The paper “ Adam Smith’ s Concept of Self-Estrangement vs Karl Marx’ s Concept of Alienation ” is a controversial example of a literature review on macro & microeconomics. It is an apparent fact that perhaps the most renowned figures to have emanated from the wider realm of economics are Adam Smith and Karl Marx. These scholars published diverse literature in this field which have become influential even in the contemporary world. This fact is evidenced by Skousen (2007, p. 9) who determined that Smith and Marx among other scholars like Keynes stand out as archetypes and symbols based on their distinct approaches and insight into economic philosophy. Nonetheless, this paper will primarily focus on Marx and Smith and their extensive impacts into the realms of political economy in relation to their concepts of alienation and self-estrangement respectively.
This is based on the fact that their concepts of self-estrangement and alienation have become central to various discourses in political economy albeit attracting support as well as criticism in equal measure. It is imperative to note that several writers, for instance, West (1969), Lamb (1973), Himmerlfarb (1984) as well as Hill (2007; 2010) have identified the analysis by Smith in regard to the negative cognitive impacts of extreme division of labor which results in self-estrangement as being key in informing the development of the Marxist theory of alienation in the subsequent years.
However, other scholars falsified this claim and asserted that the development of the latter theory took a separate path and not under the influence of the prior. Against this backdrop, this paper is a profound effort to compare and contrast Adam Smith’ s concept of ‘ self-estrangement’ with the concept of alienation as developed by Karl Marx.
Nonetheless, it is imperative to get a brief overview in regard to the provisions of these concepts which have a robust linkage in order to gain a summative insight into their inherent similarity as well as diversity. Overview of the concept of self-estrangement according to Smith Adam Smith, who was a student of the Scottish enlightenment who is credited for having an extensive input in the realms of political economy among other fields and continues to influence contemporary enquiries in different fields of academia (Brown & Fleischacker, 2010, p.
59). Smith is renowned for his input into a ‘ system of natural liberty’ which can be termed as a liberal democratic system that entails limited government intervention and unfettered market and expounded on how a nation advances and flourishes the living standards of the citizens. This is mostly based on his work, Wealth of Nations (Skousen, 2007, p. 9). In addition, Smith developed the concept of self-estrangement which influenced the concept of alienation according to Marx which is explored in the subsequent section. This concept of self- estrangement is primarily derived from the division of labor discourse by Smith which is different from the Marxism perception of alienation analyzed below. It is thus not without cause that the critics of modernity like Marx, Weber and Durkheim claims that division of labor culminates in a form of personal alienation, elevated unequal distribution of wealth in the society that nurtures it as well as a greater individual narrowness and collective understanding (Smith, 2007, p.
3). As mentioned in the preceding section, the inferences underpinned in the concept of self-estrangement as developed by Smith has some inherent similarities as well as those in the alienation concept as developed by Marx. This is based on the fact that just like Smith, Marx provided a critique of the division of labor (which he referred to as alienation and commodity fetishism) but he proceeded to draw very different inferences as will be evident in the subsequent sections which will focus on comparing and contrasting the provisions of the concepts of self-estrangement and alienation as developed by Smith and Marx respectively. Overview of the concept of alienation according to Marx Marxis renowned for his theories and revolutionary writings which are been directly linked to communism (Shimp, 2009, p.
35). Skousen (2007, p. 9) noted that the 19th century economic thought as developed by Karl Marx had an enormous impact in attracting and inspiring intellectuals as well as workers who had an inherent feeling of being disenfranchised by the industrial capitalism system. In this regard, he sought some radical remedies to the inequality, exploitation and alienation of the underprivileged in the society. In a generic sense, the theory of alienation as developed by Marx can be perceived as a founded on the argument that in the contemporary processes of industrial production under the capitalistic set-up, the workers eventually lose control over their lives through losing control over the work that they are engaged in.
In a significant sense, the workers evolve into becoming non-autonomous beings. This is best epitomized in a case of a blacksmith under the pre-capitalist system whereby this artisan controlled his working hours, molded his own products, determined his working conditions in addition to having an extensive input into how the products which emanate from the production processes are sold in the market.
