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Idealism is a philosophical view that a subjective consciousness, such as that of humans or the supernatural, accounts for the nature of reality. It 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 idealism a result of 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 because Marxism is a materialist philosophy it is thus 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, Marxism views materials as prime in importance and that which determine what ideas arise to begin with, as they are shaped by the material environment, whether this applies to how a person's own psychology develops, how the group psychology of a society develops, or in what conditions certain ideologies, customs, etc. arise from. Materialism, which gives the basis for scientific socialism, is opposed to utopian socialism which instead has an idealist conception of the world. Despite being philosophically opposed to it, scientific socialism is based off of utopian socialist thought, though along with more modern observations of the world, particularly of the development of capitalism and the discovery of patterns within it.

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 isn't as scientific as materialism, it tends to be much easier for the layman to understand and accept. Because it's easier to understand, 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; with schools in bourgeois societies also of course tending to not want to promote Marxism. 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, thus being lacking not only in factual knowledge but also the proper way of analyzing things.


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]


Some common beliefs that prioritize an idealist view of the world are:

  • There are natural leaders and natural followers
  • Capitalism is most suited to human nature because humans are inherently greedy
  • Global warming is happening because humans are naturally destructive
  • The "free market" is universal and the end of history

Materialists in general reject these claims, applying the materialist view in response:

  • Most leaders and followers are created through social conditions and economic advantages and disadvantages
  • 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 isn't inherent
  • 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" 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

More examples of idealism:

  • 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
  • Communism is an ideal to adjust the world to (as Marx famously said, it is rather a state of affairs to be abolished)


  1. What Is Philosophy?. Galina Kirilenko, Lydia Korshunova. 1985.