Saturday, November 9, 2013

Kant, Karl and Enlightenment

Kant in “What is Enlightenment” [1] defines Enlightenment as man’s application of himself, of his own understanding, without the guidance of another. Kant does not define the nature of this application or if it has positive or negative outcomes; according to him a man’s actions has to be based on his own reasons and he should have the freedom to do so; as long as these conditions are met, as per Kant, rest everything would fall in place. 
Karl Marx is a figure of Enlightenment as he is able to derive at his political thought based on his own understanding and rationale.  In the Communist Manifesto [2], before stating the 10 generally applicable measures in the second section, Marx explains the rationale on why he believes in those measures. In the first section of [2], titled “Bourgeois and Proletarians”, Marx gives an historical account on bourgeois has reached the current state and dissects the motives behind previous revolutions. Marx digs deep into the thesis of “free competition” and “capital”, he reflects on their origins and their consequences and he ties them to the notion of “private property” through his own rationale.
Even in Estranged Labor [3], Marx skillfully links how if we work (labor) for an output that we ourselves can’t relate to, cant feel proud about it or if we can’t enjoy it, we are loosing part of ourselves. Marx argues -  “… estranged labor makes man’s species-life a means to his physical existence”.  Marx was one of the first to reason that both the act of production and the output of production is fundamentally linked to our humanly existence which is much more than a mere physical (animal) existence. Thus, even though you and I may not agree with Marx’s ideologies and his calls to action but Marx still is definitely a figure of Enlightenment as he has to come to his conclusions based on his own reason.

However, there does exist some key fundamental differences between Kant and Marx about the process of enlightenment. According to Kant, few individuals can behave passively while they are employed under the government and their obedience in this situation is imperative. Kant also argues that it is in the interest of the commonwealth [1]. Such a notion is fundamentally opposed by Karl Marx. According to Marx, such form of obedience constitutes estranged labor and is unacceptable. 
Furthermore, there is no public-private dichotomy in Marx’s ideology. In The private realm will always instill a subservient attitude and it imposes restrictions on man’s freedom. In Kant’s views, it is acceptable if the ruling class, like the prince, grants freedom to its subjects in public sphere. Kant writes in [1], “A prince who does not regard it as beneath him to say that he considers it his duty, in religious matters, not to prescribe anything to his people, but to allow them complete freedom, a prince who thus even declines to accept the presumptuous title of tolerant, is himself enlightened”. Marx who came in a much later time than Kant has already witnessed that the bourgeois has already thrown out the feudal class and has replaced them. Marx argues that such a model is impractical because as long as there is concentration of power in the hands of few, as long as there exists private property, a man’s greed will not allow space for such public freedom. There will always be a suppression of such freedom and hence would prevent mankind to become enlightened.
Thus, both Kant and Marx agree that man must apply his own reason and should be free to do so. However, they differ in the process of going about it. Kant’s is a slow progressive model which allows for both ruling class and common men to co-exist while Marx is a more revolutionary model which realizes that the co-existence will never result in complete enlightenment. 


[1] An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?" by Immanuel Kant.
[2] The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
[3] Estranged Labour, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx

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