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Humanity – Marx & Engels vs. Rousseau

April 14, 2011

In their work, “The Communist Manifesto”, Marx and Engels make the case that:

     “Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.”

     Here Marx & Engels simplify society as two great classes locked in a constant struggle. Everyone, everywhere, is divided into one of these two classes. Marx & Engels further argue that:

     “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash-payment.’”

     Marx & Engels then hold that the only thing that man can fight over is money in their own self-interest. For Marx & Engels there is only the power struggle of money. The bourgeoisie are stealing something from the workers as was discussed during lecture.

     However, Marx and Engels simplify humanity. I feel that Rousseau had the better pulse of humanity that he discusses in his work – “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men.”

     For Rousseau, Man’s struggle was originally between man and beast. But, man quickly overcame this struggle by “training himself to set traps for them; tricking them in a thousand different ways.” From this struggle, Man next came to deciding whether he could trust other men or not. This was easily put to rest as Man saw “that they [other men] acted as he would have done under similar circumstances, he concluded that their way of thinking and feeling was in complete conformity with his own.” Man could now live peacefully with other man simply by observing him. However, even here, selfishness and self-preservation came into being. Rousseau lays out the analogy of being in a hunting party and everyone having to do their part to capture the deer, but if another, smaller, easier animal to capture passes by than that man will abandon the others in favor of an easier and more productive task. Families developed and bands of people began joining together. “Everything began to take on a new appearance. Men slowly came together, and united into different bands, eventually forming in each country a particular nation, united by mores and characteristic features, not by regulations or laws, but by the same kind of life and food and by the common influence of the climate.” What we would today call culture.

     However, with the advent of culture, people began to compare themselves to one another. For as Rousseau states: “people become accustomed to consider different objects and to make comparisons. Imperceptibly they acquire the ideas of merit and beauty which produce feelings of preference.” People now compare themselves to one another and to one another’s culture. Rousseau states in right (in my opinion), when he lays it all out for everyone with this statement: “Jealously awakens with love; discord triumphs, and the sweetest passion receives sacrifices of human blood.” Rousseau explains further the trend of humans to evolve with the use of iron and wheat.

      But the main point that I want to get to through this argument is the main point that “consuming ambition, the zeal for raising the relative level of his fortune, less out of real need than in order to put himself above others, inspires in all men a wicked tendency to harm one another, a secret jealousy all the more dangerous because, in order to strike its blow in greater safety, it often wears the mask of benevolence; in short, competition and rivalry on one hand, opposition of interests on the other, and always the hidden desire to profit at the same expense of someone else.” And yes this last part of the quote may agree with Marx & Engels view – profiting at the expense of someone else, but society is fundamentally different from Marx & Engels view in that Man does it because there is always competition and rivalry; there is a desire to harm one another and to put one another above all others. For Rousseau’s Man – and I believe the right Man – Man is incapable of a classless society. This is why Communism fails – because man is fundamentally incapable of it.

     We can see this is every way in society. Rousseau’s Man caused World War I, World War II, is causing modern conflicts in the Middle East. Rousseau’s Man is the reason why the Olympics still matter – every nation of the planet wants to better than the other in some way, shape or form. The Olympics are just a peaceful way of demonstrating that desire. We see this everyday in sports, in looking for a job, and competing academically for the best grades. Man simply wants to be better than every other Man.

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