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Professor Ivan Szelényi

Lecture 2 - Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679): Authority, Human Rights and Social Order


An examination of Hobbes's lifetime reveals that the uncertainty of the British monarchy during his life (1588-1679) inspires Hobbes's social and political thought, especially regarding the role of the sovereign to provide for the security of his subjects. We consider the major elements of Hobbes's political and social thought including the state of nature, equality of men, the social contract, the strong sovereign, and legitimate rule. Hobbes's work privileges security of individuals through a strong sovereign but also asserts the right of subjects to transfer their allegiance to a new sovereign if the ruler does not provide for their security; this element of his work in particular and others made him a controversial thinker who was forced into exile for a time. His work has been rediscovered in recent years by economists and other social scientists who see him as the first rational choice theorist.


Hobbes, Leviathan

- Chapter 6-7, pp. 118-134

- Chapter 11, pp. 160-168

- Chapter 13-14, pp. 183-201

- Chapter 17, pp. 223-228

- Chapter 30, pp. 376-394

Chapter 4. Human Nature [00:22:38]

Professor Iván Szelényi: As you can hear, Hobbes is very close to what later on becomes the utilitarians. Right? Very close to what Adam Smith will argue in his economic theory, or what John Stuart Mills will represent in his utilitarianism. Or, for that sake, what most economists today believe, who call themselves neoclassical economists, or who identify themselves as "rat" choice, or rational choice; economists or political scientists or sociologists, for that sake; there are some sociologists who also subscribe to rational choice.


[...] Well about power. The power is unending. Right? He said there is a general inclination for us to seek power, our influence on other people. And he said there is nothing evil about it. It is necessary because if we want to survive we will have to try to exercise influence on others. We have to seek power as such. An extremely important idea, which foreshadows especially Nietzsche and Max Weber who comes up later in this course. Well then here comes a very interesting argument about equality; a very exciting argument.


[...] He is one of the very first philosophers who claims that we are all born equal. Now for you this is of course obvious, but it was not obvious in 1651 that people--nobles and serfs, slaves and slaveholders--were all born equal.


[...] So that sounds wonderful, and you probably all agree with it. But then he makes a very controversial point, and probably there are some people in this room who agree with him, but others probably will disagree with it. Namely, he said what comes from this equality is this unending fight; that because we desire the same thing-- and he operates with the scarcity assumption, that what is desirable is actually scarce--that we'll fight each other. Right? And we can't fight each other because we are equal--because we can kill each other, we can outsmart each other. This is a very unusual argument. Right? He is a very ironic guy. Right? He always says things that you may not want to hear. Right? And this is something who believes in equality do not want to hear; that, in fact, equality can be interpreted as the reason for social conflict, rather than the solution for social conflict. That is his argument. Very interesting, very unusual--right?--and again, probably the closest to Nietzsche as we will see.

Well then we have--this is, I won't read it; save it, this is the page you want to print, because for the rest of your life, if you ever want to cite Hobbes, this is the citation. Namely that we will therefore be in a war of everyone against everyone else, for the above reasons.

32m 27s

Hobbes, Leviathan

4/ War of everyone against every one

“And because the condition of Man.. is a condition of War of every one against every one, in which case everyone is governed by his own Reason; and there is nothing he can make use of, that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies; It follows that in such a condition, every man has a right to be everything; even to one anothers’ body.”  Chapter XIV, p. 189 - 190



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Lecture 3 - John Locke (1642 - 1704): Equality, Freedom, Property and the Right to Dissent


John Locke, a liberal thinker and near-contemporary of the conservative Hobbes, disputes Hobbes's thinking in some keys ways and builds on it in others. Locke starts his political theory with a notion of individuals in the state of nature being free, equal and reasonable; the state of nature is not synonymous with the state of war for Locke as it is for Hobbes. Locke argues that states should protect the property of individuals and must govern with the consent of subjects. Unlike Hobbes's strong, unitary sovereign, Locke envisions a separation of the powers of the state into executive, legislative, and federative powers. We examine how Locke's political and social thought assumes an abundance of resources while Hobbes's thought is predicated on an assumption of scarcity.


