Karl Marx, Anthropologist

By Thomas C. Patterson | Go to book overview

2

Marx's Anthropology

Marx was a child of the Enlightenment. As a teenager in Trier during the early 1830s, he discussed various writers with his father, his future father-in-law, and the director of the local high school that he attended (McLellan 1973: 1–16; Seigel 1978: 28–64). The writers ranged from Homer and Shakespeare, on the one hand, to Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant, and Saint-Simon, on the other. The discussions had a significant impact on the young man; for example, when he was seventeen and still a student in Trier, Marx (1835/1975) wrote an essay on choosing a vocation which contained arguments that paralleled those of Rousseau's Émile, which had been published in 1762 (Hillmann 1966: 33–48). Marx was also a bookworm. He read classical, Enlightenment, and contemporary writers with considerable care (e.g. McLellan 1973: 15, 22, 113, 267, 418). The excerpts he copied from Aeschylus, Goethe, Winckelmann, and others and his commentaries on those passages would come to fill fifty notebooks—more than 30,000 pages—by the time he died (Prawer 1978: 348). From early onward, he quoted long passages from favorite authors like Shakespeare and Homer and easily found quotations in the works of Aristotle and other writers of classical antiquity. In fact, he made the first German translation of Aristotle's De Anima and apparently intended to publish it (Meikle 1985: 58). His library would eventually include nearly a hundred volumes by Greek and Roman writers, many in the original language, as well as commentaries on those works by later authors (DeGolyer 1992: 115; Kaiser 1967).

Marx owed an intellectual debt to Enlightenment writers: the importance of reason, the centrality of the problem of freedom, the denial of knowledge claims based on authority, the historicity of things including forms of society, and the separation of the real world from representations of that world, to name only a few. However, their influence, as Nigel Davidson (2005: 8–9) perceptively remarked, did not come exclusively from books. There are two obvious reasons for this. First, Marx, who was born in 1818, was raised in the Prussian Rhineland, which was occupied by the French from 1794 to 1814; it was the region in Europe “where the influence of the French Revolution was most directly experienced.… For Marx, therefore, the French Revolution was not simply absorbed from the works of French liberals, it was also a historical experience only recently past, whose effects and unfulfilled promises still defined the politics of the time” (Davidson 2005:

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Karl Marx, Anthropologist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chronology xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The Enlightenment and Anthropology 9
  • 2: Marx's Anthropology 39
  • 3: Human Natural Beings 65
  • 4: History, Culture, and Social Formation 91
  • 5: Capitalism and the Anthropology of the Modern World 117
  • 6: Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century 145
  • Notes 173
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 219
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