Marx and Mill's Theories of Freedom: A Comparison

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18th Oct 2017 Politics Reference this

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SANDRINE UWIMANA

 

MARX AND MILL’S VIEWS ON FREEDOM.

This essay compares and contrasts Karl Marx and J.S. Mill on their understandings of freedom and their analyses of the impediments to its realization. Both Marx and Mill agree that human beings are capable of making progress and that the concept of freedom is an end in itself. Thus, they saw freedom as a means to realise individual potential and self-determination. However, both differ on the concept of freedom realisation and the impediments to freedom. Mill argues that the impediment to freedom is the masculine society while Marx argues that the impediment to freedom is the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, the essay discusses the intervention by state/society into freedom. Mill assert that the society can interfere into someone’s freedom when there is harm done to others. For Mill freedom should be exercised as long as there is no harm done to others while Marx supports the freedom to overthrow the bourgeoisie . On the other hand, Marx views hold that the government/ society should intervene in individual freedom to avoid individuality that leads to private property and hence creating classes.

Both Marx and Mill see freedom as an end in itself. According to Marx’s definition of freedom, was viewed as an end in itself. “Only in community has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class,” Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. For Mill, freedom of speech, opinion and the right to associate with others, were important for the progress of mankind. Freedom of choice is and do what is desirable as long as no harm is done to others is an end in itself. As Mill thus say that , “… though the customs be both good as customs… yet to conform to custom… does not… develop…human faculties…exercised only in making a choice.” (Mill 60). It is evident that freedom of choice is important to the development of individuality and progress of the society as a whole. Thus, freedom is an end in itself, because utilizing human lead to make choices is beneficial for personal development. Hence, the view that sees freedom as an end in itself can be attributed to both Marx and Mill.

On the other hand, there are considerable differences between Mill and Marx perspectives on views regarding freedom. For Mill, freedom is important for the purpose of searching for truth and for reasons to live and for progress ( Mill 29). Mill asserts that a man must be free to pursue his happiness and pleasure. Furthermore, Mill in “On Liberty“ asserts that individual freedom is the paramount chief for the progress of society. The opinion of the individual has to be nurtured and allowed to grow so that he can use his assets and talents to benefit the society at large ( Mill 63). Thus, Mill, can be summarised in On Liberty : “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.” An individual has the capability and the power to be creative in a society that recognises that ability. As well, Mill argues for the freedom of speech for everyone and that each individual opinion should be respected regardless of its content. Mill also argues that freedom/liberty is important for the pursuit of happiness (Mill 29). However , Marx asserts that people should not be individualistic and should not pursue their own interests but should conform to the society’s norms. For example in “On The Jewish Question: Zur Judenfrage, “ Marx criticizes the liberal concept of freedom and argues that it assumes that a human being is “an isolated monad” ( Max 364) who pursues his own private happiness and also tries to avoid conflict with others ( Marx 370). He argue that an individual cannot be treated separately from society. The individual is part and parcel of society and there is nowhere he/she is going to operate in isolation without affecting the society as a whole. Hence, Marx argues that the communist system would make it possible for everyone including children and women to be free as they would not be forced to work for the anyone (Marx 72). For Marx, this is freedom. As well, Marx explains how “my free activity” transforms itself into “the alienated and inhumane power” with the fetishism of the commodity. (Marx, 554).

Furthermore, Mill and Marx offer a different perspective on the intervention by state/society into freedom. Mill argues that there is no justification for interfering in other people’s opinions and thinking. Not even the government has the right to interfere in someone’s freedom. It could be argued that this is the foundation of modern individual freedom. You are free and entitled to your own opinions as long as you don’t harm another ( Mill 4). “The reason for not interfering, unless for the sake of others, with a person’s voluntary acts, is consideration for his liberty. His voluntary choice is evidence that what he so chooses is desirable, or at least endurable, to him, and his good is on the whole best provided for him by allowing him to take his own means of pursuing it,” Mill (14). In contrast, Marx argues that there is a need for the state to interfere with private property so that property ownership might be abolished. The government should have the right and the means to control the people who have private property, thereby forming an ideal communist society. It has to be noted that Marx ‘s arguments were based on the view that capitalism was evil and hence needed to be replaced by communism. As well, Karl Marx, in On the Jewish Question says that “None of the supposed rights of man go beyond the egoistic man, man as he is a member of civil society; that is, an individual separated from the community, withdrawn into himself, wholly preoccupied with his private interests and acting in accordance with his private caprice.” Hence, a person has to conform to the society’s norms. Thus, Marx views counter-argue the view by Mill that the society should respect the individual freedom. On the other hand, Mill warns against the tranny of the majority because sometimes the majority’s opinion is not always right. Thus the protection of the individual is more important and have to be protected.

In addition, Mill’s and Marx’ views differ on the exercise of freedom. According to Mill, freedom and liberty is having free will and self- determination without being subjected to invariable law ( Mill 32). Mill adds that innovation and creativity can be achieved in a free environment . Thus, he advocates for a free environment which allows for development and growth of new ideas. “Genius can only breathe freely in anatmosphereof freedom. Persons of genius are …moreindividual than any other people” ( Mill, 65). Thus, freedom of the individual will allow new ideas and result in the progress of the society as a whole. As well, he argues that the society or the state should not force people to conform to the particular norms of the society and nor intervene in the activities of the individual which contribute to the development of the community as a whole. However, Mill acknowledges that the only time when the government or the society has to interfere is when it steps in to prevent your harming other people (Mill 68). Thus, Mill asserts that freedom should be exercised as long as there is no harm done to others. Mill, a man’s freedom has to be protected and allowed to be explored without infringing on other people’s freedom. Nevertheless, the exercising of freedom should be checked.

