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Marxism: Philosophy and Economics [Paperback]

Sowell Thomas
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 May 1986

First published in 1985, Thomas Sowell’s book is a crisp, lucid and commonsensical introduction to Marx’s own writings and to Marxist theory. It combines readability with intellectual rigour and distils more than a quarter of a century of Thomas Sowell’s research and thought on the philosophical and economic doctrines of Karl Marx.

Its central theme is that Marxian philosophy must be understood before Marxian economics can be defined. The book discusses Marx’s ideas, including his philosophy of history, concept of capitalist "exploitation", morality and business cycle theory. The author’s treatment is balanced, though often critical and displays a mastery of Marx’s own writings which are liberally extracted throughout the text.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Quill (Harper) (1 May 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688064264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688064266
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,422,706 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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‘Among the best short accounts of Marxism ever, whatever the reader’s own politics are. I found it a real pleasure to read, clear and tight, full of both common sense and intellectual rigour.’ – Bernard Crick

‘Very readable … The non-Marxist Mr Sowell is distinctly successful in opening up the scope and brilliance of Marx’s very interesting mind.’ – Brigitte Berger, New York Times Book Review

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb overview 24 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Comprehensive and succinct overview of Marxian thought. Very well cited, referring all points back to what Marx or Engels themselves said. Very logically clear; he explains Marxism better than Marx.
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A very good primer on the basics of Marx's economics and the underlying philosophies for his economics..."alienation" and "dialectical materialism". To fully appreciate Marx's economics, one should know his philosophies too. Another good primer on Marx's ecomomics is Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk's, "Karl Marx and the Close of His System (see my review of Boehm-Bawerk's essay).

It should be stressed for the novice to this subject, all three volumes of Capital provide a scientific explanation, as Marx put it, of how the Capitalist system works from the perspective that labor is the underlying essence of all value. If one accepts the basic assumptions made early in Chapter 1 of Capital, Volume 1--that abstract labor is the source of value(1)--Marx's logic flows well, not only through Volume 1, but all the way through Volume 3.

If one is looking to fault Marx's economics based on the works of Capital, one will come up empty not only because Marx's logic is flawless, but, as Sowell says, " ...Marx considered the idea of proving a concept to be ridiculous. Moreover, Engels had asserted...that one only proves one's ignorance of dialectics by thinking of it as a means by which things can be proved."(2)

However, there was one instance where Marx let his dialectical guard down, allowing for an empirical objection that would consign all of Marx's works for naught. Sowell himself touches upon the specific passage where Marx cornered himself, but doesn't appreciate the full ramifications of Marx's observation.

In the "The Poverty of Philosophy" (1847) Marx says, "In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sharp but concluded 22 Oct 2007
By calmly
Nine chapters of an excellent primer: key concepts, outlined well, seems a fair presentation on Marxism.

A final chapter ("The Legacy of Marx") that devastates Marxism, as "surplus value" meets incentives and risks. Sowell notes the simple failure by Marxists to have considered that capitalism could adjust, as well as the failure to realize that some of the areas captalism has had difficulties with (e.g. balancing productivity and consumption) might also be a major problem for non-capitalist systems.

Sowell doesn't consider how Marxism (or socialism in general) could be salvaged. He closes with Marxism shattered but doesn't address how some of the problems that Marx and other socialists were struggling with might be met without Marxism (or socialism in general). Does he believe that what we have economically and politically is in the right direction? Perhaps one has to read his other books to get that answer.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sowell's study of marxism in "Marxism" best in genre 13 Mar 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
In the genre of books attempting to put Karl Marx's ideas and personae into context, this is by far the best in the field, leaving runners' up in the field far behind. As most books in this genre are written in unapproachable prose and in the language of arcane terminology, Sowell's book is stunning in it's presentation, lucid in prose, and sublime in characterization.

Especially interesting is Sowell's treatment of Marx the man. As the final part of the book, Sowell put's Marx's ideas in context with the man. This is in stark contrast to most of the book's in the field either treating Marx's personal life as that of an uncannonized saint(mostly), or as an unspeakable monster.

In pure character of book, one can do no better.
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 25 Nov 2001
By Kenneth E. Wagner Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio Cassette
How ironic that Sowell, a famed conservative economist, would have written such a brilliant explanation of Marxism. Sowell clearly and intelligently lays out Marx's ideas while avoiding the 'disciples' of Marx who have misinterpreted him. While Sowell has a scathing critique of Marx's ideas at the end of the book, the bulk of it is written to help make sense of Marx. He is very fair to Marx, in fact I have never been so sympathetic to Marxism as I was after reading this work. Sowell is truly a great scholar.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, Accurate, Concise 5 Jan 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Anyone who's read Marx firsthand can attest to the challenges he presents in scholar. He can easily seem inconsistent and dogmatic, though he wasn't either; because of his writing style and penchant for epigrams (even at the sake of clarity and accuracy) he is easily one of the most misunderstood philosophers in Western History. The literature on Marx often bears little or no relation to Marxism as espoused by Marx, Lenin being the prime source of these trachts, as well as the prime example. It is by no means an exageration to claim that the secondary literature on Marx is worse than any in the entire Western Philosophical Canon.

Dr. Sowell's acheivement is nothing less than a concise, accesible, and above all accurate explanation of the Marxist system. Criticisms that accuse Dr. Sowell of using complex language criticise him for using philosophical technical terms employed by Marx that are crucial to actually understanding Marx's philosophy. I personally found the reading the easiest of any book presenting a summation of Marxism.

Any criticism of the book should be focused on Sowell's brief critique of Marxism, and then merely for the fact that it includes the real-life results of putative "Marxism" (however divorced those policies may be from Marx's actual philosophy). It also should be noted that Dr. Sowell's doctoral thesis was on Marx and his thought; this is a subject that the author (despite his now-conservative leanings) was deeply enmeshed in during his whole early intellectual career.

All in all, this is the first book I would recommend to anyone interested in learning about Marx. Now if only Dr. Sowell could do the same for Hegel...
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book - well written and balnced view 16 Oct 2004
By Michael Scalise - Published on Amazon.com
This is the most succinct presentation of the ideas of Marx I've ever read. Indeed, Sowell explains Marxism better than Marx ever did. It is very well written and a fair analysis by one of the countries best economists and writers. Sowell, a former Marxist himself, explains the essential Marxian concepts with a balance perspective.

Those people who read this expecting to have Marx bashed or praised will be disappointed. Those wishing to understand Marxism and learn about Marx the man will be very happy with this book.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best overview of the man and his ideas ever put to print 17 Feb 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio Cassette
In the clear prose and incisive thought that marks all of his writings, Thomas Sowell explores a subject thought to be nearly incomprehensible except to a very few in a manner that any intelligent layman can absorb. In it, he describes the man, his life, and his ideas in a manner to make Karl Marx and his ideas understandable to those who might be afraid to tackle the subject otherwise. This book should be the mandatory first read for any person attempting to understand the ideas that made this century.
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