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Marx and Martineau's Views on Inequality

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1913 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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“The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.”                        -Pierre Bourdieu

Society is the amalgamation of individual consciousness. Principally, human beings formed groups in order to survive. These groups were mobile relative to food sources. When agriculture was formed, however, human groups settled; relative to food resources. The possession of fertile land and the distribution of food, as a result, became the responsibility of relatively few individuals. As a consequence, social hierarchies were established. Individuals responsible for the collection and distribution of food were few in number and resided on the top of the hierarchy, while, those burdened with the cultivation of food were great in number and remained at the bottom of the hierarchy. This archetype of society remained until the Industrial Revolution. Subsequently, the modern world had had developed a need to bridge the gap between traditionalism and modernity. Karl Marx and Harriet Martineau were prominent figures in specifying, analyzing, and describing controversies resulting from the conflict experienced from the transition of traditionalism to modernity. On one hand, Marx suggested that private property is the result of wage labor. Even more, he proposed that estrangement is a consequence of private property. On the other hand, Martineau suggested that society consists of anomalies between morals and manners. Furthermore, she proposed that individuals should become educated in order to become free moral agents unbound to material fetishizes. The consequence of the gap between economy and morality is poverty. Individuals that possess many resources whom reside at the top of the social hierarchy do not find the need to help individuals that are relatively less fortunate. They experience sans guilt and shame in their greediness because they do not believe giving charity is profitable. Thus, there is a division of classes in society; economically stable while morally unstable and economically unstable while morally stable. Interestingly, neither division of class experiences content or happiness.

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 Progress is a result of the technological advances in society. Technology, as a consequence, had had unforeseen negative environmental impacts. Therefore, progress can be viewed as moving forward in time and backward in consciousness. Marx believed that social class was divided into two categories: proletariat and bourgeois. On one hand, the bourgeoisie were few in number, possessed the means and forces of production, and resided at the top of the social hierarchy. On the other hand, the proletariat were great in number, sold their labor as a commodity, and resided at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Marx suggested that society will progress through revolution. In order for revolution to occur, firstly, the proletarians must organize themselves as a political force. Secondly, then, they must align themselves with the bourgeoisie to overturn the government. Thirdly, the proletarians must eliminate capital by abolishing private property. This can be accomplished by confiscating land from rebels and emigrants, establishing communal property by giving ownership to the State, and appropriating land passed down through inheritance for it to be used by the State. Interestingly, Marx suggested that the proletarians must align themselves with the bourgeoisie to overthrow the Government. Thus, “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers” (Marx 1848:21).

 Equality is a mode of altruism that is embedded in the laws of a state and dispersed through society by free moral agents. It can be truly attained only when individuals are able to compromise their needs for the requirements of their community. Indeed, Martineau believed that progress in a society can be measured by the degree of which all of its members are happy. What does it mean, then, to be happy? According to Martineau, happiness can be attained by, firstly, distributing material wealth equally to all members of society, secondly, practicing the concurrence of morals and manners, thirdly, observing other humans without prejudice and treating them with sympathy; i.e., impartiality, and lastly, allocating time for individual leisure. Thus, “Leisure, some degree of it, is necessary to the health of every [person’s] spirit. Not only intellectual production, but peace of mind cannot flourish without it.” (Martineau 1837:60).

 Mesopotamia was the first civilization to agree on a set of collective ideas, write them on stone, and regard them as law. Similar to the Code of Hammurabi, therefore, is the Declaration of Independence. Martineau would argue, then, that capitalism is not the cause of inequality. Rather, social inequality is the direct result of the dissent of manners from morals. Morals are the collective ideas in society. Manners are the patterns of action of the members in society. Preferably, individuals in society should adopt manners in accordance with their morals. As Martineau observed in America, however, there is an anomaly between morals and manners. For instance, the Declaration of Independence suggests that all humans are born equal. Martineau observed, nevertheless, that slaves and freemen were not treated as equals. How, then, can the morals of society declare liberty when, on the contrary, the manner in which slaves are treated is sans impartiality? Thus, to bridge the gap between the division of classes in society in a manner in which all members thereof are treated equally, we do not need to abolish capital, as Marx would suggest, rather, on the other hand, as Martineau believed, we need to align our manners as individuals with our morals hitherto agreed upon.