Locke, Second Treatise of Government

- Chapter 1-5, pp. 267-302

- Chapter 7-13, pp. 318-374

33m 35s

Chapter 6. Origins and Limits of Private Property [00:32:27]

6.  Man owns his own person and fruits of his labor

“Yet every man has a property in his own person…. The labor of his body, and the work of his hands… are property his.  Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature had provided… he had mixed his labor with… thereby makes it his property.”  (pp. 287 - 288)

Professor Iván Szelényi: And he continues along these lines. He [John Locke] said every man has a property in his own person, and the labor of what you produce is yours. Right? The product of your labor belongs to you. And we will see it's the first formulation what we will learn from Adam Smith and Karl Marx as the labor theory of value. Right? Labor belongs to the laborer, as such, because it was created by what is yours; the only thing what certainly is yours, and this is your own body, and your laboring capacity. He said, and I quote: "This labor being the unquestionable property of the laborer." And then this is a beautiful citation, I just love it: "Though the water running in the fountain be everyone's, yet who can doubt but that in the pitcher is his only who drew it out?" Bingo, right? How crisply, in one sentence, he can capture this wonderful idea that labor creates the value. Right? Wonderfully done. And, of course, a great influence on Adam Smith and Karl Marx.


Well, but there are also limits on private property. Again, he almost reads like a socialist. He said, "Anyone grows as much as he will. To this I answer, 'not so'." Right? "God has given us all things richly." Well, but how far has he given it to us? To enjoy, right? And whatever is beyond this is more than your share. You have only in your--belongs to you, what you can actually enjoy; nothing what you accumulate. That's a very radical idea. He will back-pedal in a minute; I will show you how he back-pedals out of this very radical idea. The chief matter is, of course, earth. He said it's absolutely obvious that the property belongs to those who can cultivate it. Right? "As much land as man tills, plants, improves, cultivates and can use the products of, so much is his property." So the land belongs--it's not a notion of private ownership of the land, it's an ownership by the cultivator.

And also let me just point out--I'm running out of time--there is a very important difference here. Right? What is central for Locke's argument is the abundance. He can make this argument because the primary assumption is that what we desire is available in great abundance to us. We have seen that Hobbes had the opposite idea. Right? We are fighting each other because what we actually desire is a scarce good, too many people want, and then we kill each other to get it. Right? So there is a scarcity assumption in Hobbes, and there is an abundance


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Lecture 7 - John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873): Utilitarianism and Liberty


Adam Smith's ideas about self-interest should be understood as a precursor in some ways to John Stuart Mill's thinking on utilitarianism. Professor Szelényi discusses, but does not resolve, the complexities of Adam Smith's moral and ethical positions staked out in The Theory of Moral Sentimentsincluding a focus on sympathy – and the most widespread economic interpretation of Smith and The Wealth of Nations that he is the economist of self-interest. One way to reconcile these so-called "two Smiths" is that, as social beings, it is in our self-interest to express benevolence and sympathy toward others. Mill, the student of Bentham since a very young age, humanizes the theory of utilitarianism. Perhaps he should be best remembered for his staunch views on liberty: liberty must never be compromised for the sake of expediency.


Mill, Utilitarianism, On Liberty

- Chapter 1, pp. 69-83

- Chapter 2, "What is utilitarianism," pp. 6-27

- Chapter 4, pp.143-162

- Chapter 5, "Of the connection between Justice and Utility," pp. 43-67

Mill, The Subjection of Women


Labor theory of value

Labor is the measure of value

The whole produce belongs to the laborer



Chapter 4. The Labor Theory of Value; The Invisible Hand [00:21:24]

Professor Iván Szelényi: Now the labor theory of value. And let me rush through of it. This is important. His point of departure comes from John Locke, as we have seen, and it is leading directly to Karl Marx. Karl Marx radicalizes his position, but the point of departure is clearly Adam Smith. And the argument about the labor theory of value: the labor is the measure of all values. And then he said, "The whole produce belongs to the labor." And so far Marx completely agrees with him; and we will see when we will be discussing Marx. But then he departs from it because he asks the question, where does the profit and rent come from? Marx asked this question as well, and he says exploitation; those who earn profit exploit the workers. But Adam Smith has a different view. He says well those who will lend capital and those who offer land also deserve part of the value.

