The quip that, while man was born free but everywhere is in chains, attempts to trace and explain how the civilized man has evolved from the natural man. Accordingly, the natural man limitation and greatest asset is his body. The body serves both as an essential tool for surviving the day to day upheavals while also remaining a tool for safeguarding man’s life. Knowing neither good nor evil, the natural man is free from moral restrictions. As such, the natural man is as free as he wishes, constrained only by his ability.
In contrast, the civilized man is portrayed as a creature fuelled by vanity and selfishness. As a natural man strives for perfection, he utilizes his ability for improvement to seek a better lifestyle and ends up chaining himself. While the natural man pity for others leads him to interact with society, the civilized man interactions are premised on self-interest. The conflicting nature of various interest creates a society where the dominant interest form a mechanism for resolving conflicts. The rich, therefore, propose a contract to establish political communities to the poor. While the poor see such political units as a chance to be free, the rich see it as an opportunity to preserve their riches.
As such, while his needs only governed man in nature, civilized man is chained by his self-interest. The political societies create rules that constrain the activities of man. While the natural man had room for making his laws, these laws end up becoming chains to the civilized man’s nature. The attainment of property by the modern man. The natural man only takes what he needs and leaves the rest to others. The civilized man takes what is available and declares it his. The modern man, therefore, puts himself in chains by letting his desires and not his needs drive him. The competition for resources limits the free will of an individual. Those without property have little room for advancing themselves, sharply in contrast with the natural man to whom advancement is a non-issue. While man may have been born free, in nature, man ends up putting himself in various chains.
In contrast, Marx propounds a theory of isolation by positing that people are in chains not due to the absence of freedom but by its presence. Accordingly, the structure of any society is dictated by the economic system that supports the community. Changes in societal dynamics only occur due to changes in the economic model. As such, freedom in a bourgeois society is the protection of the right of an individual to own property. Real freedom, therefore, can only exist where every commodity is available for purchase.
Marx contends that while the bourgeoisie views this ability to trade everything for the ultimate freedom, it has alienated freedom from the masses. The wealthy, according to Marx, have only been able to attain their wealth through the suppression and exploitation of the proletariat. The superstructure created by the bourgeoisie is one of consumerism, one is motivated to get more commodities for themselves at the expense of others. By valuing everything monetary terms, the society moves from every person having an equal say in society’s affairs to measuring peoples worth according to their wealth. From one person having one vote to one dollar having one vote. The society, therefore, ends up having the wealthy in control of wealth and the means of coercion.
As people struggle to fit in a consumeristic model, they have to acquire more money to increase the amount of commodities that they can buy. Due to high competition for jobs, the bourgeoisie can set exploitative working conditions and take advantage of the proletariat. Since the bourgeoisie also happens to control all the coercive force in a society, they can suppress any challenge to their dominance by the working class. As such, the status quo is maintained.
While people are free to move from one occupation to another, to acquire whichever produce they can afford, society remains divided between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It’s only the rich who can afford to be free in such a society. Through monetization of societal values, the poor are alienated from rights and remain at the mercy of the rich. Freedom, where it exists, becomes a preserve for the bourgeoisie who are a minority.
With a critical review of the current social order, I tend to agree with the rationale of Marx. Slowly but inexorably, globalization and the media culture prevalent today have led to alienation of freedom. The media perpetuates consumerism through advertisements and the glamor attributed to the affluent. Ownership of knowledge and information has become the wealth in the new social makeup, and the wealthy retain overall control of the dissemination of this wealth. Through selective dissemination of information and knowledge, the world has been reshaped into values that are more in tune with consumerism. As such, all things have become pegged on money and while freedom and human rights are touted, only the rich can afford them.
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Cress, Donald A. and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing , 1992. Document.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 1978. Document.