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Ideology: Smith, Bentham, Mill, Marx and some Utopians

Accompanying technological change were changes in people relating to each other and in ideology. In Scotland, Adam Smith was one of those who contributed to the ideological change. He entered the University of Glasgow at the age of fourteen, in 1737. There he studied moral philosophy and in connection with morality is said to have developed a passion for liberty, reason, and free speech. He won a scholarship and became a graduate student at Oxford. Then he was a professor at Glasgow University teaching moral philosophy. By 1776 (at fifty-four) he had written a book titled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, and in it he described this wealth as the production of goods that people could use. He had in mind an economy and wealth by and for the many.

Smith didn't like government commanding and trying to control the nation's markets. He favored self-regulating markets: people producing what they thought would sell and people buying according to what they wanted and could afford, with competition as a regulator and competition encouraging efficiency. He differed from some old-fashioned moralists by approving self-interest as a force. He thought self-interest an indispensable spur to economic progress. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we can expect our dinner," he wrote, "but from their regard to their own interest."

Smith wrote of the harm caused by monopolies inhibiting competition and the harm of government favoritisms. Smith approved of government actions that defended free markets. And he favored peoples of different nations trading freely with each other. Smith was opposed to people being pawns of the state, and he was angered by the state-imposed force of imperialism and wrote of "the savage injustices of the Europeans" who served as "vile rulers of mankind."

Smith was opposed to what the economist-historian Dierdre McCloskey calls the Aristocratic Deal. McCloskey describes the Aristocrat Deal:

"You honor me, an aristocrat by natural inequality, and give me the liberty to extract rents from you... I forbid you under penalty of death to seek competitive 'protection' ... [And] if you have behaved yourself and [removed your cap or tugged] your forelock or made your curtsey as I ride by) I will not at least have slaughtered you."

McCloskey writes of the aristocratic deal being replaced in the 1800s by the "Bourgeois Deal." According to McCloskey the Bourgeois Deal arose with the "Great Enrichment" beginning a decade or so after Smith's death in 1790. In a rather bourgeois publication, the Wall Street Journal, McCloskey writes:

The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment.

Of course, the Great Enrichment was not all benevolence. Bourgeois ideology held to letting the market decide wages. In competition with each other, industrialists looked for people who could do a job for wages that were bid down as low as possible, and if an employee didn't like it he was free to walk.

Workers did the one thing they needed to do to improve their ability to bargain. They joined together for added power. They sought better working conditions, better pay, and relief from working six days a week and more than eight hours per day. It was common for the industrialist to see this as an assault on their freedom to manage their enterprises as they saw fit.

Two more Liberals: Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill

Making his contribution to the ideology of the 1800s was the Englishman Jeremy Bentham, who maintained a correspondence with Smith and lived on to 1832 (42 years after Smith's death). Like Smith, he stood apart from those preaching the benefits of self-denial and preaching that more wealth meant more favored by God. Like Smith, Bentham favored betterment for common people. Bentham favored democracy as a means for common people having the power to judge who would serve their interest. In response to those who were supporting the status quo and talking about liberty, Benthem in his book Principles of Morals and Legislation asked, What liberty? And liberty for whom? Laws, Bentham believed, should be made for "the greatest good for the greatest number," a view to be known as Utilitarianism.

Following Bentham was another Utilitarian: John Stuart Mill (1806-70), the son of the Scottish philosopher, historian and economist. Mill had been precocious as a child. He was taught Greek at the age of three, and by eight was a great reader of books. At thirteen he was studying Adam Smith and the classical economist David Ricardo. Like Smith, he believed in the freedom of the individuals. Freedom, he thought, paved the way for social progress. He supported the freedom to express oneself including freedom of the press and freedom of association.

In his book, On Liberty, published in 1859, Mill wrote also about a "tyranny of the majority." He recognized that good ideas came first to individuals, and he was suspicious of group-think. He proposed that government protect the right of people to pursue new ideas, self-development and individuality, and he supported women's rights. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Mill was "the most influential English language philosopher of the nineteenth century."

Marx from Liberal to Revolutionary

Mill was a contemporary of Karl Marx (1818-83), who intensely disagreed with Mill — an ideological rivalry that was to extend well beyond their deaths, into the 1900s. Mill believed that individuality should be encouraged. "Genius," he wrote, "can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom." Marx was to become less focused on the individual and more on collective interests.

Marx began his intellectual career as a liberal. After his university studies he became a journalist in the most economically advanced of Prussia-ruled cities: Cologne. His paper, the Rheinische Zeitung was financed by a liberal critical of authoritarian monarchies but opposed to socialism. The government banned the paper, throwing Marx out of work — government repression doing what it often did: making people more radical. Marx with his wife moved to Paris where he found work on a German language paper that intended to give voice to French and German dissidents.

In Paris, Marx met angry German exiles from the families of the laboring poor who had formed a group, now in its eighth year, called the League of the Just. Marx was impressed because they were more than armchair intellectuals. These were men without property who saw themselves as victims of men with property. They saw the abolition of private property as a way to change society. Marx wrote that "The brotherhood of man is no mere phase for them, but a fact of life."

