Term Paper: Marx Rhet X Marx the Thought: Materialism

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Marx Rhet

X Marx the Thought: Materialism, Consciousness, and Rhetoric According to the Father of Communism

For Karl Marx, an understanding of rhetoric begins with a type of chicken-or-egg question. While philosophers and critical theorists prior to Marx all assumed that Consciousness preceded materialism -- that human modes of thought created perceptions of the material world -- Marx insists that the exact reverse is actually the case: the material world and interactions with which humans must contend precedes the modes of thought they engage in, and even the modes of thought they can engage in. This is one of the most radical and profound assertions to be made in rhetorical (and political, philosophical, etc.) theory, and thus one still worthy of inspection and analysis almost two centuries after Marx first published his ideas on the subject. The following pages examine the foundations of Marx's rhetorical theory and their implications on modern understandings and the progress of human thought.

Ideology and Manifesto

Manifesto of the Communist Party is unquestionably Karl Marx's (and his partner Frederick Engels') most well-known work, and contains many claims important to an understanding of Marx's broader rhetorical theory, but a full comprehension of his approach to human thought and expression must include a careful reading of an earlier work, The German Ideology. It is here that Marx explicitly expresses his major break with previous rhetorical thought, examining the changes in German philosophy and ideology that occurred during his own time and then rejecting these "revolutionary" changes and the centuries of thought that still serve as their foundation, upending the traditional view of consciousness preceding materialism that still permeated all ideology/philosophy no matter how new and different the progenitors of these thoughts claimed them to be. Marx describes his truly radical and new position thusly: "we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process" (part IA, sec. 4). Simply put, instead of proceeding from the immaterial world of the consciousness to the world of material existence and interactions between human individuals (to use the more contemporarily appropriate non-gendered term), Marx begins by examining the material existence and interactions of human beings and from this extrapolates the consciousness that must necessarily exist to support this existence/these interactions.

Even before delving any deeper into Marx's philosophies and their implications on rhetorical theory, there is considerable fodder for analysis in this deceptively simple statement. If the material world of human existence and interaction -- the means by which needs are satisfied and things are made in human society -- informs or controls consciousness and the modes by which thoughts can be formed and expressed, than physical control of the material world means the control of consciousness. Those that have more resource power in a society, that is, would also have more power in terms of defining and controlling expression -- and not only expression, but the very formation of thought. These are sentiments that George Orwell would explicitly explore in one of the more extreme possibilities imaginable in his novel 1984, published a century after Marx's German Ideology. It is also something Marx (and Engels) explored explicitly himself in Manifesto of the Communist Party, his political treatise that defines the proletariat as the labor class that is enslaved to the bourgeoisie or ownership class. In the Manifesto, Marx makes the case that through their control of the means of production the ownership class controls society as a whole, not simply in regards to labor, wages, and other directly economic features of society but down to family life and indeed all interpersonal interactions that occur within a capitalist/industrial society. With control over the material world, then, comes control over consciousness.

The problem is no limited to individual societies nor can it be insulated to only capitalist parts of the globe, Marx insists. The advent of mechanized industry, which both lowers the price of goods (making them more widely… [END OF PREVIEW]

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