History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy

Medieval philosophy

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


Western Philosophy







Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Western philosophy

History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.


Modern philosophy

Modern philosophy » The 19th century » Positivism and social theory in Comte, Mill, and Marx

The absolute idealists wrote as if the Renaissance methodologists of the sciences had never existed. But if in Germany the empirical and scientific tradition in philosophy lay dormant, in France and England in the middle of the 19th century it was very much alive. In France, Auguste Comte wrote his great philosophical history of science, Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42; “Course of Positive Philosophy”; Eng. trans. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte), in six volumes. Influenced by Bacon and the entire school of British empiricism, by the doctrine of progress put forward by Turgot and the marquis de Condorcet (1743–94) during the 18th century, and by the very original social reformer Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), Comte called his philosophy “positivism,” by which he meant a philosophy of science so narrow that it denied any validity whatsoever to “knowledge” not derived through the accepted methods of science. But the Cours de philosophie positive made its point not by dialectic but by an appeal to the history of thought, and here Comte presented his two basic ideas:

1. The notion that the sciences have emerged in strict order, beginning with mathematics and astronomy, followed by physics, chemistry, and biology, and culminating in the new science of sociology, to which Comte was the first to ascribe the name.
2. The so-called “law of the three stages,” which views thought in every field as passing progressively from superstition to science by first being religious, then abstract, or metaphysical, and finally positive, or scientific.

Comte’s contribution was to initiate an antireligious and an antimetaphysical bias in the philosophy of science that survived into the 20th century.

In mid-19th-century England the chief representative of the empirical tradition from Bacon to Hume was John Stuart Mill. Mill’s theory of knowledge, best represented in his Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865), was not particularly original but rather a judicious combination of the doctrines of Berkeley and Hume; it symbolized his mistrust of vague metaphysics, his denial of the a priori element in knowledge, and his determined opposition to any form of intuitionism. It is in his enormously influential A System of Logic (1843), however, that Mill’s chief theoretical ideas are to be found.

This work—as part of its subtitle, the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, indicates—was concerned less with formal logic than with scientific methodology. Mill made here the fundamental distinction between deduction and induction, defined induction as the process for discovering and proving general propositions, and presented his “four methods of experimental inquiry” as the heart of the inductive method. These methods were, in fact, only an enlarged and refined version of Francis Bacon’s “tables of discovery.” But the most significant section of A System of Logic was its conclusion, Book VI, On the Logic of the Moral Sciences.

Mill took the experience of the uniformity of nature as the warrant of induction. Here he reaffirmed the belief of Hume that it is possible to apply the principle of causation and the methods of physical science to moral and social phenomena. These may be so complex as to yield only “conditional predictions,” but in this sense there are “social laws.” Thus Comte and Mill agreed on the possibility of a genuine social science.

Mill’s Logic was extremely influential, and it continued to be taught at Oxford and Cambridge well into the 20th century, but in the end his importance lay less in logic and epistemology than in ethics and political philosophy. Mill was the great apostle of political liberalism in the 19th century, a true follower of John Locke. And, just as Locke and Rousseau had represented the liberal and the radical wings of social theory in the early modern period, so Mill and Karl Marx represented the liberal and radical approaches to social reform 100 years later.

Mill was raised by social reformers—his father, James Mill (1773–1836), and Jeremy Bentham. His social theory was an attempt, by gradual means arrived at democratically, to combat the evils of the Industrial Revolution. His ethics, expressed in his Utilitarianism (1861), followed the formulations of Bentham in finding the end of society to consist in the production of the greatest quantity of happiness for its members, but he gave to Bentham’s cruder (but more consistent) doctrines a humanistic and individualistic slant. Thus, the moral self-development of the individual becomes the ultimate value in Mill’s ethics.

This trend was also expressed in his essays On Liberty (1859) and Considerations on Representative Government (1861). In the former he stated the case for the freedom of the individual against “the tyranny of the majority,” presented strong arguments in favour of complete freedom of thought and discussion, and argued that no state or society has the right to prevent the free development of human individuality. In the latter he provided a classic defense for the principle of representative democracy, asked for the adequate representation of minorities, urged renewed public participation in political action for necessary social reforms, and pointed out the dangers of class-oriented, or special-interest, legislation.

