Running on Money

Karl Marx, in The Power of Money once claimed:

“If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, connecting me with nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties?”

This quote explains that Marx believes money is what ties the human race together and to this planet. Marx eludes how money has a divine power, comparable to how we use religion to guide us through daily activities. Marx focuses on how having money can be very beneficial to the individual, providing them with whatever they desire, even the capability to bring things from the “realm of imagination” into actual existence. This could go as far as saying money can create power and happiness.

Locke states in The Second Treatise of Civil Government in chapter V on property:

“Thus in the beginning all the world was America, and more so than that is now; for no such thing as money was any where known.   Find out something that hath the use and value of money amongst his neighbours, you shall see the same man will begin presently to enlarge
his possessions.”

Locke believes that money is an ideology that doesn’t need to be in paper form in order for it to be created and used by society. However, he states that people will begin to covet whatever is being used to hold value, in order to become as wealthy as possible. This idea of holding the most wealth ties in with Marx’s idea that more money leads to power and happiness, while having less goods results in property. Moreover, with the creation of money Locke seems to believe that individuals use it to advance themselves in society; a theme Marx noted and worked to prevent. Previously, people only used and took what was necessary for survival, there was no need to have the most of one good because everyone provided for themselves and traded numerous goods equally. When something is created as a universal trade, such as money, people remove themselves from nature by becoming greedy and taking more than what is needed.

Locke and Marx seem to agree on the power of money and its effects on society, how money brings out the negative traits in human character and seems to remove us from what is truly important in a “community.” Locke focuses on how our relationship with the natural order of the world degrades due to coveting money. Marx focuses on how our relationship with each other, in a community, degrades by collecting money. This leads leading to extreme poverty and extreme wealth, with no care for the other side. Marx does imply that with more money you may become a more appealing and powerful person, while it seems like Locke would not support this statement. Overall Locke and Marx appear to believe that your true individual characteristics are more important to a functioning community, to be in balance with nature, than what others have projected onto and instilled with you.

Worthless Without Money

The American dream is that we can all create our own fortune, and with equal opportunity. But why are we so preoccupied with the creation of wealth? Is the only measure of happiness and success, the amount of money you have in the bank?

Locke wrote in The Second Treatise of Government that money could be as a medium to exchange for perishable goods that someone may have in excess. He did not put the worth of every object in terms of money, rather the goods themselves were the objects of value, and money something that we simply agreed to be worth something in terms of goods, for ease of trade.

Yet now all goods are appraised in terms of money, thus leading to the growth of many new dilemmas. Because when the worth of anything can be measured by one sole thing, then that thing is the only object that has any true value. This translates to living beings too, society manages to make humans valued at how much currency they can collect.

In Karl Marx’s manuscript The Power of Money he refers to money as “the general confounding and confusing of all things”. An example of this would be that someone of wealth could easily become an artist, easily buying the materials that they need, and then having the connections to put their work out there and be respected. While someone else could have an affinity for art but not have the notoriety or means to be an artist. Therefore we have the opposite for both of these people, they become what they are not.

Many would point out then that plenty of artists have come from nothing. People like JK Rowling and Eminem started out as nobodies and raised themselves to be who they are now. But they are only considered artists because they have money, so now they are people of worth. Had Rowling written Harry Potter and not sold a single copy of it she would not be considered an accomplished artist, but since she grew a huge fortune from that franchise she is considered one of the best. Many famous artists weren’t considered to possess skills of any merit, and their art never earned them a cent during their own lifetime, like Van Gogh. He committed suicide at the age of 37 after only being able to sell two of his paintings. Yet now he is considered one of the most acclaimed artists of history and his paintings are worth a fortune. So when his paintings had no monetary value he was a failure, but when they’re worth a small fortune, he was a success. Yet the art itself never changed.

The point I’m trying to make is that the only value that we place on talent, and success is how much money we can garner. We live in a world where we are worthless without money.

Marx-related news

Here are some news items that seem relevant to our recent conversations about Marx. Use the comments to add items of your own.

