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Andrew Carnegie’s ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ & Karl Marx’s the Communist Manifesto

Updated May 12, 2022
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Andrew Carnegie’s ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ & Karl Marx’s the Communist Manifesto essay

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The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and “The Gospel of Wealth” by Andrew Carnegie were written in a response to increasingly hostile social class tensions. While addressing this issue, both authors express significantly different ideals for society as well as the means to attain them. Karl Marx believes that the proper, common good is the end of social classes through the abolishment of private property that can only be achieved through revolution of the lower class. Carnegie, on the other hand, regards the ultimate good to be the advancement of all classes through natural progression of society and directed, deliberate philanthropy of the upper class. These two versions of the proper good are based on the debate between establishing equality of opportunity versus equality of result, a currently highly prevalent and contemporary controversy. These definitions of the proper good address whether or not it is society’s responsibility to make sure that all of its citizens have access to the same economic opportunities or if there should be an equality among the outcome of ones efforts, or at least an equality in the minimum outcome that’s produced.

Marx and Carnegie’s essays attempt to define the term “proper good,” as coined by Aristotle. As Aristotle explains, proper good is the sociological ideal—the correct type of happiness in a political, not individualistic, setting. When crafting a government, he holds that it should allow for the most happiness for the most people and that happiness must not be at the expense of others. While acknowledging that the “proper equipment” can facilitate happiness, Aristotle defines happiness as an inner state of being that is not based on material wealth. Marx’s definition of the “proper good,” as seen in his essay, is similar to Aristotle’s idea. In his essay, Marx laments that once the bourgeoisie were in power the “stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe.” (459)

Referring to the glory that skilled workers had in the past, he contrasts that with the mindless work of the Industrialization era. This ideal is in line with Aristotle’s inner happiness—Marx sees happiness as something that comes from within, such as from having meaningful work to do, and not from material wealth. Ultimately, Marx defines the proper good as economic equality, and believes that through this society can provide happiness to the maximum number of individuals. Carnegie, on the other hand, takes a drastically different route in defining the proper good. He speaks about the “condition of affairs under which the best interests of the race are promotes, but which inevitably gives wealth to the few” (Carnegie, 489.) More than happiness, Carnegie views the proper good to be the overall advancement of society. In clear opposition to Marx, Carnegie advocates for the upper class to preserve and accumulate wealth because this is how he believes society can progress. He views material wealth as a means to happiness and believes that improvement of society as a whole is the ultimate goal, even if it is at the expense of some.

In addition to their views on the definition of the “proper good,” Karl Marx and Andrew Carnegie differ on their strategies for achieving it, in terms of economic policy and governmental role. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx advocates strongly for economic equality in the form of communism. He declares that the rise of the bourgeoisie took away almost all freedoms from the working class along with their dignity and transformed work into merely a means to attain money. Furthermore, he bemoans that “as the repulsiveness of the work increases the wage decreases” and points out that the working class’s wages are “subsistence,” just enough to keep them alive to work and reproduce more workers (Marx 462.)

Marx contrasts the state of the working class to that of the upper class, who do not actively labor and put in work yet are the ones who own the wealth. These, and more, are the reasons for his adamant opposition towards Capitalism and staunch support for Communism. Marx says directly; “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property,” (468) however, in reality this is just one aspect of his strategy for accomplishing the proper good of economic equality. In addition to establishing collectivism for wealth, Marx calls for all citizens to have an active role in work— nobody should be sitting down comfortably and collecting riches from other’s hard labor. Lastly, through his economic policy of Communism, Marx involves the government by proposing a centralization of wealth, credit, and factories in addition to combing all agricultural and manufactural industries.

Andrew Carnegie’s methods for attaining his idea of the proper good, the advancement of society, are vastly different from Karl Marx’s in most aspects. Carnegies supports Capitalism and denounces Communism resolutely, stating, “Not evil, but good, has come to the race from the accumulation of wealth by those who have the ability and energy that produce it” (488.) Advocating for a laissez faire system of economics, Carnegie believed that the government should not interfere with economic policy, rather it should allow for society to run its course. Because he does not believe in the value of economic equality and sees civilizational development as the ideal, Carnegie champions individualism over collectivism. He points out that industrialization and manufacturing benefitted everyone, not only the wealthy, in the context of standard of living. Carnegie bolsters his argument by illustrating the lack of progression of the Sioux nation, pointing out the “contrast between the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the laborer,” and declaring that through this one can “measure(s) the change which has come with civilization” (486.)

Juxtaposing Marx, who calls for an organized structure of redistributing wealth through the establishment of a Communist government who’s job it is to force the rich to give over all ownership of wealth to the government and Carnegie, who calls for a laissez faire approach, one can see their opposing views on the status and morality of the upper class. Carnegie, influenced tremendously by Social Darwinist ideas, regard the higher class as having inherent superiority due to their ability to climb up the social ladder. This contributes to his inclination towards laissez faire and leaving it up to the wealthy to benefit society with their money.

Other than a high estate tax to promote supplying ones money to communal, public services, Carnegie advocates for the government not to have an active role in regulating the economy and specifically one individual’s wealth. On the contrary, Marx does not view the upper class as superior at all, rather he views them as one part of the continuous cycle of civilizational development with the rise and fall of different classes—in this time period, the bourgeoisie have taken control. While Carnegie calls on the upper class to ease social class tensions by using their money to advance the public community, Marx does not place trust in the wealthy. Instead he implores the working class to take matters into their own hands and rebel, to overturn the current system and replace it with one in which all citizens are forced to share their wealthy communally. Marx and Carnegie’s differing views on human nature, specifically that of the wealthy, dictate their policy choices to further their goals of the proper good.

In addition to their many differing ideas, in some regards Carnegie and Marx do agree on certain approaches for realizing the proper good. For example, both authors begin their essays with similar claims regarding the issue of the social class divide. Carnegies starts off by stating, “The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship,” (485) and Marx introduces his essay with, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (456.) They both identified the same problem and agreed that a change in society was essential. While some parts of their strategies are contrary, at their core, both Carnegie and Marx maintain that the wealth in society needs to be better distributed.

Two strategies that Carnegie and Marx concur on are the significance of public education and the advantage of a high estate tax. On page 492, Carnegie remarks positively on Mr. Cooper’s contribution to society through his establishment of the Copper Institute, calling it “the highest form of distribution.” In Marx’s list of Communist measures, he includes “Free education for all children in public schools” (474). Both Carnegie and Marx view public education as a means towards decreasing the social class tensions, while Carnegie sees it as an opportunity for advancement and Marx sees it as an outcome of equality. In addition to the importance of public education, Carnegie and Marx were both opposed to inherited wealth for the same reason of not wanting to revert to a feudal economy. With both of them valuing hard work, Carnegie and Marx hold endowments in contempt—they see the children as undeserving of the wealth that they did not partake in working for.

Andrew Carnegie’s ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ & Karl Marx’s the Communist Manifesto essay

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Andrew Carnegie’s ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ & Karl Marx’s the Communist Manifesto. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/andrew-carnegies-the-gospel-of-wealth-karl-marxs-the-communist-manifesto/

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