PHILOSOPHY: Marxism, Morality, and Human Nature


. . . [I]t is hard to believe that morality is nothing more than ruling-class ideology. Most people become socialists [underline added] because they think that some things should be opposed not just because they threaten their own material interests, but because they think they are wrong in and of themselves—racism and sexism, imperialist wars that kill hundreds of thousands of people, a system that destroys people’s lives in order to make a tiny number of people fantastically rich.


IN HIS Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and elsewhere, Marx starts with a very different understanding of human nature. In this conception, we are not naturally competitive, rather, we are social creatures who cannot survive without cooperating with each other. Modern science confirms this view. Humans did not evolve as a collection of atomized individuals constantly at war with one another, but in social groups that depended on mutual support.


Warfare became a feature of human society only as a consequence of specific historical developments—crucially the establishment of permanent settlements with accumulated wealth, and the emergence of “social hierarchy, an elite, perhaps with its own interests and rivalries.” Rather than war being the expression of some general human propensity towards violence, it reflects the interests of those at the top of society who are most likely to benefit from it.

Evidence of this kind supports the view that human beings are not naturally violent, selfish, competitive, greedy, or xenophobic, it is not natural for human societies to be organized hierarchically or for women to have lower social status than men, and capitalism does not exist because it uniquely reflects human nature, as its defenders often claim.

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