Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx: The Role of Money in Human Life Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

One of the most influential ideas offered by liberalists in their time is connected to money and its role in human life. The representatives of liberalism truly believe that money can make people free. Taking into account this assertion, it is possible to admit that money can also make people happier because freedom and happiness are the concepts which are usually connected to each other.

However, there are a number of philosophers and great thinkers who cannot agree to this idea and believed that money should never be regarded as a means of freedom and happiness but vice versa as a source of inequality, poverty, and disappointments.

Such brilliant modern philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx introduce captivating approaches which help to realize a true essence of money and to get a clear idea about what can make people free and happy. On the one hand, it is difficult to imagine that ideas of Rousseau and Marx may have a lot in common; however, on the other hand, their attitudes to money value deserve attention.

Marx and Rousseau were eager to improve the society they lived in and make people free; to achieve these purposes, it is necessary to prove that money does not have such power to provide all people with necessary freedom and happiness because their main purpose is to create inequality and to divide people into groups in accordance with demands and possibilities.

Almost the whole century divides such brilliant and educative philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx. However, time is not the only factor according to which these men and their ideas have to be compared.

They are the representatives of different countries, traditions, and beliefs, and still their works and ideas are characterized by a peculiar similarity that is connected to the value of money and its power over people. Rousseau and Marx defined the power of money that was inherent to any type of society; however, this identification was not the symbol of money as something emancipative.

They spoke about the power of private property and the necessity to make some changes because rights people maintained had nothing in common with equality; Rousseau underlined the idea of people freedoms but under such condition which could promote orderly society, however, he could not decrease the necessity level of rights of property. The ideas of these two philosophers demonstrate that private property made people isolated and self-interested but still dependent on each other and unequal.

Having such attitudes to money, human freedoms, and rights, Rousseau and Marx could easily create a kind of powerful opposition to the representatives of liberalism who strongly believed that money was one of the most crucial sources of human freedoms and happiness. However, the idea of relations between money and freedom has faced a number of philosophical difficulties.

Liberalists made numerous attempts to prove that freedom and money had a close connection to each other because a person without money cannot become free. According to the liberalistic point of view, freedom has to be economically defined. A person has money, and this is why he/she is able to buy freedom and to be happy.

Such weak and sometimes even humiliating ideas made the vast majority of philosopher develop their own strategies and theories in order to prove that such money dependence should influence human freedoms. Rousseau admitted that he “should wished to live and dies free” (Rousseau 2) and he did not underline the necessity of money for this freedom; and Marx believed that “man (a worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions” (Marx, Estranged Labor 74).

Can money make people free and happy? Hardly! If you have money, it is impossible to say that sometimes you may have enough money to be satisfied and enjoy this life. When a person gets an access to money, this person is enslaved by it. This is why it is possible to say that people are not free especially when they have money.

And what is more important if people are enslaved by other people, they can easily recognize this dependence and its power. And when people are enslaved by money, they are not able to define this dependence and continue living under this invisible but still crucial dependence.

The desire to get more money leads to inequality between people. And if so many people are eager to destroy all features of inequality, why do they continue supporting the idea of having money and making money powerful? In other words, it is possible to say that money can make people happier for a while but never free; and when the moment of happiness passes, the long-lasting period begins that makes people work for money, think about money, and live for money.

Karl Marx said that “free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (Marx, The Communist Manifesto 12). This person truly believed that it is possible to achieve freedom and happiness only by means of properly arranged order. According to him, money is condition for development but still not its result. If a person has money, he is eager to be identified among the rest. If this identification takes place, the process of inequality begins.

And if inequality continues its development, there is no chance for people to have freedom. Almost the same attitude to freedom and money was represented by Rousseau. He underlines a chance of any person to be born free. Of course, much should depend on the conditions under which people live; however, they should not forget their true human nature that explains the only “free men” may be involved “in search of the truth” (Rousseau 15).

In comparison to Marx, Rousseau seems to be more pessimistic to the idea of money. If Marx believed that the value of money was crucial for inequality that develops within a society under specific conditions, then Rousseau identified money as the reason to start fights, develop discontents, and increase the desire to have more and break the already established norms.

Though money plays such a significant role in this life, it cannot make people free from all things and conditions inherent to this world. People are not as strong as it may seem because they may become blind in respect to the requirements and peculiarities of their life. Money may promote survival, prosperity, and success but such concepts as freedom or happiness should have nothing in common with money.

So, if the answer to the question whether money makes people free and happy is a certain NO, another question should appear. What can make people free and happy if money cannot? In fact, it is very difficult to give one clear answer to such philosophical question. Rousseau as one of the most sophisticated and polite philosopher suggests paying more attention to human lives and the ways people prefer to choose.

For example, he underlined “either desire or an opportunity of emerging from it” (Rousseau 31) as the most powerful components of human happiness. If a person believes that his /her desires as well as his/her faculties are equal, he/she may become happy.

As for freedom, Rousseau believed that there were different types of freedom that could be achieved by means of human participation in processes required from community. And Marx in his turn evaluated freedom as freedom from interference in people’s education, communication, evaluation, and realization (Marx, The Communist Manifesto 40). And human happiness is closely connected to human needs, labor, and ownership.

In general, the idea of human happiness and freedom may be regarded from many different sides. First, each person has his/her own demands, needs, and interests. Of course, much depends on the community a person lives in.

This is why it is possible to believe that human freedoms come from human faith and desire: if you want to become free, you are welcome to use your skills, knowledge, and faculties to achieve the desirable aim. As for human happiness, it is more personal issue: friends, food, health, knowledge, etc. When a person knows what makes him/her happy, achieves purposes, and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction, this person may be called happy.

The works by Rousseau and Marx help to define that much about happiness and freedom depends on human surroundings. It is useless to represent some definite claims and prove their correctness. Constant development of this society requires considerable changes and new requirements for freedom and happiness. It is difficult for one person to define what makes other people happy, and this is why it is better to be responsible and confident in personal happiness and personal freedoms.

Works Cited

Marx, Karl. “Estranged Labor.” In Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels The Marx-Engels Reader. 2 ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978.

Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on Inequality. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

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