Moreover, the relationship between this blacksmith and the people with whom he worked and dealt with was more or less personal. However, Marx perceived this phenomenon to have been distorted under the modern capitalistic system whereby the workers were confronted by enormous alienation which is founded on division of labor which had previously been explored by Smith. The concept of alienation as perceived by Marx is derived from the Hegelian dialectic and was developed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
According to Marx, the workers under the capitalistic division of labor are alienated based on three rudimentary reasons; they do not control the means of production based on the fact that they belong to the capitalists, they fail to own the product of their activity which also belongs to the capitalist who eventually advances the means of production and wages in exchange for the right to the product emanating from the production process and lastly, they do not control the organization of the production processes where they only play a minimum role (Roncaglia, 2006, p.
249). Thus, Marx perceived the alienation caused by the division of labor as serving as an overall indictment of the socio-political institution of the market economy in the capitalism system. Thus, most of the work by Marx sought to provide a radical critique of the bourgeois’ political system under capitalism (Backhouse, 2002, p. 156). Comparison and contrastIt is imperative to be cognizant of the fact that despite the differences in the perception on the concepts of self-estrangement and alienation by Smith and Marx, there are some inherent similarities in their presumptions. Firstly, both of these concepts are concerned with the inevitable outcome of the contemporary commercial undertakings or the capitalism on the working class to be specific.
These detrimental impacts have been underpinned under both concepts as being primarily social and psychological in nature (Raekstad, 2011, p. 56). In this regard, the concept of self-estrangement as developed by Smith outlines how as a result of the division of labor as embedded in modern commercial activities, the tasks which are undertaken by the workers are reduced to one or two simplistic operations.
Consequently, based on the fact that work is core to intellectual development, the workers end up naturally losingthe significant part of their cognitive potential which includes natural inventiveness (Hill, 2004, p. 28). Therefore, based on the fact that specialization drastically minimizes the field of experience of the worker, there is often a rare occurrence of inventiveness in their operations. Thus, the physical capacity of the workers is distorted in the sense that self-estrangement greatly exerts extensive limitation on the scope of duties of the laborers and renders them to be incapable of exerting their strengths with equal vigor in other employments other than those within which they have been bred.
Consequently, the workers obtain a greater degree of dexterity in the particular trade within which they engage but at the expense of their intellectual, social as well as mental virtues (Hill, 2004, p. 28). As a result, Smith argued that these commercial activities which are founded on specialization or division of labor results in self-estrangement in the sense that under this system, the workers are reduced to a sort of automaton which is incapable of exercising its moral feelings or to judge its own best self-interests.
Eventually the opinions of the workers have little or no impact on issues which are of public interest, for instance, ownership of the means of production (Hill, 2004, p. 28). Thus, Smith deduced that the negative effect of extreme division of labor forms the foundation of self-estrangement among the workers. Similarly, the concept of alienation as developed by Marx underpins how the capitalist mode of productionalienates the worker in different ways whereby he invariably loses his ability to determine his life and destiny.
This is whereby the worker is deprived of his cognitive capacity of thinking that he is the director of his actions, to determine the nature of his undertakings, to determine the nature of his relationship with the co-workers or the wider society as well as owning the things and using the value of the goods or services which are produced with his labor. Thus, Marx perceives the alienation of the worker in the sense that despite the autonomous and self-realized nature of the laborer, he is directed towards goals which are alien to him; to activities which are dictated by the bourgeoisie. This is founded on the fact that the bourgeoisie is the ultimate owner of the means of production and with the aim of gaining maximum surplus value from the labor of the workers, the bourgeoisie dictates the worker through exploitation to get maximum output amid the business competition among the industrialists.
Therefore, this capitalist commercial system forces the workers to sell their labor in the market and proceed to buy subsistence there from the limited wages that they are given in exchange of their labor. The synergy of the alienation of the workers from the means of production, from employment, from the products that they have manufactured has been perceived to be evident in the modern state (Raymond, 2012, p.
1). On the other hand, there is a convergence in the self-estrangement perspective of Smith with the concept of alienation as developed by Marx. This is whereby Smith viewed self-estrangement among the workers as not being a minor problem which is confined among a few workers or in a specific region of the world.
