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Idealism is the philosophical view that a subjective consciousness, such as that of humans or the supernatural, accounts for the nature of reality.[citation needed] Idealism seeks to explain things like what meaning is and where it comes from, as well as why society exists in a certain way or why historical events happened. All this along with things like politics and economics are, in the view of idealists, may be considered to be ideas made by people or gods rather than material bases. Idealism is often expressed in a rather mild form where it is believed that ideas are the primary driver of the world, though there are also extreme forms of idealism like solipsism, which posits that only one's own mind is sure to exist, and that because one cannot be completely sure about the existence of the external world then it has a possibility of not existing; at least as one knows it.

Materialism is the opposite of idealism, and Marxism, a materialist philosophy, is opposed to idealism. However, Marxism does recognize that ideas may in fact shape material bases, as ideas are manifest through the superstructure of society, which mutually determines the base of society as well. Ultimately, however, Marxists view materials as prime in importance and as determining and conditioning the very origin of ideas as they are ultimately shaped by the material environment through its influence on the relations of production as well as the psychology of a certain community. Materialism, which gives the basis for scientific socialism, is opposed to utopian socialism, an idealist form of socialism. Despite being philosophically opposed to it, scientific socialism is ultimately based on utopian socialist thought while being combined with more modern theories about the world, and the observations which they have produced.

Idealism is often used as a simple way of justifying the status quo when applied to fields such as politics, economics, or history. Because idealism is not as scientific as materialism, it tends to be much easier for the layman to understand and accept. This means that many people learn only the surface-level truth of why things happened and how they work when they are going over subjects in school, as curricula often demand they go through many topics quickly. As few go out of their way to learn about these subjects comprehensively, most people are stuck with an ingrained idealist understanding of the world from then on.


As humanity gradually developed its means of living, both its knowledge about and control over the world developed as well; thus establishing the basis for materialist and scientific thinking later on. In spite of humanity's achievements though, there were still major misfortunes and shortcomings for which people demanded an explanation, for which unfortunately even bad ones were accepted. Adversities in life raised questions such as about inequality, the basis for the current order, and what happens to one after death, for which people, out of desperation and insecurity, rushed to form explanations about — or very often as well, the ruling class would establish its own narrative convenient to itself, reifying the present order on top of other control mechanisms like armed forces and prison. The structure of society was thus often explained as the will of the gods, whose leaders were divinely ordained with the inequality of society thus essentially commanded by higher, greater authorities. For further motivation to adhere to this system, a promise of a blissful afterlife was also commonly provided, placating yet another of humanity's worries. Though humanity has considerably developed in many ways since antiquity, many of the same contradictions in life remain. Though systems of control like religion are phasing out, the ruling class replaces it with newer iterations of idealism as it follows its class interests. With the rise of capitalism also came the subjectivist branch of idealism, based on capitalism's own set of contradictions and social effects. Subjectivism proclaimed the futility of objective struggle, complementing the atomization of society under capitalism and focusing on pleasure as the only certainty in life to pursue. If this was not personally convincing, another view offered one to give in to an eroding means of life by becoming an ascetic, conveniently reducing the necessary labor needed to sustain the working class to a minimum. The petite bourgeoisie who appeared as a feature of capitalism soon began to adopt the same philosophies to cope with losing out in competition and thus suffering a fall in status. The actual ruling class however is separate from the causes which may compel one into believing such ways of thought, generally not believing in any of these ideologies yet maintaining the presence of them all nonetheless, even though they may be mutually opposed to each other, particularly as objective and subjective idealism are.[1]

Examples and refutations

There are natural leaders and natural followers

Most leaders and followers are created through social conditions and economic advantages and disadvantages.

Capitalism is most suited to human nature because humans are inherently greedy

Humans are so greedy under capitalism because greed is rewarded under capitalism; humans before capitalism were generally more cooperative in their labor, demonstrating that such a level of greed is not inherent.

Global warming is happening because humans are naturally destructive

Human destructiveness as it relates to global warming is a symptom of the profit motive which people are compelled to abide to under capitalism.

