Marx and Rawls, A Dialogue

February 12, 2008

In the realm of social and political philosophy Marx is unavoidable.  Robert Heilbroner wrote,

We turn to Marx, therefore, not because he is infallible, but because he is inescapable.  Everyone who wishes to pursue the kind of investigation that Marx opened up, finds Marx there ahead of him, and must thereafter agree with or confute, expand or discard, explain or explain away the ideas that are his legacy.

But it is not just that Marx stands out ahead of us in the field of political philosophy, social science or economics.  Rather, as Jameson notes, it is essential to recognize Marxism as a theory which cuts across a myriad of disciplines.

 I think it is crucial to insist on the fact Marxism is the only living philosophy today which has a conception of the unity of knowledge and the unification of the “disciplinary” fields in a way that cuts across the older departmental and institutional structures and restores the notion of a universal object of study underpinning the seemingly distinct inquires into the economical, the political, the cultural, the psychoanalytic, and so forth. This is not a dogmatic opinion but simply an empirical fact. 

With this in mind I would like to begin a short series of Marxist criticisms of John Rawls who is considered by many – including President Bill Clinton – to have most clearly articulated the foundational principles of the Democratic party.  

The following is a very short introduction for those of you unfamiliar with these theories.   In short, Marxism is a philosophy which advocates for the establishment of a classless and stateless socio-political order, the basis of which is the communal ownership of the means of production.  Based largely on the works of Karl Marx, “The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat” (Communist Manifesto).  Some time after state power has been seized, “all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character” and class distinctions will disappear.  Political power, Marx argues, is only the organization of one class’s power for the oppression of another, and as Marxist organization ultimately destroys class antagonism by eliminating its economic basis, political oppression as such under a Communist government is impossible.

 

Marxist government stands in stark contrast to the social and political order advocated by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice.  Rawls conceives of a Just social order as one in which individuals are accorded the most liberty, so long as that liberty does not infringe upon the freedom of others.  Secondly, he argues that economic inequality is only justified insofar as it benefits the poorest members of society.  The following entries are an attempt to put these two theories of Justice into dialogue, critiquing the both the Rawlsian Original Position and the Principles of Justice from a Marxist perspective. 

Stay tuned!

  

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One Response to “Marx and Rawls, A Dialogue”

  1. Izzy Says:

    To whom it may concern
    I was reading the article concerning Rawls and Marx (a theory of justice).. i am at university studying philosophy and one of my essay questions is:Can Marx’s thought be used to offer plausible reasons to reject Rawl’s theory of justice?
    I would be very grateful if you could offer any advice concerning this question?
    Many thanks


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