In “The Communist Manifesto,” Marx and Engels claim that capital grants exclusive social power to the wealthy Bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) who exploit the proletariat (the laborers); thus, the only way to terminate exclusive status is for all of the proletariats to unite. According to Marx and Engels, a united proletariat can remove the exclusive social power granted to the Bourgeoisie by abolishing the system that enables private property for the Bourgeoisie only. Instead, Marx and Engels, along with other communists, believe that a united proletariat should abolish capitalism’s current system in favor of a system that promotes collective property for all; therefore, the proletariat would no longer be dependent on capitalism or the Bourgeoisie. For instance, Marx and Engels state, “To be a capitalist is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product. Only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion. Capital is, therefore, not only personal; it is a social power.” Thus, the Communist Manifesto explicitly states that one of the main functions of capitalism is to create a form of social status given to only those who own the means of production, even though capital is created by a collective group of people who do not reap the benefits. When discussing the abolition of the exclusive social power, Marx and Engels further state, “When, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the property of all society members, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its character altogether.” According to this statement, the property needs to be accessible to all rather than just a select few to prevent social achievement from being obtained by property. “The Communist Manifesto,” Page 23) Both statements by Marx and Engels in “The Communist Manifesto” can be applied to the current economic situation in the U.S. For instance, many private businesses and factories began to move entirely overseas to exploit workers for less pay. Both the U.S.A. and workers over seas were impacted by the factory owning elites whom they had been forced to rely on for profit. Thus, what would Marx and Engels think about Americans and individuals worldwide uniting together to abolish private corporations that continue to exploit the working class all over the world while obtaining power and status? How do you think Marx and Engels would react to the fact that only a small number of individuals in the U.S. own most of the country’s wealth?
Throughout the Communist Manifesto, written collectively by Engels and Marx, they both heavily refer to the abolition of private property. They state multiple times that this has to happen so that the land with be publicly owned for the better of society. In their eyes, everyone should be equal and no one should own more and be ahead. Both Engels and Marx state in their Communist Confession of Faith that this is one of the conditions for the new communistic organization of society. How do you feel about the idea of abolishing private property? Do you think that this infringes on citizens’ rights and freedom?
When looking back on recent American history, communism is brought up frequently especially in relation to the Cold War and relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. One common theme that I’ve seen is the demonization of the political theory especially with events like the Red Scare which had a huge impact on the country and resulted in the execution of two people. Although those events are often acknowledged as a case of hysteria and unfounded fears causing violations of civil liberates, I continue to see and have been taught to view communism in a certain, almost exclusively negative light. Instead of the text and theory being objectively analyzed for it merits and downsides in the same way that we analyze the work of people like John Locke, Adam Smith, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Have you had the same experience? After reading the Communist Manifesto, do you see a correlation between that teachings of Marx and Engels and the way communism is viewed as a whole in the United States?
The Communist Manifesto asserts that history has always been a story of class struggle between the powerful and those that work for them out of necessity. The first chapter introduces how the bourgeoise came into power, and the specific ideology they used to do so, “In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”. They have established power not through previous methods, like a religious mandate for power or a natural separation between the nobility and everyone else. They have instead made their power on the basis of the accumulation of money. Why is this important to their justification of the power that they hold? Is it a good idea for the upper class to get rid of moral or ideological justifications? Why or why not? Is the absence of these ideas made up for with the globalization and technology that they have now, as opposed to the older ruling classes who did not?
Mills’ writing immediately begins by discussing the connections between governments and the press. He makes an argument that “the government, whether completely responsible to the people or not, will often attempt to control the expression of opinion, except when in doing so makes itself the organ of the general intolerance of the public.” (23) Mills begins by first drawing attention to the fact that established free nations should not feel the need to worry about the control of the press, but continues to critic that fact that they do in fact use this very same practice.
Mills calls the practice illegitimate, but if it is illegitimate in the eyes of free nations why do they turn a blind eye to their own hypocritical actions? Why must people such as Mills be the ones to bring this up instead of officials within the government who have more control of this?
In On Liberty and The Subjection of Women, Mills believes that opinions must be at their truest form to be imposed upon others, but he also thinks that there is no way to confirm the truth because there is no “absolutely certainty”. Even though he knows opinions cannot be confirmed fully he deems it necessary for these opinions to be out in the public. In chapter 2 he says, “Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any affect on the mind, must be brought before it” (page 27).He’s pretty much saying that wrong opinions and practices create facts and arguments. By having these opinions in the public, it allows for the individual to learn from the criticism being brought by facts and arguments. But do you think that criticism is always supporting the individual? Do you think that criticism might just harm and degrade others?