A radical counterbalance to Mill’s liberal ideas was provided by the philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary Karl Marx. Prior to 1848, Marx used the Hegelian idea of estrangement (which Hegel had used in a metaphysical sense) to indicate the alienation of the worker from the enjoyment of the products of his labour, the crass treatment of human labour as a mere commodity and human beings as mere things, and the general dehumanization of individuals in a selfish, profit-seeking capitalist society.

In The Communist Manifesto (1848), which he wrote with his colleague and friend Friedrich Engels (1820–95), Marx yielded to the revolutionary temper of the times by calling for the violent overthrow of the existing social order (as Rousseau had done before the French Revolution). All of history, Marx said, is the struggle between an exploiting minority and an exploited majority, most recently between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; and he advocated the formation of a Communist Party to stimulate proletarian class consciousness and to encourage the proletarian seizure of power and the institution of a just and democratically managed socialist society.

Marx’s revolutionary fervour tended to harm his philosophical reputation in the West, and his philosophical achievement remains a matter of controversy. But certain of his ideas (some Hegelian in inspiration, some original) have endured. Among these are:

1. That society is a moving balance (dialectic) of antithetical forces that produce social change.
2. That there is no conflict between a rigid economic determinism and a program of revolutionary action.
3. That ideas (including philosophical theories) are not purely rational and thus cannot be independent of external circumstances but depend upon the nature of the social order in which they arise.


Auguste Comte
French philosopher
in full Isidore-auguste-marie-françois-xavier Comte

born January 19, 1798, Montpellier, France
died September 5, 1857, Paris

French philosopher known as the founder of sociology and of positivism. Comte gave the science of sociology its name and established the new subject in a systematic fashion.

Comte’s father, Louis Comte, a tax official, and his mother, Rosalie Boyer, were strongly royalist and deeply sincere Roman Catholics. But their sympathies were at odds with the republicanism and skepticism that swept through France in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Comte resolved these conflicts at an early age by rejecting Roman Catholicism and royalism alike. He was intellectually precocious and in 1814 entered the École Polytechnique—a school in Paris that had been founded in 1794 to train military engineers but was soon transformed into a general school for advanced sciences. The school was temporarily closed in 1816, but Comte soon took up permanent residence in Paris, earning a precarious living there by the occasional teaching of mathematics and by journalism. He read widely in philosophy and history and was especially interested in those thinkers who were beginning to discern and trace some order in the history of human society. The thoughts of several important French political philosophers of the 18th century—such as Montesquieu, the Marquis de Condorcet, A.-R.-J. Turgot, and Joseph de Maistre—were critically worked into his own system of thought.

Comte’s most important acquaintance in Paris was Henri de Saint-Simon, a French social reformer and one of the founders of socialism, who was the first to clearly see the importance of economic organization in modern society. Comte’s ideas were very similar to Saint-Simon’s, and some of his earliest articles appeared in Saint-Simon’s publications. There were distinct differences in the two men’s viewpoints and scientific backgrounds, however, and Comte eventually broke with Saint-Simon. In 1826 Comte began a series of lectures on his “system of positive philosophy” for a private audience, but he soon suffered a serious nervous breakdown. He made an almost complete recovery from his symptoms the following year, and in 1828/29 he again took up his projected lecture series. This was so successfully concluded that he redelivered it at the Royal Athenaeum during 1829–30. The following 12 years were devoted to his publication (in six volumes) of his philosophy in a work entitled Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42; “Course of Positive Philosophy”; Eng. trans. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte).

From 1832 to 1842 Comte was a tutor and then an examiner at the revived École Polytechnique. In the latter year he quarreled with the directors of the school and lost his post, along with much of his income. During the remainder of his life he was supported in part by English admirers such as John Stuart Mill and by French disciples, especially the philologist and lexicographer Maximilien Littré. Comte married Caroline Massin in 1825, but the marriage was unhappy and they separated in 1842. In 1845 Comte had a profound romantic and emotional experience with Clotilde de Vaux, who died the following year of tuberculosis. Comte idealized this sentimental episode, which exerted a considerable influence on his later thought and writings, particularly with regard to the role of women in the positivist society he planned to establish.

Comte devoted the years after the death of Clotilde de Vaux to composing his other major work, the Système de politique positive, 4 vol. (1851–54; System of Positive Polity), in which he completed his formulation of sociology. The entire work emphasized morality and moral progress as the central preoccupation of human knowledge and effort and gave an account of the polity, or political organization, that this required. Comte lived to see his writings widely scrutinized throughout Europe. Many English intellectuals were influenced by him, and they translated and promulgated his work. His French devotees had also increased, and a large correspondence developed with positivist societies throughout the world. Comte died of cancer in 1857.

