Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Study Guide

Joseph A. Schumpeter

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Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Part 1, Chapter 1 : The Marxian Doctrine (Marx the Prophet) | Summary



Schumpeter opens his discussion of "Marx the prophet" by asserting that Marxism is a religion (the same could be argued regarding capitalism). Its followers are believers who take Marx's words as articles of faith. This religious feeling explains the success of Marxism, although to Schumpeter the religiousness is "the least important point." Schumpeter makes plain his admiration for the "greatness of the achievement" of Marxism for bringing to "human hearts" a message of "the terrestrial paradise of socialism."

Moreover, Schumpeter frames Marx as a thinker of his time and place, whose "scientific" approach was perfectly pitched to appeal to the rationalist, bourgeois age in which he lived. Schumpeter praises Marx's unsentimental approach, distinct from the zeal of his followers, but at the same time he identifies that approach as one of the hallmarks of the "true prophet." Nevertheless, Schumpeter concludes by praising Marx's "broad-mindedness" and commitment to honest inquiry into the subjects that concerned him.


Schumpeter ascribes to Marx's followers a religious zeal that he revisits throughout the book. This accusation was perhaps intended partly to annoy his followers. (Schumpeter goes about much of his business in this provocative way.) More practically, he says, that zeal helps distinguish the irrational and religious Marxists from the rational capitalists. Importantly, though, Marx himself is for the most part distinguished from the religious group. Marx himself is not to be made fun of (much) but to be taken seriously. His role as prophet is not really meant to be a term of derision but an assessment of one track of Marx's career.

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