Reading through John Locke’s “Second Treatise”, The Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Karl Marx “The Communist Manifesto”, E Fromm’s “Escape from Freedom”, Thomas More’s “Utopia”, Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” there comes an almost universal viewpoint that the nature has its state and then there is the law of nature.
The state of nature is in discord with the law of nature. The law of nature comes out as the closest approximation of the ideal world that we should all live in and which all these writers seem to push for in their struggles whether as pastor, as in Martin Luther or as a writer as in Thoreau. The state of nature is different. It is what it is as we see it. There is social injustice about and men of convictions can only but rise up and fight to restore the world to its law of nature. According to Fromm, although man is born a freak of nature, he has to find principles to replace instincts, and control it as per his wishes. He has to try and overcome all conditions that are negative like death, starvation, disease etc through his action and decision. Like the rest, he sees that humanity’s true nature is freedom.
Martin Luther King sees lots of double standards and superficiality when he looks at issues from the state of nature perspective. The state of nature in his time is that there is a sweltering injustice against the people of colour but this is happening in society where Christianity is the main religion. Rather than Christianity, the clergy railing about this injustice, they look the other way. They do not want to confront the real issue probably for fear of being associated with violence. But Martin Luther opposes this kind of religious bastardisation when he seeks through non violence movement to demonstrate that religion must be concrete, at the service of man according to the law of nature. It should press for equality and justice for God’s children because that is what the law of nature is. The current state where people are segregated, and wallow in injustice does not represent the law of nature but the state of nature. To him, there is a yawning gap between the state of nature and the law of nature as per the conditions. When he tries through non-violent struggles; he is trying to bring the law of nature into concretization. The true nature is when freedom is had.
Similarly, Thoreau, through his staying in the pond experiences nature in its true self, the law of nature. He escapes the state of nature where there is rigid and an economic system so exploitative. The state of nature is enslaving instead of freeing us. Its civilization does not make us better people but instead it enslaves and degrades us. His escape to the pond is a desire to live as per the law of nature. Karl Marx also espouses the same view that human existence is haunted by a spectre of exploitation, internecine class struggles but each time there is the majority suffering and a few enjoying. The majority ‘proletariat’ and the minority, who own the property and the means of society’s production ‘the bourgeois’ class subjects the rest of humanity to sub human conditions. Even the family is like that, so materialistic and intended for exploitation and not succor. That is the state of nature-quite convoluted. The proposal of the Communism manifesto is thus a sentimental wish to return to life as per the law of nature-where resources are to be used for the common good. No private property, no exploitation, no classes and no struggles. That will be the nature according to law of God.
In all the writings, the issue of God comes out as one who stands where justice is. In Martin Luther’s case, God is not the religion but where there is justice and fairness, God is the supreme good. We see that God can be fought for, if need be. Thomas More through his writings and activities appears so harsh to those who have a dim view of God, that even he is accused of have taken part in the persecution of the heretics. The idea of God as conceptualized by Erich Fromm is no different. He sees God as the ultimate being, that all temporal lifestyles should reflect respect for God. In More’s utopia, that there is no place for Atheists suggests that absence of God is unacceptable. He must be there, everywhere.
The idea of natural rights comes out clearly in Karl Marx’s works just as in Locke’s and Thoreau’s works as well as in Fromms’.All people have a right to personal freedom that is so majestic, real and liberating than the freedom offered by governments. Walden’s escape to the pond where he lives in freedom and More’s Utopian portrayal reflects that men are in bondage and their wish is to live in freedom some day where the natural rights apply. Locke sees that written law should be positive and this can only be through a legitimate democratic set up. That this should not necessarily be the law to control us but that we should be ready to control ourselves with laws that are human but not necessarily written seems to be the suggestion of Fromm.