The "free market" is universal and the end of history

The "free market" as it is known is mostly a European invention that rose as a result of the societies, economies, and even geographies that had developed specifically in Europe, which ultimately are sourced from material reasons.

Liberal revolutions are legitimate because of the noble ideas of the Enlightenment

The French Revolution happened as a result of Enlightenment ideas spreading

Slavery was abolished because it was the morally right thing to do/because of abolitionist thought

The US Civil War was a conflict between two types of capitalist economic production: the largely slave economy of the South and the industrial one of the North. Whereas the Northern industrialists were fine with letting slavery continue so long as the Union was preserved, Southern slaveowners were afraid they would be dispropertied and thus preemptively seceded following the election of Abraham Lincoln, which was the last straw in a long history of tension between the two sides. Slavery ended up being abolished only because of this secession, though it must be noted that part of the bourgeoisie was still in favor of the old system and so established neo-slavery through convict leasing and Black Codes.

Communism is an ideal to adjust the world to

As Marx famously said, it is rather a state of affairs to be abolished.

Leaders act in the interest of democracy

They generally obey economic actors first.

Wars can be won with fanaticism

Morale is a factor in warfare but cannot really compensate for deficiencies elsewhere. This is contrary to the understanding of Hitler for example, who said "If freedom is short of weapons, we must compensate with willpower."[2]

A certain people (e.g. the British, US-Americans) are naturally freedom loving


As Marx wrote, "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness".[3] Generally, people's character and views are determined by the relationships of production they are engaged in, which give rise to particular and corresponding social, political, legal, and moral structures.

Individualism is a liberal concept that pervaded to all aspects of society, including the arts. British philosopher Isaiah Berlin states:

The painter, the poet, the composer do not hold up a mirror to nature, however ideal, but invent; they do not imitate, but create not merely the means but the goals that they pursue; these goals represent the self-expression of the artist's own unique, inner vision, to set aside which in response to the demands of some "external" voice—church, state, public opinion, family friends, arbiters of taste—is an act of betrayal of what alone justifies their existence for those who are in any sense creative.

Least of all, this ignores the prominent material basis of creativity.

You as an individual alone are responsible for your welfare

An individual is generally the product of the material factors that compose their environment, and one's knowledge and ability to provide for themselves is derived from those factors. The goal is to work towards changing the conditions to be more favorable for the opportunity of all, whereas many people, even in developed countries, lack even basic necessities such as clean water and air, food, safe and healthy environments, material resources, affordable housing and other goods, schooling, etc. The idea that people should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" has scarce basis in practice and is promoted by the ruling class (and reified by those who internalize their ideology) to justify gross inequality and deprivation in the liberal order.

Creativity is a wholly subconscious act

In reality it is based on conscious experiences and the real needs of a situation. Very often, artists in history have borrowed large parts of their works from public folklore, if not outright basing their works on them more directly.

A leader should be of the general civilian population instead of from the military or bureaucracy so they can make decisions with human suffering in mind

This idea is espoused by citing cases such as US President Eisenhower's decision to avoid nuclear war. Aside from the fact such a decision was not the choice of one man (echoing great man theory), there were several material reasons why the ruling class of America, throughout many administrations, avoided such suffering. Eisenhower and the rest of the leadership are definitively separate from the working class and having seen human suffering pretty much never impacts their decision to go to war. Military figures who were hawkish on nuclear war were in the minority and were overridden by the overall sentiment of the bourgeoisie, represented by a corresponding majority of policymakers.

The state is brutal because power corrupts

The state, in capitalism, is oriented primarily for the sake of maintaining private property, thus every atrocity and misdeed committed by it is for this specific reason, rather than the individual psychology of a few leaders. Government officials are empowered and directed foremostly by the property-owning classes. While officials in capitalist states often are greedy and callous, their policies are in practice only enabled when a significant part of the bourgeoisie decide to give their support, which itself is on the basis of market dynamics. Changing the nature by which economic production is set up consequently gives rise to a different kind of state.


  1. What Is Philosophy?. Galina Kirilenko, Lydia Korshunova. 1985.
  2. Speech in Landsberg, 5 November 1925
  3. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. 1859. Preface.