Now let's see how this contradiction can be resolved, how he's dealing with this. How can that all value is created by labor and belongs to the laborer, and nevertheless the capitalist pockets profit and the landowner pockets rent for the land? Then here this is very much John Locke: "The value of any commodity belongs to the person who possesses it, and if it is not for use or consumption but exchange, then the value of this commodity is equal to the amount of labor which has to be put into this." "Labor is therefore," he said, "the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities." Right? Commodities can have a use value, they can be very useful, and they can have very little labor in it, like fresh air; though by now we know fresh air needs quite a bit of labor too. Right? But the exchange, how the exchange it, will be guided, according to Smith, by labor.

Few people accept today the labor theory of value; Smith or Marx, no matter what. And it belongs to the whole laborer. This is a very interesting argument. He said--and this is again John Locke--"The property of every man is his own labor, and therefore every value is created by this labor, and therefore it has to belong to the person who owns the labor." "But." he [John Locke] said, "this is true for societies before capital is being accumulated and before land is privately owned." Right? So this is really an argument for ancient societies, without capital accumulation and without private ownership of the land. In these conditions, if there is no capital accumulation and no private ownership, land is commonly owned, then the whole produced labor belongs to the laborer. This is where he, Marx, will depart dramatically from Adam Smith.

So where does the profit and rent come? Well are capitalists simply exploiting the workers? He said, "No, there is a distribution of value [correction: income] between labor, capital and rent." Right? And this is reasonable, because the capitalist offers capital in order--in fact, advances capital to the laborer, takes risks with this advancement of the capital, supervises the labor process--and therefore it should claim some profit from capital; otherwise would be a fool not to advance its capital. And the same goes for land actually. Landowners also will have to give the land a site in which production takes place, and therefore they really should be able to collect some rent on this land.


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Lecture 9 - Karl Marx's (1818 - 1883) Theory of Alienation


Marx begins his intellectual life as a Young Hegelian, in the company of Bruno Bauer and others. The Young Hegelians, a radical group of scholars, intended to subject Hegel's theories to critical scrutiny. Eventually, Marx breaks with this tradition altogether by saying that alienation does not come from thoughts and therefore cannot be solved by ideas alone. Alienation comes from material conditions and can only be addressed by changing those conditions. Due to his radical, revolutionary ideas, Marx was forced to move around Europe quite a bit. In his lifetime, he saw his predictions about the uprising of the working classes come to fruition in some places, but he also saw these revolutions fail, including the short-lived Commune in France. Next time, we see how the young Marx who is occupied with Hegelian thought and the concept of alienation transitions to a more mature Marx with the concept of the capitalist mode of production.


Marx, Collected Works, vol. 3. "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844," pp. 231-282

Chapter 1. Marx's Early Life [00:00:00]

Professor Iván Szelényi: So here is Georg Hegel, one of the most important philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. He was a German philosopher; and I will talk more when we get into Marx's own work. He basically saw human history as the unfolding of human consciousness, and he also characterized the human condition as in the state of alienation in which subject and object were separated from each other. These are big words. You will get comfortable with it as I'm lecturing on Marx. Because this is very important for Hegelian philosophy--also for Marxism, the distinction that there is the subject, yourself, who are observing, and the object, the others or the material world upon which you are reflecting.

There is also another big word you will learn in the next two or three lectures, the word of totality; totality means when subject and object are together in one unity, that's what is meant to be totality. Now Hegel's idea was that subject and object became separated, and the separation of subject from object--when there is seen as worth outside of the subject as a separate object--that is the state of alienation; alien, to be a stranger, a stranger in the world, because what is around you looks like strange, as different from you. Right? That's what he meant by alienation. But, you know, human consciousness is increasing, and as consciousness is increasing you will overcome this separation of subject and objects. Well, I'm sure it is not clear for the time being, but we'll be laboring on this in more detail with Marx, and hopefully it will become a little more clear.


