Book Review Essay

Friedrich Engels’ study The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State: in the light of the researches of Lewis H. Morgan (1884) makes an anthropological case for the development of concepts such as the State, the family, and private property. The book also describes a prediction of what kind of political and economic changes Engels believed might take place in the future as society continued to evolve. As such, the thesis that is put forward in the book is that the specific systems of human society that exist in the present can be traced back to radically different systems of the past, and simultaneously used as predictive models for radically changed systems of the future. Although controversy persists to this day regarding the authenticity of the anthropological research and evidence used by Engels, the basic arguments made in the book have exerted an important influence. Engels’ prediction of social and economic revolution may or may not be specious. What is clear is that his argument as set forth in this book is cogent.

The way that Engels begins his argument is to describe the cultural realities of a tribal society, specifically the Iroquois tribe. Engels uses research conducted by Lewis H. Morgan to set forth hsi own hypothesis about the roots of society. Engels believed that ancient societies were founded on matriarchies. This means that, for Engels and Morgan, ancient people were not grouped into families as they are in contemporary times, but assembled in clans that were headed by women. In order to support his thesis, Morgan cited the kind of culture that was practiced by the Iroquois tribe who lived together in communal lodges that were controlled by women. The way that property was passed from generation to generation in the tribe was through the women. The strong emphasis on women as leaders and the heads of the lodges is a basis y which Engels concluded that ancient societies were more likely to have lived under communal conditions in a matriarchy rather than in a property centered culture arranged into families.

Engels uses the assertions offered by Morgan as a jumping-off point for his own ideas about the deep origins of contemporary society. He separates stages of growth in human culture into historically linear categories. For example, Engels envisions the most ancient state of human society as being based in “savagery” which is a time when goods are taken from the earth but there is no real conception of economy or private property. The next period that Engels sees is that of “barbarism” when the domestication of animals and the beginnings of agriculture are integrated into society. The stage is the direct precursor to what Engels calls “civilization” and by this term he specifically refers to the birth of industry. Throughout these basic stages of history, the human conception of the primary group and the nature of property also changes.

Engels continues to use Morgan for support as he writes more extensively on the origin of the modern family. The development of the modern family, for Engels is a tremendously significant event in the evolution of humanity. this is because, for Engels the origin of the modern family marks a definite point where human-beings began to separate distinctively from the other other animals. Just as Engels saw various stages of human culture evolving from one to another, he views the family as also evolving through various stages in history. The stages of evolution for the modern family, like those which are associated with politics and economics, are rooted in the past but aso indicate a possible future. This is an important aspect of Engels’ writing on the subject because he is as much concerned with the future evolution of the family and society at large as he is concerned with the origins of society in deep history

In fact, the first state of the modern family, as envisioned by Engels is that of marriage. This creates a separation of generations in breeding. It also helps to instill social taboo against incest and disadvantageous reproduction. The second stage of the evolution of the family is that which prevents reproduction not only between two generations but within the same generation, between siblings. At this point in the development of the family, a clear separation is also made between the matriarchal and patriarchal lines of birth. During these stages, monogamy is not a foregone conclusion. In the next stage of the evolution of the family monogamy is developed and prohibitions against sexual relationships between family members are at their most comprehensive. Exclusivity of offspring leads directly, by Engels’ reckoning to the creation of private property. In terms of how the concepts of private property and the modern family rose together. concurrently, Engels views the creation of law as an extension of the two imperatives. The basic foundation of human society as we now understand it is rooted in the desire to create and uphold reproductive standards, specifically those that relate to incest and illegitimate births. Therefore, the ideas of private property that emerged simultaneously with the creation of the modern family and the rule of law must be regarded as proof that the once-matriarchal basis of culture was moving to a patriarchal basis. In this regard, women’s reproductive capacity and the notion of private property are very closely aligned. In the modern world, according to Engels, the State more or less dictates the boundaries of marriage and relationships. this intrusion of the State into the private affairs of the individual is, itself, an extension of the idea of property and ownership. A State comes to own its citizens that same way an individual owns private property.

In point of fact, modern marriage is often based on economic mergers and the combining of tremendous fortunes and holdings by wealthy families. Obviously in the the past, rulers used marriage as a way of consolidating power and gaining vast wealth as well a way in which to conserve vast power and wealth for an elite group of familial related individuals. The notions of marriage and private property are so closely entwined in Western culture that there is basically no distinction drawn whatsoever. marriage is an economically based institution. In the view of Engels, the more money that is factored into the equation, the less the marriage can be considered to be anything more than economic expediency. Engels concedes that the working-class is less influenced by this tendency than those who control large sums of wealth; however, his overall conviction is that marriage is a destructive institution that treats women and children like currency.

One interesting aspect of Engels’ discussion of the origins of the family and private property is the fact that, beneath all of his theories lay his conviction that a world-wide workers’ revolution would take place and that through this revolution a new culture would be born. Engels believed that the revolution would lead to a worlds where economic class distinctions had been completed eliminated. Once there was no longer an emphasis placed on social class, and economic means, the idea of personal property would also crumble.

In the wake of this transformation, women would finally be free from being treated like bartered goods. In a world without class distinctions, men would be less concerned with the ownership of their offspring and with ensuring that they could pass an inheritance to their descendants. The freedom that was accorded to people in a classless society would also extend to the idea of marriage and love. In a society that had no class distinction sexual unions and love affairs would be those which were chosen and pursued on the basis of emotion rather than materialism. In this regard, Engels essentially affirmed his optimism for the future.

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