Comte was a rather sombre, ungrateful, self-centred, and egocentric personality, but he compensated for this by his zeal for the welfare of humanity, his intellectual determination, and his strenuous application to his life’s work. He devoted himself untiringly to the promotion and systematization of his ideas and to their application in the cause of the improvement of society.

His other writings include Catéchisme positiviste (1852; The Catechism of Positive Religion) and Synthèse subjective (1856; “Subjective Synthesis”). In general, his writing was well organized, and its exposition proceeded in impressively orderly fashion, but his style was heavy, laboured, and rather monotonous. His chief works are notable mainly because of the scope, magnitude, and importance of his project and the conscientious persistence with which he developed and expressed his ideas.

Comte lived through the aftermath of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, at a time when a new, stable social order—without despotism—was sought. Modern science and technology and the Industrial Revolution had begun transforming the societies of Europe in directions no one yet understood. People experienced violent conflict but were adrift in feeling, thought, and action; they lacked confidence in established sentiments, beliefs, and institutions but had nothing with which to replace them. Comte thought that this condition was not only significant for France and Europe but was one of the decisive junctures of human history.

Comte’s particular ability was as a synthesizer of the most diverse intellectual currents. He took his ideas mainly from writers of the 18th and early 19th centuries. From David Hume and Immanuel Kant he derived his conception of positivism—i.e., the theory that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge and that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences. From various French clericalist thinkers Comte took the notion of a hypothetical framework for social organization that would imitate the hierarchy and discipline found in the Roman Catholic church. From various Enlightenment philosophers he adopted the notion of historical progress. Most importantly, from Saint-Simon he came to appreciate the need for a basic and unifying social science that would both explain existing social organizations and guide social planning for a better future. This new science he called “sociology” for the first time.

Comte shared Saint-Simon’s appreciation of the growing importance of modern science and the potential application of scientific methods to the study and improvement of society. Comte believed that social phenomena could be reduced to laws in the same way that the revolutions of the heavenly bodies had been made explicable by gravitational theory. Furthermore, he believed that the purpose of the new scientific analysis of society should be ameliorative and that the ultimate outcome of all innovation and systematization in the new science should be the guidance of social planning. Comte also thought a new and secularized spiritual order was needed to supplant what he viewed as the outdated supernaturalism of Christian theology.

Comte’s main contribution to positivist philosophy falls into five parts: his rigorous adoption of the scientific method; his law of the three states or stages of intellectual development; his classification of the sciences; his conception of the incomplete philosophy of each of these sciences anterior to sociology; and his synthesis of a positivist social philosophy in a unified form. He sought a system of philosophy that could form a basis for political organization appropriate to modern industrial society.

Comte’s “law of the three stages” maintained that human intellectual development had moved historically from a theological stage, in which the world and human destiny within it were explained in terms of gods and spirits; through a transitional metaphysical stage, in which explanations were in terms of essences, final causes, and other abstractions; and finally to the modern positive stage. This last stage was distinguished by an awareness of the limitations of human knowledge. Knowledge could only be relative to man’s nature as a species and to his varying social and historical situations. Absolute explanations were therefore better abandoned for the more sensible discovery of laws based on the observable relations between phenomena.

Comte’s classification of the sciences was based upon the hypothesis that the sciences had developed from the understanding of simple and abstract principles to the understanding of complex and concrete phenomena. Hence, the sciences developed as follows: from mathematics, astronomy, physics, and chemistry to biology and finally to sociology. According to Comte, this last discipline not only concluded the series but would also reduce social facts to laws and synthesize the whole of human knowledge, thus rendering the discipline equipped to guide the reconstruction of society.

Though Comte did not originate the concept of sociology or its area of study, he greatly extended and elaborated the field and systematized its content. Comte divided sociology into two main fields, or branches: social statics, or the study of the forces that hold society together; and social dynamics, or the study of the causes of social change. He held that the underlying principles of society are individual egoism, which is encouraged by the division of labour, and the combination of efforts and the maintenance of social cohesion by means of government and the state.

