26 January 2010

Engels on the great historic catastrophe

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

In support of this week’s main text (which is extracts from Machiavelli’s “The Prince”), and as an alternative or supplementary text for study circles to use in dialogue, we yesterday posted Chapter 32 of Karl Marx’s “Capital”, Volume 1. It is typically sweeping overview of history, placed at the end of this long book as a summary.

Both Machiavelli, and (later) Marx, were familiar with the history of “the ancients”, and especially with the literature of the Greeks and the Romans. These ancients often wrote in the same kind of broad, sweeping terms.

Today, and once again to support the kind of historical view that Machiavelli brought back into modern historiography, and into literature, we have Chapter 9 of Frederick Engels’ “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”.

This chapter is over 8000 words long and may possibly prove difficult for some readers at this stage. If so, it does not matter much. The main text, from “The Prince”, is very easy reading, and is quite sufficient for our purpose, which is dialogue, and not “banking”.

We will return to “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” later in this Basics course when we are dealing more specifically with the State, and again when we deal with the set called “No Woman, No Revolution”; because the rise of property and the State that secured property, was also at one and the same time, the fall of the women in human society.

You can safely ignore the first three paragraphs of today’s given chapter. These paragraphs only refer back to earlier chapters in the book; but from then onwards, what you will find is a virtual history of human society from its beginning right up to modern times.

In the literature of Marx and Engels, as in the literature of the ancients and as in Machiavelli, there is a constant sense of history on a grand scale – what is sometimes called a “grand narrative” of human life - which is then projected into the future.

Engels was a pioneer in the field of prehistory (i.e. the study of the time during the development of human culture before the appearance of the written word), as he was in many other fields. His ideas on prehistory, based also on work done by Henry Morgan and then by Karl Marx, have stood the test of time.

Marx had recently died when Engels wrote this book, hence it is also to some extent a tribute to Marx from Engels.

This might be a good occasion to change gear, and to read the text, for once, simply as an epic story. We must avoid over-taxing ourselves with large amounts of solitary learning.



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