In addition, Marx argues that the majority of the working class should fight for their freedom and overcome the tyranny of the bourgeoisie (Marx 73). This seems like the views of Mill who argues that the citizens are to have freedom and the state, which is in small minority, should not exercise tyranny over them. Mill, on the other hand, argues that the freedom to unite has to be done in such a way that there is not harm to others . Mill would see the argument of Marx advocating the overthrow and taking the property of the bourgeoisie as harm done to others. In the Manifesto, Marx calls for the freedom of the working class to unite and in the end to revolt against the production owners also known as Bourgeoisie (Marx & Engels, 34). The working class will rise up for their freedom. Marx asserts that freedom can be achieved through ideology. If the working class would learn and know the ideology of the bourgeoisie, they would be able to develop a counter ideology and hence the proletariat would become self-conscious and self-aware and thus be able to manage and control the means of production (Marx 173.) Thus, Marx argues that the working class would be freed from alienated labour if they knew the ideology of the bourgeoisie. This is how the proletariat would be able to overcome the exploitation of the bourgeoisie. For Marx, the working class should be united and fight for their individual freedom .

As well, according to Marx, freedom could be achieved if the working class owned the means of production. It can also be viewed that capitalist system dies freedom to the working class in the modern era. For example, even if you desire to have a certain type of work, you are not free to choose your boss. On the same point the people who controls the means of production have the freedom to choose among the abundance supply of labour. I would agree that communism in which the means of production is owned by many could have been a good society for mankind. Capitalism denies the freedom of choices to many people especially the poor. It lead to a few of individual controlling all the wealth. As well, I would argue that in the modern era, due to capitalism, most working class people do not have freedom. In the world of today, the owner of the means of production decides which work you are supposed to do but the working class person is not free to choose his work and set his own wages. This could be regarded as a lack of freedom as the working class do not have a choice but rather to work under the conditions set by the master. For Marx, the ideal society was communism that gave everyone a chance to own something and freedom to majority. As well, Marx argues that there is a need for society to interfere to help the individual realise his potential/ self-cultivation. This is so because Marx believes that the society should be classless. Marx asserts that classless society is the foundation of freedom for all because the working class will have power in the production of goods and commodities and hence hold the interest of everyone. When the bourgeois owns the means of production the majority of the people who are the working class are left out.

Furthermore, Marx asserts that the impediment to freedom is the bourgeoisie. For instance, Marx argues that the bourgeoisie controls the means of production, robbing freedom from the working class by exploiting their labour. The different classes results in the working class being oppressed . The class of the bourgeoisie infringes upon the freedom of the working class in what he calls the “ class struggle” to refer to a situation where one group has an advantage over the other group. This is so because the class that has an advantage will try and maintain its status quo and in so doing will establish norms that maintain that class. The working class person has no freedom in the capitalist world since he relies on the wages of his master. As well, since the laborer has no profits to be gained from the production that he doing, he is alienated him from the process of the profit making, which is a violation of his freedom. Furthermore, Marx argues that the majority of the working class should fight for their freedom and overcome the tyranny of the bourgeoisie (Marx 73). This seems like the views of Mill who argues that the citizens are to have freedom and the state, which is in small minority, should not exercise tyranny over them. Nevertheless, for Mill, the impediment to freedom is the “ masculine state, ” (Mill, 219). For example, Mill argues that men control the affairs in public life and hence the women are forced to perform the duties of the private life. This implies that the half of mankind who are women are not free.

In conclusion, this essay argues that Marx and Mill both share similar understandings of freedom such as the possibility of progress in society, the views that hold that freedom is an end in itself, and the idea that human nature for self-determination must be valued. However, both Marx and Mill pursue a different road in their conclusion of the concept of freedom. As described above, Mill’s argument argues that masculine is the impediment to freedom. This is so because most of the domestic work is done by women. Marx on the other hand views that the impediment to freedom is the bourgeoisie. Marx believes that capitalism is the problem for freedom and hence advocated for communism. As well, Mill advocated for freedom without the intervention from anyone or from the state as long as their action done does not affect others. Mill also argues against the norms of society that require the individual to conform. As well, he argues that the state should not interfere in the individual`s affairs as this is a violation freedom. On the other hand, Marx suggests that the individual cannot be separated from the society. Thus the state can intervene in order to bring the society together and prevent other people from acquiring all the wealth. Ultimately Marx’s vision of communism is valuable because it is a vision that allows for the critique of contemporary society. As well, I would in conclusion, I would argue that capitalist system denies the majority freedom. For example, Even if you desire to have a certain type of work, you are not free to choose your boss. On the same point the people who controls the means of production have the freedom to choose among the abundance supply of labour. I would agree that communism in which the means of production is owned by many could have been a good society for mankind. Capitalism denies the freedom of choices to many people especially the poor. It lead to a few of individual controlling all the wealth.

NB: The word freedom has been used interchangeably with the word Liberty.

Work cited:

John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty “Broadview Press.

Mill, J.S. 1869 The Subjection of Women.

Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Robert C. Tucker. Ed. “The Marx-Engels Reader.”W W Norton & Co Inc (Np); 2nd Revised edition: March 17, 1978.

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