AUP student taking a photo of the Seine during Orientation.


Philosophy Seminar: Feltham on Marx and Mill's treatments of political action

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 - 18:30 to 20:00

How far should a government go in trying to fix the problems of society? And what is it that so often goes wrong with policy when it is finally put into action? These two questions cut to the core of our trouble with politics: trouble that goes back through modernity to the original enquiries of liberalism and communism into the promise and limits of political action. This paper analyses key texts by John Stuart Mill - Considerations on Representative Government – and Karl Marx - “Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State” in an attempt to locate political action: where does it occur? Between the state and civil society as agent and recipient? It turns out that Mill and Marx’s attempts to decisively settle this question end in trouble and ambivalence.

The hypothesis is that the fundamental problem in locating political action for Hegel, Marx and Mill lies in the emergence of political economy and its invention of its object: the national economy, or ‘commercial society’ in Smith’s terms, or ‘civil society’ in Hegel’s terms as a ‘system of needs’. Marx addresses this problem through a strange dis-articulation of parts and wholes which throws some light on his famous but enigmatic slogan on the withering away of the state. Mill addresses this problem through Aristotle’s original problematic of how to maintain and defend a political regime: this approach drives him so far into the eighteenth-century framework of governmental action harnessing natural forces that he ends up alongside Hegel with an apology for functionalist bureaucracy and an unknowable division between state and society.