During the reactionary politics of 1848, Marx became annoyed by what he described as the bourgeoisie tumbling over each other in a hurry to patch up their differences with Prussia's monarchy. He described the National Assembly in Frankfurt as going the way of all bourgeois parliaments: headed for conciliation. He cut his ties with his bourgeois democratic associates.

It was in 1848 that Marx and a fellow German drinking companion Friedrich Engels (son of a wealthy cotton manufacturer) wrote their Communist Manifesto. It contained history about economic classes: landowners (the aristocracy) versus agricultural laborers, businessmen those who sold their labor to them. In it, Marx extended his belief in freedom to people not having to sell their labor in order to survive. He looked forward to people free of coercive bosses and capitalists not taking any of a share of the wealth they, the workers, had created, each worker producing according to his ability accompanied by a cooperative distribution.

Marx was expelled from France and Belgium. Prussia refused to renaturalize him, and he had his family (two daughters ended up in Queen Victoria's England, a repository for banished monarchs, rogues, and rebels, the homeland of John Stuart Mill (twelve years older than Marx), both busy as writers, Marx working on his Das Kapital.

Marx saw in John Stuart Mill a support for private property that contributed to disparities in wealth and to political oppression. Only with the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, Marx believed, could peasants and industrial workers acquire justice. He believed that while the material condition of society shapes mankind, mankind can also shape society. People "do not make [history] under self-selected circumstances," he wrote, "but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." In the security of bourgeois London, with financial help from Engels and some inheritance money, Marx looked forward to the "working class" developing a class-consciousness wide enough to make social revolution possible.

Utopians: Saint-Simon, Owen, and Fourier

There were those who disagreed with both Mill and Marx. Some thought Marx a utopian, but Marx believed in political struggle in the here and now, in mixing it up with existing political forces. The politics of some to be called utopians involved establishing societies that were purely idea rather than people responding to existing politics. Henri de Saint-Simon, a French aristocrat who survived imprisonment during the French Revolution, sketched a cooperative society with people of various endeavors (business people, managers, scientists, bankers, capitalists and manual laborers et cetera). He saw the doctrine of Laissez-faire as both morally and psychologically pernicious." He favored a society in which each person was ranked according to his or her capacities and rewarded according to his or her work. (Who was to do the ranking or govern the distributing is to this writer unclear.) After his death in 1825 some had noticed his writings and became followers.

There was also the British industrialist Robert Owen who moved to the US in 1824, and there on 30,000 acres in Indiana he built a community he called New Harmony — a place that he wanted to be free of religion, private property and crime. Settlers came. And, following the news of his community, people in the US, Britain and Ireland created copycat communities. At New Harmony, an inevitable diversity of opinion arose. There was conflict between those who wanted to defend their individuality and those who advocated conformity. Some complained about others not doing their fair share of work. New Harmony failed to attract an adequate number of workers with skills. According to one observer, New Harmony had "plenty of storekeepers, clerks, committeemen [but] few smiths, artisans, and farmers." By 1828 New Harmony had been reorganized five times and Owen had lost four-fifths of his fortune. He disbanded New Harmony, blaming the failure on people not having acquired "those moral characteristics of forbearance and charity necessary for confidence and harmony." The other, copy-cat, settlements are not known to have overcome similar difficulties. Social harmony had proved difficult to invent and impose.

Another so-called utopian was Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Like Saint-Simon, he too disliked laissez-faire economics, and he disliked Bentham's utilitarianism. He had his own plan to superimpose on society. He wanted society divided into communities of 1,620 people, each community with a grand hotel-like dormitory at the center, divided between first class, second class and third class depending on one's wealth. Everyone would work a few hours each day, doing what they thought suited him or her best. Fourier thought his idea conformed to the nature of humanity created by God, and he looked forward to each community being tied together by love and a singular devotion to God. But like Saint Simon and Robert Owen his movement failed to take hold to the degree necessary for people to change existing society. A Fourier community in the United States, at Utopia, Ohio, founded in 1844 broke up within three years.

Marx and Failure of the Paris Commune

Marx, on the other hand, was attached to something bigger, something more engaged in actual political conflict and that demonized people in power and commerce: the International Workingmen's Association (also called the First Internationale), formed in London in 1864 by socialist, communist and anarchist political groups and trade unions, and reported by the police to have five million members before 1872.

When a municipal council took over the city of Paris — the Paris Commune — which flew the socialist red flag rather than France's traditional tricolor, Marx in London wrote of France's "collapsing bourgeois society" as "pregnant" with a new society. Parisians went to the barricades again and were defeated again by the French Army. The Commune had been in power only two months. Thousands of the commune supporters were tried by summary courts-martial of doubtful legality, and thousands were shot. Around 4,000 were deported to serve a life sentence on the prison island of New Caledonia. Estimates of the number killed vary from about 10,000 to 50,000. Marx, safe in England. was identified as the brains behind the Paris Commune. He was visited by reporters. Known to have a PhD he was called the Red Doctor.

Marx soon decided that the Paris Commune was an immature attempt at revolution. He and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels, concluded that to succeed a revolution had to have wider support (wide enough, it seems, to win electorally). Marx was open to the idea of his new society coming without an armed takeover. In 1872 Marx said, "... we do not deny that there are countries like England and America... where Labor may attain its goal by peaceful means."

CONTINUE READING: The Anarchists Proudhon, Tolstoy and Bukunin

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