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Private property and property rights provide individuals with access to land or resources, which is the basis of modern economic and legal systems. Both Marx and Rousseau are well-known for their philosophic views on society and the development of human history. By examining Marx’s Manuscript and Communist Manifesto preface and Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, one may explore the question of private ownership from the perspective of historical materialism and amour propre.
In his view of private property, Marx relies on historical materialism as an approach that can explain the development of humanity. The material aspect is the center of attention in this theory because Marx believes that material conditions determine the essential element of life both for individuals and for society as a whole. In the preface to Manuscript and Communist Manifesto, Marx critically examines Hegelian’s law philosophy, stating that “either legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life” (12). Thus stating that the origins of modern laws should be studied in accordance with developments that people create.
The view of historical materialism summarizes Marx’s opinion on private property. The philosophic term offers a different perspective on the origins of society because Marx argues that an individual’s consciousness does not define his or her decisions. He refers to “social existence,” a person’s economic status, stating that it determines the consciousness of an individual (Marx 15). Rather, the aspect depends on materialistic components and economic conditions of the general society.
It is because people have to engage in actions such as studying or working, regardless of their wishes. According to Marx, “men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will” (12). History develops in accordance with these relations; thus, people’s beliefs regarding society or economics are determined by forces that individuals have no control over.
Therefore, according to Marx the source of private property is connected to the nature of society’s evolution. It is due to the fact that an author’s opinion technology and production capacity together with social determinants of manufacturing determine the structure of society and the course of its development. Human collectively develops and produce products that are necessary for survival.
In the current society and its political course, property rights provide certain individuals with legal power over a particular land, product, or manufacturing facility. However, according to Marx, these things are created by society as a whole and not by specific individuals. Thus, products of such developments should not remain in the hands of investors or executives. Instead, they have to be abolished by individuals for society’s benefit.
In his philosophic works, Rousseau is concerned with an individual’s freedom in a society where people depend on each other for the satisfaction of their needs. In the Origins of Inequality, the author argues that the subject cannot be explored without understanding the nature of human beings. Rousseau explores human nature stating that each person was created equal (5). However, as society develops, people form social structures that separate them, creating inequality.
According to Rousseau, society consists of “different privileges which some men enjoy to the detriment of others, like being more rich, more honored, or more powerful than they are, or even that they can make the others obey them” (10). Amour proper is a term describing a person’s self-esteem, which Rousseau presented as something dictated by the opinion of others. This factor obstructs personal freedom and authenticity, interfering with the nature of a human.
Rousseau’s work aims to offer a societal structure in which people would co-exist as equal and autonomous. The existence of private property as it currently is cannot be considered fair because contemporary political institutions create inequality, obstructing the natural laws. Private property in the view of Rousseau is something obtained in accordance with legal system requirements. Due to the fact that the author focuses on personal freedom and equality, rights that provide people with private property should create a fair social contract. It is because such property establishes social norms for individuals.
Thus, a person’s rights are combined with society’s rights leading to the creation of a public community. In his work, Rousseau provides an explanation of social inequality as a result of private property exists.
Overall, Marx and Rousseau critically examine contemporary society and criticize private property and privacy rights. Marx focuses his work on developing the concept of historical materialism, which explains the origins of human developments as components created by society and not an individual. Rousseau researches the nature of individuals, claiming that the current society functions by the rules of amour proper. Marx disregards private property and encouraged its abolishment because of his view on society and human history. Rousseau advocated for the creation of a state in which people would function as individuals, thus protecting the property of a community.
Marx, Karl, 1818-1883. The Communist Manifesto. Pluto Press, 1996.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. A Discourse on Inequality. Penguin Books, 1984.