Karl Marx vs. Cynical Reason:
On Suppositions of Naked Self-Interest


The German philistine here reveals his "national" character in many ways.

1) In the whole of political economy, he sees only systems concocted in academic study rooms. That the development of a science such as political economy is connected with the real movement of society, or is only its theoretical [3] expression, Herr List, of course, does not suspect. A German theoretician.

2) Since his own work (theory) conceals a secret aim, he suspects secret aims everywhere.

Being a true German philistine, Herr List, instead of studying real history, looks for the secret, bad aims of individuals, and, owing to his cunning, he is very well able to discover them (puzzle them out). He makes great discoveries, such as that Adam Smith wanted to deceive the world by his theory, and that the whole world let itself be deceived by him until the great Herr List woke it from its dream, rather in the way that a certain Düsseldorf Counsellor of justice made out that Roman history had been invented by medieval monks in order to justify the domination of Rome.

But just as the German bourgeois knows no better way of opposing his enemy than by casting a moral slur on him, casting aspersions on his frame of mind, and seeking bad motives for his actions, in short, by bringing him into bad repute and making him personally an object of suspicion, so Herr List also casts aspersions on the English and French economists, and retails gossip about them. And just as the German philistine does not disdain the pettiest profit-making and swindling in trade, so Herr List does not disdain to juggle with words from the quotations he gives in order to make them profitable. He does not disdain to stick the trade-mark of his rival on to his own bad products, in order to bring his rival’s products into disrepute by falsifying them, or even to invent downright lies about his competitor in order to discredit him.

We shall give a few samples of Herr List’s mode of procedure. It is well known that the German priests believed they could inflict no more deadly blow on the Enlightenment than by telling us the stupid anecdote and lie that on his death-bed Voltaire had renounced his views. Herr List, too, takes us to Adam Smith’s death-bed and informs us that it turned out that Smith had not been sincere in his teaching.

SOURCE: Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s book: Das Nationale System der Politischen Oekonomie,” in: Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 4 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), pp. 267-8. Written: in March 1845; First published in Russian in Voprosy Istorii K.P.S.S., No. 12, 1971.


It is well known that a certain kind of psychology explains big things by means of small causes and, correctly sensing that everything for which man struggles is a matter of his interest, arrives at the incorrect opinion that there are only "petty" interests, only the interests of a stereotyped self-seeking. Further, it is well known that this kind of psychology and knowledge of mankind is to be found particularly in towns, where moreover it is considered the sign of a clever mind to see through the world and perceive that behind the passing clouds of ideas and facts there are quite small, envious, intriguing manikins, who pull the strings setting everything in motion. However, it is equally well known that if one looks too closely into a glass, one bumps one's own head, and hence these clever people's knowledge of mankind and the universe is primarily a mystified bump of their own heads.

SOURCE: Marx, Karl, On Freedom of the Press, Rheinische Zeitung, No. 139, Supplement, May 19, 1842; in: Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), p. 171.

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Uploaded 20 May 2001
Part II added 27 July 2002

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