Scientific socialism

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Scientific socialism is a term coined in 1840 by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his What is Property? to mean a society ruled by a scientific government, i.e. one whose sovereignty rests upon reason, rather than sheer will:

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon French politician, mutualist philosopher, economist, and socialist

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a French politician and the founder of mutualist philosophy. He was the first person to declare himself an anarchist, using that term and is widely regarded as one of the ideology's most influential theorists. Proudhon is even considered by many to be the "father of anarchism". He became a member of the French Parliament after the Revolution of 1848, whereafter he referred to himself as a federalist.


Thus, in a given society, the authority of man over man is inversely proportional to the stage of intellectual development which that society has reached; and the probable duration of that authority can be calculated from the more or less general desire for a true government, — that is, for a scientific government. And just as the right of force and the right of artifice retreat before the steady advance of justice, and must finally be extinguished in equality, so the sovereignty of the will yields to the sovereignty of the reason, and must at last be lost in scientific socialism. [1]

Later in 1880, Friedrich Engels [2] used the term to describe Karl Marx's social-political-economic theory.

Friedrich Engels German social scientist, author, political theorist, and philosopher

Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, communist, social scientist, journalist and businessman. His father was an owner of large textile factories in Salford, England and in Barmen, Prussia.

Karl Marx Revolutionary socialist

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.

Although the term socialism has come to mean specifically a combination of political and economic science, it is also applicable to a broader area of science encompassing what is now considered sociology and the humanities. The distinction between Utopian and scientific socialism originated with Marx, who criticized the Utopian characteristics of French socialism and English and Scottish political economy. Engels later argued that Utopian socialists failed to recognize why it was that socialism arose in the historical context that it did, that it arose as a response to new social contradictions of a new mode of production, i.e. capitalism. In recognizing the nature of socialism as the resolution of this contradiction and applying a thorough scientific understanding of capitalism, Engels asserted that socialism had broken free from a primitive state and become a science. [2] This shift in socialism was seen as complementary to shifts in contemporary biology sparked by Charles Darwin and the understanding of evolution by natural selection—Marx and Engels saw this new understanding of biology as essential to the new understanding of socialism and vice versa.

Political science is a social science which deals with systems of governance, and the analysis of political activities, political thoughts, and political behavior.

Economics Social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services

Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

Social science is a category of academic disciplines, concerned with society and the relationships among individuals within a society. Social science as a whole has many branches. These social sciences include, but are not limited to: anthropology, archaeology, communication studies, economics, history, musicology, human geography, jurisprudence, linguistics, political science, psychology, public health, and sociology. The term is also sometimes used to refer specifically to the field of sociology, the original "science of society", established in the 19th century. For a more detailed list of sub-disciplines within the social sciences see: Outline of social science.

Similar methods for analyzing social and economic trends and involving socialism as a product of socioeconomic evolution have also been used by non-Marxist theoreticians, such as Joseph Schumpeter and Thorstein Veblen.[ citation needed ]

Joseph Schumpeter Austrian economist

Joseph Aloïs Schumpeter was an Austrian political economist. Born in Moravia, he briefly served as Finance Minister of Austria in 1919. In 1932, he became a professor at Harvard University where he remained until the end of his career, eventually obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Thorstein Veblen American academic

Thorstein Veblen was a Norwegian-American economist and sociologist, who during his lifetime emerged as a well-known critic of capitalism.


Scientific socialism refers to a method for understanding and predicting social, economic and material phenomena by examining their historical trends through the use of the scientific method in order to derive probable outcomes and probable future developments. It is in contrast to what later socialists referred to as Utopian socialism—a method based on establishing seemingly rational propositions for organizing society and convincing others of their rationality and/or desirability. It also contrasts with classical liberal notions of natural law, which are grounded in metaphysical notions of morality rather than a dynamic materialist or physicalist conception of the world. [3]

Utopian socialism is a label used to define the first currents of modern socialist thought as exemplified by the work of Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet and Robert Owen.

Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. Closely related to economic liberalism, it developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanisation and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States. Notable individuals whose ideas contributed to classical liberalism include John Locke, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo. It drew on the classical economic ideas espoused by Adam Smith in Book One of The Wealth of Nations and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism and progress. The term classical liberalism has often been applied in retrospect to distinguish earlier 19th-century liberalism from social liberalism.

Natural law system of law that is purportedly determined by nature, and is thus universal; philosophy that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature endowed by "God" or another "Divine" source, and can be understood universally through human reason

Natural law is a philosophy asserting that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature, endowed by nature—traditionally by God or a transcendent source—and that these can be understood universally through human reason. As determined by nature, the law of nature is implied to be objective and universal; it exists independently of human understanding, and of the positive law of a given state, political order, legislature or society at large.

Scientific socialists view social and political developments as being largely determined by economic conditions as opposed to ideas in contrast to Utopian socialists and classical liberals and thus believe that social relations and notions of morality are context-based relative to their specific stage of economic development. Therefore as economic systems both socialism and capitalism are not social constructs that can be established at any time based on the subjective will and desires of the population, but instead are products of social evolution. An example of this was the advent of agriculture which enabled human communities to produce a surplus—this change in material and economic development led to a change in social relations and rendered the old form of social organization based on subsistence-living obsolete and a hindrance to further material progress. Changing economic conditions necessitated a change in social organization. [2]


In his book The Open Society and Its Enemies , the philosopher of science Karl Popper characterized scientific socialism as a pseudoscience. He argues that its method is what he calls "historicism", i.e. the method of analyzing historical trends and deriving universal laws from them. He criticizes this approach as unscientific as its claims cannot be tested and in particular are not subject to being disproven.

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  1. Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (1994-02-25). Proudhon: What is Property?. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521405560.
  2. 1 2 3 Engels, Friedrich (1880). Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. Marxists Internet Archive . Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  3. Ferri, Enrico (1912). Socialism and Modern Science. From "Evolution and Socialism" (p. 79): "Upon what point are orthodox political economy and socialism in absolute conflict? Political economy has held and holds that the economic laws governing the production and distribution of wealth which it has established are natural laws ... not in the sense that they are laws naturally determined by the condition of the social organism (which would be correct), but that they are absolute laws, that is to say that they apply to humanity at all times and in all places, and consequently, that they are immutable in their principal points, though they may be subject to modification in details. Scientific socialism holds, on the contrary, that the laws established by classical political economy, since the time of Adam Smith, are laws peculiar to the present period in the history of civilized humanity, and that they are, consequently, laws essentially relative to the period of their analysis and discovery".