Monday, August 10, 2009

Marxist Mondays

Another cool thing Marx emphasized is how power plays into the classical liberal notion of "rights." For example, one can attain "equal rights" formally, but without a corresponding equality of power, such equality of rights will often amount to very different outcomes, with vast advantages accruing to the powerful.

If you've ever been an American, you are probably aware of the endless lip service that is accorded to our rights and freedoms. And it's true: nobody is going to stop you from influencing your representative by contributing millions of dollars to their campaign, by whatever means advised by your lawyer.

But such freedom isn't relevant to the circumstances of most Americans; its meaningfulness is derived from that which most people don't possess. How many legal claims have been abandoned by the flesh and blood citizen even though she enjoys the same "rights" under the law as her corporate defendant?

Marx noted the magnanimity of liberal democracy in bestowing "equal rights" as long as economic power was sufficiently unequal between classes. This gets at the redistributionist character of socialism, since capitalist distribution empowers, well, capitalists; while socialism aims at empowering people.


Montag said...

your Marxist Monday posts are fascinating. i haven't read my Marx, though i've read about him. i'm interested did Marx foresee population growth and resource scarcity as potential problems?

as for equality, freedom and distribution of power through socialism, i think it could work on a small scale. for decentralized groups rather than with a big central government. through some sort of craft unionism or syndicalism, maybe.

but with any political system big or small the people will have to consider the moral implications of procuring the aforementioned scarce resources they think they need.

JRB said...



I think Marx would ask whether we want important social questions to be answered by groups with different class interests than our own. In this sense, he saw socialism as a minimum requirement for democracy in the modern era.

Of course, democracy does not in itself tell us anything about the choices a society might make. Its advantage lies in the possibilities it opens up, as compared to what is proscribed by capitalism. It could mean any number of outcomes, good or bad; and you are right to be skeptical of its implications.

Montag said...

yeah. a lot of times i go off point when commenting on blogs.

i agree. if we're to have a big state, i'd rather it assure that the needs of the people are provided for than assure the profitability of the 'capitalists.'