Vindication of the Rights of Men Term Paper

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¶ … Vindication of the Rights of Men, Mary Wollstonecraft outlines several political ideas in direct response to Edmund Burke's critique of Rousseau. The basic ideas behind the French Revolution that were put forth by Rousseau (largely before the Revolution's commencement) and Wollstonecraft were distinctly and explicitly modern in their rejection of the traditional modes of government, especially in a hereditary monarchy and the concept of the divine right to rule being placed in the hands of a single monarch. Though seeming perhaps somewhat tame today, such thought bucked over a thousand years of governing philosophy and practicality; the idea that the common masses should have an equal say in the government to which they were subjected was completely antithetical to all established doctrine.

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Rousseau first expounded these ideas most clearly in a tract called the Social Contract. Like Locke before him, Rousseau believed that government arose out of a contract with all of the people concerned in that government; a common will to subject themselves to a common authority was, Rousseau theorized, the only reason a group of people would subject themselves to anything other than natural law. Rousseau claimed that such a government provided more freedom than the laws of nature, as natural law subjected every individual to whatever another individual wished to do to/around him or her. Common agreement (i.e. government) provided rules for everyone to follow that everyone had a say in. This was contrary to the traditional form of monarchy and aristocracy that had existed in Europe for centuries.

Wollstonecraft soon found herself compelled to write her Vindication of the Rights of Women, when the Revolution failed to provide new freedoms equally.

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Term Paper on Vindication of the Rights of Men, Mary Assignment

Political thought took many new and radical turns in the eighteenth century. The changing political attitudes of culminated late in the century in the American and French Revolutions, both of which denied the power of a hereditary monarch with divine right to rule, and established republics or quasi-democracies that gave the people (or, to be more accurate, more of the people) a say in their government. The Revolutions were made possible, in part, by the advent and increase of liberalist thought during the century. Many political philosophers and statesmen were opposed to this rise in Liberalism, for different reasons.

Rousseau is often associated with more liberal political thinking, but he was actually opposed to the notion of Liberalism, or (basically) unchecked freedom. His opposition came from the belief that total freedom from government resulted in the law of nature, which meant that anyone could do what the pleased to anyone else. This state of things cannot truly be considered free, because everyone would be subjected to everybody else's will at one time or another. This is why Rousseau opposed true Liberalism, and proposed his social contract theory (similar to Locke's) whereby government derived from a common will, so that (ideally) every individual had a hand in shaping the laws that governed them, allowing the truest form of freedom in inhibiting individual will in deference to the common will of the masses.

Edmund Burke was also strongly opposed to Liberalism, and to Rousseau. He also denied the existence of a divine right for the monarchy, but believed that a strong government by the ruling class was more efficient and practical than a true democracy or republic. He believed that government should serve same basic purpose as Rousseau, but by very different means.

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When Marx said that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles," he was summing up his perspective that social interactions and political history have consisted of people of different classes -- different economic backgrounds and access to education and other social institutions -- attempting to obtain the same rights and access as those in the upper strata of society. Though this is nto the only perspective from which history can be viewed, it is by no means an inaccurate one. Every major political or social shift can be seen in one way or another as the outcome of class differences and struggles. Even major religious movements not generally seen as political (such as the establishment of the Christian religion in Rome) grew out of differences in access to government and social institutions.

The bourgeoisie, the middle class of merchants with more privilege than the common peasants but less than the aristocrats, emerged in the Middle Ages and were instrumental in societal shifts during the modern era. Marx recognized this as a seizing of power by a previously underprivileged class that also resulted in a new form of subjugation of the peasant class, or proletariat. In this way, though the bourgeoisie was instrumental in many of the political revolutions and reorganizations that took place up to the nineteenth century, Marx saw the increasing implementation and reliance on the capitalist system as creating a new power system that created a new underclass (or transformed an old one) almost purely through differences in financial wealth which, though still marked by heredity, was not controlled by it.

For Marx, this proletariat will eventually rise up to gain control of the means of production, which are the means to generating wealth. Collective ownership would mean collective wealth and the end of capitalism.

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In the political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx, the term alienation refers to the separation of laborers (the proletariat) from the products of their labor, and even a disassociation of the workers form their actual labor. That is, the bourgeoisie appropriates the products of the proletariat's labor to sell as commodities independent of the actual individual (i.e laborer) who produced them; there is no connection between the person who does the work to produce something and the thing they produce or the consumer who uses it. In addition, the alienation of the worker to their labor is affected on a less tangible but far more meaningful level, where the individual labor is considered a commodity and their work is not viewed as stemming from any autonomous or even fully human source. In this way, alienation refers to the dehumanization that Marx saw as inherent and endemic to the capitalist system.

This has the effect of making the proletariat less valuable than the commodities they produce. As there is no link between the worker and their product, there is no association between the worker and the profits generated for the bourgeoisie owners by this product. In a very real though perhaps slightly metaphysical sense, the effect of this alienation is to render the proletariat essentially valueless.

Though Marx seems to put this in rather extreme terms, the veracity of his conclusions is easily observable even today. Workers in most fields are generally paid either in hourly wages or a weekly, monthly, or yearly salary. Though certain expectations of output levels are a part of keeping almost any job, workers do not usually receive more or less pay based on the amount they produce. Thus, if a worker made five units in one hour, and other made seven, they would both receive the same pay even though the company made more profit from the worker that produced more -- this is alienation in action.

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Karl Marx's oft quoted (or paraphrased) statement that "religion is the opiate of the masses" is not always as well understood as its repeaters perhaps believe. Marx was not attempting to denigrate any particular religion or faith -- or the general concept of religious faith in and of itself -- but rather his critique of religion was a critique of the political power system he saw at work in European society and history. Religion, as Marx saw it, was a way to placate the proletariat by promising a better life in the world that was to come after this one. In addition,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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