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Political Ideologies of the 19th Century

Political Ideologies of the 19th Century

Can society be improved? What is the best way to run society? These are some of the sweeping questions that political theories and ideologies attempt to tackle.

Political theories provide the study of broad political concepts as well as their application in government. Political ideologies comprise a set of fundamental beliefs as they apply to mass-scale movements. The most important examples in 19th-century Europe were conservatism, liberalism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and social Darwinism.

Western 19th-century Political Ideologies

A number of political theories and ideologies were popular in 19th-century Europe. They included conservatism, liberalism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and Social Darwinism.

The political ideals of 19th-century Europe could be divided into two major categories. One category was the conservatives who supported the monarchy and traditional institutions. The other group sought to change society in order to improve it. These were the advocates of liberalization of state institutions and the press and more radical left-wing groups such as the socialists, the anarchists, and the nihilists.

List of 19th-century Political Ideologies

  • Conservatism
  • Liberalism
  • Socialism
  • Anarchism
  • Nihilism
  • Social Darwinism

Did you know?

A political theory and an ideology are related but distinct concepts. A political theory refers to studying political thought and the way it changes historically over time. An ideology is a more pragmatic concept that describes the way a set of ideas, theories, myths, and assumptions inform mass political movements and life at large.

19th-century Political Theory of Conservatism

In general, conservatism is the type of belief system that is focused on the preservation of traditional institutions and the way of life. In 19th-century Europe, conservatism was usually associated with the monarchy and other hereditary institutions like the nobility. Conservatives such as the Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich and the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sought to minimize the liberal trends in society and revolutionary politics by different means.

19th-century Political Theory of Liberalism

Liberalism, also known as classical liberalism, had roots in the 17th-18th-century Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was also known as the Age of Reason because it advocated for social and scientific progress and questioned traditional institutions such as the monarchy and the Church. Liberals believed in popular sovereignty, elections, freedom of the press, and individualism. There were numerous variations of liberalism, and the reactions toward this theory differed as well. For example, the United States lacked hereditary institutions like the European monarchy. It was, therefore, easy to disseminate and subscribe to liberal ideas.

Development of Political Theory, Portrait of John Locke, Godfrey Kneller, 1697. Source: The Hermitage Museum, Wikipedia Commons (public domain) StudySmarter.

Portrait of John Locke, Godfrey Kneller, 1697. Source: The Hermitage Museum, Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

In Europe, however, liberalism faced opposition. For example, the Revolutions of 1848 spread throughout Europe, affecting approximately 50 countries. Each incident of unrest had specific causes. However, they shared the general trajectory of seeking social liberalization and reform. When the Revolutions failed, liberal activists and intellectuals felt disillusioned.

Some notable European and American thinkers include:

  • John Locke (1632–1704)
  • Adam Smith (1723–1790)
  • Thomas Paine (1737–1809)
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)

19th-century Political Theory of Socialism

Socialism, in 19th-century Europe, was closely linked to the works of the German philosopher Karl Marx. A radical form of socialism is sometimes referred to as Communism. In the socialist belief system, the means of production are controlled by the workers themselves. Socialism is primarily focused on class as the focal point of historic progress.

19th-century socialists often sought to improve the poor conditions of the workers in the broad context of the Industrial Revolution. Socialism is also associated with egalitarian ideas.

19th-century Political Theory of Anarchism

Anarchism is both a political theory and a movement. Anarchism rejects authority: its more radical forms reject all forms of authority, including the state. After all, the state has a monopoly on power. Because anarchism rejects the state, it advocates for significant decentralization. The left-wing versions of anarchism also argue for collectivism, in which there is no private property, but rather, collective ownership. In the 19th century, one of the most important proponents of anarchism was the Russian thinker Mikhail Bakunin.

19th-century Political Theory of Nihilism

Nihilism is a form of negation. In 19th-century Russia, nihilism was a political theory and movement that rejected the social order altogether. This movement arose out of university circles. It expressed dissatisfaction with the social reforms that did not go far enough, according to the nihilists.

Development of Political Theory, A Portrait of a Nihilist Student, Ilya Repin, 1883. Source: Far Eastern Art Museum, Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

A Portrait of a Nihilist Student, Ilya Repin, 1883. Source: Far Eastern Art Museum, Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

Some social reforms in question included the 1861 emancipation of the serfs, who were unfree peasants attached to the land of the nobility. Nihilism was also linked to anarchism and associated with Mikhail Bakunin. Certain nihilists engaged in terrorist acts. The most famous of them was the 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander II.

19th-century Political Theory of Social Darwinism

19th-century British naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809 – 1882) arrived at the concept of evolution. He argued that evolution explained the biological changes in animals over long periods of time. The purpose of these changes was to make animals better adapt to their environment, survive, and thrive. This idea is sometimes described as the survival of the fittest.

Development of Political Theory, "A Venerable Orang-outang,” a caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape, 1871. Source: The Hornet magazine, Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

"A Venerable Orang-outang,” a caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape, 1871. Source: The Hornet magazine, Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

British sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) coined this term. Some thinkers applied the idea of the “survival of the fittest” to the surrounding society. They argued that society, too, was based on ruthless competition. The notion of the fittest—the smartest and the most beautiful—was incorporated into late 19th-20th-century supremacist theories of racial hierarchies, from Anglo-Saxon racism to the Nazi ideology of the Third Reich.