The idea of social contract comes out in mixed shades from the various writers. Locke sees constitutions in a democracy as social contracts between the governed and the institutions in place to govern them. When people in subordinate themselves into social contract, the cede some of their personal freedoms for greater good. Some of the individual’s natural rights are ceded in the fulfillment of social contract. The civil state is beholden to the people and is charged to the protection of property and civil liberties. The civil state should also have power over the people. In Locke’s civil state, the natural rights form the basis of laws. But it can be overthrown if it ceases to serve the people. Martin Luther seems to present a related argument when he urges civil disobedience for the people of colour to protest an unjust law and government that does not protect all. Even if legitimate, it can be opposed by all means so that it stops its excesses. Henry Thoreau also concurs that higher laws take precedence over human laws. It is human to treat some people with indifference and unjustly but higher laws demand that all be treated equally. It thus in a way seems to suggest that what is human is moral and should be upheld at all costs.
The civil state should serve the interest of the people who have willingly instituted it. The individual on his part has his natural rights but also has his social obligations. The individual may not necessarily act always according to the natural rights but will have to insubordinate themselves to society. Acting according to individual right and in pursuit of natural law might lead to coalition with the civil authorities at times as we see in Walden. Fromm argues that truly, each person is a unique individual, separate from the rest, but that does not make one to live individualistic life but they should overcome their separatedness, and join the rest. One would only be schizophrenic if they just lived in the world according to their own thoughts, feelings and needs. Thoreau however affirms that society and its laws oppress the individual.
The idea of community is extensively explored in Karl Marx’s work. The society should ideally live a communist lifestyle where all are equal and no one has claim to private property. On communistic set up only brings conflicts and bleeds resentment from the vast marginalized sections of society. The end result will be a revolution where the oppressed will seek to restore communism. When Martin Luther King claims that it will be great that day even the whites will support the people of colour to fight unjust laws suggests that a community is important in enforcing a natural law. Fromm suggests that we have to try and overcome our awareness of our separateness by trying to come closer to each other in what he calls ‘need for relatedness’. This is his thesis that men should live as a community. But Walden’s escape to the pond shows a community can even be found in the nature and one can just be as happy within it. Failure to overcome our separateness and join others according to Fromm is infantile narcissm which is a trait that cannot support a communal existence.
There is a way in which the idea of common good is looked at by the various writers.Locke, Fromm, Karl Marx, and Martin Luther openly affirm the idea of the common good. That everything should be for the common good including laws, religion, and production systems. In Martin Luther’s case, Christianity seems not to be for the common good as it is in his society, what with double standards and convoluted interpretations of the gospel by whites? In Karl Marx’s case, the social and economic set up should be violently altered to suit all or for the common good. The bourgeois only exploit the proletariat and by the former hoarding wealth, they use it selfishly while it should be for common good. This is the sentimental state More would like to see in Utopia where everything including land is used for common good. By suggesting personal wandering in the Pond, Thoreau seems to be suggesting the need for one to escape to a world without fetters where they will live richly.
The idea of the majority unfortunately ending up overriding the minority is expressed variously. Locke affirms that the majority take sway over minority in politics. More’s utopian existence shows everything should be used for the utility of the majority and not for the individual. But as Thoreau shows, the majority can be oppressive to the individual. Society is seen as a conspiracy against manhood.
In More’s work, Karl Marx’s work and John Locke’s work, property is to be used for all. Karl Marx sees that property should not be held by individuals but by all. More’s Utopia affirms this to be the ideal society as property will benefit all. Thoreau sees that no good life can come out of a life where one is working for others, for perpetuation of private property.
The issue of freedom is explored at length. Martin Luther sees freedom as the acme of humanity, justice should be there for all and the quest for it has never been easy with those seeking for it ending up being branded extremists. For More, there can never be freedom which allows people to denounce God.For Fromm, freedom should be backed by reason and buttressed by morality. The modern world seems to allow unconventional freedoms. One cannot claim freedom when they are breaking moral laws. For Karl Marx, freedom will be had with the removal of the unjust system that exploits the working class.
Money is also viewed as the cause of exploitation of others especially by Karl Marx. Wealth should be for all including money. In martin Luther King, the idea of protest by not buying from all malls suggests that his views are that money should be used to pursue justice and should be morally used. Putting your money to the oppressor only allows him wield more power to exploit you. Thoreau sees money may not be the ultimate requirement to buy happiness but happiness can be got in simple life forms. Fromm asserts that money should never be hoarded, just like all other wealth forms although the modern world seems to gravitate towards that.