Human development and alienation in the thought of Karl Marx

Paul Raekstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Marx's theory of alienation is of great importance to contemporary political developments, due both to the re-emergence of anti-capitalist struggle in Zapatismo, 21st Century Socialism, and the New Democracy Movement, and to the fact that the most important theorists of these movements single out Marx's theory of alienation as critical to their concerns. Despite this renewed practical and theoretical interest, however, these and other writers have been sparing in their accounts of the normative components which the theory of alienation incorporates. Along with many recent commentators, I argue that the normative components of the theory of alienation are to be found in a notion of human development, and that a conception of the particular importance of the human species-essence plays a critical role in this respect. However, I take a different, and somewhat more detailed, tack than these previous authors in presenting a more detailed conception of human development and flourishing on the basis of Marx's conceptions of powers and needs and comparing it to the most prominent non-Marxist theory of human development: the capabilities approach. I then show that this understanding of powers and needs, along with a notion of the particularly important human power of conscious self-directed activity, underpins the critique of capitalism Marx presents in his theory of alienation. This will allow us a better understanding of the normative components of Marx's theory of alienation and its potential relevance and plausibility to the theorists and movements it is influencing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-323
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Issue number3
Early online date4 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • human development
  • alienation
  • capabilities approach
  • Karl Marx
  • Amartya Sen
  • freedom
  • need
  • power


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