Discussion on Capitalism

Marx: We are gathered here today to discuss our current economic, political, and social situation.

Smith: Politics? Social situation? I’m only here to talk about economics….

Marx: Well Smith when you improve the lives of citizens, and arrange politics so that it will benefit the people, economics will also improve.

Smith: Marx I’d have to disagree. You must first improve the economy in order to improve the lives of citizens.

Marx: But Smith the history of all societies has always been a struggle between classes: the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor! It’s more complicated than simply economics.

Simon: Do you not see the interconnection between the oppressed and the oppressor, and how they are both to blame?

Marx: No! I blame the bourgeois for all the struggles of the proletariat!

Simon: But do you not see that it is the competition which is at fault? Competition makes everyone each other’s enemies.

Marx: Are you defending the bourgeois?

Simon: It’s not that I am defending them, but I am saying that all are hurt by the division of labor. You seem to believe that all bourgeois are successful. It is very easy for one to fall from their position as bourgeois into the proletariat class. Only the people who create the cheapest and highest of quality will succeed. Not only does this create suffering for that person, but it also wastes resources. All the machines in their factory will go to waste because of the high specification. Most importantly competition takes away humanity by creating a population who are hostile to each other.

Smith: How does it make everyone each others’ enemy? Working together, especially with division of labor creates higher efficiency because you aren’t switching from one task to another, and leads to further innovation.

Simon: They are enemies because in order to succeed in a capitalist economy one must destroy another person. It leads to people deriving satisfaction from others misery.

Marx: Smith you also have to think about the effects of overproduction when division of labor leads to too much efficiency.

Smith: I do not believe that there is such a thing as being excessively productive….That’s simply counterintuitive.

Marx: But when you produce too much it will lead to a surplus.

Smith: Yes a surplus that may be used to benefit the workers! They will be able to trade or increase technology with these surpluses.

Marx: Overproduction is an epidemic!

Simon: When you produce more than can be consumed you will end up with underconsumption which will lead to lower wages for the workers, and a lower quality of life.

Smith: How does this happen simply from dividing labor, and making everything more efficient?

Marx: You must see that when you take away specialization you make it so any citizen can accomplish all jobs. Now not only do you have a surplus of goods, but also a surplus of workers. Since jobs are so simplified, many people are capable of doing them, and there are no longer specialized jobs. This leads to a giant surplus of workers which allows employers to keep lowering wages. As Simon believes that competition leads to a lack of humanity, I believe that the division of labor takes away human qualities by making laborers nothing more than an extension of the machine.

Smith: But people have always worked, why now would they be so affected by their jobs?

Marx: All of the proletariat’s energy is focused on finding work, and working enough hours to be able to feed his family. This takes away his ability to maintain family values, to the point that he must send his children to work.

Simon: But do you see how the division of labor can be harmful to both classes?

Marx: The only way the bourgeois are harmed is in the revolution by the proletariat. I am organizing today who is with me?

Smith: I’m no activist. Publishing literature is enough for me.

Simon: Me too, Marx is too much of a rebel for my liking. I’m more for writing about my ideas, not taking action, but I wish you luck.

Comparing American and French Revolutionary Documents

In both the American and French revolutionary doctrines, the goal is to inspire and rouse a nation into rebellion. In order to complete such a monumental task, the authors center their declarations on the idea that citizens’ natural and “inalienable” rights are being taken away by the current government.  In both the Declaration of Independence and The Declaration of the Rights of Man, natural rights are defined as god-given life, property, and liberty.  Both doctrines emphasize that liberty lies in the insurance of safety and happiness of every man.

In The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson states that men are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[i] The Declaration of Rights of Man states that among the “imprescriptible rights of man” are “liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression.”[ii]  Every man is born with certain rights, which are given to him by God and cannot be taken away by any government.  These documents both go on to explain that when these natural rights are taken away, it is also the right of man to rebel and resist oppression.

The documents have many connections to John Locke’s second treatise, in which he argues that all humans belong to God, are born as equals, and therefore should live as equals.[iii] This philosophy is very prevalent throughout the revolutionary doctrines.  In The Declaration of the Rights of Man, the National Assembly argues that “civil distinctions…can be founded only on public unity,”[iv] stressing Locke’s idea that men are naturally equal and inequality only comes as a result of society’s artificial distinctions.  The focus of the American and French doctrines is that governments should protect equality and prevent restrictive class distinctions.

Every man has natural rights, but if the expression of one man’s rights infringes on another’s rights, then (and only then) his rights must be restrained.  The doctrines contend that liberty results from every man expressing his rights but never violating another’s. Man’s “unalienable rights” are unalienable until they interfere with the happiness of society.

[i] Representatives of the United States, “The Declaration of Independence,” in The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings (Mineola: Dover Publications Inc., 2003), 63-64.

[ii] National Assembly of France, “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” in The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings (Mineola: Dover Publications Inc., 2003), 80.

