In the framework of the modern merge between philosophy and economic theory, two opposite theories of socio-economic development of human civilization are of specific interest. The first concept theory is Mill’s perception of the liberalism and its further contribution to formation of free market system. The second one is classical Marx’s theory of socialism, which should save humanity from social stratification and anarchy of the free market. In order to understand the correlation between those two concepts and realize what might be wrong about liberty, Mill’s work “On Liberty” will be analyzed from the perspective of Marx’s criticism and Mill’s further counterargument. Critical assessment of both theories is given in the end of the paper.
Key terms: Marxism, liberalism, civil rights and freedoms, social stratification.
Marx vs. Mill
In the history of human development, the emphasis on materialism or humanism was shifting depending on what was more essential for this or that stage of development or social structure of the society. In cases of the initial stages of human development, a strict distinction between philosophy and material economic perception of the world was made. Philosophers and ideologists were separated from the means of productions and cared little for them. The main reason was that the impact of socio-economic factors on human life was limited to the means of production and correlation between barter and general state of peace or war in the society. In this context, philosophers would refer mainly to the issues of social structure and ways for human survival in the surrounding environment. In the recent stages of human civilization’s development, the emphasis had shifted towards economic dimension of philosophical considerations. This tendency was conditioned by advancement of technology and improvement of means of production and abstraction of human relations to the point of substitution of human interactions by economic transactions. In the context of this shift, philosophers had merged with economists and their concepts were both describing human development and explaining the best possible way of economic activity. In the framework of all mentioned above, two opposite theories of socio-economic development of human civilization are of specific interest for this paper. The first concept is Mill’s perception of the liberalism and its further contribution to the formation of free market system. The second one is classical Marx’s theory of socialism, which should save humanity from social stratification and anarchy of free market. In order to understand the correlation between those two concepts and realize what might be wrong about liberty, Mill’s essay “On Liberty” is analyzed from the perspective of Marx’s criticism and Mill’s further counterargument. Critical assessment of both theories is given in the end of the paper.
The essence of Mill’s argument on liberty does not refer to the term in the framework of the free will and freedom of choice; rather he refers to the term in the framework of civil or social liberty: “the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual” (Mill, 2008, p.5). In this context, he suggested that the correlation between individual’s desire to gain autonomy and desire of the society to measure it are the fundamental problems human civilization was trying to resolve through all its history. He suggested that in its development modern society differed from the primeval by organized and settled social structure and functional prescriptions of each individual (Mill, 2008). In this context, he considered that, although modern system of subordination to the government was brining order which was missing in the Ancient times, ruling authority had to be limited in its controlling of human behavior and socio-political activities (Mill, 2008).
At the point, when an organized society or state is formed, the main threat for the members of this society might not be in the external enemies (other states or hostile groups). Mills saw the main threat in the ruling authority of the society and interrelations between this authority’s control and liberty of the members of this society (Mill, 2008). In this framework, he suggested that the ruling authority usually consisted of one ruler or elite, or a supreme caste, “whose supremacy men did not venture, perhaps did not desire to context” (Mill, 2008, p.5). The main reason why the power of authority was not challenged is because it was necessary for the maintenance of peace and order in the exciting society. On the other hand, at a certain point this power might be perceived as a “dangerous weapon” of this authority against its people. In this context, the main enemy of the organized and just social order was seen in the “governmental tyranny” (Mill, 2008, p.7).
In order to avoid governmental tyranny, patriots had to “set limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty” (Mill, 2008, p.6). In this context, Mills suggested two ways for the society and patriots to measure ruler’s authority. The first one was development and institutionalizing of certain civil immunities and liberties, which would be favored by all members of the society in case of ruler’s breach of law or reluctance to fulfill his direct obligations. In this context, civil demonstration or even rebellion were justified. On the other hand, the second approach was in “establishment of constitutional checks”, which were supposed to be conducted by some elected body representing interests of the community. In such way, subordination of the ruling power to its community was achieved (Mill, 2008).
