Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Final Report: Marx, Plato, and Creating a Perfect Society, Draft 1 (H1)


    While most people would almost never associate Karl Marx with Plato in any way other than recognizing that both of their ideals and teachings fall under the ambiguous umbrella of philosophy, they do have one concise similarity: both men coalesced their views on human nature and societal behavior into major works of writing outlining what they considered to be the perfect society. Of course, these two societies are drastically different from one another; in a political sense (disregarding economic motives), the self-proclaimed elite caste of Plato's republic is exactly what Marx's communist revolution is trying to bring down, while Plato would consider the "mob rule" mentality of the latter's citizenry to be the very reason to use a preordained caste system in the first place. These clashing sets of ideals create an interesting opportunity to analyze the viability of supposed "utopias" and the circumstances under which they would be possible or impossible. To this end, I will be going over the philosophies behind both Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto and Plato's Republic, as well as the society in which we live today. I will assess the viability of the two "perfect" societies, and discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of our current system. Finally, I will present the factors which I believe would contribute to the most ideal society the human race can achieve, and the methods by which these factors can be acquired and combined into a functional civilization.


    Karl Marx, born May 5, 1818 in the former kingdom of Prussia, was a staunch advocate for the freedoms of the lower class citizen, and a firm believer in the idea that a total economic and political upheaval is both inevitable and necessary to maintain said freedoms. Simply saying that times were tough for your average worker during the industrial revolution is an extreme understatement, and Marx was well aware of the resentment the working class (what Marx referred to as the "proletariat") held towards the lofty capitalists (or the "bourgeoisie") who reaped the benefits of production. The Communist Manifesto, the collaborative effort between Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels which outlined the aims of the communist party, is the embodiment of all of Marx's ideals. The society Marx envisions is one where the proletariat overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish a communal economy based on equal distribution of wealth. Having more of an emphasis of the economic aspect of society rather than the political, Marx's communism remains fairly open when it comes to governmental organization. This means that on paper, Marx's society clearly looks like a solid system. However, there is really only two forms of government such a society would lean towards; the polar extremes of pure democracy and autocracy. And if there's anything history has proven, it's that societies built on these values get to where they think they want to be by putting their full faith in an individual or a group which promises to uphold their ideals; and this is why we have the modern distinction between socialism and communism today. Socialism is what Marx originally portrayed communism as: a society where the people as a whole directly control the means of production. However, the socialists need organization and resources to achieve this goal. As such, they get behind a leader who promises to seize control of the government from the ruling class and reestablish it as a new communal society based on socialist ideals. Unfortunately, the ambitious and power hungry among the candidates for this position are able to easily manipulate the populace into supporting their rise to power, and have no intention of giving up their control over the political system once they have their hands on it. The result of this unfortunate, albeit inevitable revolution is what we call communism today. This is evident in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Nazi Germany, where he promised to rebuild the broken post-World War I German nation under the flag of socialism, and instead turned on his supporters along with the rest of the world to begin the most destructive conflict the world has ever known. This concept is  even more clearly represented in the development of Soviet Russia in the early 20th century. Russian revolutionaries spurned on by Vladimir Lenin overthrew the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, creating a power vacuum which was quickly filled by the ruthless Soviet party.

(From left to right: Marx, Engel, Lenin, Stalin)

You can imagine where it went from there. Ironically, Marx and Engel became legendary figures to Soviet-era Russians, joined by the likes of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin in countless depictions of "communist glory" across the nation. Doubtless he would be disappointed with the twisted abomination his idea of a perfect society had become, and the dark side of human nature which led to the failure of his prophesized revolutions.

    Plato can be found at the other end of the spectrum, envisioning a society ruled by "philosopher-kings" and split into a caste system in which individuals are assigned roles early on in their lives. Plato's exact plan, as outlined in his book the Republic, is a remarkably simple one: the citizenry is divided into different levels based on inherent qualities. As Plato disliked the Athenian democracy of his time, believing that wisdom should govern the populace rather than the will of the uneducated masses, the wisest and most noble citizens were placed in the highest caste, and referred to as philosopher-kings. I suppose the term caste may be a little misleading; everyone in Plato's republic is socially equal, but each group of individuals has its own role to play. Other groups include farmers, warriors, scientists, craftsmen, etc. The idea is to create a society which runs like clockwork, with each group of individuals working harmoniously towards maintaining the polis under the guidance of the wise philosopher-kings. However, while Plato's view of human nature is admirable (he goes so far to say that anybody who does wrong does so under the impression that they are doing right, and that nobody willfully does anything questionable), it isn't exactly realistic. Such a system could easily be abused by a sadistic ruler, and Plato does not provide any safeguards against the threat of tyranny. On the other hand, it is incredibly unlikely that even half of a population would be satisfied with being relegated to what we would consider lower-class jobs without becoming envious of the other, seemingly more dignified positions. Whatever the case, Plato's republic would quickly destabilize and devolve into mob-rule, a society tearing itself apart over the envy and greed Plato does not account for in his charter.

