In 1857, an English sociologist by the name of Herbert Spencer, coined the term, “survival of the fittest“: the belief that evolutionary laws of natural selection, explained, social processes and behaviors- this theory is now referred to as “social Darwinism”. Like Spencer, Karl Marx also believed in social evolution. However, unlike Spencer, who argued that: the poor and the sick should be left to fend for themselves; Marx believed that the state must prioritize the supply, production and distribution of comestible, clothing and domicile goods to society. This idea of Marx’s is known as “historical materialism” and it has been the subject of much scrutiny by those that can appropriately be called, the enthusiasts of Walter Lippmann’ progressive liberalism. The following tract will attempt to vividly explain what Marx meant when he stated: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness”. This will be done to elaborate on David Held’s evaluation of Marx’s belief in Held’s book, “models of democracy” that: “it is not the state that underlies social order but social order that underlies the state“. Furthermore, the ideas of Marx will be examined against those of pluralists, such as Max Webber and Joseph Schumpeter. Finally, there will be some critical analysis of both ideas to determine my own stance on the relevance of these ideologies in hitherto and henceforth human society.
Although Marx was a German, in 1843, he left Germany for Paris; from where he was expelled in 1849 and eventually ended up in London- where he spent the remainder of his life. Based on his experiences in nineteenth-century industrial England, Marx was concerned about class inequalities created by industrial capitalism.
To understand Marx’s indifference towards the liberalist battle for political equality, it is absolutely crucial to get a grasp of what Marx understood as “capitalism”, “alienation” and “class inequality“. In capitalism, according to Marx, are present two classes: the laborers and the capitalists or the proletariats and the bourgeois, respectively. The relationship between these two classes involves a division of labor. The capitalists supply the capital, such as raw materials and machinery necessary to organize production and control the labour process. The workers supply their labour, which turns those raw materials in to commodities- goods and services that can be bought and sold. One of the most important aspects of this relationship according to Marx, was that of domination. The workers sell their labour to capitalists for a wage, the capitalist in turn control the conditions under which the workers do their jobs and the hours they work. Marx argued that this relationship was one of unequal power. In large-scale enterprises, many workers are employed by a small number of capitalists who have the power to control their workers. In turn, specialised workers or managers are hired to manage the workers and ensure that the work is done according to the wishes of the employers- the mass of workers are thus left at the bottom.
Alienation refers to the relationship between peoples labour and the fact that under capitalism, workers are separated from the things they produce, which thus have no meaning for them. Instead of the products of a person’s labour being something creative and of value, the worker is impoverished because their work is appropriated and commodified by capitalists. As more products are produced by machines, the greater the alienation experienced by the workers.
Marx believed that this inequality and alienation was not only unfair, but would result in class conflict; which, according to Marx, would result in the overthrow of capitalism in favour of socialism: a society in which private ownership and wealth accumulation is replaced by state ownership; and ultimately, communism: a utopian vision of society based on communal ownership of resources, cooperation and altruism to the extent that the state no longer exists. The state is thus, always vulnerable to social cooperation that was constantly emergent. Ergo, “it is not the state that underlies social order but social order that underlies the state”(Held 2006, pg.103 - 108).
In general English the word “pluralism” means the condition of being multiple(Pluralism - dictionary.com); in philosophy, it is used to describe, “a theory that there is more than one basic substance or principle”(Pluralism - dictionary.com); and in politics, it is a word used to describe “the affirmation of diversity in the interests of the citizenry”, making it a vital aspect of modern democracies (Pluralism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia). According to this view, no single, monolithic elite controls government and society. Instead, a group of specialized elites compete with one another for control.
In contrast, Joseph Schumpeter’ political theory portrays the ordinary citizen to be a vulnerable and helpless person in a world dominated by the elite and their inter-elite feuds, much like Marx‘s communist theory. However, unlike Marx, Schumpeter’ theory seldom mentions power in the hands of intermediary groups such as community associations, religious associations, religious bodies, trade unions, business organizations and most importantly- society as a whole.