Comte revealed his conception of the ideal positivist society in his System of Positive Polity. He believed that the organization of the Roman Catholic church, divorced from Christian theology, could provide a structural and symbolic model for the new society, though Comte substituted a “religion of humanity” for the worship of God. A spiritual priesthood of secular sociologists would guide society and control education and public morality. The actual administration of the government and of the economy would be in the hands of businessmen and bankers, while the maintenance of private morality would be the province of women as wives and mothers.

Though unquestionably a man of genius, Comte inspired discipleship on the one hand and derision on the other. His plans for a future society have been described as ludicrous, and Comte was deeply reactionary in his rejection of democracy, his emphasis on hierarchy and obedience, and his opinion that the ideal government would be made up of an intellectual elite. But his ideas influenced such notable social scientists as Émile Durkheim of France and Herbert Spencer and Sir Edward Burnett Tylor of Great Britain. Comte’s belief in the importance of sociology as the scientific study of human society remains an article of faith among contemporary sociologists, and the work he accomplished remains a remarkable synthesis and an important system of thought.

Ronald Fletcher
Harry Elmer Barnes



Henri de Saint-Simon
French social reformer
in full Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Comte (count) de Saint-Simon

born Oct. 17, 1760, Paris, Fr.
died May 19, 1825, Paris

French social theorist and one of the chief founders of Christian socialism. In his major work, Nouveau Christianisme (1825), he proclaimed a brotherhood of man that must accompany the scientific organization of industry and society.

Saint-Simon was born of an impoverished aristocratic family. His grandfather’s cousin had been the Duke de Saint-Simon, famous for his memoirs of the court of Louis XIV. Henri was fond of claiming descent from Charlemagne. After an irregular education by private tutors, he entered military service at 17. He was in the regiments sent by France to aid the American colonies in their war of independence against England and served as a captain of artillery at Yorktown in 1781.

During the French Revolution he remained in France, where he bought up newly nationalized land with funds advanced by a friend. He was imprisoned in the Palais de Luxembourg during the Reign of Terror and emerged to find himself enormously rich because of the depreciation of the Revolutionary currency. He proceeded to live a life of splendour and license, entertaining prominent people from all walks of life at his glittering salons. Within several years he had brought himself close to bankruptcy. He turned to the study of science, attending courses at the École Polytechnique and entertaining distinguished scientists.

In his first published work, Lettres d’un habitant de Genève à ses contemporains (1803; “Letters of an Inhabitant of Geneva to His Contemporaries”), Saint-Simon proposed that scientists take the place of priests in the social order. He argued that the property owners who held political power could hope to maintain themselves against the propertyless only by subsidizing the advance of knowledge.

By 1808 Saint-Simon was impoverished, and the last 17 years of his life were lived mainly on the generosity of friends. Among his many later publications were De la réorganisation de la société européenne (1814; “On the Reorganization of European Society”) and L’industrie (1816–18, in collaboration with Auguste Comte; “Industry”). In 1823, in a fit of despondency, Saint-Simon attempted to kill himself with a pistol but succeeded only in putting out one eye.

Throughout his life Saint-Simon devoted himself to a long series of projects and publications through which he sought to win support for his social ideas. As a thinker, Saint-Simon was deficient in system, clearness, and coherence, but his influence on modern thought, especially in the social sciences, is undeniable. Apart from the details of his socialist teachings, his main ideas are simple and represented a reaction against the bloodletting of the French Revolution and the militarism of Napoleon. Saint-Simon correctly foresaw the industrialization of the world, and he believed that science and technology would solve most of humanity’s problems. Accordingly, in opposition to feudalism and militarism, he advocated an arrangement whereby businessmen and other industrial leaders would control society. The spiritual direction of society would be in the hands of scientists and engineers, who would thus take the place occupied by the Roman Catholic church in the European Middle Ages. What Saint-Simon desired, in other words, was an industrialized state directed by modern science, and one in which society would be organized for productive labour by the most capable men. The aim of society would be to produce things useful to life. Saint-Simon also proposed that the states of Europe form an association to suppress war. These ideas had a profound influence on the philosopher Auguste Comte, who worked with Saint-Simon until the two men quarreled.

Although the contrast between the labouring and the propertied classes in society is not emphasized by Saint-Simon, the cause of the poor is discussed, and in his best-known work, Nouveau Christianisme (1825; “The New Christianity”), it takes the form of a religion. It was this development of Saint-Simon’s teaching that occasioned his final rupture with Comte. Before the publication of Nouveau Christianisme, Saint-Simon had not concerned himself with theology, but in this work, beginning with a belief in God, he tries to resolve Christianity into its essential elements, and he finally propounds this precept: that religion “should guide the community toward the great aim of improving as quickly as possible the conditions of the poorest class.” This became the watchword of the entire school of Saint-Simon.

His movement and its influence.
Saint-Simon died in 1825, and, in the subsequent years, his disciples carried his message to the world and made him famous. By 1826 a movement supporting his ideas had begun to grow, and by the end of 1828 the Saint-Simonians were holding meetings in Paris and in many provincial towns. In July 1830 revolution brought new opportunities to the Saint-Simonians in France. They issued a proclamation demanding the ownership of goods in common, the abolition of the right of inheritance, and the enfranchisement of women. The sect included some of the ablest and most promising young men of France. In the following years, however, the leaders of the movement quarreled among themselves, and as a result the movement fragmented and broke up, its leaders turning to practical affairs.

Despite this, the ideas of the Saint-Simonians had a pervasive influence on the intellectual life of 19th-century Europe. Thomas Carlyle in England was among those influenced by the ideas of Saint-Simon or his followers. Friedrich Engels found in Saint-Simon “the breadth of view of a genius,” containing in embryo most of the ideas of the later socialists. Saint-Simon’s proposals of social and economic planning were indeed ahead of his time, and succeeding Marxists, socialists, and capitalist reformers alike were indebted to his ideas in one way or another. Felix Markham has said that Saint-Simon’s ideas have a peculiar relevance to the 20th century, when socialist ideologies took the place of traditional religion in many countries.



John Stuart Mill
British philosopher and economist

born May 20, 1806, London, Eng.
died May 8, 1873, Avignon, France

English philosopher, economist, and exponent of Utilitarianism. He was prominent as a publicist in the reforming age of the 19th century, and remains of lasting interest as a logician and an ethical theorist.

Early life and career
The eldest son of the British historian, economist, and philosopher James Mill, he was born in his father’s house in Pentonville, London. He was educated exclusively by his father, who was a strict disciplinarian. By his eighth year he had read in the original Greek Aesop’s Fables, Xenophon’s Anabasis, and the whole of the historian Herodotus. He was acquainted with the satirist Lucian, the historian of philosophy Diogenes Laërtius, the Athenian writer and educational theorist Isocrates, and six dialogues of Plato. He had also read a great deal of history in English. At the age of eight he started Latin, the geometry of Euclid, and algebra and began to teach the younger children of the family. His main reading was still history, but he went through all the Latin and Greek authors commonly read in the schools and universities and, by the age of 10 could read Plato and the Athenian statesman Demosthenes with ease. About the age of 12, he began a thorough study of Scholastic logic, at the same time reading Aristotle’s logical treatises in the original. In the following year he was introduced to political economy and studied the work of the Scottish political economist and philosopher Adam Smith and that of the English economist David Ricardo.

While the training the younger Mill received has aroused amazement and criticism, its most important aspect was the close association it fostered with the strenuous character and vigorous intellect of his father. From his earliest days he spent much time in his father’s study and habitually accompanied him on his walks. He thus inevitably acquired many of his father’s speculative opinions and his father’s way of defending them. But he did not receive the impress passively and mechanically. The duty of collecting and weighing evidence for himself was at every turn impressed upon the boy. His childhood was not unhappy, but it was a strain on his constitution and he suffered from the lack of natural, unforced development.

From May 1820 until July 1821, Mill was in France with the family of Sir Samuel Bentham, brother of Jeremy Bentham, the English Utilitarian philosopher, economist, and theoretical jurist. Copious extracts from a diary kept at this time show how methodically he read and wrote, studied chemistry and botany, tackled advanced mathematical problems, and made notes on the scenery and the people and customs of the country. He also gained a thorough acquaintance with the French language. On his return in 1821 he added to his work the study of psychology and of Roman law, which he read with John Austin, his father having half decided on the bar as the best profession open to him. This intention, however, was abandoned, and in 1823, when he had just completed his 17th year, he entered the examiner’s office of the India House. After a short probation he was promoted in 1828 to assistant examiner. For 20 years, from 1836 (when his father died) to 1856, Mill had charge of the British East India Company’s relations with the Indian states, and in 1856 he became chief of the examiner’s office.