    So, what kind of society do we live in today? We've had a few thousand years to try some stuff out, so surely what we have now is the best we can possibly come up with, right? Well... kind of. You can only go so far with what you have to work with, but I'll get into that more later. Some pros of our current system are as follows:
  • It is rather fluid and progressive, with regards to both science and cultural norms.
  • It has checks and balances to ensure no ethnic or political minority gets left out, and no majority obtains complete control.
  • It allows us to retain our personal liberties while also maintaining a relatively ideal system of government.
However, our society isn't without its flaws, of course. The very existence of and reliance on a complex economy is one of them. It's unfortunate that the simple commodity of a medium of exchange got so out of hand, but there's not really a lot to be done about it now. So long as the international community relies on economics and our society relies on the international community, it's just something that has to be endured. Another major problem with modern society is something I like to refer to as balance. Civilization has come a long way in a few thousand years, and the amenities we enjoy today make life far more convenient and our society more constructive and organized than at any other point in history. However, this conflict between civilization and primal nature has started to tip too far to the civilized direction, and humanity will eventually pay the price for its weakness and complacency if the balance is lost. Not only do many people today have almost a legitimate psychological dependence on technology such as fancy smart phones and their expensive data plans, but some are so sheltered that incredible physical and emotional weakness has become acceptable, almost even encouraged. Students at some colleges (luckily our university seems to be devoid of any of this)are demanding "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" whenever controversial topics are brought up in public, expecting the rest of society to hold their hands and waste time and resources sheltering them from the effects of being an adult. Civilization was not built on the backs of sheltered weaklings, and society will crumble if nobody can pull themselves together and learn how to function like a fully grown human being. Anyway, enough of that rant. Possibly the biggest problem facing modern society, or any society the world has yet seen in general, is the clash of ideals, the conflict of interests, the division of beliefs amongst the populace. You may be saying "you can't possibly change the mindset of an individual; there will always be opposing viewpoints in any society". I would agree with you. But, I would also say that there is a way to minimize it to the point where your society functions 10 times as smoothly, which brings me to the final portion of my report.
   
    My turn. I'm obviously no Marx or Plato, but I'll take a shot at what it takes to create an ideal society. Notice how I said an "ideal" society, and not a perfect one. This distinction is important for two reasons: one, because a perfect society is impossible to achieve. There will always be some conflicting beliefs, some problem that threatens to throw a wrench into the gears of your society; instead of pretending like it's not going to happen, why not be prepared to deal with it instead? And two, because it's important to found a society on a specific set of IDEALS. Your goals have to be clearly outlined, not broad or ambiguous, which also leads into what I was getting at in the previous paragraph about minimizing conflicts of interest. One of the founding fathers of the U.S. (can't remember which unfortunately) said that every nation needs a revolution every few hundred years to purge stagnation and corruption and force progress back into a stale society. I agree with this statement, except that rather than a revolution, there should be an exodus. To create an ideal society, you have to found a brand new society with people who all share most of the same ideals. Unfortunately, most human beings are confrontational by nature; you can't be all inclusive with who you take with you. It has to be a very select group. I obviously don't mean discriminate by race, sexual orientation, religious creed (unless it seriously conflicts with your societal ideals), etc. But if you want to cut down on conflict and inefficiency and possibly buy your nation a couple more centuries before the next necessary "refresh" if you will, then you don't want to take someone who clearly disagrees with your core values. Anyway, I feel like this is pretty long and I should probably go to bed, so I'm not going to go into detail about exactly what kind of society I would create given the opportunity. But I guess if anybody really wants to know I can put it in a comment later or put it in my 2nd draft in a couple days.

Links to comments on others' posts:

3 comments:

  1. You're going to bed at 7 am? To choose a good Marxist word, that's decadent. But it's still a free country.

    Anyway, your 1st installment is both long and good, and it deserves serious comment. After reading and commenting on so many posts, though, I find myself wanting only to share this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GB8VZT_UsE8

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, that was pretty good. Been awhile since I watched some Monty Python sketches. Anyway,I appreciate the compliment. I'll try not to cram the second draft in with a bunch of other homework early in the morning next time.

      Delete
  2. Your post is really well written. I have also been very interested in the idea of a utopia, although I agree that achieving it is impossible. I actually never realized how you pointed out that Marx and Plato have opposing ideas on utopia (mob and caste system). All I would say for feedback is to break up the post into smaller paragraphs for an easier read. But, like I said, content-wise it's really good.

    ReplyDelete