In John Mill’s “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion” he discusses the place that opinions have in society, arguing that there is no place in society for the suppression of opinions, by a governmental power or otherwise. Mill grounds his reasoning in the idea that diversity of thought and opinion is inherently beneficial to society as a whole, which is something that I agree with. I also agree that the idea of a government operating on public opinion is flawed because the fact that a majority of people hold the same beliefs is in no way a guarantee that those beliefs are not incorrect, misguided, or harmful. Also, a majority means there is a minority who, if those opinions are acted upon, are usually being ignored or suppressed. There are many cases that come to mind where at the time an opinion held by a minority was repressed but now looking back, the opinion has been adopted by the majority, the fight for women’s suffrage is one of those examples. I also think it is important to note who’s opinion is typically in the minority, usually those who are disadvantaged by society already whether based on race, class, or sex.
One idea that I have been struggling with is something that is connected to an idea that Mill’s discussed in chapter four, where he argues for individual liberty and that there is no place for punishment or even intervention for people whose actions are not harming anyone but themselves. But I would argue that opinions can be harmful to other people as well and in some cases, I don’t necessarily believe all opinions are created equal. What comes to mind for me is the belief that some people are inferior whether that be based on race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Some people may consider those ideas, simply opinions, but I would argue that holding those opinions or implementing them freely can definitely be harmful to others, so should there be an intervention then? I am not arguing for suppression of such thought because I think that is an artificial solution which rarely has long term effects but do you think Mill’s addresses when opinions can be harmful? Do you think it is enough to say that to find the “truth” those opinions (even if they are harmful) are necessary to society?
In his argument for the importance of the opinion, Mill brings up the fact that as time moves forward, opinions are constantly proved wrong and rejected by the future. He points out that each age in history has had what was once thought to be certain knowledge disproven by the following ages, claiming that “every age having held many subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages…” (page 25). With the movement of time, there will always be new knowledge to uncover, but whether or not Mill’s argument will still be valid is questionable. As time progresses, will human knowledge reach a certain point of perfection so that past opinions can never again be disproven?
On page 24 of On Liberty and the Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mills, he says “To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same think as absolute certainty.”
In this statement, Mills is talking about how no one knows for absolute certainty that their opinion is the right one. If someone is refusing to hear an alternate idea or opinion, based solely on the fact that they think is it wrong, is to deny the person of their own thought. If you refuse for this reason, you make making the impression that you think that you have all knowledge of that subject and that your opinion is the only right one. My question is, can anyone be absolutely certain about anything? Is it possible to know that your opinion is the ultimate truth?
In chapter 2 of Mill’s work, he emphasizes the importance of having a difference of opinion within society (particularly government, media, and other forums) so as to provide a diverse pool of ideas, solutions, and thoughts for the advancement of mankind, making the case for healthy discussion. Specifically, he states,
“…it is owing to a quality of the human mind, the source of everything respectable in man either as an intellectual or as a moral being, namely, that his (man’s) errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted.” (pages 26-27)
Please answer or ponder the following questions for class discussion on Thursday, Sept. 24th.
1 ) Mill is very cautious of his words. Towards the beginning of this chapter he states that it is not just if all mankind silenced a single person with a contradictory view, however, he also states on page 25 that “An objection which applies to all conduct, can be no valid objection to any conduct in particular.” What is the importance of this distinction? Would he hold the view that silencing those with different opinions is different than ignoring or disregarding a person who disagrees with the concept of constructive discussion? What are some issues with the practicality of his opinions/ideas?
2 ) On page 29, Mill states,
“It is also often argued, and still oftener thought, that none but bad men would desire to weaken these salutary beliefs; and there can be nothing wrong, it is thought, in restraining bad men, and prohibiting what only such men would wish to practise. This mode of thinking makes the justification of restraints on discussion not a question of the truth of doctrines, but of their usefulness; and flatters itself by that means to escape the responsibility of claiming to be an infallible judge of opinions. But those who thus satisfy themselves, do not perceive that the assumption of infallibility is merely shifted from one point to another. The usefulness of an opinion is itself matter of opinion: as disputable, as open to discussion, and requiring discussion as much, as the opinion itself. There is the same need of an infallible judge of opinions to decide an opinion to be noxious, as to decide it to be false, unless the opinion condemned has full opportunity of defending itself.”
Given this statement, where do you think Mill would have stood on free speech with regard to hate speech and symbolism? Where would it fall under his view of speech? Should such symbols and ideals be protected as a right, or deserving of being cast aside as unworthy of consideration for progress? Focus on Mill’s own opinion as you answer.
3 ) On page 61 Mill states,
“But the principal offences of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion. But all this, even to the most aggravated degree, is so continually done in perfect good faith, by persons who are not considered, and in many other respects may not deserve to be considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely possible on adequate grounds conscientiously to stamp the misrepresentation as morally culpable…”
However, he consistently makes the case that it is wrong to condemn those of a different opinion as immoral. Where does this leave those who intentionally mislead others by misrepresenting facts in an argument? Is it wrong to condemn such actions as immoral? How can meaningful discourse about changing society for the better occur if there is a basic disagreement on how such discussions should be had, or even who should be allowed to partake in such debate?
4 ) How did you interpret this piece? Is Mill right or not? What are some issues with his ideas on discourse (do you think there are any)?