Rousseau was a philosophe and an enemy of philosophy, a rationalist and a romantic, a sensualist and a puritan, and an apologist for religion who attacked dogma and denied original sin, an admirer of the natural and uninhibited and the author of an absolutist theory of the State,” (Plamenatz, 1963, p.364). He was not a mere political theorist although his political philosophy perhaps remain the most authentic and relevant in every age. Rousseau’s political theory starts with assuming that man once lived outside the society; but he ridicules the idea of man deliberately entering into a social contract in the light of ‘laws of nature’ for the simple reason that people were unaware of society. He put forward the idea that ‘man becomes a moral being only in the process of adapting himself to life in society.’ This could also imply that there is no morality outside the society. “In that sense, Robinson Crusoe, alone in his island, had no rights or obligations,” (Plamenatz, p. 366). He was always attracted to new concepts and innovative ideas, which he wove into his political and social theories even though later thinkers criticised him to be illogical. According to Plamenatz, ‘Since he cared little for logical consistency, he felt no need to do so.’ Rousseau said men were ‘transformed’ by the society to the extent that it was difficult for people to imagine living outside the society, even though morality that man had to pursue for being in the society was frustrating their ambitions.
Laws of the State deprived man from his natural freedom that he enjoyed in the state of nature. Growth in population might have forced them to abandon isolated life, which led to families, discovery of intelligence and resourcefulness, adaptation to altered conditions, change in outlook, congregating together to form a predominantly agricultural society. Rousseau says, man by nature is peaceful and timid and likes to flee from danger, and society creates honour, interest, prejudice and revenge and heroism in him. ‘He is a soldier only because he is a citizen.’ He thought that rich, who were in danger, deliberately set up a Government with the poor that would provide security for both.
Nothing much has changed since he apologetically put forth his political theories. Man lives in society mainly for comfort and security and abides with the inherent morality. Man, in a democratic system, elects his State and bows to its power so that it could create a just society. Man is motivated, creative, patriotic and just under the control of State. Rousseau’s State and society gave complete freedom to human creativity and expression. “Rousseau argued for forms of political association that respect the personal interests of their members while providing a way of furthering a new and distinctly cooperative interest that is formed by the creation of the association itself,” (Morrow, 1998, p. 42). He argued for individualistic rights of property and it should be subordinate to the right of community, because “…for without this there would be neither strength in the social bond nor effective force in the exercise of sovereignty,” (Cranston, 1968, p.68). In highly individualistic societies, man is turning towards isolation more. It could be a passing whim or an ardent desire to declare independence from the shackles of society and state. We also see that today’s globalisation is turning the entire world into a huge society with its all-enveloping tendencies. It is not possible for Man to come out completely of society or State, under the circumstanc
The whole working class of the world perhaps should be grateful to Marx for connecting economic production to society and State. He gave coherence to the struggle of exploited and exploiting, dominated and dominating classes of society. His theory had only one intention: “…. once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles.” (Marx and Engels, 1965, p.20). He thought that all societies would transform themselves into Communism. Working class in Europe and later in other parts of the world welded together into an army of ‘militant working class’ to fight for their rights. “Working men of all countries, unite!” took its root slowly, but firmly. He thought that State has to be autonomous to have sincere international collaboration. Marx targeted the bourgeoisie of capitalists, owners and moneylenders. “The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones,” (Marx and Engels, p.40). He also attacked the feudal system of industry, markets, called the industrial millionaires the modern bourgeois and class builders, and said, “In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” (Marx, p.43). He wanted the proletariat to be recruited from all classes of population and Communist State to rule over the workers and see that they would get equality in return.
Connecting Marx to today’s issues is puzzling as other than the Communist show case, China, and smaller segments like North Korea and Cuba, nothing much in the world has remained as purely communist. Communist States did not really run by the dictum advocated by Marx. They had extremely tight policies, suppression of freedom and absolute control over citizens’ intellectual development and expression. Curiously Marx himself is silent about creativity, intellectuality and artistic expression of citizens. At the same time, it would be wrong to write off Marx as an irrelevant antagonist. As long as workers and industrialised groups survive, Marx will be relevant among them. Even though we are passing through a phase of communism negation, it will never be wiped off from the world and will keep lifting its head in different forms, as the revolution that gave voice to millions of workers all over the world. His argument that “all history is a history of class struggle….all ideologies are impelled by economic motives of which the thinker is unconscious….all forms of class society are founded on the extraction of surplus labour,” (from Feuer, 1984, p.32) will remain part of human civilization. Capitalism cannot go on without Communism and hence, Marx will live on as the sage of workers’ State.
Coleman, Janet (2000), A History of Political Thought, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.
Cranston, Maurice (1968, trans.), Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Penguin Books, London.
Feur, Lewis S. (1984), Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, BasicWritings on Politics and Philosophy, Anchor Books, USA.
Morrow, John (1998), History of Political Thought, A Thematic Introduction, Palgrave, Hampshire.
McLellan, David (1977), Karl Marx, Selected Writings, Oxford University Press.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick (1965), Manifesto of the Communist Party, Progress Publishers, Moscow.
Plamenatz, John (1963), Man And Society, Vol. 1, Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., London.
Vaughan, C.E. (1925), (ed. by A.G. Little), Studies in the History of Political Philosophy Before and After Rousseau, Vol. 1, Manchester: At the University Press.
Vaughan, C.E. (1925), (ed. by A.G. Little), Studies in the History of Political Philosophy, Vol. II, Manchester: At the University Press.