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Marxism. Michael Lacewing enquiries@alevelphilosophy. On ideology. Political ideologies Provide plan of action for creating political institutions Seek to justify political arrangements Bind individuals to society

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Michael Lacewing


On ideology
On ideology

  • Political ideologies

    • Provide plan of action for creating political institutions

    • Seek to justify political arrangements

    • Bind individuals to society

  • Freeden: ideologies are structured interpretations of political concepts

Political concepts
Political concepts

  • Political concepts are ‘essentially contestable’

    • E.g. liberty: absence of coercion, absence of interference, opportunity, autonomy, rational choice, self-determination…

  • Two reasons for disagreement

    • Political concepts are evaluative

    • Component structure

  • Different ideologies start from different key concepts, ‘decontesting’ them

Marxist theory of history
Marxist theory of history

  • We are alive

    • We produce our ‘means of subsistence’

  • Satisfying original needs leads to new needs, e.g. tools

  • We reproduce

  • Both production and reproduction are not only natural, but social, involving particular ‘modes’ of cooperating with others

Marxist theory of history1
Marxist theory of history

  • Economic sub-structure (= modes of production + modes of cooperation) determines nature of society

  • Modes change as society develops, esp. involving division of labour

    • Within the family

    • Mental v. physical

    • Agriculture v. commercial v. industrial

  • Superstructure (= customs, laws, education, religion, culture, state institutions) evolves out of substructure

Marxist theory of history2
Marxist theory of history

  • The state is based on power relations between classes

    • Modern state based on capitalism: capitalists own the means of production, and take profit, workers get salaries

  • Power of dominant class supported by the state and by an ‘ideology’

    • State is biased, not neutral

    • Ideas are product of sub-structure


  • Alienation: estrangement resulting in loss

    • From products of labour

    • From meaningful, creative work

    • From ‘species-being’

    • From other people

  • Alienation need not be conscious or felt, but life is objectively less fulfilling


  • Liberal ideas of rights and justice are not emancipating, but alienating

    • Emphasis on individual rights (as basis for justice) in conflict with communal nature of human beings

    • Illusion of equality glosses over power differences between classes

  • Genuine equality would abolish the state: a communist revolution

Five core concepts
Five core concepts

  • Equality: needs are met

  • Welfare: fulfilment of species-being

  • Importance of meaningful, creative work

  • Community

  • History: of sub-structure and super-structure

Marx on justice
Marx on justice

  • Marx does not call capitalism ‘unjust’

    • Conflict not described in ‘liberal’ terms; communism is beyond justice

    • Capitalism is a necessary stage of human development

    • Argument is not primarily moral, but historical – social change will be driven by developments in sub-structure, not ideas


  • Super-structure is not determined by sub-structure

    • State is partly independent of capitalism

  • Prediction of communism turned out false, ‘welfare state’ developed, and classes evolved

    • But has this led to emancipation?

  • Theory of human nature is wrong

    • What is necessary for human happiness to increase?

  • Communism is impossible