Phil 108 UMB Boston Marx's theory of alienation Essay

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Question Description

Write a total of two essays: one essay on topic #1 and one essay on one of the following three topics (topics #2, #3, or #4) . Each of the two resulting essays should be around three pages in length (a total of around 6 typed, double-spaced pages). Make sure to refer to the texts we have read, as well as lectures, class presentations, and/or discussions. When discussing the textual material, keep any necessary quotations brief.

1.Discuss Marx’s theory of alienation. What exactly is alienation, and what is its relationship to the basic structures of capitalist society? What are the four dimensions of alienation, according to Marx? What are some of the forms of alienation other than that of alienated labor? What role does the “money system play in Marx’s discussion? How does Marx argue that alienation is produced by definite social and economic conditions rather than being a part of the unalterable human condition? What, according to Marx, is the nature of a society beyond alienation?

2. Apply Marx’s theory of alienation to the current condition of college students, especially the phenomenon of increasing levels of student debt and a weak job market. Discuss the relationship between the expansion of the population of college students and the rise of contingent work in the United States. Discuss whether and/or how the relationship between higher education and the capitalist economy results in the alienation of students as students, and not just as future workers or debtors. How might the condition of students be changed so that their alienation is diminished or eliminated?

Reading material:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/0...

Marx: Economic and Philosophic MSS of 1848 - Read pages 1-6, 28-35, 42-55, 59-62 (Attached to files)

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/business/studen...

https://www.epi.org/publication/the-class-of-2017/

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-mem...

https://slate.com/business/2014/09/college-graduat...

Zabel: Hidden Connections (Attached to files)

http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/student-debt...(Visit this site if you cannot access the links or the attached material, everything is posted on the professor's website)


