The Dialectical Materialism of Karl Marx
Oh masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this man?
How answer his brute questions in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings --
With those who shaped him to the thing he is --
When this dumb terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?
-- Edwin Markham, The Man with the Hoe
W ith the end of the Napoleonic Wars, an undercurrent of conservative reaction had welled up and begun spilling over Europe in response to the tidal wave of real and threatened change. People everywhere sought refuge in the imagined certainties of an unchanging metaphysical order. Or, like Prince Metternich of Austria, they retreated to the remembered certainties of a past political order, to be perpetuated by the allies who had engineered Napoleon's defeat. But history could not be undone. The pace of social change continued to accelerate. In Britain this was furthered by liberal legislation such as the 1832 Reform Bill (which enfranchised the middle and upper working classes) and in France, by the July Revolution of 1830, replacing the previously reinstated Bourbons with another -- albeit constitutionally controlled -- Napoleon.
One casualty of the turmoil of the times was the possibility of steady progress toward a scientific study of humanity. Two initially appealing detours that have since been recognized as dead-ends were substituted for the slow, difficult trail staked out by the pioneers. One of these involved distortions of the scientific approach; the other, a rejection of it -- at least where the social studies were concerned. The first had two features: (1) a premature emphasis on quantification that may have been encouraged by Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism; and (2) a continuing focus on the discovery of immutable laws of hu____________________