Chapter 2. The Critical Critic [00:07:01]

These guys, the Young Hegelians--Bauer and his brother and others like Feuerbach, called themselves "the critical critics." This is a term which comes up in Marx's work sometimes, ironically usually. Why was it so? Because Hegel is seen in modern philosophy as the Founding Father of critical theory. You may have heard the word; if you studied philosophy I'm sure you have heard the word. What is critical theory? Well the essence of critical theory is that it believes that the major task of philosophy, to subject human consciousness to critical scrutiny--that there is some discrepancy between human consciousness and the human condition. Right? Our consciousness does not reflect properly the human condition, and therefore we have to criticize consciousness and get the right consciousness. Well who is actually the first of critical theorists? There is some controversy about this.

There are some people who actually name Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, as the first of critical theorists. Kant made a very interesting distinction between Ding an sich and Ding für sich; things in themselves and things for themselves. And one important Kant idea was that all the ideas what we have in our mind are things for themselves, and they do not correspond to the world around us. The world around us is so rich that the concepts what we develop cannot completely fit. Therefore, in the act of cognition--when we try to understand something--we select from the world stuff which is important for us. This is why it's things for themselves. Right? We select, in the process of cognition, of learning, from the world elements what is useful for us. So, I mean, in some ways already Kant suggested that there is something problematic with the human consciousness. Right? We have to subject this human consciousness to critical scrutiny, and to be aware that the unexhausted richness of the world and reality cannot be ever captured by the human mind.

[...] Now this is another Young Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach, who had another very important impact on Marx. Feuerbach called his approach "naturalism." This is a term what Marx, the young Marx, also used for a while to describe himself. I think most of you in this room would think that Marx was a materialist, and eventually Marx used the term materialism, and even more specifically, historical materialism, to describe what he was doing. But in his early work he was shying away from materialism and he used the term naturalism. And naturalism really meant that you do not underestimate the importance of consciousness in spirit, just in the interaction with consciousness and spirit, and the nature itself,--you pay more attention to nature.

Now Feuerbach's most important book--I don't think it is in English--Das Wesen des Christentums, The Essence of Christianity, he also suggested that rather than God creating man, man created the idea of God, and they created the idea of God--this is actually not all that far from Bruno Bauer, just a more radical position. Right? Because it wanted to project the desperation of alienation into the idea of God. So, I mean, while so to say Bauer was not ready to draw the, if I may use this term, the ontological conclusions of his criticism of Hegel. Feuerbach went into ontology. Right? Ontology means the origins of things, and he believed that in fact the spiritual world is a reflection of humans as such. That's why he called this naturalism, as distinct from idealism.

[...] If you believe that there was a transcendental being like God, and this transcendental being, by its act of will, created the world and created humans, then you are an idealist. If you believe that the ideas are explaining human behavior, then you are an idealist. Materialists are the ones who start from the material conditions and try to explain the ideas from the material conditions. Right? Feuerbach made this provocative statement that we invented God, rather than God creating us. Marx goes further and he will say, "Well you have ideas in your head. I can tell you why you have these ideas when I look at your material conditions." And he will later on say that, "When I understand your position in the class structure, and I understand your economic interests, then I will be able to tell you why you think the way you think." Right? This is the materialist's approach, when you explain ideas from the material conditions, versus the other way around. And this comes from Feuerbach. It is Feuerbach's inspiration. Right? So you bring together the critical theory of Hegel and the Young Hegelians, radical critical theory, and naturalism of Feuerbach, eventually pushing it further and to say, "Let's not fool around it. It is materialism all right." Okay?

Chapter 5. The Paris Manuscripts and the Theory of Alienation [00:33:33]

[...] And then he identifies four characteristics of alienation. And I will talk to this. Alienation is from the object of production. The second is alienation from the act of production. Then alienation from species being; again, a very big word--Gattungswesen, in German. What makes us human, what makes us distinct from animals, that's what the notion species being refers to. And finally alienation from fellow man. Well I have seven minutes to labor on this, so let me do that.

