Individual vs. Social Consciousness

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  • Topic: Marxism, Karl Marx, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
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Individual vs. Social Consciousness in Hobbes, Madison, Hegel, and Marx

Hobbes and Madison derive their concept of politics in the liberal tradition of individualism, sketching out an ahistorical notion of human nature. By contrast, Hegel and Marx view the political as a social construction understood as dialectic. From this dialectic arises a progressive self consciousness. This is a historical process. Hobbes approach towards the nature of man is viewed from a mechanistic and ontological perspective: a vision rooted in a fixed state of being. Hobbes defines this as the “state of nature.” Through his liberalism, he conceptualizes all individuals as equals: “Nature hath made men… equal in the faculties of body and mind” (74). He views the state of man without government as a constant struggle and competition over limited resources. This results in a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (76). The solution to this problem is found through the “Leviathan.” This is the collective body of mankind united as the commonwealth. In Hobbes words: “the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH, in Latin CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speak more reverently) of that Mortal God to which we owe, under the Immortal God, our peace and defense” (109). The Leviathan ensures mankind’s security against the state of nature in exchange for submission to it, and is therefore merely a contract that does not change mankind’s essential nature. The allegiance to the Leviathan lies in the Hobbesian choice: life or death. It is a system built on lowest-common-denominator politics. There is no teleological or transcendental goal or finis ultimus (57). It is a conservative rather than a progressive approach, in which the object is only to maintain peace and security amidst the constant threat of anarchy. Hobbes crudely defines a rational subject as one who seeks his own survival at the cost of his freedom. The desire for self-preservation remains constant and so self-consciousness will always be the same.

Thus the conception of politics derived from Hobbes’ theory of human nature is ahistorical. There is no way for man’s self consciousness to evolve or change over time because the state of nature in which he exists is static. Man cannot escape his natural propensity towards violence.

As in Hobbes, Madison conceives of a static, inescapable condition of mankind. He provides a similar ontological view towards man and his natural tendency towards violence and factionalism: “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man” (Federalist No. 10, 2). Unlike Hobbes however, Madison allows for some historical thinking, because he believes politics and behavior to be influenced by society. He writes, “we see [factions] everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society” (2). Nevertheless the essential core of human nature remains unchanged. Madison posits a more pragmatic approach to human nature and its susceptibility to its passions. His preferred method for confronting the spirit of factions is the federalist system of government. The goal of federalism is to channel human nature, not create a model of absolute tyranny, as we’ve seen in Hobbes. Madison favors republicanism and describes it as a cure to direct democracy, which causes the tyranny of majority rule. The federalist republican system “promises the cure for which we are seeking” (4). It is characterized by the following three features: (1) place as much of the government as possible beyond the direct control of the majority (2) divide the powers of the different institutions (3) construct a system of checks and balances. The federalist system corrects the natural factionalism of human nature; it checks rather then reforms the soul. “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of...
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