On the other hand, except for the “governmental tyranny”, Mill was also opposing the rule of “tyranny of majority”, which would inevitably develop from one of the mentioned above ways of controlling ruling authority (Mill, 2008). In this context, the main implication of such rule is that individual’s autonomy and self-expression are conditioned by “tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling” (Mill, 2008, p.8). From Mill’s perspective, the common approach to individual issues of morality, personal development and social development cannot be properly explained and justified by social majority. For a society to develop, its members should favor unconditional freedom of expression and activity preferences. The only limitation of that freedom might be possible harm imposed to the society in general. According to the harm principle, an individual could act independently and freely until he became a threat for the society and his activity turned to be harmful for the whole community (Mill, 2008).
If Karl Marx was to criticize Mill’s On Liberty, the first thing he would say would be that this work was a true embodiment of the imperialist way of thinking and institutionalization of social stratification (Marx & Engels, 2011). He would definitely start from the last point in Mill’s work – imperial attitude to the “barbarian nations”. From Marx’s perspective, this segregation was already showing double-standards of Mill’s perception of human liberty and equality. Marx would argue that in Mill’s imperial theory there was no equality and commonness of human interests (Marx & Engels, 2011). This would be proved by the fact that Mill was making difference in mental and physical difference between Chinese people and the British. On the other hand, Marx proclaimed that all people were born equal and free in their convictions and creative in their self-estimation and formation of the society (Marx & Engels, 2011). Subsequently, in Mill’s argumentations, Marx would challenge his individualisms as a cornerstone of his On Liberty.
Except for imperil attitude to the colonized nations, Marx would oppose the very idea of Mill’s ruling concept of liberal society and subsequent market economy. Marx would argue against social stratification, which was justified by Mill. He would argue that recognition of legitimacy of the ruling class over the rest of society, especially when it was based on hereditary ruling (Royal Rule) and disproportional division of means for production, would not lead to the harmonious development of the society, but to marginalization of the poorest and supremacy of the rich (Marx & Engels, 2011). In context of his concept, he would see Mill’s ruling elite or caste as rich aristocracy and bourgeoisie, developed due to the prevalence of the free market economy. He would argue that those suppressed members of the society would be workers and farmers or a class of proletariat. In the context of governmental tyranny, Marx would criticize Mill’s mild explanation of the possible ways the situation improvement. He would argue that the main actions should not have been conducted by a few individuals embodied in “Mill’s patriots” and their two ways of coping with tyranny. The only possible opposition of tyranny was supposed to a common action – revolution of the whole proletariat against ruling elite (Engels, 2008). Again Marx would oppose his common approach to Mill’s individual one.
The most controversial issue between two philosophers would be the matter of “tyranny of majority”. The main problem would be the fact that Marx and Engels considered that when people/proletariat come into power – the natural order of things was achieved, because people were capable of developing social organization of common benefits, where every member of society was benefiting from the common activity and prosperity (Marx & Engels, 2011). In this context, there would be no need in competition, private property and money value. This society would be all-inclusive, because all individuals would have equal opportunities (Engels, 2008). Marx would argue that Mill was rejecting human equality, since he believed that each individual had a different potential and capability of its implementation in the socio-political field (Engels, 2008). Again, the fundamentals of their contradiction would be Marx’ perception of the common nature of a human being, and Mill’s individual approach to the issue, suggesting that physical and mental equality were not possible.
Another sphere where common and individual approaches collided was the context of power relationship neglect under conditions of the market economy. Marx’s main argument against Mill’s offered freedom of choice and personal behavior, in liberal society and in the market economy, would be that it was a disaster for the rational organization of human society (Engels, 2008). Marx believed that in order for human society to function rationally and efficiently, profit-oriented model and spontaneity of purchasing opportunity should be limited (Marx & Engels, 2011). The freedom of purchasing power, which can be derived from Mill’s freedom of choice and liberty of consumption, was viewed as the greatest evil of the human society. The main problem was that continuous consumerism of various products and services based on the law of supply and demand was distorting human natural needs and commonness of perception of themselves and society in general (Engels, 2008). In this context, without strict planned economy, at a certain point of the future, society would end up in anarchy of demand, which supply would not be able to satisfy (Marx & Engels, 2011). Since, in the market economy, society would be ruled by elite of bourgeoisie, which owned means of production, thus controlled the law of supply and demand; it was making its customers actual slaves of the habit and lack of any choice (Engels, 2008).
