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Archive for the ‘Section 7’ Category

Karl Marx Today

In spite of the collapse of communism around the world, Marxism and its worldview are still popular in today’s political discourse. President Obama’s recent efforts to reform the American healthcare system and other initiatives have oftentimes been met with warnings of Marxism. They claim that president Obama is creating class warfare in order to justify expanding the government’s control over health care and other important economic sectors, which will allow bureaucrats to have greater control over our everyday lives. While critics of the president’s initiative oftentimes go to far, it is true that there are Marxian influences in many of the current political debates in America today.

One of Marx’s main critiques of capitalism is that there is a deep disparity in wealth and power between worker and capitalist classes. We hear this all the time in modern political discourse. The theory itself has evolved over time to adapt to the greater complexity of capitalist economies. Nowadays the political rhetoric centers around the middle class and how they are being squeezed by the wealthy. When politicians campaign, almost all of them talk about ways to “strengthen the middle class.” From a big picture point of view, a middle class is a relatively modern phenomenon that has a lot of complexity within it. The statement “strengthening the middle class” is pretty meaningless because members within the middle class have differing interests. To illustrate this, think about how different the interests are between an GM assembly line worker in Flint making $50,000 a year and a project manager in Charleston making $80,000 a year.

Nevertheless, rousing up the crowds with talks of class conflict is still a surefire way of political success. A couple of years ago when oil prices were at their peak, there was widespread outrage over reports of companies like Exxon Mobile who were making record profits. Proposals to impose a windfall profits tax, which expressly punishes companies from making a perfectly legal and ethical profit. Why do such proposals get such public popularity? Because so many people still view the world through the lens of Marxian class conflict.

This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. The class-centric worldview of the Marxian school is intriguing in many ways. Marxism is attractive to academics and lay people because it makes the world of a more simple place. What is interesting is the disconnect between the surface level rejection of Marxism and the infiltration of Marxism into much of political discourse.

I think that one of the reasons why elements of Marxian class conflict is so common in modern political discourse is because it touches people on an emotional level.  We humans have psychological mechanisms that cause us to compare ourselves to others and to become envious when of theirs have more than us even if it is not rational. An example is the income gap. For the past 100 years, The United States Economy has grown dramatically. All social classes have benefited from this. Americana living below the poverty line today are significantly better off than at most a middle class Americans were 100 years ago on a purely material level. Nevertheless, most political discourse to day focuses on view growing gap in income between rich and poor in the United States.  In fact, there is a general sense that the American economy is on the decline because of this growing gap in income. This is a very Marxian critique of capitalism.

So twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union and the supposed victory of capitalism over communism, it can be argued that Marxism it is still a very strong force in politics, even in America. Marxist ideas like class conflict an inherent instability and capitalism are still very prevalent.  Even though it is political suicide for an American politician to outwardly say that he has Marxist ideas, and very few people advocate for outright communism today,  it seems that many of those Marxist ideas are in fact mainstream.

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Previously this semester, I came across a blog post written by one of my peers surrounding the issue of tyranny. This student had connected Machiavelli’s view on tyrannical power with a recent episode of House M.D., a popular television show that is part of the Fox Network. Being a devoted fan of the House M.D. series, I began thinking about how this particular episode connected to our other readings, specifically Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s piece “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. Based on my observations, I have found that Dr. King would deem Dr. Chase’s actions in this episode unacceptable, because they do not follow his regulations about how to conduct a proper protest.

On this particular episode, Dr. House and his team have the unique opportunity of treating a violent leader of a nation in Africa. During his visit to the United States, he experiences health complications that land him in Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. The leader’s goal is to return to a healthy state so he can return to his country and execute thousands of innocent minorities that he believes are having a negative impact on his nation. During his treatment, Dr. Chase is involved in an argument with him because the leader tries to convince chase that the execution of these people will be done for the good of the country. After a correct diagnosis is reached, Dr. Chase takes it upon himself to alter a blood test, which leads to the purposeful death of the tyrant.

