Garrison and Thoreau

Group 4

Both William Loyd Garrison and Henry David Thoreau both agreed on the fact that slavery was unjust and a violation of our most basic human rights. However they differed marginally on their ways of opposing.

Most notably Thoreau touched upon slavery in his essay Civil DisobedienceHere he concluded that should a government be unjust we are well within our rights to withhold our obedience. He questions when rebellion is justified, and in the case of him refusing to pay taxes to a government that supported war and slavery, things he found morally abhorrent, he felt justified. His problem with most reformers is the fact that they typically petitioned the government, thus recognizing an authority that it holds over them, and honoring the will of the majority. This is also applied to voting, because it only honored the will of the majority, when it was his view that the individual was the only decider of right and wrong. By simply refusing to pay their quota to the treasury the individual had the ability to not support their government in their decisions, in a clear nonviolent manner.

Similarly Garrison also advocated for nonviolent protests, and stressed passive resistance. He also called for immediate emancipation of all slaves, and said they could assimilate properly. Garrison was viewed as one of the most outspoken radical abolitionists, despite his passive resistance tactics. Whereas Thoreau was viewed as a spokesperson for abolition, he mostly restricted his help to the cause to the local and individual level, while Garrison published 1,820 issues of the Liberator. Garrison was more interested in reaching the majority of people in the farthest reach he could obtain.

The main characteristic difference we can find between the two despite their major similarities is Thoreau’s stress on the individual and resistance to the government. Although Garrison opposed slavery, he wrote as if pleading the government to make changes, where Thoreau was more inclined to just disregard the governments authority until they earned his disobedience. Garrison was moved to devote all of his energy and resources to a tireless crusade for abolition.

Margaret Fuller

group 6

A student of Emerson, Margaret Fuller was one of America’s first major feminist writers, authoring Summer on the Lakes and Women in the 19th Century.  She is well known for her literary criticism and journalism; she contributed to The Dial , a quarterly periodical that related ideas and opinions inherent to New England transcendentalism.  Though Fuller never met Thoreau in person, she was connected to him through shared ideals and Emerson.  The closest the two ever came to meeting was when Thoreau, sent by Emerson, visited the seen of her death.  Thoreau later wrote to Emerson about this visit and we were able to find, at least a piece of, what he wrote here.

In trying to connect Margaret with a section of Walden, we looked at “Reading” paragraph 12 where it says, “It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we become men and women.”  Given the fact that Fuller was clearly educated, even a professor, we believe that she would no doubt support this notion of Thoreau’s.  We thought it was also important that Thoreau was progressive enough to include women in that statement, seeing as how women didn’t often pursue advanced education at that time, let alone education after education, and as Margaret was a feminist, we thought she would have really appreciated that inclusion.

The Political Economy of 19th Century Philosophers (Group 6)

The Political Economy is a complex term that is challenging to define clearly. The term politics rooted in the definition, “of, for, or relating to citizens” whereas the term economy is rooted in “household management”.  Today this term is defined as the study of production and trade in relations with customs, government, and distribution of national income and wealth.  Philosopher John Ruskin’s theory on the origins of political economy is utilized to further our understanding in addition to Karl Marx’s input on this matter.

John Ruskin believed the political economy was a theoretical response to the vast expansion of manufacturing industry in the late eighteenth century and the consequent rise to power of middle-class entrepreneurs. The subsequent product is the oppression of the working class. One that is caused by the division of labor proposed by philosopher Adam Smith. 

Karl Marx takes this concept further by highlighting specific weaknesses in the political economy. For one, it does not factor in the labor that is exerted by the laborer, instead it considers only the capitalist’s labor production needs. This system does not explicitly define the value of labor, of capital, and the connection between capital and land.

Political economy throws no light on the cause of the division between labor and capital, and between capital and land. When, for example, it defines the relationship of wages to profit, it takes the interest of the capitalists to be the ultimate cause, i.e., it takes for granted what it is supposed to explain.”

Secondly, it does not predict the evolution of ideal situations turning harmful. Performing self-actualizing work such as crafting arts will eventually lead to patrons or interested consumers. The artist then becomes a businessperson due to their product’s success. Eventually, he or she will expand their business and prey on smaller ventures. Competition was fair at first, but then it grows into a monopoly. This is all driven by greed in wanting more from our products and to want even more from labor. 

Precisely because political economy does not grasp the way the movement is connected, it was possible to oppose, for instance, the doctrine of competition to the doctrine of monopoly, the doctrine of the freedom of the crafts to the doctrine of the guild, the doctrine of the division of landed property to the doctrine of the big estate – for competition, freedom of the crafts and the division of landed property were explained and comprehended only as accidental, premeditated and violent consequences of monopoly, of the guild system, and of feudal property, not as their necessary, inevitable and natural consequences.”

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.”