19th-Century European Thinkers

There were many important 19th-century thinkers in Europe, including:

  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)
  • Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
  • Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876)
  • Karl Marx (1818-1883)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
  • Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

The two most impactful thinkers were Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx. Their ideas affected political development from their own time until today.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

19th-century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) influenced subsequent intellectuals and the development of Western thought at large. Hegel was part of a movement called German idealism. This thinker built an entire system of philosophy, the parts of which should be understood in the context of the whole. He was interested in analyzing many subjects: God, the development of the state, and historic progress.

Hegel's ideas about the nature of the state and the development of history at large are especially important in the context of the study of political theory.

Dialectics and Historic Progress

The best-known and one of the most influential aspects of Hegel's philosophical system was his dialectic. The dialectic also called the dialectic triad, is composed of a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Hegel argued that thesis and antithesis—two opposites—merge to generate a synthesis. A synthesis is a compromise or a combination of the two opposites. After this, the process repeats over and over again, becoming more complicated with each iteration. It is this triad that is the basis of historic progress. The Spirit of History, in turn, is an inexorable force pushing the world forward. History, according to Hegel, is the ultimate judge.

Development of Political Theory, The Philosopher Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Jakob Schlesinger, 1831. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

The Philosopher Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Jakob Schlesinger, 1831. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

Did you know?

Another influential concept was the way Hegel theorized the state. The philosopher argued that the state represented the highest expression of moral action. He believed that the only standards were the ones already in existence. This type of thinking meant that the state is always good because it exists and is, therefore, moral and right. Only a strong leader is able to lead the state, in which the individual people were less important than the whole (the state).

Some of Hegel's essential works include The Phenomenology of Spirit and The Science of Logic. Hegel's writing influenced another German thinker, Karl Marx.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883), a Jewish-German intellectual, was one of the most important thinkers of all time in the history of Western thought. He often collaborated with Friedrich Engels. Marx spent a significant amount of time living in London, England where he witnessed the terrible conditions of the working class. This experience affected his intellectual trajectory. His best-known works include The Communist Manifesto and Capital.

Development of Political Theory, Portrait of Karl Marx, John Jabez Edwin Mayal. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

Portrait of Karl Marx, John Jabez Edwin Mayal. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

Marx focused on analyzing capitalism—an economic system in which the means of production are owned by big business (called capital). He argued that the working class experienced exploitation in this system. He wrote extensively on the relationship between capital, the working class, and the middle class (called the bourgeoisie).

Marx argued that eventually the working class would develop class consciousness and become aware of itself as an interest group. The misery caused by the workers' exploitation and oppression will eventually lead to a social revolution. Marx did not clarify the means by which this revolution would be achieved. In turn, the dictatorship of the proletariat would arise, in which it would be the working class exercising control rather than big business.

"The dictatorship of the proletariat" refers to the working-class holding political and economic power.

Eventually, the state would erode altogether, giving way to a classless society. This would be the time of socialism (Communism), an egalitarian system, in which all workers own and control the means of production.

Mikhail Bakunin

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) was a Russian revolutionary and intellectual. Bakunin was very influential in radical circles, including the anarchist and nihilist movements, in the late 19th-early 20th century. He lived in Russia, Europe, and the U.S., and was critical of the monarchy, specifically, and the state, in general. He was also critical of religion. At first, Bakunin was influenced by Hegel. In the 1840s, Bakunin also met Karl Marx, with whom he later had a falling out as he disparaged Marx’s concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Development of Political Theory, Mikhail Bakunin, Nadar. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain), StudySmarter.

Mikhail Bakunin, Nadar. Source: Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

Bakunin also took part in protests, such as the Czech Rebellion. The latter was part of the Revolutions of 1848 that swept Europe that year in search of social reform. He was also a member of workers’ organizations.

Bakunin’s best-known works, such as Statism and Anarchy, written in the 1870s, outline his ideology. He argued for significant decentralization and the type of anarchism that was radically collectivist in nature.

Aftermath

The practical impact of Hegel and Marx was evident in the 20th century. For example, the successful 1917 Russian Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy, was based on Marx’s socialist ideas.

Development of Political Theory - Key Takeaways

  • There were many political theories and ideologies in 19th-century Europe, including conservatism, liberalism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and social Darwinism.
  • The most important thinkers to influence 19th-20th-century political-theory development were the German philosophers GFW Hegel and Karl Marx.
  • Some political theories and ideologies led to a radical change of social order, such as the successful 1917 Russian Revolution that was based on the ideas of Karl Marx.

Frequently Asked Questions about Political Ideologies of the 19th Century

The political ideals of 19th-century Europe could be divided into two major categories. One category was the conservatives who supported the monarchy and traditional institutions. The other group sought to change society in order to improve it. These were the advocates of liberalization of state institutions and the press and more radical left-wing groups such as the socialists, the anarchists, and the nihilists. 