[...] But already in The German Ideology, as we will see it Tuesday or Thursday, he coins the term the capitalist mode of production. So in the capitalist mode of production, in a commodity producing society, the object which labor produces, labor's product, confronts the workers as something alien from him, as a power alien of the producer. Right? Under these conditions, this realization of labor appears as the loss of realization of the worker.

In sharp contrast with petty commodity production, the work of the artisan where the work what you produce is part of your own life; you identify with the part what you produce. Right? You are a shoe-maker, you are producing a beautiful shoe. Right? You are proud of the shoe. You go to the church Sunday and you saw a nice lady walking in these beautiful shoes, and you proudly say, "This is my shoe." Right? Then you are not alienated. Right? When you are working on the production line and you are mass producing, you know, Toyota Camry, you don't know what you produce. Right? It's an alien object from you. You put a little bit of work into the product, and the product is not you any longer; it is something which is alien from you. Well, of course, not all work is necessarily alienated. You know if you are an artist, if you are a scholar, you identify the work and you have copyright for the work what you produce. But ordinary workers usually do not have a copyright; you know they cannot license the work what they produce. It becomes alien from them. That's the point. Right? The product.

Well then you are also becoming alien in the act of production. He said because labor is external to the worker--there are different points in this--external to the worker; it does not belong to his intrinsic nature. In his work he does not affirm himself but denies himself--does not freely develop itself. You know, you say, "Well it's already 4:45. I have only fifteen more minutes to go and then I am free." Right? Life begins when work ends. [...] And this is why, you know, in the act of production you have alienation.

The third one is that you are alienated from your species being, of your human being. And now Marx has a theory of man in nature. Right? What is man in natural conditions? What makes us man as distinct from animal? There are very different answers you can give. Well Schiller, the German poet said, "What makes us humans? That we know how to play." Right? Play makes us human. Marx said what makes us human, that we work. Labor, that we transform the material world to meet our human needs, with a plan in our head, that's what makes us human. There are animals which kind of work, like bees, but they don't work with a plan. There are only humans who have an idea about my house we'll build, and then you build the house as you had the idea about it. That is the essence of human beings. And he said the problem is that we, in a commodity producing society, we are alienated from labor, what makes us human. So we are alienated from our very human essence. That's the most horrifying thing for Marx, in a commodity producing society. Right?

And then finally we are alienated from our fellow man. This is probably the deepest idea in the whole theory; namely, that we're beginning to treat each others as object. Right? As we are entering the world of commodity production, profit maximization, self-interested individuals maximizing utility and thinking instrumentally around the world. What are the most least expensive means which gets us the cheapest to this end? When we're beginning to treat each others as instruments. Right? And he said this is the worst alienation. Which is new, right? It has--this is very important to see in Marx's theory of alienation. It's not a general condition of humankind, as Hegel thought it. Alienation is emerging in modernity. It does not have the term capitalism yet, or the capitalist mode of production.

41m 25s

Four dimensions: 1/ Alienated from the object of production

Four dimensions: 2/ In the act of production

Four dimensions: 3/ Alienated from species being

Four dimensions: 4/ Alienated from fellow man

Labor theory of value


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Lecture 10 - Marx's Theory of Historical Materialism


We review Marx's theory of alienation and pick up with the transition from the young Marx to the mature Marx who breaks with Hegelian thought and the Young Hegelians. Reflecting on the disappointed hopes of the French Revolution, Hegel wrote that the civil servants in France represent the universal class. In direct contrast, Marx writes that the state only appears to be the universal class. He then goes about writing his theory of exploitation to argue that the workers, as the only fully alienated class, represent the universal position. He responds to Feuerbach with his eleven theses arguing for his own brand of historical materialism. Many of his "Theses on Feuerbach" remain very famous and widely-associated with Marx's oeuvre, including the last thesis, thesis eleven: the point of philosophy is not only to understand the world, but to change it.


