanity, seeing that this man has discovered that others too are a part of his nature.








1.      Hegel, G. Phenomenology of Mind. J. B. Baillie, trans., London: McMillan, 1910.


2.      Marx, K. Early Texts. D. McLellan, ed., Oxford: Blackwell, 1971.



[1] G. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, J. B. Baillie, trans., (London: McMillan, 1910), 5-9.
[2] Ibid.
[3] K. Marx, Early Texts, D. McLellan, ed., (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), 12.
[4] Ibid, 8-12.
[5] Ibid, 23.
[6] Ibid, 40-43.
[7] Ibid, 17.
[8] Ibid, 31.
[9] Ibid, 60.
[10] Ibid, 63.
[11] Ibid, 133.
[12] Ibid, 135.
[13] G. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, 43-51.
[14] K. Marx, Early Texts, 164.

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