According to pluralists and empirical democratic theorists, Schumpeter’s theory can be classified as incomplete or partial on the basis of its lack of attention towards intermediary groups. The pluralist model challenges Schumpeter’s theory by claiming that modern democratic politics is more competitive, and policy outcomes are far more satisfactory to all parties than Schumpeter suggested. Albeit, Schumpeter’s objection that capitalist or elitist oligarchies inspire government policy, echoes Marx’s argument against the liberal democratic goal of obtaining equality being hindered by capitalist interests. By this equation, the pluralist critique of Schumpeter is applicable to Marx as well. Pluralists refuted this claim that: the concentration of power in the hands of the competing political elite was inevitable; by extracting Max Weber’s idea that claimed, as mentioned above, the existence of many determinants of distribution of power and hence, many power centres (Held 2006, pg.158).
Classical pluralists such as Robert A. Dahl and Charles E. Lindblom suggested that power is non-hierarchically and competitively arranged, as it is inextricably processed by bargaining between “interest groups”: a term used to describe business organizations, trade unions, political parties, ethnic groups, student unions, feminist groups, religious groups etc. Interest groups were structured in particular economic and cultural streams, namely:
a) Social Class
There is no central decision making group in the classic pluralist model. Power is essentially distributed throughout society and interest groups may act as veto groups gradually to destroy legislation that they do not agree with. The government is there to mediate and adjudicate between different demands of different interest groups. Citizens must be given the right to vote once per election year between at least two competing political parties. Citizens have freedom of expression and freedom of organization to form interest groups to be vocal of these expressions. There is a system of checks and balances between the legislative, executive and judiciary arms of government which, diminishes the instance of corruption. All in all, it suggests that even though the major decision making process is vested in the government, small or large “interest groups” formed by ordinary citizens are influencing the government gradually: thus forming the pluralist view of democracy (Held 2006. Pg 161 - 165).
Marxists have dismissed classical pluralism as a narrowly ideological celebration of western democracies. They claim it to be optimistic and naïve. The ‘Elite Theory’ in particular, attacks classical pluralisms claim that modern democracy is the ‘ideal utopia’. The elite theory argues that a small minority of economic elites and policy planning groups, are sovereign in their control of power no matter what the outcome of an electoral term in a country. Via extensive networking among the business corporations, corporate boards, policy making networks and financial support of foundations, members of the elite faction can have considerable influence on policy making decisions within a country. This theory negates pluralism by suggesting that interest groups need high levels of resources and political connections or support to be able to contend for influence. This observation forms the basis for the theory of elite pluralism. Elite theorist Elmer Eric Schattschneider once said that “The flaw with the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent” (The Haworth Press Online Catalogue: Article Abstract).
“A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But let a palace arise beside the little house and it shrinks from a little house to a hut…however high it may shoot up in the course of civilisation, if the neighbouring palace grows to an equal or even greater extent the occupant of the relatively small house will feel more and more uncomfortable, dissatisfied and cramped with its four walls.” - Karl Marx (Tracing the link between poverty and relativity) (Singer 2002, pg 190).
Since the 19th century, social scientists have shed light upon the relative nature of morality in human societies. That is to say, that a child is raised to exalt values coveted or preserved by their society. The early Finnish sociologist Edward Westermarck was somewhat of a beacon that shined upon the landscape of social relativism. Westermarck mentions that in New South Wales, the first born of every lubra (aborigine woman) used to be eaten by the tribe as part of a religious ceremony. A practice that can be deemed criminal according to the norms of the readers of this tract, yet, relatively sacrosanct for the Aboriginal tribe that Westermarck speaks of (Russell 1977. pg 52).
In the same manner, I believe that capitalism has made the modern human negligent to modern slavery. It has done this by introducing monetarism that has enslaved people to sell their labour to compete for social stratification. This monetary system has left human society paranoid. We distrust one another everyday for fear of someone fooling us in to paying too much or too less for a product or service, offered by them or us, respectively. The price tag on commodities, as Marx pointed out, has led to “commodity fetishism”, where we constantly judge ourselves or others by the value of the cars we drive, or the wrist watches we wear: we are determined by avarice. In the case of States, the might of a state is judged by its military arsenal rather than the quality of life it offers to its citizens.
