Totalitarian states such as North Korea or Cuba create a social framework in which our choices of actions are constrained, thus thwarting our opportunity to become virtuous by exercising independence in choice and action.
The coercive commands of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes interfere with our exercise of practical judgment, substituting the goals of the state for our own.
This fails to recognize that our lives are lived, and our virtues developed, by identifying and evaluating our own tradeoffs, and acting according to our ends.
Eudemonia is an anglicized Greek word commonly translated as happiness in the broad sense of human well-being. It is defined as “the good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well.”
It is a key concept in modern psychology and moral philosophy. Essentially, eudemonia is having a good life.
In Aristotelian ethics, eudemonia is used for the highest human good, and philosophers have since been preoccupied with defining what a quality life is, and how to achieve it. My aim here is only to argue how a quality life is incompatible with Marxist doctrine.
For philosophers, the difficult question has been what sort of life counts as a quality life. That is, to specify what activities and what institutional frameworks enable us to have a good life. For Aristotle, the good life is one of “virtuous activity in accordance with reason.” An unvirtuous individual cannot be happy. Happiness entails a sense of justified pride in ourselves, and justified pride necessitates virtue.
It is important to keep in mind that “virtue” in ethics is more than a moral concept and includes other qualities such as the exercise of honesty, wisdom, courage or justice. In short, a good life requires good character and rational virtuous activity. How are these best achieved?
Marxist doctrine requires a range of economic and social systems characterized by state control of the means of production. And, a state is an institution that claims for itself monopolistic use of force in a given territory and demands that citizens submit to its mandates. It is not often well understood that a confiscatory attack on someone’s property is an attack on that person. To see this, consider what happens if the individual tries to defend against the state’s attack on his property.
Communist states usurp our individual authority to exercise our own judgment. We cannot live a virtuous life, that is, we cannot have a quality life, without being able to exercise practical judgment and reason. And yet, Marxists governments postulate that they seek to make their citizens virtuous.
Under the Soviet Union, the new Soviet man was to be selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and was to behave consistently with Marxist prescriptions. He was not to be driven by crude impulses of nature but by conscious self-mastery, rejecting his innate personality. Similarly, Che Guevara in “Man and Socialism in Cuba” demanded that “Society as a whole must become a huge school and, in that way, we can see the new man who begins to emerge in this period of the building of socialism.” These experiments resulted in dystopic societies.
To undertake the role of forming virtuous citizens, Marxist states must be unvirtuous as a matter of institutional practice. For example, they must establish educational institutions that regiment thought. They must substitute the states rationality for the judgment of the citizenry, imposing on them the state’s conception of virtue and the pursuit of the state’s ends.
Marxist states, in replacing individual judgment with coercive force, are corrosive to the virtues of the citizenry. This is to say they decrease our quality of life. Free and equal persons have the moral right not to be forced or coerced without justification.
Social virtues do not flow from the state but from our free interactions. Free individuals, and not the state, are the necessary social framework for the development and exercise of virtuous activity in accordance with our reason. The virtues that lead us to have a good life can only be developed by living in freedom.
About the author: Jose Azel, senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba.