Liberal and Marxist Theories of Political Choice

  • Michael Levin


For Marx and Engels the reality of liberal politics appeared systematicaly to curtail its pretensions; the partisan state for the neutral arbiter; paper freedoms for actual rights; and political liberty for human emancipation. A similar characteristic applied to the prevailing theory of popular political choice. Traditional social contract theory had presented political forms as originating from the unconstricted choice of rational individuals. In 1792 Tom Paine, still full of enthusiasm for the French Revolution, wrote that ‘the present generation will appear to the future as the Adam of the new world’.1 His Rights of Man bears witness to the high-point social optimism had reached among opponents of the Ancien Régime. The past was discarded as irrational and superstitious. A new start could be made on rational principles which would provide a durable basis for the forthcoming age of popular constitutionalism. Monarchy, aristocracy, bureaucracy, war, luxury and all such evils would henceforth disappear. The radical individualists of the late eighteenth century neither valued the past nor saw it as a constraint on their grandiose plans for the future. For Marx, in contrast, mankind had not existed prior to society, and so could not be credited with its creation, let alone on a basis of rational, consensual will.


Class Struggle Class Position Political Choice Praxis Mode Marxist Theory 
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Notes and References

  1. 12.
    J. J. Rousseau, The Social Contract Discourses, with intro. by G. D. H. Cole (London, 1961) p. 86.Google Scholar
  2. 21.
    Quoted in N. Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought (London and Basingstoke, 1977) vol. 1, p. 69; also see pp. 49, 105, 165.Google Scholar
  3. 22.
    J. H. Burns, ‘J. S. Mill and Democracy, 1829–1861’ in J. B. Schneewind (ed.) Mill. A Collection of Critical Essays (London, 1969) p. 285.Google Scholar
  4. 23.
    Barrington Moore, Jr, Injustice. The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt (London and Basingstoke, 1978) p. 474.Google Scholar
  5. 55.
    See B. Parekh, ‘Does Traditional Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?’, Political Studies, XXVII (1979) p. 297.Google Scholar
  6. 63.
    K. Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (Moscow, 1971) p. 817. Also see Marx to Engels, 27 June 1886, in MESC, p. 191.Google Scholar
  7. 71.
    L. Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, vol. 2, The Golden Age (Oxford, 1981) p. 42.Google Scholar
  8. 72.
    G. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness (London, 1971) p. 41.Google Scholar
  9. 73.
    L. Colletti, ‘Marxism: Science or Revolution?’ in R. Blackburn (ed.). Ideology in Social Science (Bungay, Suffolk, 1972) p. 377.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Levin 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Levin
    • 1
  1. 1.Goldsmiths’ CollegeUniversity of LondonUK

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