In “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Dr. King indicates what he believes is the correct way to stage a protest. He designates four stages in the process: collection of facts, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. Unlike Dr. Chase, Dr. King’s protests are always nonviolent, but that does not stop him from taking what he calls “direct action”. One might interpret this to be similar to what Dr. Chase takes on: substituting beneficial negotiation for a sometimes-violent action on the part of the opposition- but Dr. King’s form of direct action is different. He defines it as “presenting our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community”. Examples of this would include staging sit-ins, marches, or boycotting certain services. The difference between Chase and King’s version of protests are that Dr. Chase is in no way sacrificing anything himself. Dr. King emphasizes the importance of “presenting our very bodies”, and being vulnerable but ready to accept any consequences that may come of their actions. Dr. Chase on the other hand, plans only to execute and hide, ultimately escaping any punishment he deserves.

Another important difference between these two “protesters” are they’re views on the negotiation component of a proper protest. Dr. King views negotiation as a precursor to action. In his piece, he explains his interaction with members of the economic community in Birmingham, and how their promises soon turned out to be broken. These instances are what push non-violent protestors into action, but only if there is no possible way to effectively communicate their needs to the majority. Dr. Chase, on the other hand, reserves no room for communication or the proper steps preceding direct action. As a result, he takes the wrong path and ultimately commits a crime that he is unwilling to accept the consequences for, and will end his career entirely.

All in all, Dr. King and Dr. Chase vary in the ways in which they chose to take action in a “positive” way. Although Dr. Chase’s intentions may be honorable, we have learned from many past political figures that no one man can take away the rights of another, and that is what Chase does. Ultimately, it comes down to the issue of respect: Dr. King was wise enough to see that a respectful opposition- that is, not infringing on the rights of others- to rules he sees as oppressive is the best course of action. It is as we learned in kindergarten: treat other’s how you want to be treated.

Works Cited

Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” (1963).

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Marx’s communist ideas set out to change the framework through which we view society by looking at human production. He argues in “The German Ideology” for a different kind of equality which rejects what he calls bourgeois notions of the word. One key idea is that “the class that is ruling material power of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual power” (Engels 787). When combined with his second major point from “The Communist Manifesto” that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (798), a strong critique of capitalism begins to emerge, and a difficult question is posed: is peace or complete justice more important in modern society?

Arguments for capitalism and communism both try to appeal to what is a “just” society– capitalism does this by establishing that everyone is equally able to advance within the system. How this differs from communism is that Marx envisions a classless society, whereas capitalism seems to view class as an obstacle to overcome. He also points out a key weakness of capitalism’s claim for equal ability to advance, by noting that the “bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production” (800).

He argues that the rapid speed of industrialization by those who already own instruments of production allows them to continue to perpetuate the status quo- this should be a familiar idea to anyone who has ever heard that one must have money to make money. Marx also writes that the perpetuation of the bourgeoisie relies on a “constantly expanding market . . . [settling] everywhere, [establishing] connexions everywhere” (800).

This is quite relevant today, where the economy has become more global than national, with establishments like the World Bank and the IMF setting global monetary policies and keeping developing countries in debt. This is a rigid reinforcement of the class system Marx described. Since Marx’s idea of communism relies on distributing power evenly among workers and eliminating private property, he would be distressed by data from 2005 that the wealthiest 20% of the world make up 76.6% of private consumption (Shah).

This is a type of inequality that capitalism is unequipped to deal with, since its primary tenet is to defend private property rights. Marx’s system shows that since the amount of material in the world is limited, those already having some will always have an advantage over those who do not. He goes further, saying that even if some can advance, all they can do is become bourgeoisie. Since the system is cyclical, it doesn’t address the fundamental problem of class oppression, even if those oppressed won’t always be oppressed.

Marx’s vision of equality is stunning because it seeks to redefine the basis of political society, namely that an individual’s arbitrary claim to private property single handedly creates social injustice. The idea is profound since it is logical whereas the right to private property was earlier based on religious justification, which would be likely deemed illogical in today’s political climate. The problem Marx’s system faces today is whether it is better to accept some inequality in order to preserve the current system and maintain peace without violent overthrow. Since the “game” of capitalism has already started, changing the rules now means that the players winning won’t give up their pieces willingly.