 Happiness is a function of the perceived perception an individual has of their state of being relative to their material circumstances. Thus, it would be rational to presume that the degree of progress society had had achieved and the level of equality it had had established should be measured by the amount of happiness present hitherto amongst and between individuals. Marx suggested that in order for there to be peace in society, then, class relations must be changed; the division between proletarians and bourgeoisie. In order for revolution to occur, then, firstly, the proletarians must establish themselves as a political force, secondly, the proletarians must align themselves with the bourgeoisie to overthrow the government, thirdly, the proletarians must overthrow the bourgeoisie, fourthly, the proletarians must abolish capital by eliminating private property, fifthly, the proletarians must establish communal property governed by the state, sixthly, the state must appropriate property of rebels and emigrants, and lastly, the state must appropriate inheritance and abolish its rights. On the other hand, however, Martineau believed that in order for individuals in society to be truly happy, then, there must be an equal distribution of wealth. She believed that the consequence of the unequal distribution of wealth was that a relatively large portion of society was left with a burden of labor much greater than they could bear. As a result, these people had sans time for leisure. Thus, they could not take out time from their day to indulge in deeds that gave them peace of mind. Time was a luxury they could not afford. Therefore, if there was equal distribution of wealth in society, then, individuals would not have to focus on providing for their self or family. Rather, they could use their available time for leisure and on making themselves happy.

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 Capital is the accumulation of wealth, authority, respect, and influence. Capitalism, therefore, is the investment in capital by the appropriation of private property. Indeed, Martineau believed that the equal distribution of wealth amongst all members of society would eventually result in progress and equality. However, Marx suggested that society will only produce progress and equality when private property is turned into communal property wherein is governed by the state. Principally, communal property that is governed by the state is better than the equal distribution of wealth for three primary reasons. Firstly, the equal distribution of wealth would be fair and just and good for the first few generations. However, individuals who had had the least amount of expenditure would leave a greater amount of inheritance. Over a relatively large period of time, then, there would be a division of people amongst whom had accrued a small amount of inheritance and a large amount. The difference in the amount of inheritance received would result in the development of private property. As a consequence, a second division amongst people would transpire; those with a great amount of capital and those with a minute amount. Inevitably, the viscous cycle between proletariat and bourgeois would begin anew. Secondly, the equal distribution of wealth would result in decreased productivity in society. As people are given the means of expenditure without trying, then, they would spend more time in leisure. As a result, the levels of individual productivity will decrease. Consequently, therefore, society will become stagnant and cease to progress. Lastly, I believe Marx would assert, then, that a few people who know what is good for society should have access to resources rather than a great number of people who know neither what is good or bad for society. Albeit Marx suggested that democracy should be used to overthrow the bourgeoisie and abolish private property, it was communism that he believed, nevertheless, to be the best possible manner to govern society. “To the perfect ideal succeeds the government of the soldier and the lover of honor, this again declining into democracy, and democracy into tyranny …” (Plato 381 BC: 7).

 In conclusion, the perspectives of Marx and Martineau are essentially different sides of the same coin. On one hand, Marx believed that society will have progress and equality through revolution. On the other hand, however, Martineau suggested that individuals in society must be observed without prejudice and treated with sympathy for there to be progress and equality. Nonetheless, they both believed that individuals in society should be educated and that the community of women must be treated with respect. Marx was influenced by the industrial revolution. Martineau was influenced by her journey to America. Although they were influenced by seemingly different situations, they came close to very similar solutions; do not let the few govern the many, do not treat people unequally, do not remain passive if you are oppressed, and do not lose faith in your circumstances or hope in humanity.


  • Martineau, Harriet. 1837. Society in America. Class Handout. “The Beginning of a Science of Society.”
  • Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. 1848. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Vol. 1. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
  • Plato.  381 BC. The Republic.


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