The manifesto in political theory: Anglophone translations and liberal receptions

James Farr, Terrell Carver

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Despite its brevity, immediacy and hasty composition in 1848, the Manifesto of the Communist Party was elevated to its prominence by the end of the century as the urtext of a Marxist canon. In due course, it also found a place in the broader canon of Western political thought. Not only did the Manifesto sarcastically and brilliantly enter the terrain of political theory, it subsequently became the subject of critical receptions by political theorists and philosophers down to our time. These receptions - not to mention Marxism - gave the Manifesto an extended, influential life well beyond 1848 and canonized it as essential reading in an age of ideologies. In this chapter, we consider the legacy of the Manifesto in political theory via its reception history. We begin by giving notice to such political theory that exists in the Manifesto itself, especially its embrace of freedom foretold, and to its translations into English in 1850 and 1888. We then turn to our principal task of reception history, namely, to consider across four periods the Anglophone liberal reception of the Manifesto by some of the major theorists of the last century: Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, Sidney Hook, Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper and John Rawls. While a fuller study would consider a longer list - and indeed there are more theorists than these in the pages that follow - we trust that the liberal political theorists we have chosen to emphasize need no strained justification in the space allowed in this Cambridge Companion. By dint of fame and influence, their critical scrutiny of the Manifesto aided and abetted its influence outside Marxist circles, for good or ill. Indeed, they helped canonize the work as a great dark star in the ideological firmament of the twentieth century. From Russell to Rawls, these thinkers found in the Manifesto an adversarial ideology that brilliantly - and thus all the more dangerously - propagandized a radical, communist alternative to their respective views of individual freedom, political power and the course of history. At the same time, they also reveal the great variety of examples of "liberalism," an ideological colligation we use reservedly. Thus, the reception history of the Manifesto reveals political theory as ideology-critique.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to The Communist Manifesto
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781139583404
ISBN (Print)9781107037007
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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