The purpose of the present paper is to compare and contrast the following books: On Liberty, written by John Stuart Mill in 1859 and The manifesto of the communist party, written by Marx and Engels in 1848. The first part of the paper will describe and analyze the political ideas included in each of the books. The second part will be an attempt to evaluate some of the positive and negative aspects. The third part will compare some of the most relevant political ideas in the two books.
Just like the title of the books suggests it, the main argument discussed by John Stuart Mill is that of freedom. The concept is discussed in the context in which people are organized in a community called society and create complex relations and relationships.
The philosopher addresses the concept of will at individual level, but also analyzes its implications for the entire society. Some of the touched aspects refer to the freedom of speech, free trade and the extent to which the government should be allowed to interfere with the actions of the people. From this point-of-view it is safe to say that the book provides us with a very interesting perspective upon what the state as an instrument is supposed to be.
The main thesis that Mill supports is that freedom is a sacred right that people are born with "The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it." (Mill 2009)
This means that all the people must respect it and protect it, while the government must d everything it to guarantee and protect it. It is important to mention the fact that the issue changes according to the level of development of the society that is under discussion. In some barbaric societies he thinks, it is better to use the force as a means of controlling people, if this is in the best interest of everybody. (Mill 2009) In the more evolved societies, where people are most likely to obey rules of behaviour dictated by reason and morality, it is better to favour absolute freedom while making sure that nobody gets hurt in the process.
There are several important aspects to be underlined. The first one refers to the connection between freedom and morality. In Mill's opinion, absolute freedom must be guaranteed to the people because this is the right thing to do. Why is this the right thing to do? Not only because people are born free, but also allowing people to express themselves and act freely is a means of achieving a good life (and that is our ultimate goal).
A second aspect refers to the morality principles being respected by all the people. All the human beings want to be happy. The philosopher believes that we should be given all the opportunities to act according to our beliefs in order to achieve this happiness, but without harming the others in the process.
We can see how strongly democratic his view is. On the one hand all people are equal and must enjoy the same rights. On the other hand each individual must respect the other one.
Mill thinks that individual freedom is absolute as long as it does not interfere with the well being of the others. From this point-of-view it can be stated that the concept of well being of the other and of society in general is what limits individual freedom. Therefore, freedom fundamentally is the absolute power one has upon himself.
What is the role of the government in this entire affair? The main function that it must realize is that f seeing that all the citizens respect this principle. One must not interfere with the well being of the other. If he does, he is punished. The purpose is that of preventing harm from being done.
A very interesting question arises: if the resources are limited, can the state really guarantee freedom for everybody and well being as well? The general goal is that of achieving the well being of society. What happens when the well being of society as a general mechanism is harmful for one or more individuals? This is a question which still remains open for debate.
Another role that the state has is that of educating people. Mill believes that it is better to prevent than to cure. The best thing that the state can do is make sure that children grow up with strong moral values and with a relevant capacity of objective thinking. The state must not tell people what to do, but must help them understand on their own what is the right thing to do.
From this point-of-view, the government is an instrument of justice. Once the human being has formed his beliefs and values, the state can no longer tell him what is right or wrong, he must decide on his own.
The philosopher believes that we have absolute freedom upon ourselves. A very interesting ethic question arises: if I have absolute power upon myself, can I also destroy myself? The answer is obviously yes. But what would happen if an important number of people decided they wanted to harm themselves (through suicide or through decay induced by the use of drugs, etc.)?
This would naturally harm society as a whole and have long-term negative consequences upon the others as well. what this means is that there is a strong possibility for the actions which apparently concern ourselves only to affect others as well. The private sphere is sacred and nobody can touch it. From this point-of-view, the highest responsibility seems to belong to the individual.
A further important implication is the religious one. If we are entitled to do anything with ourselves, what is the role of god and the church in all of this? If I can do anything I please with myself then I become my own god. Religion has little place I this discussion. But Mill states there has been such a strong correction regarding the religious freedom in time that the point becomes useless. The moral dimension is maintained in an ideal awareness of the principles of justice and them being respected (either because one believes in them or because he is afraid by the punishment.)
A further interesting aspect refers to the relation between the majority and the minority. According to Mill, the truth is not to be necessarily found in the opinion of the majority. In other words, numbers don't count when truth is concerned. Under these circumstances he encourages all the people to express themselves and openly state their opinion. (Mill 2009)
The direct implication regards the freedom of the press. According to Mill, all the people should have a voice regardless of whether they are right or not. The more conflict there is reading an issue, the better the chances of development.
The role of the state is to guarantee the freedom of speech of the minorities "Everything must be free to be written and published without restraint." (Mill 2009) This is an engine for evolution. Society tends to favour uniformity, but according to the philosopher, it is better to stand out and have the courage to express your own opinion instead of adopting a general opinion just to be liked and accepted by other people.
As far as the freedom of trade is concerned, Mill believed that the state must regulate the acts of commerce, imposing taxes on the goods which are not essential for survival rather than on everything "Trade is a social act." (Mill 2009) He admits that the harm principle can not always function in the filed of commerce. When one wins this implies that there is somebody who looses. The market would not be able to function otherwise.
The role of the government must not the one of major importance in society. The power should belong to the people and not to a central organ which could decide what people are supposed to do. In other words, the government is supposed to advise people and suggest what the rightful actions are and not impose anything a priori. Good citizens would allow this mechanism to function perfectly. It is perhaps a much too idealistic approach to the real world.
The second book under discussion is represented by "The manifesto of the communist party" written by the philosophers Marx and Engels. Its main theme regards the evolution of society throughout history through that which they call class struggle.
According to the authors, society has always been divided between those who had more and those who had less. In other words, people have always been organized in groups according to their incomes. These incomes determined their interests and therefore their actions. The relation between these two groups has always been an antagonistic one. Those who had less always wanted to take the place…