Works Cited

Engels, Freidrich and Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology”. Modern Political Thought, Second Edition. Ed. David Wootton. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2008. 775-797.

Engels, Friedrich and Marx, Karl. “The Communist Manifesto”. Modern Political Thought, Second Edition. Ed. David Wootton. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2008. 798-809.

Shah, Anup. “Poverty Facts and Stats.” Global Issues. 2009. 14 Dec. 2009. <http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats&gt;

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What we relate to

Thinking about the semester in review I have come to realize that there have been many theorists that we have analyzed, and many of these people have influenced politics today in some way. There are some thinkers that I relate towards more and some others whom I just simply cannot understand or agree with. For example thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Jean-Jacques Rousseau I can understand, however then there are the theorists like Karl Marx Immanuel Kant whose concepts just did not strike any bells with me. However that is the beauty of this class, because as the professor explained at the beginning of the year if there is certain material that we do not want to focus on, then we do not have to. However in this blog post I would like to try to engage in the topics that I comprehended.

            The greatest advantage that this class presented to me was the advantage of being able to engage in topics which presented the greatest benefit to me. Learning about the state of natures that the theorists wrote about helped to further expand my learning, and the first person that broadened my understanding of political theory was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau talks about stripping the illusions from people forcing people to live in real life situations. Rousseau talks about the natural and social inequalities and I have personally experienced this first hand. A few years ago I departed on a mission trip to Honduras where I experienced the social and natural inequalities. After landing in Tegucigalpa and driving around sight-seeing the evidence was clear. The people with the money and power lived towards the top of the city and the streets were cleaner and everything was more organized, but then moving down the city people lived in slums and there was trash everywhere. Finally Rousseau talks about the natural differences, and just from observing the health differences between us Americans, and the Honduran people I knew what the natural differences were. Ignoring the race, gender, and other characteristics like them it was obvious how health and simple necessities of life were lacking in this country. All of these inequalities have helped to prove Rousseau’s point that people have vanity, and are always working to improve their image and social standing.

            The final topic that I need to delve into enters with John Stuart Mill’s liberalism. This topic can help anyone understand life because of how he preaches that people need to go into topics that they do not fully understand. When people undertake tasks that they do not fully understand or are not confident in, can learn from the mistakes that they have made. A perfect example of this would be the blog posts required for the students to complete. The students are free to post whatever they wish as long as it relates to the topics of the class. However, we all know that people will make mistakes and make claims that are unwarranted. Then the learning process comes about when the other students can reflect on that post and offer corrections and advice in order to help the student learn. This is a perfect example of the learning that Mill wanted, and has helped every person in this class to grow and learn the political theories that have formed our world today.

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In considering the social and political development of mankind, political theorists have evaluated factors such as religious influence, established psychological concepts, and even economic theories. However, few have debated the effectiveness of the anthropological field in answering widespread questions about our sociological past. One noted theorist who was able to break this regrettable pattern was Jean Jacques Rousseau. The opinions expressed in Rousseau’s works are in direct accordance with multiple anthropological beliefs that continue to be emphasized in modern day practices.

Rousseau’s piece “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” discusses his thoughts on how and why the human race came to be divided into economic and social classes. Rousseau discusses a common theme in political works- the state of nature- but theorizes that it could not have existed due to God’s influence on the natural hierarchy of mankind. Although he believes this to be true, Rousseau begins to explore how humans would have evolved had a state of nature existed.

Nearly all political theorists compare this state of nature to a state of anarchy: that is, a human assembly characterized by lack of rulership or enforced authority. In terms of anthropological phrasing, the state of nature can be compared to that of a of a hunter/gatherer society. Among other characteristics, the hunter/gatherer’s most prominent is that it is able to exist in an egalitarian state. The hunter/gatherers primary goal is survival, and for that to be possible, situational based leadership is established, but no one individual rules all aspects of their society. As far as anthropologists are concerned, this is the most basic form of societal complexity, and therefore is best juxtaposed with Rousseau’s imagined “state of nature”.

