Marx establishes a rigiddistinction between the civil society and the state whilst criticising both asbeing shaped by bourgeois ideology and practice. Indeed, civil society arosefrom the destruction of medieval society which was inextricable to feudalism; apolitical structure which Marx argues bred inequality, exclusion andmarginality.
During feudalism, society was fragmented into separate societies.However, when revolution shattered feudal bonds, the individual ascended, andthe selfish needs of the individual, separated from the community, replaced theold ties of feudal privilege. To elaborate, Marx’s assertion that “thepolitical revolution therefore abolished the political character of the state”(Marx 14:1843) is endemic to how elements of civil life, such as the family,were elevated to the political realm during feudalism. As such, when the politicisationof the private sphere ceased, modern society brought the ascendancy ofindividual egoism, a destructive force which separates the individual from thecommunity and serves to reproduce the privilege which feudalism projected. AsMarx contends, “The political revolution resolves civil life into its componentparts, without revolutionizing these components themselves or subjecting themto criticism” (Marx 15:1843) thus, a separation was established; the non-politicalrealm of civil society, and the political sphere of the bourgeois state. Conversely, rather thanbeing concerned with a collection of isolated individuals, the state representsthe idealistic ideal of universal interests. This is presented as theantithesis of civil society as this should be concerned with universality and ageneral concern. The realm of government should not be concerned withdifference and privacy but rather the common good and the general interest ofthe people.
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On the other hand, repressive, ideological, despotic,Marx is repeatedly scathing in his criticism of the state which he argues is adistant realm for many individuals as they lack the capacity to participate. Assuch, ordinary citizens are “deprived of his real individual life and endowedwith an unreal universality”. Such a vehement assertion implies that the stateonly exudes an illusion of inclusiveness which masks how the state exists only toprotect the interests of the class of owners who control it. Thus, in civilsociety individuals are a “fictitious phenomenon” separated from the community,whereas individuals in the state are “imaginary members” of an “illusionary sovereignty”(Marx 6:1843). The bourgeois state, in Marx’s view, is a weapon used in theclass struggle to suppress revolution whilst stifling individual freedoms. Marx is heavily critical ofthe bourgeois state as he deems this to be a channel which facilitates theruling class to assert their dominance and pursue their common interests ratherthan allowing for universality. As such, the state is an organisation in whichthe ruling class adopt policies that guarantee their property and exclusivemutual interests.
Furthermore, the agents of the state such as the police andjudiciary are not seen as representatives who pursue universal interests, butrather they are representatives of the state with a task to manage the stateagainst the people. Indeed for Marx it is flawed to believe that appointingmembers of an atomised civil society will represent the general interest ofsociety as a whole. From this, one can assume that the entire notion that thegeneral interest would be realised in a bourgeois state is erroneous andfictional; indeed class divisions are deeply embedded and manifested in thestates actions.
Ultimately Marx iscontending that the state is detached from civil society and is a system inwhich members of the ruling class assert their mutual interests. As such, inthe ‘Jewish Question’ Marx perceives the separation of the state from civilsociety as a bourgeois construct and seeks a reunification of both realms.