After the catastrophe of World War One
intellectuals had become disillusioned with the philosophical beliefs and the
political ideals that we associate with liberal government:
Locke’s social contract, natural rights, and Smith’s
John Locke had argued that a just society would
offer the most freedom to its citizens while protecting their natural rights.
Adam Smith had argued that free markets create more productive and fair
economic systems by encouraging competition to set wages and prices at their
In practice, however, bourgeois business interests
dominated liberal government, tipping the playing field to their advantage.
Monopolies exploited laborers by keeping wages at un-naturally low levels.
The ideal of freedom was used to justify the control of capital by an
increasingly small number of powerful people.
The Efficacy of Reason and Democracy
The philosophes of the Enlightenment had placed
their faith in the ability of social science to engineer a new and better
society. Adam Smith had argued that the competition generated by the pursuit
of self-interest would reward human industry and create a more wealthy and
equitable society. Similarly, liberal political philosophers believed that
the pursuit of individual self-interest would be
moderated by democratic political institutions in which public debate would
lead to rational and peaceful compromise.
However, liberal governments had failed to deal
decisively with the social consequences of the Industrial Revolution.
Governments did not regulate the violent rise and fall of the world economy;
workers did not receive employment guarantees or a fair share of the profits;
craftspeople lost their livelihoods and struggled to adjust to a new economy
in which their old skills were no longer useful. The lower classes in liberal
societies continued to suffer in terrible living conditions, and their
leaders, doubting that gradual political reforms would ever address the
problems of poverty, turned increasingly to more radical and revolutionary
The result: competition without between nations for
control of world markets and class struggle within between workers, bourgeois
owners, obsolete craftspeople, obsolete aristocrats, and impatient students
agitating for change.
Furthermore, the competition between liberal nation
states for dominance of world trade led to brutal and dehumanizing
imperialist campaigns around the world and an arms race that resulted in the
catastrophe of World War I.
The Innate Goodness of Humans?
Nationalist movements had unleashed irrational passions, and the
Great War revealed no limit for man’s capacity for cruelty and violence.
Philosophers like Nietzsche glorified the irrational and mocked the weakness
of Christian morality and liberal compromise. Evolutionary biologists like
Darwin argued that humans were no different in kind than animals. Darwin not
only proposed a purely physical origin of mankind, but
he argued that there is no moral dimension to the natural world.
Psychologists like Freud suggested that irrational forces beyond our control
or understanding drive human behavior.
Science’s promise of a new utopia
Instead of creating an improved quality of life, the
new technologies had created weapons of mass destruction: the machine gun,
tanks, poison gas, the submarine, the airplane and,
eventually, the industrialized killing factories of Auschwitz and the threat
of global annihilation represented by the atom bomb. Military leaders used
these weapons indiscriminately, killing not only of millions of soldiers but
also significant segments of the civilian population.
The Rise of New Political
Rule of Law:
glorification of spontaneous action and violence
A Nation of ‘Volk’ willing to expel and if necessary exterminate aliens.
Collective Identity: an elite core of party initiates surround a demagogic leader.
Socialism in Spain
In Spain, the socialists hailed primarily from the industrial region around
Madrid and from the Basque industrial cities on the Northern Coast. The Union
General de Trabajadores (UGT) was organized in 1879. Unlike
orthodox Marxists, the socialists in this union believed that political
actions such as strikes should be accompanied by efforts to reform the
government through parliamentary methods. After the Russian Revolution of
1917, the UGT voted not to join the Third Internationale. The socialist intellectuals of the UGT
enabled the Republican-Socialist coalition to form which took power in 1936-
sparking the Civil War.
Origins of Marxist Thought in Enlightenment
Marxist political philosophy grew out of the same core Enlightenment
beliefs from which liberalism originated.
The essential goodness of
The belief in the power of
reason to perfect society
Social Rights over Political Rights
Social Rights over Political Rights
Marxists rejected liberal government’s protection of
individual rights at the expense of social justice. Social rights, the right
to a job, to a decent wage, to a home, to an education, to health care, to a
pension, were far more important to them than the freedoms protected by
Locke's social contract.
Marxists believed that social justice could never be
achieved through reforming the liberal economic system. Only violent
revolution could bring the working class to power and destroy the structure
History as Class Struggle
History as Class Struggle
Marxists believed that class struggle and violence
were the essential vehicles of social change and progress.
Socio-Economic Environment Determines Identity
Where liberals believed that the individual could
overcome poverty through education and the development of self-discipline,
Marxists argued that the individual alone could not determine his own
destiny. Real social change could only be achieved through the transformation
of the environment itself.
Marxists held to a strictly materialist philosophy. They
rejected all metaphysical and religious idealism. They argued that people
should struggle to change the world, not transcend it.
Marxists held that historical progress is not random
but can be understood through rational principles.
Marxists believe that existence precedes identity.
Man is defined by the socio-economic environment (not liberal rights, not
national identity, not religious belief, not ethnic culture).
Marxists argued that technological advances in the
ways that goods are produced and wealth is distributed drive historical
Marxists argued that technological change creates
class struggle. New social classes emerge and history proceeds when opposing