Marx: The Repressive Nature of Law

Food for Thought: 

“Law’s repressive coercive (material) functions are obscured by its ideological (symbolic) functions that portray it as equal, universal, and just”.

This quote means that in theory the law is idealized to apply to everyone equally and universally, however in practice the law can actually be the source or driving force behind repression.  I believe that this quote is true and is applicable to present society. I would choose to take this stance because all societies are supposed to be governed by the rule of law, which states no one is above the law.  However, in practice laws do not apply universally to all individuals or interest groups. The judiciary has considerable control on how laws are interpreted and disparities between the leniencies on corporations versus the over-represented Aboriginal population in prisons reveals that there are problems with how the law is applied.

Karl Marx argued that “the foundation of social being and history is predicated on something entirely necessary for our survival; he calls this the mode of production” (Pavlich, 2011, p.90). Karl Marx focuses on this mode of production and its relationship with law. He thinks of law as being an ideology that is used to maintain the existing mode of production, for example in our society he would see that the law is used to maintain a capitalist society (Pavlich, 2011, p.96). Therefore the ruling class is able to maintain its domination in society by instilling rules through law which substantiate the system.  It can be argued that the dominating class in Canada today, are Caucasian white males, who manipulate the law to maintain their status in society. For example, women are equal before the law, yet in certain occupations such as business and legal areas they are grossly underrepresented. Marx would argue that this “glass ceiling” effect occurs as a result of the division of classes into private and public.

The argument of equality in law is a topic which should not have to be brought up however it is necessary to do so. At face value we believe that, and are told that the law is equal and that all who commit the same act of crime, no matter wealth, race, or economic status should be tried the same; however this is simply not true. If more minorities had a louder voice in the law making and implementing process, we start to see a shift of a biased legal system to a more equal standing law system.  And once we reach a fair justice system, one that is not swayed by wealth or classes we will begin to bring forth the true stance of what law was meant to be- blind.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Marx: The Repressive Nature of Law

  1. Great opening paragraph.

    What do you mean by the rule of law? This concept has a ‘common sense’ definition, but there is considerable debate in the literature regarding its meaning.

    You note that “It can be argued that the dominating class in Canada today, are Caucasian white males, who manipulate the law to maintain their status in society. ”

    This is a bit of an oversimplification, though not entirely inaccurate. An excellent body of sociological literature has explored the nature of whiteness and privilege. We will return to this topic in a few week when we explore the critical legal studies movement and critical race theory.

    For Marx – and for marxists – it is important to look at the ways in which classes reflect (and emerge from) relations of production. The dominant (capitalist) class in Canada are defined not by racialized characteristics, but by their ownership of and control over the means of production and the mechanisms of finance. The legacy of institutionalized racism means that whiteness plays and important role in the conferral of privilege for this class.

    We might amend your statement to read: “It can be argued that the dominant class in Canada today are the corporate and financial elite, who manipulate the law to maintain their status in society”, and to add that “the members of this ruling class are disproportionately, though not exclusively, white and male”.

    I think that you will find the reading by Douglas Hay on “Property, Authority and the Criminal Law” to be of interest. We will be covering it in two weeks.

    Good post!