Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Study Guide

Joseph A. Schumpeter

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Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Part 5, Chapter 24 : A Historical Sketch of Socialist Parties (The Nonage) | Summary



Schumpeter considers the pre-Marxist utopian socialists. He deals specifically with 16th-century philosopher Sir Thomas More's work Utopia (1516). Schumpeter notes that this work offered no method for how such a society could be built. He then considers Robert Owen's 19th-century work in founding experimental socialist communities and cooperatives. Schumpeter charges Owen's work with espousing little more of a mechanism by which utopian socialism might be reached than More's work did. Then Schumpeter dismisses Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's 19th-century anarchism as "utopianism with a vengeance." The "nonage" (period of youth) of socialism was ended, in Schumpeter's view, by the Communist Manifesto (1848) by Marx and Friedrich Engels (1820–95).

Schumpeter sums up this period as one of "rationalizing" dreamers. These dreamers also provided some useful fundamental work that was built upon by later thinkers such as Marx. The utopians, also, despite Marxist criticism, were not always divorced from interaction with social movements. In his consideration of the utopians, Schumpeter suggests that Marx was closer to them than he or his followers would like to admit.


Schumpeter's brief sketch of the pre-Marx socialists is little more than a quick run-up to the post-Marxist developments that interest him much more. Nevertheless, it is interesting that he finds quite a lot to praise in the utopians. Partly Schumpeter takes this opportunity to stick another knife into Marx, who had so strongly defined himself and his work as "scientific" in contrast to these utopians. Schumpeter believes that Marx was more utopian than he thought; he definitely thinks most of Marx's followers are more utopian than they would admit.

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