The following is a paper that I wrote for an intro to political theory college class, and because I’m lazy, it is this week’s edition of THE TRUTH! My T.A. enjoyed it. So will you.
(Before reading the piece, why don’t you listen to the most recent KaibCast? It’s the most talked about* and fastest-growing* podcast on the net. Here’s the link)
Karl Marx and John Locke are among the world’s greatest philosophers, yet their ideas about the world and how it should work are just about completely opposite from each other. Marx is anti-religion, anti-free market, and pro-beard, while Locke is pro-religion (with exceptions), pro-free market, and anti-beard. Putting the facial hair issue aside, it is clear from the evidence that Locke’s ideas are far superior and more practical.
First, examining the philosophers’ views of free-markets, Locke’s ideas (in concert with Adam Smith’s and others’) have dramatically raised the standard of living over time and efficiently allocated resources to enable society to function properly. Locke starts with the idea that man is naturally free and governed by divine and natural law. Regimes are instituted by the consent of the governed, and the emphasis is on liberty, not the power of the sovereign. The government is limited, and from an economic perspective, should have minimal influence over economic affairs. The government’s main responsibility is to protect private property, which is the key to unlocking the door of capitalism.
Private property, which Marx abhors presumably because he lived in squalor most of his life, encourages individuals to be productive and creative. Note that the emphasis is on the individual, because free-markets enable the individual to prosper, and in turn, society improves for the greater good. Locke sees capitalism as the highest form of economic evolution, but Marx believes it is just a step toward his better, collective system. Marxism emphasizes the collective group and, in my view, deemphasizes the individual to the detriment of the whole, which is why true Marxism has never worked and never will (but will live forever in fantasy worlds dreamt up by unemployed liberal arts majors).
Private property is the motivating factor that keeps society functioning. Without it, we would simply waste away. Case in point: the Jamestown colony. As David Lea explains in his Property Rights, Indigenous People and the Developing World, it was truly a tragedy of the commons:
“Originally when the company was set up colonists were designated as indentured servants and expected to toil for seven years and contribute the fruits of their labour to a common store before becoming free men. They did not have a modified interest in the soil or a partial ownership in the returns of their labour. Lacking either an interest in the means of production or the products of their labour, the colonists lacked the incentive to commit themselves to their labour. As a result, idleness and lack of industry led to insufficient productivity and eventual starvation” (Lea 154).
Once each man was given a three-acre property, productivity increased and the starvation stopped. Marx would probably argue that the colonists weren’t sufficiently evolved to deal with communal living, as the spontaneous magical workers’ revolution hadn’t happened yet (still waiting…), but that is the kind of cop out I would expect from a communist. The system, they say, would be really awesome if people weren’t so selfish. But that’s precisely why the Marxist utopian viewpoint is such an epic failure. Mankind will never be able to live communally, excepting a few people here and there.
But I would argue that these pockets of communism, like hippie communes, for example, can only exist because there is a capitalist world on the outside providing the innovation and production that is necessary for society to survive. Marx would actually agree with me, for the most part, but he thinks that eventually there would be a global revolution shifting the entire world away from capitalism and toward communism. I can confidently say this will never happen, or the experiment will be so short-lived that the William Henry Harrison administration will seem like an epoch in American history. Either everyone will die, or they will realize how much better it is to individually own things.
I like to think of this in terms of public and private property. Which do you prefer, communally owned public restrooms or the private ones in your house? That’s what I thought. Simply put, communism turns the world into a giant public restroom.
Under Marx’s system, which allegedly moves humans from slavery toward freedom, mankind is actually more enslaved than under capitalism. Instead of serving one master, you serve six billion. Instead of being rewarded for work, Steve Jobs is supposed to give me an iPod in return for whatever useless crap I can make. Human nature is not communal, which is why Steve Jobs will never give me a free iPod no matter how many spontaneous revolutions are supposed to occur.
As Locke states in his Second Treatise, “if man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? (Locke 57).”
Why would man part with his freedom? Why would an individual ever want to part with his creation without due payment? Marx’s assertion that men would just do what they want to do—and be happy to give the fruits of their labor away—is a logical leap too far away from reality. That is why Locke’s economic, pro-free market outlook, grounded in reality, is superior to Marx’s unproven, communist theories.
In their outlook of religion, Marx is an intolerant elitist and Locke is a reasonable realist. Marx sees religion as an opiate for the masses and, in classic self-hating fashion, rants against Jews as “huckstering,” money-hungry, self-interested individuals (Marx 44). This ties in strongly with his economic outlook, as he ties together the religious and secular aspects of Judaism when he claims that its “secular God” is money (Marx 44). Because of this, Marx wants to “abolish” religion, something that is antithetical to freedom.
This is another example of why Marxism cannot succeed. How can you abolish something when no one is in charge to abolish it or enforce the abolition? Somehow, magically, the proletariat manages to eradicate the bourgeoisie, abolish religion, establish a global commune, and still manage to survive. Good luck with that.
Locke’s view of religion is one of toleration, and he concedes that divine law exists naturally, meaning that God exists and religion is not a “thin haze in the real” as Marx claims (Marx 40). In fact, only religious Christians can be trusted, because “promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist” (Locke 145).
Locke values freedom of religion, whereas Marx values freedom from religion. Locke’s view is superior to Marx’s because, like his economic view, it is more practical and values individual freedom over authority. Marx seeks to force people away from their beliefs, much like he seeks to force people away from their private property in a spontaneous workers’ revolution.
Lea, David. Property rights, indigenous people and the developing world. 1st edition. Leiden, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008. 154. Print.
Locke, John. The Second Treatise…Letter Concerning Toleration. 1st edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc, 2002. 57,145. Print.
Marx, Karl. “On the Jewish Question.” The Marx-Engels Reader. Edited by Tucker, Robert C. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Print.