Rousseau declares that inequality of humans can be found in two types: natural/physical inequality or privilege inequality. Natural/physical is described as inequality of age, health, bodily strength, or quantities of mind. Much like this is the anthropological term “achieved status”, which is defined as those powers that are not born into, but worked for and attained. These powers might include skills in a certain craft, hunting ability, physical strength, or effort put forth to help the community. The opposite of achieved status is designated “ascribed status”- which is a status that one assumes at birth, and is not chosen or earned, but assigned. This term is closely related to Rousseau’s ideas about “privileged inequality”. Both are marked by an assignment process, where certain individuals are automatically given certain rights.

As previously stated, Rousseau’s hypotheses reflect those that are practiced today in anthropological field work. The Elman Service Classification System, for example, is a traditionally taught system for determining how a particular excavation site is categorized. A goal for many anthropologists has been explaining how groups of people move into ranks of higher societal complexity. Although many theories have arisen, numerous academics agree with Rousseau’s interpretation of this progression. He states, “It is useless to ask what is the source of natural inequality, because that question is answered by the simple definition of the word.” In other words, societal progression are made up of natural processes that begin at a state of nature, evolve into a complex population governed by laws, and eventually adopt a designated class system. This too can be supported by anthropological evidence, provided by former University of Michigan student, Elman Service. Service states that two theories about this natural progression exists: the managerial benefits theory, and the integration theory. Managerial benefits theory states that centralized leaders were created in these human assemblages because of the benefits that were provided by these leaders. Chiefs provide certain benefits to citizens, who provide certain benefits to other citizens, and soon classes are divided and bureaucratic organization emerges. To understand integration theory, more knowledge of the E. Service Classification System is required. Chiefdoms, the second most complex form of early societies, are distinguished by the first emergence of large-scale monuments. Service believes that the natural progression to unequal power created conflicts between political elite. To prove themselves, members of this elite built monuments to show their power over others. Thus, societies advanced to yet another rank on the classification model.

As previously shown, anthropological examination and evidence can be extremely advantageous to the political science field of study. Conceivably, future political theory researchers will seek the benefits that anthropological information provides about our past cultures and ways of life.

Bahn, Paul. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practices. New York: Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2007.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. 1754. 8 December 2009 <http://www.constitution.org/jjr/ineq.htm&gt;.

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Burke on Traditionalism

With the holiday season upon us, many are looking forward to heading home to spend time with their families.  Whether it is lighting another candle on the menorah or decorating the Christmas tree, we all follow many traditions in this holiday season, some that we may not even realize.  Similarly, there are many other traditions we follow in our day-to-day lives.  Recently, while watching the news, it came to my attention that the city of Houston, Texas, just elected an openly gay mayor, Annise Parker.  Although this is not the first openly gay mayor elected in the country, it is by far the largest community to elect a homosexual into office.  Taking tradition into consideration, Edmund Burke would have a huge issue with the election of Ms. Parker.

While reading Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke makes it clear that he believes tradition is important, especially in terms of our government.  Burke says, “The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori.”  He then continues, “The science of government being therefore so practical in itself and intended for such practical purposes – a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life…it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purpose of society” (Burke, p. 514).

What we get from the previous quote from Burke is rather quite simple.  Essentially, Burke is saying that we should not wander from the beaten path.  The path that has gotten us to where we currently are has gradually evolved and been proven to be successful.  Thus, it makes no sense to deviate from this tradition.  From this, one could theoretically propose that Burke would say that Houston voters should not have voted Annise, an openly gay being, into office.  This theory clearly would create controversy in today’s society, and Burke would be equally confused.  To Burke, actions occurred because that is how they were done in the past.  However, Burke still was posed with one dilemma that he could never put a straight answer to; how to preserve individual rights without creating prejudice in the meantime.

With this in mind, I started thinking about the larger issue at hand, gay rights (primarily marriage).  This topic now becomes trickier.  To this, I would argue that, Burke, being a conservative traditionalist, would be drastically against gay rights.  The bible says that gay marriage should not be allowed, and I would have to say that Burke would agree.