Marx, Collected Works, "Theses on Feuerbach" vol. 5. pp. 6-8

Marx, Collected Works, "The German ideology" vol. 5. pp. 27-37; 59-62

Chapter 1. The Importance of Marx's Theory of Alienation [00:00:00]

Professor Iván Szelényi: [...] I think one purpose of my lectures in Marx is to alert you that there were two Marx's, not just one, and you are likely to know only about one Marx. Right? This is Marx, who had the theory of class struggle and the theory of exploitation--right?--and who was a theorist of Communism. But you may know very little about Marx, the idealist, the Hegelian, the humanist, whose central idea was the notion of alienation. Right? Whose major concern was about the human conditions under modernity and wanted to overcome it.

[...]  the importance and the significance of Marx's theory of alienation did not come through. And I obviously did a very bad job, because there are very few texts, written in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which are so powerful and so influential, and so broadly influential, on theories of the twentieth century, than exactly this text on alienation. You can think about literature--right?--and you can see the extraordinary impact of the idea of alienation in literature. Some of you may have read Albert Camus, the French novelist--The Stranger. This is right out of the theory of alienation. You may be familiar with Franz Kafka, right? There you go. That's the sense of alienation. You may have watched ever the play, wonderful play, of Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt. That's about alienation. Right? So in the twentieth century literature, we are full with the senses of alienation.

And so is twentieth century social theory. There is no twentieth century social theory without the theory of alienation. By the way, it's interesting, because The Paris Manuscript, for the first time, was published only in 1931. Nevertheless, the idea was already beginning to creep in earlier. Smart people read the theory of alienation in Marx earlier; Georg Lukács, for instance. And then the Frankfurt School. There is no Adorno, there is no Horkheimer, there is no Marcuse, without the theory of alienation. And I can go even further. There is no cultural theory without the theory of alienation. There is no Bauman, there is no Kolakowski, without the theory of alienation. This is a very important idea.

Okay, let's come back to Hegel and Hegel's theory of alienation. Because I don't think--from the discussion section my sense was I did not make it clear enough, what Hegel's theory is. And well let me try to labor on this. As I said, you know, he was an idealist, and I hope I explained it to the extent it is necessary. I will come back to this when I will be talking about the "Theses on Feuerbach" and The German Ideology. But he really thought that somehow consciousness precedes material existence, and that's what made him into an idealist.


[...] And then his central idea is that you can describe the history of the universe as a problem of alienation, as a problem of gradual separation, as I said, from subject and object. This is a very important idea, and we will have to deal with this in Marx.


[...] Well in Hegel's, the second stage is that subject and object are divided from each other. <<Professor writes on blackboard>> There is the material world without consciousness, and consciousness becomes absolute consciousness because it's kind of projected the material world out of itself. Right? And this is the--this is the situation of alienation. Object becomes separate. Then, as human beings emerge, subject and object beginning to merge. Right? Consciousness emerges. Right? Consciousness--right? These are subject--this is you--and object are the conditions of your life [Hegel]. Right? Another person you are interacting with is an object of your interaction. Or the conditions of your life. Right? The objective conditions. This room. At Yale University the construction which is going out there--right?--is our objective conditions. Right? And you are the subject who are reflecting on it. But because you are gaining some consciousness, you are beginning to conquer the objective conditions of your life.


And what he's suggesting, that alienation will overcome when your subject will be able to control the objective conditions of your life. Right? Where your consciousness is adequate to your existence. Right? When you are the master of your life, you are a master of your conditions. It is not the conditions which rule you, but you are the master of the conditions. Right? That is the key idea in Hegel.


[...] He sees this as a progress, modernity as a progress. But we have to pay a heavy price for it, and the price what we pay for this modernity is the separation of subject and object.


[...] And I think this is why Marx's theory of alienation survived Marx's theory of exploitation. That the young Marx survived the old Marx; the first Marx survived the second Marx.


[...]  But you feel alienated and you don't feel that your whole personality is being developed. Right? To put it with John Stuart Mill, you don't feel self-development. Then you are alienated, unduly so. Right? Is that a bit coming closer to it? Makes more sense? All right.


