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Exploring Karl Marx and Jean-Jacque Rousseau's Views on Freedom

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While the writings of Karl Marx and Jean-Jacque Rousseau occasionally seem at odds with one another both philosophers needs to be read as an extension of each other to completely understand what human freedom is. The fundamental difference between the two philosophers lies within the way which they determine why humans are not free creatures in modern society but once were. Rousseau draws on the genealogical as well as the societal aspects of human nature that, in its development, has stripped humankind of its intrinsic freedom. Conversely, Marx posits that humankind is doomed to subjugation in modern society due to economic factors (i.e. capitalism) that, in turn, affect human beings in a multitude of other ways that, ultimately, negates freedom. How each philosopher interprets this manifestation of servitude in civil society reveals the intrinsic problems of liberty in civil society. Marx and Rousseau come to a similar conclusion on what is to be done to undo the fetters that society has brought upon humankind but their methods differ when deciding how the shackles should be broken. To understand how these two men’s views vary and fit together it must first be established what they mean by “freedom”.

It is easier to describe what is not freedom, in the eyes of Rousseau and Marx, than it would be to say what it is. For Rousseau, his concept of freedom cannot exist so long as a human being holds power over others, for this is counter to nature. People lack freedom because they are constantly under the power of others, whether that be the tyrannical rule of a single king or the seething majority which can stifle liberty just as effectively. To be truly free, says Rousseau, there has to be a synchronization of perfect in...

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...ion with the general will. This may sound like a contradiction but, to Rousseau, the only way the body politic can function is by pursuing maximum cohesion of peoples while seeking maximum individuation. For Rousseau, like Marx, the solution to servitude is, in essence, the community itself.

While the problems within civil society may differ for these two thinkers it is uncanny how similar their concepts of freedom are, sometimes even working as a logical expansion of one another. Even in their differences they shed light onto new problems and possible solutions, almost working in tandem to create a freer world. Rousseau may not introduce any process to achieve complete freedom but his theorization of the general will laid the groundwork for much of Marx’s work; similarly Marx’s call for revolution not only strengthens his own argument but also Rousseau’s.
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