[iii] “Social Contract Theory,” Celeste Friend, Last modified October 15, 2004. http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/#SH2b.

[iv] National Assembly of France, “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” in The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings, 80.

Comparing the Genesis and Content of Morality in Plato and More’s Utopias

Thomas More’s Utopia and Plato’s The Republic both address morality in the context of ideal civilizations.  Similarities arise when each novel describes its people, and how they come to be functioning and ideal members of Utopia or the perfect State.  Each author describes some sort of conditioning process that each society’s residents must go through.  However, Plato’s subjects are closely inculcated with specific information and preplanned cultural influences from birth; thus, they know nothing other than their enforced goodness.  More’s Utopia was first populated by “rude and uncivilized”(p. 28) people, who, through generations of residing in their perfect civilization, came to be virtuous citizens.  The only true morality is that which is displayed by someone who has been presented with the opportunity to be dishonorable.

Book VII of The Republic features Socrates’s description of the perfect society.  To build it, Socrates suggests that everyone over the age of ten be expelled from the city, and those remaining—who possess the most potential—will be trained until the age of fifty to be perfect citizens or Philosopher Kings.

Similarly, in books II-IV, Plato describes that guardians of another perfect society, the Luxurious State, must be specifically taught what is and isn’t appropriate to do and think.  The populace is told fictitious stories of its gods and rulers to instill respect.  Various information, both true and false, is strategically fed to and withheld from the citizens of the Luxurious State to ensure that they unknowingly grow to be dignified, trusting, and most importantly, moral— but is accidental morality actual morality?

The answer is no.  More’s Utpoia was founded by one man who created an artificial island away from the rest of society, and used its old, corrupt inhabitants to populate his new city, Utopia.  When Utopia’s government and laws were established, the new citizens could choose to either follow or break the law, and accept the consequences.  Through generations, Utopians grew to appreciate their lifestyles, and became exceptionally virtuous people.  They witnessed acts of evil, saw their consequences, then often chose not to commit them for the benefit of society and themselves.  Plato’s people are made “moral” by masterminds, while More’s people are made moral by the community.  Plato’s citizens are characterized by a fictitious and enforced integrity, whereas Utopians are truly moral, because they are exposed to evil, and choose to be honorable.

Comparing the Genesis and Content of Morality in Plato and More’s Utopias

More and Plato have similar ideas on how one lives a virtuous life, but their reasons for encouraging their own versions of morality come from two different viewpoints. More encourages following God’s will, and ethics, while Plato praises balance for the common good; although both authors seek order and harmony for the citizens of their utopias, especially through knowledge, their differing inspirations for writing may be why their basis for pursuing virtue is inconsistent. Perhaps Plato puts more responsibility on the individual’s ability to shape society because of the disastrous results of group think, and mob mentality which led to the execution of his teacher Socrates. More, on the other hand, places higher importance on religion because of his strong support of the catholic faith, and his attempts to maintain its purity.

Both More and Plato believed that health is one of the greatest pleasures that man can obtain. Fulfilling desires for food, and drink are enjoyable in the act as well as in their results. For this reason, both authors encouraged the pleasures of eating and drinking because these actions lead to good health. Influenced by his catholic faith More further says that these are the appetites which come from nature, and since nature was created by God, as humans were, it is imperative that we live in accordance to its laws (More, 49). Although good eating habits may lead to health both authors also place importance on moderation because excess can lead to as much pain and harm as it would health when desires are pursued beyond needs. As food feeds the appetite of the body, knowledge fuels the mind. More believes, “The pleasures of the mind lie in knowledge, and in that delight which the contemplation of truth carries with it…”(More, 52). This of course is identical to Plato’s ideals which place the pursuit of an absolute truth above all else.

Structurally, both authors provide what could be considered a foil character to help show the complete opposite of their ideal citizen. More uses the Zapolets, glutinous, blood thirsty, savages who are motivated exclusively by greed to show more clearly his goals for humanity by providing the reader with an antagonist. The Zapolets are exposed to a superior way of living in their interactions with the Utopians, and still reject it. Plato uses a similar method in his cave analogy. The prisoners watching the shadows of reality perfectly contradict the most elite members of his society who are able to break free of their metaphorical bonds, and see the light outside of the cave. Furthermore they reject the ideal of enlightenment by attempting to discredit the truths told to them by the individuals who were able to leave the cave. In this way both sets of characters are not accepting of an ideal of their society which is explicitly shown to them by more correct citizens.

Plato’s reason for encouraging morality comes from his assumption that the good principles, and habits of the individual, pass from themselves to the entire state (Plato, 105). The perfect state can only be created by being filled with people who believe in morals which will help support the common good. More on the other hand puts his faith in a homogeneous population all following a similar religion. The citizens of Utopia are morally correct by following the virtues described by their faith. Since everyone believes that the soul is eternal, they are led away from selfishness because they believe vices will be punished, and virtues rewarded in the afterlife.