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Alienation and Its Transcendence: Reflections for the Twenty-First Century on Marx’s Paris Manuscripts by Gary Zabel Preliminary Considerations There is a mountain of philosophical, economic, sociological, and political literature analyzing, discussing, criticizing, and commenting on Marx’s Paris Manuscripts, otherwise known as The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. The volume of material is so large that it has been customary for quite some time for anyone who wishes to write on the topic to begin with an attempt to justify the presumption implied. After all, has not everything that can be said about the Manuscripts already been said? I have to admit that I find this an irritating question. The key works of Plato and Aristotle have been available for nearly 2400 years, and yet people are still writing about them. Aquinas has been dead since 1274, but contemporary Thomists continue to make their scholarly contributions. Compared to the works of these thinkers, Marx’s Manuscripts are hot off the presses. But the recent publication of the Manuscripts, when measured on a scale of twenty-four centuries, is not what justifies contemporary attempts to grapple with their meaning and practical significance. What does justify them is that, like the work of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, Marx’s Manuscripts constitute a classic of human thought. Not only were they written by the greatest mind of his generation (at Marx’s funeral, Engels began his eulogy with the words: “The world’s greatest living thinker has ceased to think”). More importantly, they resulted from the application of that mind to a social, historical, and intellectual condition that was a turning-point in the history Europe, and through European economic and political expansion, of humankind as a whole. In the Manuscripts, the young Marx sought to comprehend the unique and unrepeatable intersection of three titanic developments: the Industrial Revolution in England, the political Revolution in France, and the culmination of classical German philosophy in Hegel’s magisterial work. The confluence of these three great forces, from which the fully modern world was arguably born, happened only once, and happened to coincide with a stage in his life when Marx had reached a precocious intellectual maturity. The result was a classic, by which I mean a work that flashes a brilliant light on the world in which we continue to live, but which has changed and is still changing in ways that demand reinterpretation and extension of the original insights. The point of such a project with respect to Marx’s early achievement is to make the Manuscripts speak to us once again in a way that sheds light on our problems, predicaments, and necessary tasks, situated as we are, at the moment, in 2015. In attempting to do this, I will be revisiting the theme that everyone knows is central to the 1 Manuscripts, namely alienation, by tracing its root to the labor process and proceeding from there to its exfoliation in multiple new forms. One virtue of the way Marx deals with his theme is that he makes use of the freedom to range over multiple expressions of human alienation, investigating the structures and processes unique to each, while nevertheless avoiding a vapid and politically fruitless affirmation of sheer “diversity.” Marx’s method locates the source of the different forms of alienation in the process by which human beings make their living, but without trying to reduce them to that source. The implication is that an attempt to transcend alienation in any of the spheres of human existence that are supported and shaped by the labor process, that leaves the alienation of labor intact, is ultimately futile, but that the transcendence of alienation in any of the supported spheres demands strategies and tactics different than those of struggles “at the point of production.” This implication has important lessons to teach regarding the relationship between the “new social movements” that have flowered since the 1960s and the traditional workers’ movement. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 is a difficult work. To begin with, parts of the text are missing. David Ryazanov, director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow discovered the Manuscripts in incomplete form in the Institute’s archives in 1927, forty-six years after Marx’s death. There are four manuscripts, two of which – the second and fourth– are mere fragments, and none of which are completely intact. In addition to missing pages, Ryazanov faced the problem of getting the extant manuscripts into coherent, readable form. Marx wrote the first manuscript by establishing three vertical columns and filling each column while moving from page to page. After writing approximately a quarter of the initial manuscript this way, he abandoned that method and started writing across the entire page in the usual fashion, but sometimes discontinuously, developing his discussion of a given theme on pages not ordered consecutively. There are many words and sentences in the Manuscripts that have been crossed out with dark horizontal lines, complicated by thin vertical lines that run through certain of the paragraphs, but leave the writing clearly visible underneath. Some of the pages also have segments lost to what Marx once called “the gnawing criticism of the mice,” so that parts of sentences or paragraphs are missing. Along with Marx’s notoriously difficult handwriting, these problems make reconstruction of the text he intended to keep a daunting task. Besides missing pages, vertical columns, discontinuous pages, cross-outs, torn segments, and general difficulties with legibility, there is the problem that Marx never finished writing the Manuscripts. Contrary to the opinion of many scholars, however, I believe that he planned on publishing them. It seems to me that this is the clear implication of the Preface found at the end of the fourth manuscript. The Preface announces an ambitious project for a work that was to consist in several “pamphlets” in which Marx would develop critiques of political economy, law, politics, ethics, and other unspecified themes, along with a special work that would show the interrelationship of the separate parts in a coherent whole, culminating in a final critique of what he calls, 2 somewhat vaguely, “the speculative elaboration of that material.”1 He also refers to “the present work” in which the connections between political economy and the other themes are treated “only to the extent that political economy explicitly deals with these subjects.” (63) There