by Denyse O'Leary
The Manifesto was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It outlined the doctrines of communism, which became the dominant political movement in the twentieth century. The movement collapsed in the 1980s due to unworkable economic ideas. Surviving communist states are relics, dominated by aging "heroes" of the communist revolution or their relatives or other hand-picked successors.
Marx was an atheist and a materialist. The two go together; the denial of spiritual entities means the affirmation of all reality as purely material. What, then, is a human being? He is an animal that, like every other animal, must provide for his own material well-being. As human beings are furless animals with paltry claws and less than menacing teeth, they need to go much further than other animals in having to labor to produce things for their own sustenance and protection. The more complex he society and the more diverse the things it produces, the more complex is the division of labour that produces them.Plenty of room for dehumanization here, and it certainly happened.
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If we might indulge Marx's passion for simplicity we could put his entire argument in a slogan: "You are what you produce." This includes the ideas you produce. That is, human ideas are one more product of human labor, and Marx believes they are decided by a society's modes of production. (p. 63, 64)
Communism killed so many people that considering any other question when evaluating its legacy is a challenge. But here is something to consider:
Even in non-communist societies, sympathizers planted the idea that the government is responsible for providing a sense of meaning or purpose in one's life. Traditionally, that has been the role of religions and philosophies. Government has played the lesser role of suppressing national enemies, crime, and vice (as acknowledged by social consensus).
Once government becomes the source of meaning and purpose, it quickly aspires to unlimited powers, including the arbitrary power of life and death over all citizens. That happened with communism and with its racist variant, national socialism (Nazism). (For a discussion of such political movements in general, whether nationalist, internationalist, racist, or politico-religious, go here.)
Today, due to Marx and Engels's legacy, many people even in democracies have difficulty with the idea - fundamental to democratic government - that government exists to solve a limited and specific sphere of problems, and that citizens have civil rights that government cannot simply remove in order to solve those problems more easily.
Next: John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism (1863)
(Note: This post is part of a series that looks at Ben Wiker's 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: and 5 Others That Didn't Help. Wiker discusses the books in order of writing, not "worst"-ness.)
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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