Marx, Durkheim and American Government

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When one thinks of the American system of government what often flashes through their mind is a sort of patriotic image of a society in which the people have say through the ability to elect their leaders. The “land of the free” as many called it for years America has been seen as the bastion of freedom around the world. Yet, despite the popular imagery of America as a land of freedom, its system of government is really far more complex and far more difficult to label then simply calling it democracy. Indeed, when looking through the lens of Marx and Durkheim the American political system is something far more complex then the popular imagery and ideology would dictate.

To start our analysis, we must first look at the American political system. The political system of the United States is something so large and vast that to analyze it in its entirety would be a monumental task. As a result, this analysis will look at two specific aspects of that system: the vote and the two party systems. As a result, the data on the most recent presidential election will be used to help illustrate the points and positions of the two social theories which will be discussed in this analysis. According to the Center for the study 126 million people voted in the 2012 election, in which 62,611,250 people cast their votes for the victor, sitting president and Democrat Barak Obama, while 59,134,475 people cast their votes for the republican challenger, Mitt Romney, these figures originating from Politico.com While all of this may just seem like dry statistics, when looked at through the lens of two social theorists they, as well as the overall concepts of the two party system and the vote can tell us much information.

We now turn our attention to our first theorist, Karl Marx. Karl Marx was a man born during a time in which capitalism had little restrictions placed upon it. Child labor, horrific work hours, pollution and poverty where everyday things during the time in which Marx did his work and as a result Marx saw everything through the lens of class struggles. To him, history moved in a dialectical way in which there was always an elite class and an exploited underclass which would inevitably rise up and become the new oppressive elite class until this seemingly endless cycle reached the ideal point which is now known as communism. Marx was highly focused on the economic side of things, and as a result was a materialist; or rather somebody who places emphasis on real, tangible things rather than ideologies, dogmas and beliefs.

So, what would Marx say about the American political system? To answer that question we need not look further then the work of Marx himself. “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships; the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make one class the ruling one, therefore the ideas of its dominance.”(Marx). As we can see in this quote, Marx believed that ideologies and other, similar things can often hide abuses of power by the bourgewasie, or the elite capitalist class commited against the prolatariant, or the oppressed working class. To Marx, the idea of a “dominant ideology” is that whatever ideologies are widely accepted is created by the bourgewise to keep the prolitairant under their thumb. Things such as religion and beliefs are all tools to enforce the rule of the elite and to hide from the people abuses of power and wealth.

So how does this apply to the two party system we have? Well, the answer lay in the ideology which surrounds the two party system. Because Americans have the ability to vote for their candidate and party Marx would say that the idea that the political system gives the common man a say is part of the dominant ideology of American society and is in reality a tool of the bourgeois that is used to stop the proletarian from rising up against them. By giving people two parties to choose...
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