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It turns his species-life into a means for his individual life. Firstly, it estranges species-life and individual life, and, secondly, it turns the latter, in its abstract form, into the purpose of the former, also in its abstract and estranged form."(Marx, 116) the individual life becomes thus the purpose of the species life of man, as Marx contends. Capitalism appears as an abstract, alienating force that deprives the individual of his personal life and transforms him into a mere tool for productivity.
Other philosophers have expounded on Marx's theory of alienation, extending his commentaries and conclusions. Max Weber for instance believed that alienation is rather a result not so much of the economical conditions of modern life, but of a complex system of social and political conditions of modern life. According to Weber, the world moves towards a progressive rationalization of the social and political systems. As the institutions and the systems become increasingly complex, the world becomes more and more inhuman and impersonal. It is through the increasing "calculability" that pervades the modern world that the purely personal completely disappears from the scene: "The calculability of decision-making] and with it its appropriateness for capitalism.. [is] the more fully realized the more bureaucracy "depersonalizes" itself, i.e., the more completely it succeeds in achieving the exclusion of love, hatred, and every purely personal, especially irrational and incalculable, feeling from the execution of official tasks."(Weber, 52) Weber thus explicitly relies in his work on Marx's previous theory of alienation of the individual through the forces of the social and political system.
Significantly, Weber continues Marx's theory and develops it. Similarly to Marx, Weber emphasizes that the old type ruler was sometimes tyrannical but also sometimes good natured and compassionate. In both cases, the old-type ruler is more human and personal in all his reactions, as opposed to the modern apparatus which is emotionally detached: "In the place of the old-type ruler who is moved by sympathy, favor, grace, and gratitude, modern culture requires for its sustaining external apparatus the emotionally detached, and hence rigorously "professional" expert."(Weber, 53) the modern world is thus alienating through its own impersonal nature.
Another philosopher who reopened Marx's problematic theory of alienation for discussion was Karl Mannheim. Mannheim's work incorporates the most important elements taken from both Marx's and Weber's theories. The same idea that pervades Marx's work also makes the core of Mannheim's theory. According to Mannheim, man defines his creativity through his work. At the same time however, the work he produces acquires independency from its own creator and becomes governed by its own laws, while the producer becomes more and more estranged. Mannheim also takes the theory one step further by incorporating culture into his system. In his view, culture, similarly to labor, becomes alienated from the individual by gaining independence and a status of its own. Thus, the individual is displaced and estranged from his own productions.
In the light of the conclusions presented so far, I think that the theory of alienation as constructed by Marx is reflected in the conditions of modern life. It is obvious that man has moved away from the things that kept him in close contact with nature and with the specifics of humanity. The modern social, economical and political systems make this fact inevitable. The individual is now defined by a large number of documents that have to be registered and he exists merely as a social record. Moreover, the individual is caught in such a complicated apparatus of laws and rules, that his freedom, despite the democratic system, becomes extraordinarily limited. Even more than in Marx's time, man has now become an instrument of the complicated social system.
Also, through his labor or his employment, man is obviously cut from his own activity. While a man does have a function in the modern system, he does not have direct access to the results of own work. The examples for alienation provided by the modern society are almost inexhaustible: the social and economical system is now more complicated than ever. Any work performed by an individual is now only a small part of a huge system that serves all kinds of interests. Man cannot exist as an individual outside society, since he is compelled to live and work in a certain way. More than the fact that the individual is now subjected to more and more laws, the laws are moreover abstract and impersonal and a man cannot get a personal response to any of his actions.
Therefore, I think that Marx's theory of alienation is even more valid at present than it was for the contemporary situation that he tried to describe. Men are not only slaves of their own work, but there are inevitably particles in a large social and political system. Although man does have freedom to move inside the system, he has very little or no liberty outside it. In this context, man is more and more alienated from himself and his own surroundings. The modern world is a fascinating web created by man himself, but at present, man has become a peon in his own creation.
Kain, Philip J. "Marx, housework, and alienation." Hypatia 8.n1 (Wntr 1993): 121(24).
Marx, Karl. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. New York: Prometheus Books, 1988.
The Theory of Alienation. http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/a/l.htm#alienation
Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York: Free Press, 1997.[continue]
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