Human Nature: Marx and Engels

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In The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels characterize history as The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. (Marx, Engels, p. 14) In our distant history, they point out the fact that there were many societies with complex class structure and ever-present animosity between the classes. In modern history they see society as dividing itself into two large classes. Though it is simplified, they see the same antagonism between classes and they argue it is intensifying.

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Economic systems run their course and become obsolete with new technology and the classes find a new natural order. We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange (Marx, Engels, p. 15). Over the years, the masses have gained and lost power not due to destiny or birthright, but because as the economic system changes there are new roles to fill.

Rather than believing people are stuck in a class forever, or in genetic determinism, Marx and Engels seem to think human nature is closely tied to the economic system in which people find themselves. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked selfinterest, than callous ‘cash payment'(Marx, Engels, p. 15). This would suggest that people’s nature is malleable enough to be improved by improving their economic system.

Therefore, if mankind is to succeed in the eyes of Marx and Engels, it will necessarily need a new economic system that does away with class antagonism. They believe people are capable of adapting to a new economic system without creating yet another batch of oppressors. For this reason, they propose Communism, an economic system that they feel solves the problems of other economic systems by doing away with private property rights.

In Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, he discusses the origin of political power as being derived from man’s natural state. Which is described as a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man (Locke, p. 106). One gets the sense that Locke believes that men own their own freedom. It is like a possession they have naturally, and they can do with it what they please.

Locke believes in a concept of natural law that means that it is within human nature that no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions (Locke, p. 107). It is natural, according to Locke, for men to feel compassion for one another and use reason to decide how we treat one another. Most people essentially want to do the right thing.

Even though Locke believes a man left alone is in a perfect state of freedom, and he believes in a natural law that makes people mostly good, Locke also believes that natural law can be corrupted. Men can be selfish. It is for this reason Locke says men form governments.

Locke’s belief that people are naturally good factors heavily into his ideas about forming a government. First, since a man owns his own freedom, it is his to cede. Naturally being a part of a government will give that government some power over you and therefore interfere with some amount of your freedom. Locke says that a person must consent to this loss of freedom in order to become a part of a government. Men being, as has been said, by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent (Locke, p. 146). If a man didn’t naturally have rights to his own freedom, it wouldn’t be his to give to the government. This is clear evidence of Locke’s view of human nature influencing his conclusions.

The optimistic view that men are mostly inherently good natured manifests itself in Locke’s ideas as well. There is a lot of trust for men to make the right choices in Locke’s proposals. Men are given the freedom to consent to a government, or not. He also talks about trusting men with their freedom by protecting it from government. For example, he proposes limiting the power of government by forming separate branches. Trusting men with their freedom is more evidence that Locke based his conclusions on his opinions about human nature.

The authors of all three publications definitely used their ideas about human nature to draw their conclusions. Machiavelli believes man is a selfish, ungrateful threat to a prince’s power. He therefore condemned people to suffer at the hands of anyone who would take his advice. Marx and Engels think human nature is dependent on the economic systems we live in. So, they proposed an economic system without oppressors believing it is not in anyone’s nature to become an oppressor, if the economic system does not call for it. John Locke believes people are governed by a natural law that makes us mostly good. His proposals trust men to do the right thing and manage their own freedom. It is apparent that one’s view of human nature can have a profound effect on what one thinks about heavy issues such as, politics and morality.

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