Comparing Marx And Mill’s Perspectives On Historical Development Essay

Marx and Mill’s Perspectives on Historical Development They say that history is told from the perspective of the conqueror, but for two renowned philosophers, history in general was formed because of certain factors. These philosophers are Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. Karl Marx was a German Philosopher who became famous and controversial for his works on capitalism, communism and dialectical historical materialism. A few of his famous writings were the Das Capital and the Communist Manifesto. These literature have been the guiding principles for the revolution in some countries such as Russia (McLellan, 1).

On one hand, John Stuart Mill was a British Philosopher who became famous because of his works on liberty and utilitarianism. But unlike Marx, Mill’s writings were regarded in the backburner. This paper will compare and contrast the political thoughts of both philosophers with regards to their view on how society progressed from one to another. Marx developed his view on societal development based on Feuerbach’s historical approach. He believed that society develops in line with a predetermined path.

He called this theory as the materialist conception of history (McLellan, 143). Marx’s view on how history progressed from the primitive era to another was a form of defiance towards the previously established theories about history. He argued that the progress of one society to another was being dictated by material forces. This was one reason why he became enthusiastic with the works of Charles Darwin. Unlike other literature that used religion as explanation, Darwin explained evolution of people using rational meaning – the theory of natural selection (565).

Marx believed that the way for a society to develop was by going back to its natural form – people being communal once again. Given that, he expounded that a society will undergo five stages of development – primitive communalism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and communism. He further elaborated that this change will not be handed down. Rather, it needed to be fought. A conflict between the oppressed and the oppressor will take place, and a synthesis or a new form of society will come out of this dialectics. As explained, Marx said that society progressed because of materialist factors.

These driving forces are called the super- and substructure (7). The substructure is also known as the economic base of a society. These are the activities of people that let them have their basic needs. These activities differ in each form of society. For example, the substructure for primitive communalism is hunting and gathering while it is industrial production for the capitalist society. On another hand, superstructure is the ideological state apparatuses that the status quo is using to subjugate the oppressed, and to control the means of production.

These can be the state, and church (Hay, 152). Since the driving forces of progress are of materialistic in nature, the dialectics is between the oppressed trying to reach the economic means of production and the oppressor trying to maintain the monopoly of substructure through the use of the superstructure. This monopoly leads to a few people owning private property. To better understand, the system in capitalist society will be used as an example. Marx said that workers in a capitalist society were being alienated from their products because of specialization.

Instead of investing their whole time to doing one product, workers were now specializing only on a certain part of the product. This alienated the worker from the product and from the true value of their labor. The product can now be sold cheaply and the worker will be paid meagerly. Social injustice also manifested in the form of exploitation of children, inhumane hours of labor, and miserable working conditions of the proletariats. These are the ways that the status quo used in order to maintain the monopoly of the modes of production (McLellan, 149).

John Stuart Mill had a different view on the development of society and he called it philosophy of history. For Mill, society progressed within the structure of the current status quo and it did not contradict the established order of things (Lopez, 68). According to his social political thought, society will keep on changing, and for every change there will be a transitional period. He also endorsed free will of men as the catalyst for the progress in every society. He utterly gave the importance of individuals and their roles in shaping history (69).

This was in line with his works on liberty and its role in the development of society. Mill believed that men are accountable to their actions if it harms and affects other people. The government may provide sanctions for such actions (Mill, 86). Mill warned about the limit of these sanctions because of the concept of Liberty. In the early years, liberty is simply defined as the protection of the people versus the clutches of tyrannical rulers. But as society progressed, this definition changed to the set of rights and political liberties that regulate the power of a government (6).

This has been how Mill viewed societal progress. At first, slaves were contended to be ruled as long as they were protected by their masters from external threat. Their call to be recognized was simply broken promises at the disposal of their masters. This was because if someone opposed the master, they will receive punishment that no word can describe its cruelty (Mill, 5). As Catholicism gained popularity, new kinds of leaders emerged in the form of monarchy which ended the cruel tyranny of masters. People started to feel safe but this was concentrated to people with high social status.

The majority still sought for recognition and checks and balances because of the military despotism of some monarchy. This led to the emergence of a new kind of leader – someone who thinks about the needs of the constituency. This leader was now trusted with power but will also be accountable and be revocable of it (8). But Mill did not stop at this. He endorsed another problem because of liberty and this was called the tyranny of the majority. People imposed their beliefs to others and disregarded individual preference simply because their belief was popular. This became the new form of tyranny – the tyranny of the popular opinion (9).

Summary and Analysis In summary, Marx and Mill had different and similar take on how history was conceived. First, Marx focused on the economic aspect of societal progress or the material conception of history. He highlighted how one society progressed to another because of the pursuit for the economic means of production. On the other hand, Mill emphasized on the importance of liberty as he pointed out that this is the driving force of societal progress. This is what he called the philosophy of history. Another point where the two philosophers differed is the way the minority sought for change.

Marx argued that change is not handed down because the minority fought for it. The conflict between the two opposing forces resulted to the development of the new society. Meanwhile, Mill believed that change happened without disrupting the existing structure of society. For him, conflict did not arise, rather society just evolved as it is based on the current system. Also, as Marx argued that the superstructure like the government and religion were used to maintain the status quo. But, Mill saw the superstructure such as the religion to be the factors bringing change such as the case of Catholicism influencing the rise of monarchy.

Third, Marx gave importance to the class structure and the importance of collective action, while Mill emphasized the importance of individuals and liberty of individuals. Finally, both philosophers agreed that societies developed from slavery to monarchy. In conclusion, although Marx and Mill have opposing views about history, both philosophers contributed in building the foundation on how people view society and history. Historical development is still based on wealth, power or prestige. Moreover, both believed that oppression exists within the society and there is a need to address it.