Monday, October 26, 2009
Marx's use of the term "civil society."
Oct 26, 2009. Just to restate a point we ran across in reading his early writings, that I at least did not fully appreciate until I read those again this past summer – “civil society” for him (here used p 85) means something quite different from how we use the term – it means (as one sees here again) exactly society of each against all, of the individual apparently detached from how the individual used to be considered a component of the social whole, with each carrying out what God or whoever had assigned to him in the interests of the functioning of society. So what Marx means when he use the term “civil society” is the growth of bourgeois ideology and practice for the role of the worker in society. He goes on how this concept had only been around for about 200 years, that is, since the rise of pre-capitalism. As he says, they came out of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society. Again, he uses terms as they were used in the discussion then – the “Natural Individual,” which he says is just their “notion of human nature” (which again, is basically Robinson Crusoe – or as Marx says here p 84, “the isolated individual” Note while he specifically ridicules the idea of Robinson Crusoe isolated production (saying p 84 it could on occasion happen if a socially created individual got thrown into isolation, but its absurd as a general concept), his concern here is actually much broader than just production, but to the essence of humans, to human nature, to our species-nature being collective and so that pertains to everything we do). Note he associates this as an 18th century development above all (1700s). SO WHAT I REALLY WANT TO STRESS IS how differently other people are using this term “civil society” today than Marx used it then, and how we need be careful therefore not to misread Marx. Today, civil society is generally held as a positive thing involved in transcending capitalism – the state is a bourgeois state, and the idea is to increase direct democracy by transforming power from the state to civil society (lots of problems with that concept in my opinion, but I am just trying to indicate how it is often thought or today, often as a background idea that the user of the term just has built into the concept without being really aware of it). For Marx, to the contrary, civil society was largely a false ideological construct of bourgeois ideology, a misrepresentation of human nature and human interaction, one of the pillars of capitalist denial of the essential species-nature of humans. Marx was FOR humans promoting a transcendence of capitalism by using a STATE that they democratically controlled, because such a state was nothing else than an expression concerning political activity of their collective nature, their species-nature. Of course, by the time the process of transition beyond capitalism reached the phase of socialism, the state as an organ of power (to impose the will of one group on another, which under the transition would be to impose the will of the majority on the minority who wanted to restore their previous privileges) would wither away (but would still exist as an accounting mechanism, for coordinating and executing the democratically decided on decisions of society, now no longer to suppress opposition but just to administratively make happen what society decided it wanted to happen)