People are enslaved in a mindset that is set to exalt cupidity. Yet, politicians have done little or nothing to change this. Egalitarianism seems impossible when in fact it is true that, the Earth broke away from the Sun five billion years ago; we are all the same substance, and thus have little reason to fear each other.
We live in an age when environmental issues should haunt us, yet we(the bewildered herd as Walter Lippmann called us) are astoundingly unaware of the means of propelling out of this umbra. Technology is what has been humanities greatest achievement. A quality that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is the fact that we can consciously invent things to solve and alleviate our daily complexities.
Recent political debates have been hovering around environmental issues, and power production has been one topic central to this. At present, we possess the ability to tackle these issues with minimal use of scarce natural resources such as coal, gas and oil. Yet the representatives of the Roman Empire of our time: the United States of America; has managed to muster up solutions that are tedious at best. Nuclear energy, they say, is the present solution, and ten years of research could give way to an alternative bio-fuel or viable solar energy excavation; when at present, there is an energy source present that could provide enough to suffice the requirement of all the nations on earth: geothermal energy (energy excavated from the replenishing heat generated by the earth’s core). A report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007 concluded that the worlds geothermal reserves could be up to 13,000 ZJ(zettajoules) of energy, with about 2000 ZJ being easily utilized with slight investment in research and development. An alarming amount, considering the entire earth consumes only 0.5 ZJ a year (Source: Geothermal.inel.gov the_future_of_geothermal_energy.PDF).
I have to admit that I was not aware of the availability of this technology and resource until I saw an otherwise trite documentary: Zeitgeist Addendum. It is always important to take such works with a pinch of salt so I tried to confirm the data offered in that film myself, and it turns out that the means to pursue this resource are certainly available. In fact, the IGA (international geothermal association) has been around since 1988. Why then has there not been enough investment towards promoting this sustainable and renewable source of energy? Why are countries still trying to pollute the atmosphere by tapping in to their coal deposits to produce energy? Although there have been a number of geothermal plants setup around the world- including one in Islamabad for a private office building by Pakistan's own Shan Geothermal- the promotion of this fantastic new technology has been very menial.
So, basically, where the prospective fiscal spending on defence in the U.S will touch 790 billion US dollars in 2011 (Source: whitehouse.gov, FYI 2011 Presidents budget), the world has not enough money to run a billion dollar promotion campaign for Geothermal technology during the 2010 football world cup?
On her internet blog, Naveen Naqvi writes:
“According to Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), about 80% of deaths and 90% of illnesses in this country result from diseases which are considered preventable. If that statistic wasn’t startling enough, here’s another. Every ten minutes, a child dies in Pakistan from a disease that is preventable.” (Source)
In this age of economic progress, a hegemonic war machine can be ignited to devour nations after allegedly losing about 6000 of its civilians, but the daily global child mortality rate of 24,000 (9 million deaths annually, mostly from preventable and curable diseases) cannot be conquered? Alas, in the light of such realities, I am left with little faith in an aristocratic democracy- as it seems quite evident, that Marx, Engels and Schumpeter were right about them being on a capitalist leash. Slogans that exalt democratic values have left me to conclude that: “democracy is the opium of the masses”. My only hope remains in the emergent nature of social gatherings that ease the dependence on a monetary system to estimate value and embrace the true virtues of humanity: our power to innovate and our recognition of all being one. After all, we are the same substance that makes those distant stars glow.
Held, D 2006, Models of Democracy, 3rd edition, MPG books limited, Bodwin.
Russell, B, 1977, Political ideals,Unwin Hyman Limited, London.
Singer, P, 2002, One World: the ethics of globalisation, Swan house, Melbourne.
Pluralism - dictionary.com. Retrieved July 4, 2010, from:
Pluralism(political philosophy) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia . Retrieved July 4, 2010, from:
The Haworth Press Online Catalogue: Article Abstract, Retrieved July 4, 2010 from:
the_future_of_geothermal_energy.PDF. Retrieved July 4, 2010, from:
For some data on Pakistani Geo Thermal reserves and capacity, go to: http://www.geothermal-energy.org/215,welcome_to_our_page_with_data_for_pakistan.html
For more on Pakistan Geo Thermal reserves and capacity go to: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a919555295~db=all?tab=references