Monday, October 13, 2008

"From each according to his abilities" OR "Give a man a fish?"

You may have heard the following phrase:

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

Some have quoted this phrase as an incentive for those of us with the means to do so to willingly give to the needy, offer our services to the poor, etc.

In other words, for those of us in the west to help those in poor countries; for those of us in the middle and upper-middle class to help the poor in our own country.

A 1987 poll on the US Constitution by the Boston Globe magazine claimed that almost half the population of the United States believe that the U.S. Constitution is the source of [the] phrase, "so obviously right does the sentiment seem.”
Adapted from,_to_each_according_to_his_need

However, that's not what it means at all.

The phrase is usually attributed to Karl Marx. He wrote the phrase in his Critique of the Gotha Program (1875).

The Critique is also notable for elucidating the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" as the basis for a communist society. The phrase summarizes the principles that, under a communist system, every person should contribute to society to the best of their ability and consume from society in proportion to their needs, regardless of how much they have contributed.,_to_each_according_to_his_need

In fact, Marx was actually quoting from an earlier historian & socialist politician, (but Spanish-born) Louis Blanc (1811-1882). In his 1839 (or 1840) essay, The Organization of Work, Blanc

demanded the equalization of wages, and the merging of personal interests in the common good-- "à chacun selon ses besoins, de chacun selon ses facultés," which is often translated as "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." This was to be affected by the establishment of "social workshops," a sort of combined co-operative society and trade-union, where the workmen in each trade were to unite their efforts for their common benefit.

And if there’s any question in your mind that Karl Marx was out of touch with reality - and human nature - and that communism is based on a utopian and unrealistic view of human nature:

Marx delineated the specific conditions under which such a creed would be
applicable - a society where technology and social organization had
substantially eliminated the need for physical labor in the production of
things, where "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want."
Marx explained his belief that, in such a society, each person would be
motivated to work for the good of society despite the absence of a social
mechanism compelling them to work, because work would have become a pleasurable
and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, "from each
according to his ability" to suggest not merely that each person should work as
hard as they can, but that each person should best develop their particular

I guess Marx had never heard of total depravity.

1 comment:

Burt Shane said...

Marx was more than aware of "total depravity" - he chronicles, in great detail, the total depravity of capitalists in Capital. And as he pointd out "human nature" is defined differently in different eras - his point, however, was that most people woudl work towards the social good if the social good was the point of working - as opposed to private profit. You may not agree, but please do not misrepresent.