[...] Well what is happening with the French after the French Revolution is not really what I wanted. Because now the French Revolution is actually splitting the society in two classes, capital and labor." It's not exactly the terminology what he means, but that's what Hegel is getting at in ThePhilosophy of Right.


[...] But where is the universalistic interests?" So asked Hegel. There must be some universal justice. To put it in the terminology we used in this course before, there must be something like common good, which brings capital and labor together. Where will this common good come from? And in The Philosophy of Right he offers an interesting theory. He said it will come from the government, it comes from the state.


[...] Now this is not a silly idea. We do think about it this way. And yes, I mean, he builds in many respects, in a more sophisticated way, on Locke and Rousseau and the idea of general will, particularly in Rousseau. [...] You have read about the Civil Rights Movement. I mean, who was the agency which made sure that the states actually obey the laws and integrates the schools? It was the federal government. Right? It was Bobby Kennedy who went down and made sure that the southern states do follow the rules. Right? We expected the government to express the universal interest. Right? So it's not silly.


[...] And he writes the paper "On the Jewish Question" in which he says, "Well Hegel is right. We need something universal. We should not allow society just to be the struggle of particularistic interests." Right? This is in a way against Adam Smith's utilitarianism. It's not enough that individuals fight each others' interests out, and that will end up to a universal good. We need some universal good to be achieved, and it will not simply achieved by particularistic interests followed. That is Marx's point.


[...]  But then he writes an introduction to the Critique-- Contributions to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. And in this introduction he said, "Well, we need something; universal emancipation. But who will bring universal emancipation to humankind?" Right? He's looking for an agent who can carry this out. And in the introduction, he said, "This will be the proletariat." Well you may say now he's entering the wrong road--right?--and he's entering a very--he's basically painting himself in the corner, where he will be for the rest of his life, trying to show that indeed the proletariat will emancipate us all, and will create a good society as such.


[...] So that's when he writes The Paris Manuscripts, and tries to now bring the whole idea of alienation down to earth, to fill it with some economic content. That's why now he tries to relate it to commodity production, and make the claim that though in modern society everybody's alienated, but they are only the workers who are fully alienated, and their interest is to overcome the alienation. That's what--this is why he tries to argue that alienation will bring the working class to emancipate humankind; that is the project.


Chapter 4. Introduction to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right [00:30:21]

[...]  "The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism by weapons." Right? Well it's not enough to be critical in thought. You have to be critical in action. Right? You have to act on it. Just do not just talk. Do something about it. That's what it says. Well I think this is, you know, one of the strongest sentences I have read in social science literature.


[...] Well this is also a great sentence. "Theory becomes a material force as soon as it has grabbed the masses--gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem." Woo. That's quite something. Right? What he--right? He said, "Well the question is what is a good theory, what will help you emancipate yourself? Good, the essence of good theory, that it grabs you, it grips you." Right? When you say, "Uh-huh, it did hit me." This is theory. Right? But it can only be when it is ad hominem, when it addresses your problems. Right? A theory, what you are lost, you don't know why it is relevant for your life, is no good.


[...] The proletariat. And why? "Because it has nothing to lose but its chains. It has a universal character, and this is why it is a universal class."


[...] That's why he wants to show that the proletariat is the most alienated. And that makes--follows logically. I think it damages, to some extent, the theory of alienation, because it narrows it too much down. The focus is too much down on the working class, and in a way too much down on working class, working on industrial production in firms. But really, the message of alienation is much broader. It tries to convey you some general experience of modern life where we do not feel at home. This is the big framing of the problem in the early twentieth century. Homelessness, the homeless mind; that we feel homeless in this world, searching for a home. That's the sense of alienation. That's what Marx tried to capture here; in a way, unfortunately, mis-specified. Too much emphasis on workers, just because he's beginning to have this political project and wants to find a revolutionary class.