Therefore, Marx argued that society could not be based on the unpredictability of human consumptive behavior, but should be rather based on common estimation of the most essential goods production and their rational consumption (Engels, 2008). In this context, socialist power would be opposed to the liberal elite’s rule suggested by Mill. This dichotomy would correspond to the correlation between common rule of society and individual rule of the monarchy, acceptable for Mill. Marx would argue that “governmental tyranny” was worse than “tyranny of majority”, because it would show disproportional inequality in the society, when a few were ruling all. On the other hand, although Marx was rejecting any kind of tyranny, he would be likely to accept “tyranny of majority”, mainly because it would represent most of the society, while the rest would have to correspond to its norms (Marx & Engels, 2011). From the perspective of socialism, there was nothing wrong about commonness or power of majority, so far it was not getting repressive and harmful for all members of the society (Engels, 2008).
Mill’s Response to Criticism.
Concerning Royale Rule, Mills would justify that it was the best way to govern diverse society and give people justice and supremacy of order. In this context, he would argue that there was nothing wrong in the rule of aristocracy or hereditary rule, so far, it was just and based on liberal principles. In this context, he would say that, due to people’s diversity, the rule of majority would never become just and rational mainly because majority was incapable of tolerating individualism and diversity of opinions. Thus, only the legitimate and traditional Royal Rule would be capable of controlling social disruption on society and limit individual harmful inclinations aimed at disruption of the existing order. In this context, Mill would suggest that only wealthy and intelligent people might rule liberal society because they would not need more money or power, which in case of Marx’s concept of common rule was impossible. Sooner or later, human nature would prevail over the commonness of Marxist ideal, and desire for personal interest and profit would win. If, at that point, no legitimate authority would be present to rule this problem out, society would end up in turmoil of profits redistribution. This redistribution would be similar to Marx’s socialist revolution, but people would fight for their freedom of choice and opportunity to gain more benefits than their neighbors mainly because they were capable of more. Subsequently, Mill would argue that competition, both economic and social, was part of human nature and diversity. By denying it, society or ruling elite was speeding up its failure.
Critical assessment of both concepts instead of conclusions.
Although both theories proved to be well in their refuting one another, they should be treated only as theoretical considerations representing specific historical and socio-political environments of their developers. Subsequently, the main limitations of these theories are in themselves and further historical development of human civilization. Mill’s perception of liberalism was justly named by Marx as imperial, because he was actually proclaiming supremacy of the British Crown over its colonies. Therefore, Mill’s liberalism, diversity and freedom of individual development were reserved mainly for the developed subjects of Her Majesty. All the rest nations were to follow the pattern of a supreme society. In this case, Mill was contradicting himself because his perception of British exceptionality was actually embodying his concept of tyranny of majority, though in the large scale of colonial rule. From the point of civil and economic liberties and harm principle, Mill contributed to the development of the modern democracy and free market economy. His ideas of diversity and natural inequality are becoming more and more popular these days, but not in a racial or segregation sense suggested by Marx.
Concerning Marx’s critics of Mill’s theory, he was quite just in some of his arguments, especially about double standards and colonialism. In the framework of the current economic crises, even his criticism of the law of supply and demand and its contribution to the unpredictability of socio-economic environment might be seen as just. On the other hand, Mill was right that human nature was in individualism and not in the commonness. Final prevalence of personal interest was shown in the high corruption in former soviet state as an embodiment of inability of commonness to overcome human nature of individualism. Subsequently, although two theories are quite interesting for their comparison and building of counterarguments, none of them should be taken for granted and implemented in the real world. One of the benefits of choosing the middle is that, irrespective of discomfort of sitting on a fence, society is more adaptable to the changes of the surrounding environment and transformation of its inner structure.
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