19th-century European political theories, and the related ideologies, include conservatism, liberalism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and social Darwinism.

Political theories provide the study of broad political concepts as well as their application in government. They are linked to entire belief systems (ideologies).

There were several important philosophers in the 19th century. The two most impactful thinkers were Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx. Their ideas affected political development from the 19th century until today. Other important philosophers were Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Soren Kierkegaard.

19th-century socialism was based on the ideas of the German thinker Karl Marx. Marx criticized business owners (capital) for monopolizing the means of production. He was influenced by the poor factory conditions of the working class in 19th-century Britain. As a result, socialists sought better working conditions and control of their labor for the workers.

Final Political Ideologies of the 19th Century Quiz

Question

In Marx's view, history is defined by____.

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Answer

Class struggle

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Question

Which was one of the first major political parties directly inspired by Marx?

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Answer

Social Democratic Party of Germany

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What did Marx predict would ultimately happen to the state?

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Answer

Marx predicted that the state would gradually wither away under Communism. However, in those places where successful Marx-inspired revolutions occurred, the state became more powerful and centralized.

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Question

Why was Marx's work historically significant?

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Answer

Karl Marx's analysis of the inequalities under capitalism provides a detailed methodology for examing social relations to this day. His forecast about the eventual establishment of Communism inspired political parties and even revolutions around the world.

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Question

Fill in the blank:

_______ is Marxism adapted to apply to China's specifics named after the revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. 


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Answer

Maoism 

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Which European philosopher had the greatest impact on Marx's thought?

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Answer

Hegel

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Where did the first Marx-inspired successful revolution occur?

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Answer

Russia

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Marx wanted the working class to own____.

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The means of production

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What is another term for the "working class"?

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Proletariat

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Question

TRUE OR FALSE: Vladimir Lenin was Karl Marx's colleague and co-author.

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False

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Question

What was the name of Charles Darwin's book that proposed the concept of natural selection?

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Answer

On the Origin of Species

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Where did Darwin develop his theory of evolution?

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Answer

The Canary Islands

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Who coined the term "survival of the fittest"?

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Herbert Spencer

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Who first proposed Social Darwinism?

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Herbert Spencer

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Who first proposed eugenics?

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Sir Francis Galton

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Why did Social Darwinists argue against the welfare state?

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They believed that those who were financially or socially struggling were simply "unfit." Helping them would interfere with evolution.

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Where did eugenics find popular support?

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Germany

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When did eugenics become popular?

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the early 1900s

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What led to eugenics falling out of favor in the United States?

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the Holocaust

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When did Charles Darwin publish his first book on evolution?

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1859

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Question

Who had connections to feminist groups in France, Germany and the United States?

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Anne Knight

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What does suffrage mean?

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The right to vote in political elections

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What is feminism?

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The belief that equality between sexes should exist

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During the 1948 revolution in France, who did the universal right to vote include?

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Answer

Men

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Who said "can a man be free, if a woman be a slave"?

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Anne Knight

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What was the name of the newspaper that both Anne Knight and Jeanne Deroin worked on?

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La Voix des Femmes

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What type of suffrage saw impressive gains during the middle of the 19th century?

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Universal manhood suffrage

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What movement was Anne Knight a part of, but eventually critiqued? 

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The Chartist Movement

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What type of feminism focused on changing society as a whole?

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Utopian Feminism

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What type of feminism focused on women's individual rights?

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Liberal feminism 

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What was one of the victories of the feminist movement in the United Kingdom?

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Married Women's Property Act

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What type of feminist grew out of the socialist, democratic and evangelical revival movements?

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Utopian Feminism

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What was a main reason for the universal manhood suffrage movement?

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The separation of class when it came to voting rights

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Why was France ground zero for the feminist movement in Europe?

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Answer

Because they had a temporarily successful revolution in 1848

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Who co-founded the first women's suffrage organization in the United Kingdom?

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Anne Knight

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Which 19th-century thinker influenced many of the 20th-century socialist leaders?

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Karl Marx

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In what era did socialism fully appear?


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The Industrial Revolution

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What is socialism?

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Socialism is a political ideology which is based on concepts of common humanity, collectivism, equality, common ownership, social class, and a strong state.

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What book did Karl Marx write?

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The Communist Manifesto (1848) (with Friedrich Engels)

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What are three examples of types of socialism?


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National socialism, democratic socialism, and libertarian socialism.

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What are three contemporary examples of socialist countries?

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China, Argentina, and Finland (Nordic countries)

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How do communists believe communism should be implemented?

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Through revolution.

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How do socialists believe socialism should be implemented?

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Through reform.

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Who believes in the stronger state: communists or socialists?

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Socialists.

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When did China become communist?

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1949

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When was The Communist Manifesto published?

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1848.

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What are the benefits of socialism?

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According to socialists, socialism provides a fair and equal society that is more efficient in its economy. 

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What did George Orwell claim was the main appeal of socialism?

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Answer

Equality.

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What belief is collectivism based on?

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Answer

Common humanity.

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What is Karl Marx's famous quote about socialism/Marxism?

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Answer

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

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