Marx Rousseau Alienation Historically Speaking  Term Paper

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  • Subject: Sociology
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(O'Hagan, 1999, p. 113)

Marx' Alienation Applied to Project:

Marx conceived of and in many ways developed a blueprint for collectivism. The individual would transcend alienation in an environment where he did not have to possess goods, as everything he needed was provided for him and his work was a demonstrative example of making sure this was so. Marx project therefore became the development of communism, and later the transitional socialism, that was conceived to create in individuals the desire to work for a collective, rather than for cash or possessions. Self-interest was to be left aside, and be replaced by collective interest and social and political health. To build such a place revolution was necessary, and would to Marx become the leveling of the people. The ruling class and the ownership class would step away from or be forced from their pulpits and the people would develop state owned collectives where needs were met for the good of the whole rather than the profit of the dominant class.

In Marx's day,... appropriation is supposed to have lost its creative character. Instead of leading to the enrichment of man's powers, capitalist appropriation has become, in Marx's words, 'direct, one-sided gratification -- merely in the sense of possessing, of having'. 11 the human condition reflected in such appropriation is given in Marx's claims that 'man has no human needs' and that money is the only 'true need' produced in capitalism. 12 (Ollman, 1971, p. 94)

According to Marx the current state of affairs was demonstratively destructive to human character as possession was the driving force behind human existence and if one has more than they need then they are denying need of the other. Additionally, Marx believed that collectivism would rekindle the innate desire of humanity to experience life, rather than simply trodding through it to get to work.

People no longer feel drives to see, hear, love and think, but only to have, to own what is seen, heard, loved and thought about. Ownership, with all it entails in the way of greed, status, rights to use and abuse, has become the only adequate expression of man's powers at this stage in their development. For Marx, the desire to own is not a characteristic of human nature but of historically conditioned human nature, and the desire to own everything with which one comes into contact is the peculiar product of capitalism. (Ollman, 1971, p. 94)

Marx ideals led to direct revolution and demanded that the nation redistribute wealth and power through the collective social order. According to Marx those who would benefit most from this collective redistribution would be the masses, the workers. Though conceptually it sounds nice, the reality was that state ownership of the means of production centralized power into one rather than many (privately owned) power structures, opening the door for totalitarianism. Sadly, it seems that collectivity in theory is fundamental, as Marx thought to human social development but it is also an avenue for those who have chosen not to relinquish their desire for power or possession to even more closely control the very elements Marx wished to return to the people.

Marx's description of man's powers in terms of their lowest common denominator, the power of 'having', applies more or less -- with the necessary reservations made for differences of class -- to all the people of the capitalist era. 13 Just as capitalism is the 'low point' of appropriation by man's powers, communism is its 'high point'. Comparing the role that money plays in capitalist society with a situation where money does not exist, Marx states:

Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over people you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. 14 (Ollman, 1971, p. 94)

Marx, was not a simple man nor did he have simple thoughts, but the expression of his philosophy of collectivism only worked on a local level. The idea that leveling would erase the human desire for power and possession was disproved in many ways and the collective did not entirely regain its exercise over the finer things in life.

One of Marx's aims in the labor theory of value was to get us to see the capitalist as a useless and indeed harmful excrescence upon society, to whom offering compromises made no sense, and in this he succeeded admirably. (Ollman, 1971, p. 247)

Though on the point of alienation, it would seem that alienation was conceptually altered, in Marx projects, as many people (though clearly not the ruling structure) developed a clear sense of their place in the community, at least on a local level and worked demonstratively hard to maintain an idea of community and culture, still present in many today.

Rousseau's Alienation Applied to Project

To some degree it can be said that Rousseau, even though he was not a direct presence in government was successful in the long run, with his ideals of alienation in projects. His ideas of social contract influenced the development of constitutional rule and direct representation, though at the price of representation in most cases.

Rousseau's argument in the Social Contract turned the tables on kings and aristocrats...Instead of defending democracy, he made it seem as if rulers must answer why they should be allowed to rule after having broken the social contract, and in this way performed the same service for liberalism that Marx did later for socialism. (Ollman, 1971, p. 247)

Rousseau's thoughts did not reject every traditional form of rule, in context they simply forced the world, and especially the European world to take a second look at the idea of right to rule. Culminating ideas are present in nearly every nation seeking democratic formation and development in the world, both old and new. Rousseau's works created a drive in the individual to create social contracts which although they came at the price of alienation were congruent with political and social revolution, and more importantly the industrial revolution. One project that Rousseau was directly involved in is, particularly congruent with this concept for change.

The great document of this dramatic shift from skill to technology -- one of the more important books of all time -- was the Encyclopedie (1751-72), edited by Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert. This monumental work attempted to bring together in organized and systematic form the knowledge of all crafts, and in such a way that the non-apprentice could learn to be a "technologist." It was by no means accidental that articles in the Encyclopedie that describe individual crafts such as spinning or weaving were not written by craftsmen. They were written by "information specialists": people trained as analysts, as mathematicians, as logicians. Both Voltaire and Rousseau were contributors. The underlying thesis of the Encyclopedie was that effective results in the material universe -- in tools, processes, and products -- are produced by systematic analysis, and by systematic, purposeful application of knowledge. (Drucker, 1993, p. 52)

Rousseau's congruence with the concepts that were building the world, at the time of his collective call to action, by the masses drove inherited rule from the consciousness of the people, who systematically strove to redirect rule to a more representative and choice-based system. Alienation then became a product of choice, rather than a demand of hierarchical social order. Rousseau's success in political though is not only testified to in his thoughts driving many of the actions of the French revolution but also in his assistance of the Polish in reformation, by request, which culminated in the work he Government of Poland. (Cladis, 2003, p. 16).


Both Rousseau and Marx developed independent theories of alienation that were compounded into political thought that shaped history and allowed each to be active participants in political and social change. Each had a vision of the alienation of the individual by various means of either force (Marx) or choice (Rousseau) that demonstratively affected the manner in which political and social thought emerged in their various circles. Marx, at the heart of the socialist revolution became a leading figure in Russian Reform, while Rousseau's political ideologies helped grease the wheels of the French revolution, and later reform in Poland. In brief, Marx believed that the individual was alienated as product of being separated from the means of production, by the force of control of the owner. While Rousseau believed that alienation was a choice made by those who chose to live in and build a society based on his form of social…

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