can be little doubt that the basis of “the present work” was to be the Paris Manuscripts, and that he originally intended to publish them after revision. But he soon abandoned the plan. The reason is that Marx’s thinking was in transition in 1844. At the age of twentysix, he was living in Paris with his wife and infant daughter, and making his living as editor of the Deutsche-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals) published by his friend, the radical democrat, Arnold Ruge. Marx was in the process of cutting ties with the circles of Young Hegelian philosophers in which he had been active from his days as a doctoral student in Berlin, and allying himself with the communist movement he encountered during his two-year stay in Paris. The way had been prepared for this break and realignment by the year Marx spent, after receiving his doctorate, covering political, legal, and economic issues as editor and correspondent of the Rheinische Zeitung, a newspaper in the Rhineland funded by liberal merchants and industrialists. By 1844 – while in Paris, the capital of European revolution – Marx was making a transition from his earlier Young Hegelian interest in the critique of religion to developing a critique of political economy closely connected with practical, revolutionary action. In my view, Marx regarded the Manuscripts as a first draft of that critique, which he originally expected to complete in short order. However, given the transitional nature of his thinking at the time, it is likely that he soon became dissatisfied with what he had written.2 In reality, he would work on only the first part of the project announced in the Manuscripts’ Preface for the next thirty-five years of his life, leaving behind more than 5,000 printed pages on a theme he had originally intended to cover in pamphlet form. Those pages comprise the bulk of Marx’s life work, and include The Critique of Political Economy, The Grundrisse (Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy), the three volumes of Capital, and Theories of Surplus Value. The rather primitive and fragmentary communist movement Marx encountered in Paris appealed to him, not so much because of the ideas he found within it, as because its main supporters were independent French and German artisans on their way to becoming wage workers. He wrote early in 1844, in the Preface to his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, that philosophy was the head of human emancipation but the proletariat was its heart. According to him, the only way the aspirations of a progressive, critical philosophy could be fulfilled was by alliance with the new working-class movement.3 Yet in the Manuscripts, Marx’s language is still that of his Young Hegelian past, filtered through the exciting new work of Ludwig Feuerbach. 1 All page references are to Marx, 1964. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, edited by J. I do not mean to suggest that Marx ever rejected the positions he developed in the Paris Manuscripts. Quite the opposite. But I suspect that he abandoned his publication plans because he recognized a need to develop a more sophisticated and detailed understanding of political economy. 3 By 1844, the workers’ movement had succeeded in forming trade unions in England and France. Workers created an organization in England (The People’s Charter) that was agitating for the universal franchise and 2 3 The technical-philosophical character of the Manuscripts presents a problem to many readers who are unfamiliar with the concepts Hegel pioneered and their revisionist use by his radical young successors. The problem is compounded by the fact that Marx’s philosophical development led him to study the writings of the classical political economists. “Political economy” refers to the economics of a nation (the German word is Nationalökonomie), in contrast with the “domestic economy” of the household. The discipline of political economy emerged along with capitalism, and is the social science that studies the capitalist system on a national and ultimately international scale. Marx relies especially on the writings of Adam Smith, author of the classic Wealth of Nations, though he also consults work by many other political economists, including Ricardo, Sismondi, Quesnay, and Say, as well as socialist and communist authors. In the Paris Manuscripts, we have Marx’s early attempt to reformulate economics in philosophical terms, which is equally an attempt to reformulate philosophy in economic terms. The task is especially ambitious since Marx had just begun to study political economy in 1843. In 1844, he is still a novice. He will later reject some of the economic principles he accepted in the Manuscripts, while integrating others into the far more complex economic theory he developed in his masterwork, Capital, the first volume of which he published in 1867. The Manuscripts first appeared in a Russian edition in 1932, and were not widely available in translation until after the Second World War. At that time, they were published in multiple languages, and their impact was astonishing. They caused an upheaval in the interpretation of Marx, who until then had been regarded principally as an economist and a “scientific socialist.” They highlighted the philosophical dimension of his work, while spurring the development of a new school of Marxist humanism in opposition to official Soviet Marxism. Their impact was more profound outside of the Soviet Union and most other communist nations than within them, although they stimulated the creation of an important school of dissident Marxist thought in Yugoslavia, the Praxis School. They also had a decided impact on a group of young intellectuals at the University of Budapest studying with the great Hungarian philosopher, Georg Lukacs, who had worked on the Manuscripts under Ryazanov in the late 1920s. They influenced, not just philosophers, but sociologists, theologians, and psychologists as well as two generations of college students in Europe and the United States. Their influence on the radical student movements of the 1960s was pronounced. The Manuscripts were undoubtedly the most widely read philosophical work in the twentieth century, even though they were written in the middle of the nineteenth. What accounts for their success is the profound and innovative way in which Marx handles their central theme, namely alienation. Nothing was the same after the Second World War. One hundred million war-related deaths - following the ten million deaths of World War I - , the holocaust of twelve million Jews, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals, and others in Hitler’s extermination camps, and the appearance and use of the atomic bomb created a widespread sense of disorientation, a feeling of foreboding, other radical reforms, and in the 1830s, French workers mounted two revolutionary insurrections in the city of Lyon. By the time Marx arrived in Paris, both French and immigrant worker-activists had already allied, in conspiratorial clubs, with what remained of the revolutionary Jacobin tradition, and the descendants of Gracchus Babeuf’s communist Conspiracy of Equals of the late eighteenth century. 