On the other hand, however, I argue that Burke, if here in the present day, he would no longer be opposed to the right of gay marriage.  While talking about following tradition, he makes one subtle acknowledgement.  He acknowledges that we should accept tradition because it hasn’t failed us in the past, but he also says that tradition has evolved.  This key word “evolution” leaves a glimmer of hope in today’s society for the eventual acceptance of gay marriage.

This issue clearly pinpoints the dilemma that Burke faced when thinking about personal rights.  Although, he would traditionally disagree, Burke would find acceptance in this issue if it is agreed on by the majority of the people in the sovereign.  Burke understands that tradition has been forged by small trials and errors, and thus would understand that if this is what people want, then it is just another adjustment to what we will begin to call tradition.  Houston voters, electing Annise Parker into office, may be another step toward this traditional evolution.

Burke, Edmund.  “Reflections on the Revolution in France”.  Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, Second Edition. Edited by David Wooton. Hackett Publishing, Inc. 2008

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Locke on New Health Care

While reading a news article regarding President Obama’s healthcare plan, I began to think about what Locke would say in regards to this proposal.  Essentially, the article was a critique of the new plan and the basis on which it would work.  It simply stated how the plan would require all adults to have healthcare coverage.  A person that cannot afford coverage would be given it for free.  But, if a person that could afford healthcare but chose not to, they would be assessed a fine by the government.  One thing the government doesn’t tell us, however, is that the only way the new healthcare plan will be successful is for people not to comply so that the government may collect fine money.

Clearly, Locke theorizes his government to be run on specific sanctions, including a system where people get to indirectly judge themselves through representation while looking out for the best interest of its people.  In addition, Locke states that society will be one of inequalities.  In reference to the introduction of trading money for goods, Locke says “This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and silver, and tacitly agreeing in the use of money” (Locke, Ch. 5).  Essentially, what Locke is saying is that the introduction of money and trade has made society more efficient by allowing specialization.  With this comes the accumulation of property but at a very low cost to human existence.

Based on Locke’s theory of inequality alone, I would argue that Locke would oppose the healthcare plan.  As a society that thrives on a multi-class system, we are granted the freedoms and liberties to make our own life decisions.  A bill that would force all citizens to purchase some sort of healthcare package clearly violates the liberties and principles on which civil society is founded and makes it run smoothly.  “The only way, whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it,” states Locke in Ch. 5.  Clearly, the reason we enter civil society is to protect our property and our liberties to “enjoy” them.  But with this new healthcare plan, the government rids us of our opportunity to enjoy some of our property.  Is having your own opinion and option of purchasing healthcare not a protection of our property?  Certainly, Locke would say it is, indicating his disapproval of the bill.

As a counterargument, many people may ask; what about taxes?  Taxes, however, are not very similar.  Taxes have come about as a result of our agreement to enter into civil society.  In order for government to function as we intended, these taxes are needed to fund the programs essential to having a successful government.

On another level it would violate our personal rights to accumulate money, a key aspect in Locke’s theory.  Locke indicates that since money cannot spoil, it can be collected to an infinite degree.  This money, as part of our own personal property, would be subject to protection under the government.  Thus, if a person were not to purchase healthcare, a personal liberty, their money (property) would be taken from them by the same institution meant to protect it.  And, as the article states, the whole healthcare plan’s success relies on the fact that it will have money to pay off the debts incurred by the plan through fining individuals who do not comply.  On the other hand, if all of the people were to comply with the new plan, no fines would be assessed.  Resulting from this would be a huge amount of debt on behalf of the whole country.

To this, Locke would say the government has gone too far.  He would argue that the government has overstepped its boundaries.  Instead of acting in the best interests of the people, they are disregarding what is in the people’s best interest.  Thus, the government is acting in tyranny.  With this being the case, we could begin to make an argument for revolt against the government.  However, at this point in time, a long train of abuses against the general will have not accumulated.

In addition, many may argue that since the purpose of the government is to protect our property, providing uniform healthcare for everyone accomplishes this goal.  With our body considered our own property, it can be said that the government should protect it.  But as Locke says, “every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself” (Locke, Ch. 5).

Locke, John.  “Second Treatises of Civil Government”.  Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, Second Edition. Edited by David Wooton. Hackett Publishing, Inc. 2008

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