Linking Political Theory to Contemporary Politics
- Alisha N Ancum
A political theory, by definition is the study of concepts and principles that people use to describe, explain, associate, and evaluate events and institutions in society(Girvetz,2013). I will be comparing and contrasting two major political theories, Capitalism and Marxism. Their contrasting ideas are brings about a vast difference in their beliefs. But despite this, they do have some similarities in their varied forms. These two political theories have their advantages and disadvantages as they relate to politics, law, business, history and especially religion. Marxism being the younger of these two, builds on its own socio- economic model, but also offers a critic of capitalism. Both theories have shaped the nature, structure and politics of various nations from the industrial age to present day.
Linking Political Theory to Contemporary Politics
Political theory is abranch of political science concerned chiefly with the ideas of past and present political thinkers and the doctrines and proposals of political movements and groups“discussion of the proper scope of governmental action … has usually been regarded as a proper part ofpolitical theory”— F.W.Coker (Political). This paper will compare and contrast two major political theories, Marxism and Capitalism. These two political theories are significantly different from each other, but also in the varied forms have some very similar characteristics. Capitalism and Marxism have both shaped the nature, structure and politics of various nations from the industrial age to present day.
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Marxism developed among the European working class of the 19th century. Marxism is the brain child of German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883). Karl Marx started the socialist movement (Roskin,Cord,Mederiros,& Jones,2013). Karl Marx was trained in Hegelian philosophy, and produced a complex theory covering economics, social class and history. Marx posited that things don’t just happen by accident, and everything has a cause. At the core of Marxism, it is believed that property production and the distribution of wealth are subject to social control. Hence the government has a role in the economy and social life of a nation. In a Marxist system, the means of production is owned by society, with the degree of ownership varying from total control to partial. The extreme form of Marxism is communism, as practiced in Cuba. Less extreme forms take the form of socialism or social democracies as in some countries such as, Scandinavia.
Capitalism dates back to 16th century Europe, and became the dominant system in Western Europe. The basis of this system is ownership and control of the means of production by private individuals, with very little or no government intervention. In a Capitalist system, not only are the means of production not subject to government intervention as well as religion, social amenities and property rights. After the industrial revolution in Europe, capitalism was exported to the four corners of the world. At the core of the capitalist system is the free market. Free from societal control, the free market is believed to be self-regulating and privately owned. Capitalism is the brain child of Adam Smith. Adam Smith authored “The Wealth of Nations”, which is considered today as the capitalist bible. Capitalism creates a laissez-faire economy. These theories posit that the wealth and well-being of any nation is based on the amount of goods and services her citizens produced. Smith argues that government intervention in the economy retards growth. This is so, because whenever one company or person (government) has a monopoly over the means of production, this kills competition, and with it, efforts to produce new goods and lower prices. This theory has taken the name of Liberalism, meaning people living as free as possible from government interference.
Modern liberalism is what we called conservatism in America today. At the heart of this theory are still the core tenets of Adam Smith’s philosophy. Core values include a strong free market and very minimal government interference in the lives and means of production of the nation. Edmund Burke (1729-1797), an 18th century American philosophy agrees with Adam Smith’s theory. He believed the free market economy is the best system (Roskin, et al., 2013). He was also very supportive of the American colonies that were fighting for their basic freedoms. Modern conservatism in America has been reinforced by the writings of Milton Friedman (1926-2006), a Nobel Prize winning economist. Friedman argues that Adam Smith was right, and the free market economy is still the best system. Friedman also believes whenever government intervenes in the free market and society, it messes things up (Roskin, et al., 2013).
Some of the major differences between Marxism and Capitalism is their approach to traditional values especially religion. In a capitalistic society, the freedom of religion worship is vigorously protected as an individual natural right. Hence government interference in faith matters is frowned upon. In present day America, modern conservatives advocate a society where government protects the religious freedoms of individuals. They want prayer in public places, the ban of abortion and same sex marriage (Roskin, et al., 2013). Modern conservatives in America also oppose any special rights for women and minority groups especially when they perceive it to be contrary to the dominant religious views of today. As a result, any forms of legislation affecting these spheres of society are viewed as an intrusion by government on the individual freedoms of people.
Marxism on the other hand, views religion very negatively. “Religion is the opium of society” he wrote. Vladimir Lenin, a Bolshevik socialist said religion slows down economic growth. Religion is viewed in Marxist societies as a tool by capitalist elites to control the masses. Hence religion is frowned upon. Some countries which practiced strict forms of Marxism developed varied form of state atheism; for example the former Soviet Socialist Republic and the People’s Republic of China. Today, most Marxist or socialist countries have eased the ban on Religious worship. While the stigma still exist, only in extreme cases like North Korea, where religion is banned.
In present day America, the fight over the role of government in matters of faith runs very deep. This has created a very polarized polity. With Republicans made up of predominantly modern conservatives are vehemently opposed to rights being extended by the government to gay couples (Roskin, et al., 2013). Modern conservatives view marriage as a matter of faith, with no need to digress from its religious definition. They view the extension of marriage rights to gay citizens by the Democratic Party as an infringement of the religious freedoms of the citizen. Modern conservatives view this threat to the individual rights of the citizen as posited by Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and Milton Friedman. The Democratic Party and its socially liberal base, view the intervention of the state to extend the right to marriage to gay couples as an important role of government. This being a core tenet of Marxism which suggests that government must be involved in certain aspects of society, to ensure equal rights among the citizens.
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Another major difference between the two political theories is how they perceive the right to property. In the capitalist system, property is viewed a means of production and should be privately owned and controlled. Government was to protect the right to private ownership of property, with no interference. While capitalism recognizes some form of public property, it forms a very small portion of capital goods. The private ownership of property covers both tangible and intangible property. Hence businesses are privately owned and control, with little or no interference from government. A capitalist society has laws prohibiting the seizure of private property on individuals.
In a Marxist system, property is viewed as a public good. While in varied forms, private ownership of property is allowed, the majority of property for the production of goods and services are owned or controlled by the state. This is believed to be the best possible way to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor. In so doing, the Marxist believes, equality, growth and general welfare are achieved. Hence in most countries where various forms of Marxism are practiced, the state controls major sectors of the economy like energy production, health care etc.
In 2009, the Obama administration and their Democratic majority passed the Affordable Health care Act, which was vigorously opposed by Republicans and conservatives who viewed this as a government takeover of a major part of the free market. Democrats and their Liberal allies argued the law was necessary to protect and provide health care to over 20 million Americans who couldn’t afford health insurance in the free market. This issue is still a major rallying call for modern conservatives in America today.
While there are clear differences between these political theories, there are also some minor similarities. For example, in both systems, there is the possibility of social mobility. While the Marxist tries to eliminate class structures, and the capitalist systems survives on a class structure. Individuals have the opportunity to move up the social strata in both systems. Both systems allow government regulation of business, contracts, and markets; however the degree of regulation varies between both. The capitalist favors very little regulation, believing more in the unseen hand of the market to regulate it. The Marxist system, believes in providing more intrusion and regulation by the state (Roskin, et al., 2013). For without state regulation, the markets will run wild driven by profits, this is evident by the world economic crisis of 2008.
Girvetz, H. k. (2013, June 5). Liberalism . InEncyclopedia Britanica. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/339173/liberalism
Political Theory. (n.d.). InMerriam-Webster online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/political theory
Roskin, M. G., Cord, R. L., Medeiros, J. A., & Jones, W. S. (2013).Political Science An Introduction(Thirteenth ed., pp. 21-49). N.p.: Pearson.
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