“Society” and the individual

Passage- “Above all we must avoid postulating “society” again as an abstraction vis-à-vis the individual. The individual is the social being.His manifestations of life – even if they may not appear in the direct form of communal manifestations of life carried out in association with others – are therefore an expression and confirmation of social life. Man’s individual and species-life are not different, however much – and this is inevitable – the mode of existence of the individual is a more particular or more general mode of the life of the species, or the life of the species is a more particular or more general individual life.”-From Marx’s manuscript

Karl Marx’s translated word for “society” actually stems from a German dichotomy which is a combination of society and community. This has a major influence on the passage we reviewed because it is important to understand clearly what the author was originally intending to say. Marx is telling the citizens to be aware that they are the society. We must not allow ourselves to separate this from the individual. The individuals are what makes up society as a whole. No matter how hard an individual may try, they will not be able to separate themselves from what society is, because it is the citizens which define it.

This can be viewed in a negative or a positive connotation. Personally, I see a majority of positive connotation. Citizens are never alone, and predominantly working for the greater good of his/her community. Individualism is clearly not lacking in this idea when other facets of Marx’s manuscript are referenced (as discussed in class). It is our duty as citizens to keep up with society and change it to fit ourselves as we see best fit for the whole.

We discussed the old attitude of “Well that’s just the way things are” when discussing discontent with the current society. We as individuals all have the power to influence what society is. We noted the example of recycling. If more and more citizens were to recycle, our society would change, as we have noticed it to over the course of the past 40 years or so. Changing a society does not have to be a monumental task if every citizen simply makes small changes in his/her way of life in regard to the bigger changes they want to see in the world.

Marx and Estrangement: Rethinking the Politics of the American Revolution

HUMN 221- Group 1


In “Estranged Labour,” Marx pulls no punches in his description of the plight of workers. He makes it very clear that he feels that the economic system in place in industrial Germany in the mid 19th Century has stripped workers of their humanity. He draws this conclusion from the realization that the economics of the time period considered workers to only be worth the value of their labor, that is the value of what they produced. Alone, this way of thinking about the worker would not be disastrous, but the economic system also gives nothing back to the workers; the workers do not choose how and when they labor and are kept subservient, in a state of slavery if you will, by their lack of access to capital, which is a feature of the economic system. By being reduced in such a way, the workers, according to Marx, lose their humanity and become alien.

However, Marx’s thinking is not entirely new itself. The Framers of the United States and those philosophers that inspired them, like Locke, attempted to address similar issues as Marx. For these political theorists, the issue of humanness, though, was not an economic issue, but rather a political one. The oppressive forces on humanity were not imbalanced economics, but imbalanced governing. The thought process is similar though; for the Framers, if individuals revolt and claim those political rights that they believe all individuals are entitled to, then a new balance will be set in place. Marx believes in a similar ideal; if the workers can rise up and claim their fair share of capital, then the economic system, and society in general, will also fall into balance.

Marx and Alienation of Workers

HUMN 221 – Group 3

For Marx, alienation of workers consists of alienation from the world, from the objects they create, from their own humanity, and from their fellow man. Probably the biggest problem for Marx was that workers did not reap the rewards of their own labor; those who owned the factors of production, or the bourgeoisie, did.

Furthermore, he noted that the more the worker produced for the capitalist system, the less he or she could produce for himself. For example, a farmer who produces more and more crops for market has less and less land on which to subsist.

The rich practically own the fruits of the workers’ labor. For example, if a worker works more productively, that productivity creates more profit for the rich, and the worker receives the same wage (at least in the environment Marx wrote about).

“It is true that for the rich, labor produces wonderful things-but for the worker it produces privation. It produces palaces, but for the worker hovels.”

The Estrangement of Human Value

Group 2

Karl Marx argues that the price of capitalism is dishonoring the value of human dignity and natural rights that belong to the people that compose the labor force. Marx illustrated the idea that working in such conditions leads to the dehumanization of workers in his first Economic & Philosophic Manuscript of 1844. He criticized the economic system of his time when he stated,

“Now, therefore, we have to grasp the intrinsic connection between private property, greed, the separation of labor, capital and landed property; the connection of exchange and competition, of value and the devaluation of man, of monopoly and competition, etc. – the connection between this whole estrangement and the moneysystem” (Marx, 1944). Marx argued that in a purely Capitalistic environment, workers are reduced to nothing more significant than profit machines, stripped of the power to live with the freedom every human deserves.

