The development of human society has been going through a number of phases, so it usually takes time for an old tradition to die and a new one to get rooted. What seems now to be a norm now could cause condemnation or even execution centuries ago. The philosophical works of Karl Marx and Olymp De Gouge are an example of revolutionary ideas which were attacked at the time of their writing but later were accepted and realized in society.
Without doubt, Olymp de Gouge can be called one of the first feminists. She was a woman who affected later generations although in her own times her voice was heard and her life ended in guillotine for counterrevolutionary political activities. Written over two centuries ago, her Declaration of the Rights of Woman is a manifesto that was brave for her epoch. However, knowing the dangers of expressing her outlook so openly, she still dares to speak out her social views of patriarchy.
Nowadays woman’s rights such as the right for property and suffrage are taken for granted, however two centuries ago it took courage even to think about them. Olymp de Gouge stresses that it is absolutely unfair that a woman is deprived of her property by a husband: “Property belongs to both sexes whether united or separated; it is for each of them an inviolable and sacred right, and no one may be deprived of it as a true patrimony of nature”( Gouge, n.p.).
A special attention is paid to the problem of accepting a child by a father. The author is indignant about the fact that an unmarried woman with a child is deprived of all rights for the man’s property. Besides, because a woman is oppressed in free communication of her opinion, she has to be silent about the name of the father: “Every citizeness may therefore say freely, I am the mother of your child; a barbarous prejudice [against unmarried women having children] should not force her to hide the truth”( Gouge).
It is significant for her pamphlet that while defending women’s rights she remains fair two both men and women. Condemning patriarchy, she believes that the system is corruptive for both sexes. Because of women’s victimization many of them found a way to make use of the system, which caused their moral corruption: “Women have done more harm than good…they have had recourse to all the resources of their charms…Poison, the sword, women controlled everything; they ordered up crimes as much as virtues”( Gouge, n.p.). Thus, the author explains how women became secret rulers of men in a manipulative way to compensate for the absence of real freedoms and rights. It is unnatural for a woman to be a manipulator but as de Gouge puts it, it is the result of the system’s viciousness.
While de Gouge criticizes patriarchy as a system that is out of date and causes harm, Karl Marx does the same about capitalism. In his pamphlet Estranged Labour he explains why class system is corruptive. Because there is private ownership, society is split into two parts: those who have property and those who don’t. People who are deprived of their own property have to work for those who own it to make their living.
As a result, workers are alienated from the products of their labor because they do not belong to them. In fact, they invest their lives into something from which they are estranged, as Marx puts it. Besides the product of the worker’s labor, he is also estranged from the process of production. “The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things”( Marx,n.p).
In other words, his work is not an act of his personal will but belongs to another owner. In this way, there is no place for personal unique identity, which is estranged too. Finally, a person is estranged from another person who becomes his master. Because this system presupposes that these two people’s interests do not coincide they are estranged from each other and see each other as opponents or even enemies.
As both Marx and de Gouge criticize the system they consider to be corrupt, they suggest an alternative that can change it and open way to a new equal society. Olymp de Gouge who centers on the inequality of men and women in marriage suggests that marriage contracts should be reformed so that they reflect equal rights of the spouses. The author gives an example of a marriage contract that she thinks can change the situation. It contains the following statement that the future spouses have to share: “We intend and wish to make our wealth communal property, while reserving the right to divide it in favor of our children… mutually recognizing that our goods belong directly to our children, from whatever bed they come [legitimate or not]”( Gouge, n.p.).
Thus, she believes that her female contemporaries suffer due to total dependency on their husbands, especially the financial one. She believes that when women stop being afraid of being deprived of their property, they will pursue other freedoms more eagerly too. Besides, because de Gouge herself was an unrecognized child, this issue is especially burning for her. She believes that illegitimate children should be mentioned in the marriage contract too with their father obliged to recognize them and share part of property. In this way she also intends to blur the distinction between married and unmarried women and provide them with equal rights.
In his turn, criticizing the system of estranged labor that causes human corruption of both employers and employees, he offers an alternative political system of socialism. Within this system, private ownership is changed for a collective one that is called Communism. He believes that capitalism presupposes opposition and struggle of workers and employers, so economics develops in a chaotic way. While it is capitalists’ interest to make the most of the workers labor by paying as little as possible, the workers’ aim is preventing them from doing so. Thus, class struggle on which economy is based has to logically develop into a new political system. In this system the amount of commodities production will be planned and calculated in advance in contrast to capitalism where it is regulated automatically. Marx realizes that the transition to communism cannot be smooth though because it involves complete transformation of not only a political system but of human nature.
While de Gouge and Marx can be called revolutionaries who challenged the foundations of their societies, Edmund Burke, in contrast, pertains to conservative views about political and economic systems. Being a member of British Parliament, he gives his own assessment of the French revolution. He believes that it is condemned to fail because society is a complex mechanism that cannot be changed immediately at people’s will. He insists that functioning of all human institutions is based on succession that brings stability. Burke thinks it is utopian to attempt to reform the system that took centuries to be build because there are some natural historical mechanisms of change that cannot be rushed and urged.
Further on, Burke believes that it takes centuries for rulers to acquire political culture that is why he is skeptical about new people who came to power in France. He also points out that these people are interested in momentary benefits while a good politician has to think strategically and take into account all previous experience of his predecessors. He believes that revolutionary ideas are dangerous because they are based on negation of valuable political and social achievements of past centuries. Burke states that class society is natural and each should obey to the position that is given to them by God. He suggests that while all citizens should have equal rights and opportunities, they should not necessarily possess the same property. He accepts changes as necessary improvements but in his opinion they have to be carried out in an evolutionary and thoughtful way.
Overall, history of human society proves that revolutionary ideas played a controversial role in social development. On the one hand, all revolutions involved violence and total negation of previous experiences which appeared to be unwise in the course of time. If socialism is taken as an example, it is clear that the most economically advanced socialist countries are those who also chose make the best of capitalist experiences as well. In contrast, there were some Marx’s followers who were much more radical than Marx himself, which caused in total undermining of culture and religion, and of moral values in the end. In terms of women’s rights the role of Olymp de Gouge was outstanding because she was among the first to raise the issue of gender inequality. Her statements are reasonable because she does not blame men but she does blame the system of patriarchy. Likewise, she does not present women only as victims but as manipulators. Her fair treatment of both sexes helps her reveal her idea that the current system is corruptive for both men and women. Recent centuries demonstrated that her ideas have been developed and realized in Western society and new values have been formed.