Freedom, Equality, and Justice
The contemporary world is characterized by unequal distribution of wealth, resources, and power. With regard to the American society today, it is clear that there are capitalistic elements present in the society. Karl Marx in the nineteenth century addressed the theme of capitalism, which results in denial of justice to some class of people in the society. The root cause of unjust acts in society, according to Karl Marx, lies in the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and resources. Marx considered equality as a purely political value, political notion, and that it belonged to the bourgeois class. However, Marx argued that this class of people use equality to perpetuate class oppression. Political equality according to Marx is a form of procedural equality. The legal system in society accords some people more justice than others. Therefore, this is why Marx considered elements of justice, freedom, and equality as inappropriate for serving as the foundation of his politics.
On the other hand, Locke and Kant’s view on equality was that it is based on the amount of possession one owns. In the state of nature and even in today’s centralized authority, there exists inequality in distribution of wealth, depending on one’s level of authority. Therefore, the more wealth one has, the more he stands to achieve equality, making equality to be relative to inequality. However, they are of the opinion that the notion of equality, if practised appropriately is still essential in society as it is only through this that freedom can be achieved. This is a backing to Marx’s views, and to an extent shows that equality in society can be hard to achieve, as even communalist societies experience inequality in both power and wealth distribution.
On justice, Marx argued that only the bourgeois have the right to justice in society, as this stems from the element of equality. Marx did not regard capitalistic exploitation as unjust on the side of the labourers. He only was against the means through which the bourgeois acquired their wealth and power. However, Kant thought that the concept of equality is associated with the political and social institutions in society. Marx rejected the egalitarian intuition and the fact that any equal standard could be used to formulate some ideal demand of justice. He maintained that rights are best if kept unequal. Marx criticized the political, claiming that egalitarianism is an unclear political concept. However, bourgeois equality is based on political equality, which lies on the bourgeois economy. Therefore, according to Marx, bourgeois concepts of justice, morality, and right came up as class interests, and not based on genuine causes.
Charles Mills similarly acknowledges the role of class, gender, religion, education, and race, among others in classification of people in society. All these elements according to Mils are the basis of discrimination, inequality, and injustice in society. However, unlike Marx who regarded social stratification as major cause of injustice, Mills refers to the concept of race as the main force behind most evils in society. Social contract according to Mills is fictitious and a reconstruction of the civil society, the racial contract is “a ‘naturalized’ account of the actual historical record” (91). Mills argues that the contract concept is still important in the society despite its shortcomings. First, this can be a standard to measure the society’s potential of achieving their political ideals. However, this is only possible if using the contract concept; they can identify and remove obstacles that lie in their way to the achievement of these goals. In addition, the non-whites, in order to determine the moral awareness of the whites, who perpetuate exploitation with their acclaimed superiority, have used the concept of racial contract.
Kant and Locke basing on their works in political philosophy share similar views on the racial contract, considering it inappropriate. Similarly, Karl Marx disputed racial contract when he argued against slavery, which highly lies in racial contract. However, these European theorists and intellectuals do not directly address the exploitation of non-whites by the whites. They only address important issues in a sparing manner, even though the subject does not by any chance arouse interest in them. This therefore, according to Mills is evidence that these European intellectuals were largely inclined to racial contract, by concealing or addressing the evils of Europeans in a haphazard and sparing manner (94).
Mills considers the social contract as being more political and moral in nature. However, like Locke, he considers the state of nature as an unstable environment, incapable of industrialization, thus he sees the need of abandoning the state of nature. However, just like in the state of nature where the powerful are advantaged in wealth accumulation, so are the powerful in the contemporary political systems. Their strategy is forming organized authorities and governments with the aim of safeguarding their personal interests, including wealth and property (32). These are sentiments shared by Hobbes as well. Additionally, Mills argues that this case relates to racial contract, which is characterized by the material advantage of the whites only, due to their “powerful” nature, as opposed to other races.
According to Mills, the contemporary intellectuals of contractarianism have attempted to emphasize an ideal society, which is devoid of injustices (121). These efforts by the present day contractarians are aimed at transforming the contemporary nonideal society to reach the standards of the ideal society. However, these have many shortcomings in their approach, which cast doubt on the intentions of their efforts. The moral and political elements needed in transforming a society from a nonideal one to the ideal one requires knowledge and reflection from the past of the society, and how these elements took effect in the past, and what outcomes these had on the members of society. Most contemporary intellectuals have misrepresented the historical political and philosophical state of the Europeans’ countries, including the relationships between the whites and the non-whites (121). This bears no fruit in their efforts.
The Western intellectuals have marginalized the concept of race and racism as though it is non-existent in their history. Both Marxism and liberalism have conceptualized the Western polity as being raceless. The contemporary contractarians have the knowledge about the history of race and racism in the western world, yet instead of exposing this for people to learn from it, they choose to sanitize and whitewash it, giving a flawed historical presentation to the present society. Mills insists that the presentation of the historical West as an idealized society, devoid of flaws, does not give the contemporary society the urge and need to transform, since there are no flaws in their historical past, which they could learn from (121-1222).
Charles Mills dwells on the racial stratification of people in society. He asserts that the Europeans take advantage of their racial position to exploit other races. Social contract adopts and upholds the equality of individuals in the society, in a state of nature. The social contract also according to Mills serves the function of protecting the property rights of members of the society. However, the racial contract, according to Mills, perpetuated the assumption that whites were more superior to non-whites, in the state of nature. This unjust exploitation, they justify it with their knowledge of science, religion, and philosophy. Europeans therefore, control and exploit non-whites; based on their percentage of the world population they hold (36). Racial contract only benefits the whites and their descendants, while they think that this is their legitimate privilege. Therefore, the non-whites are disadvantaged in the racial contract (40).
In his racial contract, Mills links race with space, and space with personhood. He argues that since the whites consider themselves superior to the non-whites, they only gave the non-whites an opportunity to survive. They were however, denied their right to membership in the political community, whether partial or permanent membership (50). This level of exploitation makes the non-whites appear like strangers in their own countries. Locke argues, “All the world was America” (49). This confirms the level to which race is connected to space in Mill’s racial contract.
The historical situation of slavery adds more weight to the European exploitation of non-whites. Mills compares the slavery of the medieval Mediterranean and that of ancient Greece with the slavery in Europe. The slavery in Europe was influenced by colour, as only the non-whites were taken to slavery (57). Slavery was dehumanizing, unfair and unjust; however, the Europeans justified this with the aspect of race, considering the blacks as inferior and more fit for slavery. The whites were more important and so could not be slaves. Therefore, this shows the extent to which racial contract benefits the whites and exploits the non-whites.
Still on race and space, Mills emphasizes how racial contract continues to race space. Today, there are specific geographical locations the whites consider irrelevant, and so not worthy any kind of development, be it economic, social, or political development. Europeans only develop other non-European countries with stakes. Therefore, the areas they consider irrelevant, they will not venture into them for the sake of any type of development or civilization (74). Mill’s conceptions of the whites’ dehumanization of the non-whites therefore, go hand in hand with Marx’s ideas. Even though Marx did not wholly address the whites’ exploitation of the non-whites, he argued that the genuine meaning of equality should call for abolition of the concept of class, as this exploits the proletariat, who in this case are the non-whites.
Mills, Charles. “The Racial Contract.” Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1997.
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