Karl Marx and His Vision of Salvation: The Natural Law and Private Property

Article excerpt

Antigone: Nor did I think your orders were so: strong that you, a mortal man, could over-run the gods' unwritten and unfailing laws. Not now, nor yesterday's, they always live, and no one knows their origin in time (Sophocles, Antigone, lines 453-57).

Karl Marx was convinced that the private ownership of capital goods was a social and moral evil. There is a thesis that this conviction of Marx rests predominantly upon natural law. This paper accepts that thesis. The discussion in this paper is meant to substantiate the natural law foundation of Marx's property position. There will be no elaborate attempt, however, to prove the thesis.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss why Marx postulated that private property is an "evil" institution which had to be eradicated from society. Before judging Marx's conclusion it is helpful to know the various logical steps by which that conclusion is derived. It is important to realize that the arguments put forth here are meant to be, primarily if not exclusively, logical and neither psychological nor psychoanalytical. In other words, what is being sought is the logical unfolding of Marx's thought, not the psychological factors influencing it.

This paper contains three parts and final comments. First, there is an exposition of the concept of natural law. This is done since natural law theory enters only limited areas of contemporary economic analysis and may not be familiar to many readers. Secondly, there is a discussion of the thesis that Karl Marx's views on private property are based on the natural law. Thirdly, reasons Marx rejected private property are put forth. The fact that this third pan is in the nature of a reflection makes it somewhat difficult to substantiate.

I. The Concept of Natural Law(1)

Natural law came originally from the Greek philosophers, was furthered by Roman jurists, and received a more ordered presentation from the scholastic philosophers of the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries. The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas will be used here as a basis for natural law explanation. The thought of St. Thomas does not represent the culmination of thinking on this subject, but it does provide a wholly adequate background to the topic.

There are two general meanings of law.(2) When we speak of the law of diminishing marginal productivity or the law of gravity, the term law means that a specific outcome will take place granted certain conditions. Diminishing marginal productivity occurs at some point for each and every type of firm. It is a law because it always takes place; at some level of input marginal product diminishes. Obviously this is not the type of law meant when speaking of natural law.

The other general meaning of law which is pertinent here is that law is a rule or norm which prescribes some specific action or avoidance of action. Of this latter type of law one definition states: "That which must be obeyed and followed by citizens, subject to sanctions or legal consequences, is a 'law'" (Black's Law Dictionary, 1968, "Law"). While this definition of law refers to positive, human law, St. Thomas similarly defined law as "a rule and measure of acts, whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting" (I-II, q. 90, art. 1).(3) Again, he stated that law "is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated" (I-II, q. 90, art. 4). St. Thomas organized law under four different categories: eternal law, natural law, divine law, and human (positive) law. We are concerned here primarily with the first two of these four categories.

Eternal law was defined by St. Thomas as "the eternal decrees of God concerning the government of the universe" (I-II, q. 91, art. 1). Eternal law supposes that there is a God who rules the world by intelligence. The plan which God has for the world is called a law: ". . . it is an ordinance of reason" for the common good; it is "promulgated by its being imbedded in the natures of the creatures governed by it" (Fagothey/Gonsalves, 1981, p. …

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