4 and a threat of meaninglessness and pending annihilation. The existentialist movement in France, represented by Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre, gave intellectual expression to these social emotions, as did the absurdist theatre of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. Human beings seemed as homeless in a world that was foreign to them as the tramps in Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot. The rise, in Europe and the United States, of postwar consumer affluence did not resolve the quandaries left behind by the epoch of World Wars. If anything, it intensified them, since the ability to buy cars, refrigerators, and television sets seemed to many in the postwar generation just another way of evacuating life of real meaning. For many readers at the time, Marx’s analysis of alienation offered a path to understanding the postwar predicament, and a possible way out of it. The idea that human beings are not at home in the world (the idea of alienation in its broadest sense) did not originate with Marx. It is a well-worn theme in religion, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Old Testament, it is the meaning of the myth of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden into a world that requires Adam to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, and Eve to give birth in pain. In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation tells us that alienation will be overcome in the end times, when the sky rolls up like a scroll and “a new heaven and a new earth” replace those corrupted by sin. Redemption ends our alienation from God, and recreates the Garden of Eden in the form of a celestial Paradise where human beings can be at home once again. The great achievement of Hegel was to secularize this religious story by interpreting human history as the medium in which what he called “Absolute Spirit” expresses itself in alienated form, as things and events that appear to be other than itself (something like failing to recognize one’s reflection in a fun house mirror). Absolute Spirit transcends this alienation stage-by-stage by coming to recognize its own image in a world that it has in fact created. In getting beyond alienation it returns to itself, enriched by the experience acquired along its path of self-discovery. What split the radical Young Hegelians from the conservative Old Hegelians was a dispute about what Hegel meant by Absolute Spirit. The Old Hegelians regarded it as the God of traditional Lutheran Christianity (which made Hegel a defender of the official Prussian state religion), while the Young Hegelians saw it as an utterly human reality, which they variously conceptualized as self-consciousness, the Ego, or human species-being (making Hegel a radical critic of religion). For the Young Hegelians, if religion is the story of alienation, it is because humankind alienates itself in the form of religion. Ludwig Feuerbach made this point in a way that had a significant impact on Marx’s thinking. Feuerbach’s Contribution According to Feuerbach, the human species projects its essence, its genuine nature, outside of itself in the form of an imaginary object of worship. The attributes of God, such as power and knowledge, are really human attributes. They are supposed to be different from the attributes of human beings in that they are infinite, while human attributes are finite, but Feuerbach says that this supposition is a mistake. He claims first 5 that any attribute at all is (intensively) infinite if it expresses a being’s nature. In one of his examples, the life of a caterpillar on the leaf of a plant is infinite since the leaf is the entire universe for that small creature; it is what enables it to affirm its being fully. Similarly, human power and knowledge are infinite since they are genuine expressions of our nature, complete affirmations of our being. But second, the attributes of humankind must be seen as properties of the species rather than the individual. Considered extensively, my power and knowledge might be limited, but they are supplemented by your power and knowledge, and the power and knowledge of all other human beings, past, present, and future. But this implies that there is no difference between ourselves and God. The various stages in the development of religion are really stages in the progressively more adequate understanding of ourselves. Feuerbach held that the Christian idea of a God who becomes human is the last stage in this developmental process. It is the secret atheism at the heart of Christianity, the message that God and humanity are one and the same. Now is the time to reveal the secret. The task of what Feuerbach calls “the philosophy of the future” is to reclaim the wealth of existence that has poured forth from the human species and assumed the alienated form of God. Marx began his philosophical career as a militant atheist, under the influence of his Young Hegelian friend, Bruno Bauer. But he had already evolved beyond that position by 1844. He now believed that religion is not the cause of alienation, but its symptom. At most, the atheistic attack on religion is able to remove the symptom, but it leaves the underlying pathology intact. In order to get at that pathology, the critique of religion must be replaced with the critique of political economy. The main thesis of the Paris Manuscripts is that alienation results from a particular kind of economic system. It is important, however, to understand what an economic system is for Marx, which is quite different than the theme of economics as an academic discipline.4 For Marx, an economy is a comprehensive way people organize their relations with nature and with one another in the act of reproducing the material conditions necessary for their continued existence. The form of economic organization that creates alienation is what Marx will later call “the capitalist mode of production.” In the Manuscripts, he refers to it sometimes as “capital,” but more often as “private property.” It is based on private ownershi ...
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