21 January 2010

Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

The main text for this week is made up of extracts from Machiavelli’s “The Prince.

In support, 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 a typically sweeping Marxian overview of history, placed at the end of a long book as a summary.

The ancients, especially the Greeks and Romans that both Marx and Machiavelli were so familiar with, tended to write in just such broad terms.

Today, and once again in support of 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 it is sufficient for our purpose.

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.

You can safely ignore the first three paragraphs of the chapter. They only refer back to earlier chapters in the book. But from then onwards, what you will find is a tremendous short history of human society from its beginnings, right up to modern times.

In the literature of Marx and Engels, as in the literature of the ancients, and as  Mainchiavelli's work, there is a constant sense of history on a grand scale; i.e. what is called a “grand narrative” of human life, that is then projected into the future.

Engels was a pioneer in the field of prehistory (which is the study of the time in the development of human culture before the appearance of the written word), as he was in many other fields. Engels's ideas on prehistory, based on work done by Henry Morgan and Engels's friend Karl Marx, have stood the test of time. Marx had recently died when Engels wrote this book, which is 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.