Consequently, Smith argued that this condition was so diabolical to the extent that it was capable of causing an entire collapse and degeneracy of an enormous group of people, a situation which is inevitable (Hill, 2004, p. 30). Similarly, Marx deduced that the phenomenon of alienation among the workers is widespread in different regions of the world where the populations have embraced capitalism and thus not restricted to a particular state. Thus, Marx proposed that the solutions aimed at eradicating alienation (which will be explored in the subsequent section) ought to be embraced by the entire working class around the world in order to minimize and eventually completely eradicate alienation of the workers from the means of production, from the production process itself and from the products that emanate from their labor. Contrasting perspectivesDespite the above similarity, there are some inherent divergences in the way both of these scholars perceive the concepts of alienation and self-estrangement. Firstly, Lamb (1973, p.
275) determined that the reasoning of Marx in the concept of alienation asserted the evidence of isolation, powerlessness, and alienation of the workers under the capitalist system.
This is whereby based on the fact that the workers engage in the production process in order to gain some wages to support their subsistence, they are isolated from the production process, from the products that they produce and characterized by poor motivation. In addition, the laborers are isolated from the means of production which are owned and controlled by the bourgeoisie. In addition, the powerlessness of the laborers is cemented by the fact that they have limited or no power in regard to their overall working hours and how the products are sold in the market.
Therefore, their role under the capitalist system which is characterized by extreme division of labor is like that of a cog in a machine that only facilitates the production process but has no power over either the process or the products which emanate from therein. Thus, the Marxian theory of alienation points to the assumption that the laborers have no power to exert influence over the managerial policies affecting the production process and cannot even control the conditions affecting their working conditions of employment or even their immediate work process.
They thus become like machines whose core duty is to produce, who can be hired and fired at will. All these greatly inform the extent of alienation of the workers under this system and greatly influenced the development of the Marxian alienation theory. Nonetheless, Smith held a different perception in his concept of self-estrangement whereby unlike Marx, Smith did not view isolation and powerlessness as being central to the self-estrangement of the laborers (Lamb, 1973, p.
275). Nonetheless, this has attracted some antagonistic views from different scholars, for instance, West (1969) who argued that these tenets are evident in Smith’ s concept of self-estrangement. Another difference in these concepts is based on the solutions proposed by both scholars are being prudent in overcoming either self-estrangement or alienation. Fort Smith, the state has a core role in reducing or completely curtailing the self-estrangement of workers in the commercial system.
Backhouse, RE., 2002, The Penguin History of Economics, Penguin Adult, New York.
Brown, V. & Fleischacker, S., 2010, ‘The Philosophy of Adam Smith’, The Adam Smith Review,
Vol. 5, pp. 59-84.
Hill, L. 2004, ‘Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and the Division of Labour’, Refereed paper
presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Adelaide, 29 September - 1 October 2004
Hill, L. 2007, ‘Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and Karl Marx on the Division of Labour’, Journal
of Classical Sociology, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 339-366.
Hill, L. 2010, ‘Social Distance and the New Strangership in Adam Smith’, Adam Smith Review,
Vol. 6, pp. 166-183.
Himmelfarb, G., 1984, The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age, Faber and
Faber Ltd, London.
Lamb, RE. 1973, ‘Adam Smith's Concept of Alienation’, Oxford Economic Papers, New Series,
Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 275-285.
Raekstad, PA., 2011, ‘Class and State in the Political Theory of Adam Smith: A Chapter in the
History of a Neglected Strand of Political Thought’, M.A Thesis, University of Oslo, Oslo.
Raymond, WF., 2012, ‘Karl Marx and his Theory of Alienation’, Retrieved 27th November 2012,
Roncaglia, A., 2006, The Wealth of Ideas: A History of Economic Thought, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge.
Shimp, K. 2009, ‘The Validity of Karl Marx’s Theory of Historical Materialism’, Major Themes
in Economics, Vol. 1, pp. 35-56.
Skousen, M., 2007, The Big Three in Economics, M.E. Sharpe Inc, London.
Smith, B. 2007, ‘Adam Smith, the Concept of Leisure and the Division of labor’, Retrieved 27th
Steiner, A., 1997, ‘From Alienation to Revolution: A Defense of Marx’s Theory ofAlienation’,
Retrieved 27th November 2012,
West, EG., 1969, ‘The Political Economy of Alienation: Karl Marx and Adam Smith’, Oxford
Economic Papers, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 1-23.