The Differences in Political Theory of Karl Marx and Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Political theory defined by David Held is that “a network of concepts and generalizations about political life involving ideas, assumptions and statements about the nature, purpose and key features of government, state and society and about the political capabilities of human beings”(Political Theory Today, 1991). Every political theorist has different ideas and philosophy on what he believed in. In conjunction with that, they will conduct a study and critically analyse for their ideology based on law, justice, civil rights and government. The importance of studying this is we will learn complex nature of government and how the political theorist thought about the government works. In this essay, I will compare and contrast between two western political theorists which are Karl Marx and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Karl Marx ideas on his political and economics thought have been used to design disastrously planned economies and nasty dictatorships. Karl Marx stands on his ideology of Marxism. Under this, it also how shows the capitalism works in this society where proletariat or working class only own their capacity to work where they have the ability to only sell labours. Karl Marx also stands with the communism and criticize social contract.

Meanwhile, Rousseau starts the social contract with his famous lines that “man is born free and everywhere is chains”. With his belief, he theorized about the best way to set up political community. In his book, he also discussed about how science and arts has caused corruption of virtue and morality. He also proclaimed about the state of nature.

Issues on inequality

This issue is important for these two theorists in making a legitimate government as it is big issue in society. They have addressing the same issues but have different views in encounter inequality for the social justice. What make the view differ? It differs on how Marx and Rousseau was what driving the issues of inequality and what reformation were most necessary to encounter this problem.

Karl Marx in his view, the emergence of capitalist system caused the inequality. Karl Marx criticize that the exploitation of wealth had happened and it is unfair to the proletariat. It is because the exploitation happened between from other social class to the other social classes and that is why private property was being abolished. For Marx, “man is not man today” but he described that man were used in terms of energy for them to work for producing wealth as they were working for upper social class. The industry shows the greedy of the people and the other workers would fall into different social class. Marx also viewed the inequality is attached with the capitalist system itself. The capitalist in upper class holds the means of production but Marx’s opinion was that inequality of wealth has historical roots.

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Meanwhile, Rousseau viewed inequalities came from the corruption where societies corrupts the pure individual. It is because the men are limited and corrupted due to social arrangements. But Rousseau considered that private property should not be abolished but to be minimize and should be distributed equally among the members of society.

Even though, he thought that private property are social ills because private ownership would make the people tend to be greedy as they would tend to corruption and would destroy their social character. What is the source of inequalities based on Rousseau’s view? It was a simple stage of simple preservation and he also becomes conscious of other men. Secondly, it was based on the rise of the agriculture that will lead to the private ownership. In order to gain more status in wealth, possessions, politics, or society they became separated from the natural state of man. Rousseau reached the conclusion that the arts and sciences created luxuries that soon became needs, “Everyone begins to survey the rest, and wishes to be surveyed himself; and public esteem acquires a value”.

State and Government

Rousseau’s and Marx’s opinion about state and government are different because Marx is against the state and government but Rousseau supports it. Marx thought that state and government were limiting the freedom of the people. It is because the state by his opinion is suppressing the social class where upper social class suppress the lower social class which is proletariat. As Marx said that, the state is unnecessary because there are no economic classes. Marx also said that state is a coercive power for class domination.

Meanwhile, Rousseau does not support in abolishing the state and government because he thought that a small state is good for people’s self-government. As being born in Geneva, he believed that small state is the concept of direct democracy as he believed that smaller government allowed for maximization of liberties for the peoples compared to the larger state because it would be hard to control the peoples in the country.

Social Contract

Social contract is the idea that humans exist alone as individuals in their natural state. Marx has critique the social contract theory compared to Rousseau who is supporting social contract. Marx said that human need resources to provide their necessities so they have to make relationship with other people. It can be argued that it follows from this assumption that economic outcomes should always be considered as other’s people effort. It is where if the people live in societies in which their well-being can be affected by others, so that they will be free from antagonism of the society.

Meanwhile Rousseau view on social contract is where proper society could be build. It is where the unanimous agreement could be achieved to eliminate the problem of dependency of one another. Social contract also in his view also is alienation by each other and all of his rights and it will take them to three stages. So, basically they are just like being dependent to each other and this is what Rousseau wants to eliminate in them. So that, they will acquire freedom by him as long that they obey to themselves.


In a nutshell, Marx and Rousseau has similar ideas on the inequality but different ways on how tackling their ways of the issue of inequalities. They also have different perception and view on certain issue. Rousseau’s political idea is more democracy than Karl Marx as he was using radical movement on his political ideology. Even though their ideas have been used for hundred years, but some of their ideas are still being used by certain government and leaders. For the example, there is still country that still controlling the wealth of the people. The power control are ruling parties and in this way continue to accumulate more wealth while the working people work for subsistence wages and have few freedoms and little power to change the systems that hold them down. It is just the workers that need to be voice out their dissatisfaction to the upper class so that they would not be oppressed anymore.

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