Mill & Karl Marx Comparative Term Paper

  • Length: 11 pages
  • Subject: Sociology
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #88110782

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Mill talked of ethical freedom in terms of all areas wherein individual and society interacts and become involved with each other; Marx utilized the same viewpoint, although specified it in terms of proletarian-bourgeoisie relations.

For Marx, ethical freedom is self-realization within the individual, and primary in this realization was the acknowledgment that one needs to be economically independent in order for modern individuals, and society in general, to function progressively. Ethical freedom is said to have been achieved if there will develop a new social order, identified as the "industrial proletariat," described to be the modern individuals, belonging to the previously identified proletariat class, who embodies "fresh moral and political idea, but one rooted in the world of material reality" (Morgan, 2005:392). In concrete Marxian terms, self-realization is an event that will occur only once the following elements have been abolished, as cited in "The Communist Manifesto": "representative government, bourgeois competition, bourgeois freedom of the press, bourgeois legislation, bourgeois liberty and equality, of preaching to the masses that they had nothing to gain, and everything to lose..." This event, once it occurs, will lead to the development of a new social order, wherein the class system will no longer exist, for there will no longer be class stratification against the proletariat, in favor of the bourgeois class. What will exist in the new social order is the industrial proletariat, incorporating all modern individuals who experienced renewal and self-realizations -- that is, individuals who have achieved the longed-for ethical freedom.

Theme 3: Individualism vs. Socialism: Nature of 'alienation' in modern society

One of the main differences cited between Mill and Marx was their conceptualization of the nature of modern society, as it should be in the capitalist economic system. Mill advocated for individualism as the most ideal characteristic of modern society, primarily because this was what occurred that made capitalism a success in the modern period (19th to 20th centuries). Marx opposed the view that individualism should be pursued, and advocated for socialism instead, which he thought and felt to be the most appropriate response to the problem of alienation and suffering of the working class in the modern capitalist society.

Indeed, these opposing viewpoints on the nature of society centers on the idea of alienation, as applied in the capitalist economic system. Alienation was conceptualized by Marx to describe the condition of the working class in the capitalist society, wherein the individual experiences not self-realization, but the feeling that his/her work was inappropriate and limiting to his/her needs and desires as an individual. In effect, alienation results to the feeling of dissatisfaction most likely to occur if the living conditions in the society are antagonistic and oppressive.

The point of departure between Mill and Marx was not merely their belief in individualism and socialism, respectively, but on their conceptualizations of alienation in the context of capitalism. For Mill, alienation is but a natural consequence in a social order wherein competition and rationalization dominates over collectivism in the society. This was the state of society in the 19th century onwards, since humanity has become preoccupied in achieving progress through the discovery of authentic knowledge -- of the "truth," which can be achieved through empirical methods:

It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied to error...Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error...The real advantage which truth has, consist in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it...until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.

It is in the pursuit of authentic knowledge and the truth that alienation becomes an accepted state among modern individuals. This is because alienation reflects the notion of competition in capitalism. In addition to this, alienation can also lead to an improvement in the quality of life, "opportunities for self-expression," which Brennan (2005) considered "are worth the cost." Further, alienation can be beneficial in a society that is predominantly not only in pursuit of happiness, but also of knowledge and truth, since alienation gives a "feeling of distinctness from one's environment, especially social environment, a distinctness that makes that environment unintelligible" (490). An individual's alienation is a conducive setting for him/her to pursue truth and authentic knowledge, since s/he is devoid of external influences that could cloud his/her judgment and thinking in the process.

Alienation for Marx remained to be an antagonistic and oppressive concept that is detrimental mostly to the working class. Marx illustrated alienation as the continued categorization of the working class as the suffering class, as workers become more "alienated" -- that is, segmented from their own society because of limited, even null, economic/material resources. It is then the objective of Communism to promote a socialist social order, as opposed to Mill's favoring of alienation -- in effect, alienation of the individual from the society. Under socialism, the state would actively establish a social order wherein "they are conscious of caring chiefly for the interests of the working class...They want to improve the condition of every member of the society...Hence, they habitually appeal to society at large, without distinction of class..."

Barnett (2005) expressed the objective of socialism in more concrete terms, illustrating this social order as an "idyllic and holistic reintegration of all those elements of human life that had become separated and estranged as a result of the development of industrial manufacture and the heightened division of human labour [sic]" (19). It is in this elucidation that in Marxian terms, alienation is a dysfunction in the society that needs to be abolished, mainly through the abolishment of the class system and the implementation of a new social order in the form of socialism (specifically Communism).

Theme 4: Right to individual property vs. Communal property

Among the most concrete and directly influential difference between Mill's and Marx's political theories is on how each dealt with the issue of the individual's right to property. The radical difference between the two philosophers stems from the fact that Mill advocated for the right to individual property, while Marx subsisted to the ownership of property, equally distributed by the state.

Mill elucidated on the right of the modern individual to acquire property, going so far as to acknowledge the fact that there may occur an unequal distribution of property among members of the society:

It is known that the bad workmen who form the majority of the operatives in many branches of industry, are decidedly of opinion that bad workmen ought to receive the same wages as good... And they employ a moral police, which occasionally becomes a physical one, to deter skilful workmen from receiving, and employers from giving, a larger remuneration for a more useful service. If the public have any jurisdiction over private concerns, I cannot see that these people are in fault

This passage bears the truth of property ownership and right as concretely exemplified and discussed by Witztum (2005), wherein he clarified how Mill's conceptualization of the right to property is a changed attitude towards labor and human nature in general. In the capitalist social order, modern individuals have the "desire for wealth, the aversion to labor, and the desire for present enjoyment" (273-4). Arguably, this phenomenon in the capitalist society cannot be considered a negative one, since this is a natural event occurrence, a social response to the changing times, wherein the ownership of property and rights made it possible for the modern individual to assume ownership despite mediocre qualifications and standards.

Going back to the earlier cited "Manifesto" text, among the items advocated by Marx under the socialist movement was the 'abolition of land ownership and land rent' and the implementation of centralized authority of the state, which includes, most importantly, the equal distribution of property among members of the civil society. Under Communism, property becomes a necessity rather than a want or human desire, and this is supported by Steedman's (2004) analysis of ownership as defined by Marx, wherein he argued that "[t]here is in fact no common element in things; Being wanted gives them value; and a common relation to money makes them commensurable" (60). Through these distinctions between private and communal property as defined by Mill and Marx, respectively, property and the right to own it has become a multi-faceted issue that are actually arguable on various points -- that is, Mill and Marx argued equally satisfactorily their own political ideologies concerning property.


The preceding sections have enumerated the similarities and differences between Mill's and Marx's respective political theories. Looking into the aspects of ethical freedom, individual welfare, social order of modern society, and ownership and right to property, it can be said that while mainly, Mill and Marx have contradicting and opposing ideologies, there are also…

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