Chapter 5. Historical Materialism [00:37:51]

So Marx is developing what he calls historical materialism. And I will suggest it is making--it is done in two steps. First, he's emphasizing dialectics in his criticism of Feuerbach. Feuerbach is a materialist all right, but he's a mechanical materialist, and Marx wants to bring dynamics in his materialism.


[dialectic |ˌdīəˈlektik| Philosophy

noun(also dialectics) [ usu. treated as sing. ]

1 the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions.

2 inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.

• the existence or action of opposing social forces, concepts, etc.]


Marx is always read as a determinist. No. As I will say, Marx's philosophy is a philosophy of praxis; praxis, practical activity is a key of Marx's theory.


[...] And then the most controversial and most important one. So far the philosophers have interpreted the world. Now the point is to change it. Right? Good theory is not just describes, it gives you a prescription what to do about your life. That's the kind of theory what we want.


[...] The Italian Marxist philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, who died in the prison of Mussolini, called Marxism "the philosophy of praxis." That's the essence of Marxism, that the truth is not the subject reflecting on the object, but the interaction of the subject between the object. Right? That the subject changes the object in order to meet the need of the subject. That's the major point--the separation of subject and object.


[...] So they did not know he was writing about Marxism. But I think he got a very important point. This is indeed an important feature of Marxism. Well man changes circumstances.

Well circumstances are changed by man. And this is again an important sentence. "The educator must himself be educated."

[...] Well Hegel's starting point was abstract thinking. Feuerbach, he's a materialist, he thinks what is real is what we can grasp with our senses. Marx said, "No. This is sensuous practical activity." It has to be sensuous, but it has to be practical. This is something what Jürgen Habermas loved, the German philosopher. He said, "This is the real Marx, who sees the essence of all sensuous human activity being the core." Later Marx is a reductionist, because he reduces sensuous activity to economic activity. Here Marx perceives all sensuous activity, including human interaction between us, including sexual interaction among us, as a sensuous activity. Right? As a material reality. There is not so much conflict between Marx and Freud as it appears. Now let me go further.

[...] Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it. In some ways, this follows from the earlier ideas, namely praxis. Truth is a practical question. Philosophy only makes sense if it changes your life.

38m 07s

Marx: Historical materialism

Two major components:

1/ Dialectical: Feuerbach was “mechanical materialist.”  Marxism is the “philosophy of praxis.” (Gramsci)

2/ Historical: focus on “mode of production.”  Unlike the materialism of Montesquieu.


Theses on Feuerbach

1/ Old materialism is reflective (subject and object remain seperated)

2/ In new materialism truth is a practical question (you have to by human practice change your objective conditions of life.  A philosophy of practical activity)

3/ Men changes circumstances

4/ One needs to discover the role of masses (cooperate)

5/ Hegel’s starting point is abstract thinking.  Feuerbach: sensuous contemplation.  Marx: sensuous and practical study.

6/ Old materialism emphasies individual, new, social relations.

7/ Religion is also a social product

8/ Social life is practical

9/ Contemplation implies isolated individuals in society

10/ New materialism offers a perspective of socialized humanity instead

11/ So far philosophers interpreted the world - now the point is to change it.

44m 11s

Thesis 1/ Old materialism is reflective

43m 53s

Theses 2/ In new materialsm truth is practical question (one of the most important Marx citations)



"She is very short and very cute,

This is Cherokee in her white boots."

With roots in the good ol' American South (Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia), my Grandma Ruby told me that having Native American blood wasn't considered cool (as it is now). In her later years, when my Grandmother tried to officially prove her ancestry she came across a catch-22: records from a Cherokee church or other institution declaring Ruby's membership would suffice. But, why would she belong to said clubs if it was a social stigma? Such establishments are cool and rebellious with the viewpoint of today; yet, then, before the Civil Rights movement, a language did not exist to talk about marginalization, perhaps not even within the walls of academia.

Ruby was referred to - teased - at school, as the little "Cherokee." 

Seven years later, in the 1948 film with romantic pair Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Key Largo, one sub-plot referred to this American intolerance towards Native Americans, with the humiliation, arrest, and unnecessary violent death of two Seminole brothers.