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Theory of Alienation

One of the key concepts of Karl Marx is fetishism. By fetishism he means to suggest that men some how come to dissociate themselves from their own products whether these be material things or ideas. These man-made things and ideas obtain a life of their own, become more important than their inventor, man and end up by dominating him. These products of man’s own creativity are treated fetishistically; they are treated as objects of mystery, objects that are outside of man’s control. Such objects are thus set apart from man; they are alien to him and come to dominate him. Examples of such objects in the realm of ideas are the laws of supply and demand which impersonally determine what should be produced, how many should be employed etc. Such laws are not seen to be the products of man’s own thinking, thinking which is historically and culturally relative but are regarded as the truth that is out there, permanent and inviolable. The machinery man works, the products that he makes are equally set apart from man and divorced from him. 

Marx argues that men are alienated from one another; they are alienated from their products, material and ideal and they are also alienated from their society. The root cause of these forms of alienation is to be found in the way man’s social relations are structured by a social system which is organized around the sanctity of the private ownership of the means of production. In  capitalist society such a system dehumanizes man into a mere commodity,labor which can impersonally be bought and sold on the labor market. In such a system ,the alienative effect of the cash nexus extends  beyond economic institutions to shape man’s attitudes and behavior in all of his social relationships. Though for Marx ,alienation exists in all societies which have private property of the means of production, he argued that only in capitalist society had it reached its fullest ,most crippling development.