Marx and Tocqueville: Alienation and Politics

The influence of political regimes on human life and social existence interested philosophers and politicians since ancient times. Class inequalities, as the main criterion of political hierarchy in the state, were historically accepted as the only true way of governing. Therefore, philosophers analyzed democracy from the various points of view. Marx and Tocqueville consider features of capitalist society highlighting strengths and weaknesses of social, economic and political factors.

Analyzing the effect of political order, both thinkers defined social existence as the main condition for individual’s realization. "The human being is an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society" (Tucker, 76). Using these words, Marx emphasizes that the role of an individual in society is mainly reflected in the development of his personality and identification of a man as a social unit.

The isolation of a man from society leads to the fall of the moral and ethical principles. Marx and Tocqueville believe that the accumulation of capital, as the life goal for a person who lives in democratic country, is condemned to destroy spiritual values. Potential growth of individuality is a result of his or her intellectual development, the importance of which can be ignored by society, disoriented and misleader in chase of financial wealth.

Nevertheless, while Tocqueville is highly concerned by alienation between individuals caused by personal concentration on achievements, goals and business competition, Marx defines alienation as a negative effect of industrialization. According to Marx, alienation is the main criterion of the harmful influence in materialistic society (Tucker, 79).  

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As an individual is not interested in process and results of his work, society faces such problems as distance between an individual and his labour that eventually become a product, considered independently from its author, separated and alienated like an anonymous piece of work.

The alienation of the individual from his labour means concentration on work as on making product for sale, rather than creation. Consequently, a piece of work exists independently, becomes alienated from a worker. Industrial system that globalizes manufacturing, depersonalizing it, estranges individual from products that he/she consumes as well. As a result, the whole system isolates individual from his own life, spreading ignorance about sources and origin of products, and indifference to the work of a manufacturer.

Objectification imposes materialistic values. Consumption as the main effort leads to idolization of money. Therefore, business competition becomes the only chance to sell personal working force. Considering other individuals as potential competitors, a person becomes alienated from society (Mayer, 149). Nevertheless, Marx notes that commercial attitude to the personal working force tends to loose its value, as unneeded and unimportant result, self cost of which can not be evaluated without worker’s participation (Tucker, 81).   

Solution to the problem of alienation Marx considers from a political point of view. He suggests renunciation of capitalistic values in favor of social ideals, returning person into society and preserving subjective component in his work. The result of human labour, material, tools should be given into personal possession (Mayer, 151).  An individual should understand that he or she is the author of the labour, work creatively and be interest in the result, understanding connection between importance of his labour and society that appreciates his work.

The main difference between socialistic and capitalistic formation, as defined by Marx, on the one hand, is the ownership of results received from work and, on the other hand, the benefits received from this work. Capitalism prevent involvement of people in the process of working and participation in getting results, it provides disengagement between creator and his/her creation. Whereas socialistic formation proposed by Marx gives all rights, authorship, motivation, provides the opportunity to be proud of his/her creation, and instead of material benefits society is allowed to use person’s achievements. This political order guarantees equal possibilities to create in society, sharing results, but not selling them. When alienation disappears and workers stop their competition, collective goal connect people, and materialistic values are substituted by high principle.

According to Tocqueville, the federal government is the most appropriate political order. Admitting disadvantages of capitalistic society, Tocqueville admires decentralization of power. Moreover, the closeness of individual to the local authority provides its participation and compassion. Tocqueville notes that the main feature of democratic society in USA is citizens’ political activity (Mayer, 358). Understanding the direct interdependence between authorities and their own material well-being, individual become motivated to take part in public life, to communicate with other individuals.

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However, considering material wealth as the life goal leads to globalization and industrialization, that provide comfort as the highest good for citizens, depriving their opportunity to develop as a personality, disabling them to analyze, learn, feel and admire. The financial obsession leads to the distance between a person and personality, which tends to develop his/her qualities considering satisfaction of material needs as the main effort (Tucker, 87).   Moral decadence leads to the decline of civilization. Consequently, spiritual development plays a crucial role in social existence.

Admitting importance of this criterion, Tocqueville emphasizes that democratic society needs religion in order to protect itself against the penetration of materialism, greediness, and other results of capitalistic values. The devoutness of citizens in USA and their attitude to religious traditions impressed Tocqueville.

He claimed that potential involvement of an individual tends to inculcate spiritual and ethical values, provoking desire to think about existential issues. Tocqueville’s conception of “habits of the heart” begins with devoutness (Mayer, 252). Tocqueville explains “habits of the heart” as specific category that comprises family life, religious convictions and participation in local politics. Personal values give ethical background and develop personality.  

Americans’ devoutness is understood as one of the possibilities of mental development for individuals and one of the main arguments against material obsession (Mayer, 45).  However, this political stance is in contrary to ideology, developed by Marx. Atheistic philosophy of Marx cannot accept religiosity as the mental development.

Moreover, Marx emphasizes immorality of religion as a system, and churches and temples as its units that are oriented on financial speculation and corruption (Tucker, 72).   According to his ideology, religion makes an individual even more dependent on the material well-being, consequently, Marx denies its positive influence on public morality.

As one of the main “habits of the heart” (Mayer, 119), Tocqueville suggests family values. Family forms individual’s morality, influence personality and becomes a higher order of being, explaining essential reasons for living, displacing material achievements as a main desire. A family also supplies people with the basic skill of socialization, giving reasons to get closer to other individuals. Social philosophy of Marx can be partially associated with this conception.

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Since Marx primarily identifies human being as a social creature that depends on a role that he/she plays in society, family is understood as an important component of social development. Nevertheless, Marx encourages limitation of family influence on the personal motivation of individual. The thinker insists on the fact, that the wealth of society overcomes personal needs as much as individual’s family values.

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that ideology, conceptions and optimal policy of both thinkers differ and conquer. Nevertheless, analyzing democracy and capitalistic society Marx and Tocqueville notice imperfection of this political system in a similar way. Both thinkers consider alienation as the main problem of capitalistic society, but while Marx emphasizes objectification of labour, Tocqueville deals with social disengagement.

Marx focuses on alienation between individuals as well, explaining this phenomenon by financial obsession of capitalistic society. As a solution of this problem, Marx suggests individual’s involvement in a process of labour, sharing benefits with society. The solution that Tocqueville proposes is concentrated on spiritual values, inculcated by moral authorities, such as religion and family. Accepting importance of family as conditions of individual’s socialization, Marx claims that family wealth can not overcome needs of society. Religion is inacceptable by ideology declared by Marx, as well as its positive impact.  

Both thinkers agree that political order influence ethical values and capitalistic society faces such problems as alienation, materialism and moral decadence. Since there is no perfect solution equally acceptable from all points of view, both government and society should work for preservation of individuality in each person.

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