Socialist alternatives to capitalism I: Marx to Hayek


While philosophical speculation on the design of social, economic, and political institutions goes back at least to Plato (and perhaps further to Hammurabi), I will start this discussion at the end of the eighteenth century, in the radical and romantic response to the French Revolution. The nascent Industrial Revolution, the eclipse if not the collapse of the religious monopoly over discussion of the social and political “good”, the enormous energies of mass politics unleashed by the bourgeois revolutions, and Enlightenment theories of political economy and political theory prompted a surge of radical criticism of existing social institutions and speculation on their future evolution. An important and persistent strain in this revolutionary discourse viewed the demonstrated (though not yet fully exploited) increases in productive power unleashed by the Industrial Revolution as offering for the first time in human history the possibility of creating a human society freed from material poverty and even scarcity of basic goods. “Perfectibilists” such as William Godwin (see Foley, 2006, ch 2) argued for a rational reconstruction of social institutions to realize these possibilities, engendering an intellectual reaction from figures such as Thomas Malthus, who proposed to demonstrate “mathematically” that population growth would doom such projects.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Foley2011SocialistAT, title={Socialist alternatives to capitalism I: Marx to Hayek}, author={Duncan K. Foley}, year={2011} }