This reminded us of the the struggles women have experienced throughout the United States history. They too have shared this dehumanization when it came to being acknowledged as worthy of basic rights. In The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Elizabeth Cady Santon mimicked the structure of The Declaration of Independence in order to stress a need for change in the treatment of women in society. Women had no voice in their government, just like the people of the American Colonies has no say in their own regulation prior to the revolution. Santon essentially called for a cultural revolution because the living conditions placed upon women were so highly restrictive that their human dignity was ignored. Women’s sense of humanity was estranged because society

“Having deprived her of this first right of a citizedn, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides” (Santon, 1848).

Our group found it intriguing that even though these two documents appear to be unrelated, they share the common theme. Both documents demanded more humane treatment from the ruling power, whether it was the economic system or the government. We then discussed how those demands have and have not been met in the present day.

Marx and “Alienation”

Group 6

“Alienation,” according to Marx, relates to the worker’s relationship with the products he creates.  One of Marx’s main ideas is that, through labor, the worker becomes a commodity amongst other commodities, which are really just the physical embodiment of the worker’s own labor.  Marx theorizes that the “worker puts his life into the object;” when he does this, his life belongs to the object rather than himself.  And this is why, “the devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things.”  When the worker produces these commodities, he puts a little of himself in each product, slowly losing himself, becoming a commodity himself; and, when he does this his labor, as well as himself, become external and independent of him–this is alienation.

The Role of Virtue in Pursuit of the Common Good (Group 6)

Drawing upon three moralist philosophers that is John Locke, William Blake, and Pope Francis, we explore the role of good virtues of altruism in the pursuit of common good. We asked ourselves, “what are the roles of mercy, pity, peace, and love in a prosperous society?” to which a few strong answers emerged.

For John Locke, concepts of equality, of justice, and of respect are birthed by our love for one another. He claimed, This equality of men by nature…that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men, on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity” (Chpt. 2 Sec. 5). He goes on to paraphrase the Golden Rule of Christianity in which, “Do unto others as you would have them done unto you” when he stated, “…so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should shew greater measure of love to me, than they have by me shewed unto them” (Chpt. 2 Sec. 5). This rule reinforces the notion that we are bound to each other by good actions else evil deeds, such as vengeance or wraith, would lead us to ruin. 

Pope Francis is then a believer of Locke’s principles as well. In his Papal Encyclical, he called for “social peace… stability and security” that is found through distributive justice (Chpt. 4, Passage 157). Virtues of mercy, pity peace, and love are contributive to the common good therefore it is quintessential to an equal society. If Locke’s philosophy rings true, then an equal society is a loving society. Furthermore, Pope Francis asks us to think of our climate and environmental problems of which are products of corporate greed and short-term thinking (Chpt. 1, Passage 25). The link we share with nature, ourselves, and with God is the earth we inhabit. Destroying what little we share is harmful to our greater good thus he (Pope Francis) calls on society to unify in said virtues before it is too late.

William Blake is another proponent for said virtues although he perceives love within humanity much differently than Locke. Through Songs of Innocence and Experience, we’re able to witness Blake’s philosophy of humanly love, of which is a spiritual and emotional bond we all share. It is feelings of compassion, and altruism that binds our society as opposed to Locke’s belief in equality. Locke agreed with a monetary system of trading, one that is a result of a surplus in resources, of which inequalities are a by-product. If he is a proponent of such inequalities then he is not a proponent of the love he claimed exists. Blake on the other hand, has humanist principles about him that is found throughout his works in experience. He perceived poverty as a result of greed in which the road to salvation is traveled only by those selfless.

All three philosophers are wise to their own end, but none have the solutions to societal woes because we are complicated creatures with dual complexes. The virtues we mentioned are difficult in practice especially on a large scale, but perhaps we should take a step back. Perhaps our practice of said virtues on a smaller scale, one that is the size of our daily lives, is the first step to finding the common good.