Concerning the Philosophies of John Locke and Karl Marx

The philosophies of Marx and Locke are surreptitiously similar, as their fundamental assumptions appear to coincide rather harmoniously. These assumptions hold that power is maintained by the people and can be demonstrated through consolidation of numbers. In Locke’s writings this comes across as the first proposition of modern democracy, while in Marx’s writings it was interpreted as the seeds that spawned socialism. The differences are that while Locke centers his ideas around political sovereignty, Marx lived during the unique time of the industrial revolution and therefore addresses the issue of economic sovereignty and exploitation.

Locke puts forth the notion that since individual human beings in the natural state magnetize to form a society, therefore the sovereign power must serve each individual’s private interests. Thus the state is a pragmatic arrangement with limited powers, and the primary role of the state is to protect man’s property from other men. This is the fundamental idea of democracy, to combine into a community where every man sacrifices executive power for joint control of the state. Government is the authority that arose from the necessity to resolve discrepancies or inconveniences that came about as man gained property.

Marx seems to continue on Locke’s ideologies since democracy had been employed new issues were surfacing as a result, namely the class struggle and economic divisions of unregulated free-market capitalism. He lived in a later time of more generous liberal political rights than Locke had, yet so many people were still miserable. The worker suffers from a severe lack of power under the poor manufacturing conditions Marx observed in 1844. The worker was essentially a slave to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, forced to work overtime without pay, forced to work without stopping for breaks, forced to work in crowded and diseased conditions, and forced to work as children. This was indeed a form of slavery, because the only way to survive was to work for competitively low wages at manufacturing facilities under the control of the bourgeoisie. Should they dare to question or disobey they would lose their job, be unable to support themselves as no other work existed, and starve and die. This is economic authoritarianism.

The way to counter economic authoritarianism is to form a collective union that can take power out of the hands of the ruling class supervisors and put it into the conjoined hands of the proletariats. Power in the economic sense is derived from ability to produce goods, which previously was maintained in its entirety by the bourgeoisie, is now stripped from them if enough workers each stop doing their part in the production process. This is economic democracy, so demonized as communism by the United States thanks to the historical struggle of the Cold War. But it follows ideologically with Locke’s theory of democracy and popular sovereignty.

Marx describes freedom a human being contemplating himself in a world he has created. This idea seems to fall into place quite nicely next to Locke’s position on property, that man, enacting his labor upon nature creates his own property. Each works to create a world of his own, through their labor, and in doing so becomes a free man. However, Marx noticed that many workers did not live in a world they created but were born into it without a choice, and any attempt of theirs to change or recreate it would be suppressed by the ruling class. Through their work they never achieved emancipation, but rather alienation from the world and everything in it. The bourgeoisie too are alienated from the world, but their wealth keeps them at ease and comfortable enough to maintain the stasis.

 

I would recommend Marx’s philosophies to global society today as I believe the power of industry and economic forces still exploit a multitude of people throughout the world. Partly in thanks to the darkly absurd Cold War which pitted capitalism against communism – two economic systems – in a political and military struggle. This fails be a logically accurate determination of which system produces the greatest society because it fails to incorporate a dialectic as posited by Marx. The only way to achieve a synthesis of the greatest ideas in the world is to have a conversation about them in which you must hear the antithesis to your thesis – a concept that frightens the insecure man. The fact of the matter is that completely unregulated markets give way to exploitation as they politicize misery, an idea first put forth by Marx. Complete government control of economic systems has also been tried and failed, so maybe instead of embracing one or the other in their entirety there should occur a dialectic between the two, to synthesize the greatest aspects of both philosophies into the greatest system we can think of as a species.

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