While re-reading On the Jewish Question I was faced with a peculiar question: Does communism endorse positive or negative freedom?

For those who don't know the difference between these types of freedom let me explain. Positive freedom exists when the government allows the people the freedom to do certain things; negative freedom is the freedom from government interference.

There are those that believe positive freedom leads down the path to tyranny since granting the freedom to do things can logically be seen as a means for the government to spread its own ideology and beliefs among the people. Contrast this belief with our own system of government which originally embraced negative freedom and granted its citizens the freedom from both the government and itself. Naturally, reality blurs the line between these two freedoms and forces a balance in order for government to function properly.

So which does communism adhere to? Marx did a fabulous job of refining his thoughts, and changed them over the years so it depends on which of his works you read. On the Jewish Question, in particular, seems to lean more towards approbation of positive freedom and condemnation of negative freedom.

How so?

In the aforementioned paper, Marx rails against our notions of freedom as the freedom against others – our belief in the freedom of isolation. This freedom of isolation is nothing but negative freedom turned inwards; the freedom against an abstract entity now becomes a freedom against man's very species-being.

But how does this altered form of negative freedom harm our species-being? Marx, having drawn from Fauerbach, believed that man who acted according to his species-being was the authentic man. Man who thought and acted as an individual within a group, who saw himself not merely as 'I' but also as 'we', this was man in his true and most fulfilling form.

This “improved” negative freedom, which allowed every man to mark out a space around him, is doing almost irreparable harm to what little is left of our species-being: we are slowly dying as a species in the abstract sense. As our connection to the concept of 'we' slips away so does our social cohesion. Our social fabric and stability are nothing more than the outward manifestation of the health of our species-being, as we retreat further into ourselves and the mindset of 'I' the more the fabric frays and eventually falls apart.

The cruel irony of it all is that as society disintegrates and leaves nothing but tattered remains it immediately begins to patch itself back together again. And from this new patchwork quilt a stronger, more homogeneous society rises up to begin the process anew.

Man's acceptance of his species-being mirror the boom and bust cycles of economics, and, indeed, seems to run alongside them.

 


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