In 1822 Mill had read P.-E.-L. Dumont’s exposition of Bentham’s doctrines in the Traités de Législation, which made a lasting impression upon him. The impression was confirmed by the study of the English psychologists and also of two 18th-century French philosophers—Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, who was also a psychologist, and Claude-Adrien Helvétius, who was noted for his emphasis on physical sensations. Soon after, in 1822–23, Mill established among a few friends the Utilitarian Society, taking the word, as he tells us, from Annals of the Parish, a novel of Scottish country life by John Galt.

Two newspapers welcomed his contributions—The Traveller, edited by a friend of Bentham’s, and The Morning Chronicle, edited by his father’s friend John Black. One of his first efforts was a solid argument for freedom of discussion in a series of letters to the Chronicle on the prosecution of Richard Carlile, a 19th-century English radical and freethinker. Mill seized every chance for exposing departures from sound principle in Parliament and courts of justice. Another outlet was opened up for him (April 1824) with the founding of the Westminster Review, which was the organ of the philosophical radicals. In 1825 he began work on an edition of Bentham’s Rationale of Judicial Evidence (5 vol., 1827). He took part eagerly in discussions with the many men of distinction who came to his father’s house and engaged in set discussions at a reading society formed at the home of English historian George Grote in 1825 and in debates at the London Debating Society, formed in the same year.

Public life and writing
The Autobiography tells how in 1826 Mill’s enthusiasm was checked by a misgiving as to the value of the ends that he had set before him. At the London Debating Society, where he first measured his strength in public conflict, he found himself looked upon with curiosity as a precocious phenomenon, a “made man,” an intellectual machine set to grind certain tunes. The elder Mill, like Plato, would have put poets under ban as enemies of truth; he subordinated private to public affections; and Landor’s maxims of “few acquaintances, fewer friends, no familiarities” had his cordial approval. The younger Mill now felt himself forced to abandon these doctrines. Too much in awe of his father to make him a confidant, he wrestled with his doubts in gloomy solitude. He emerged from the struggle with a more catholic view of human happiness, a delight in poetry for its own sake, a more placable attitude in controversy, a hatred of sectarianism, and an ambition no less noble and disinterested but moderated to practical possibilities. Gradually, the debates in the Debating Society attracted men with whom contact was invigorating and inspiring. Mill ceased to attend the society in 1829, but he carried away from it the conviction that a true system of political philosophy was

something much more complex and many-sided than he had previously had any idea of, and that its office was to supply, not a set of model institutions but principles from which the institutions suitable to any given circumstances might be deduced.

Mill’s letters in The Examiner in the autumn of 1830, after a visit to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of the younger liberals, may be taken as marking his return to hopeful activity; and a series of articles on “The Spirit of the Age” appeared in the same paper in 1831. During the years 1832 and 1833 he contributed many essays to Tait’s Magazine, The Jurist, and The Monthly Repository. In 1835 Sir William Molesworth founded The London Review, with Mill as editor. It was amalgamated with The Westminster (as The London and Westminster Review) in 1836, and Mill continued as editor (latterly as proprietor, also) until 1840. In and after 1840 he published several important articles in The Edinburgh Review. Some of the essays written for these journals were reprinted in the first two volumes (1859) of Mill’s Dissertations and Discussions and give evidence of the increasing width of his interests. Among the more important are “Thoughts on Poetry and Its Varieties” (1833), “Writings of Alfred de Vigny” (1838), “Bentham” (1838), “Coleridge” (1840), “M. De Tocqueville on Democracy in America” (1840), “Michelet’s History of France” (1844), and “Guizot’s Essays and Lectures on History” (1845). The twin essays on Bentham and Coleridge show Mill’s powers at their splendid best and indicate very clearly the new spirit that he tried to breathe into English radicalism.

During these years Mill also wrote his great systematic works on logic and on political economy. His reawakened enthusiasm for humanity had taken shape as an aspiration to supply an unimpeachable method of proof for conclusions in moral and social science; the French positivist philosopher Auguste Comte had some influence here, but the main inspiration undoubtedly came from the English scientist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, whose physics had already been accepted as a model of scientific exposition by such earlier British philosophers as John Locke, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, and James Mill. But he was determined that the new logic should not simply oppose the old logic. In his Westminster review (of 1828) of Richard Whately’s Elements of Logic, he was already defending the syllogism against the Scottish philosophers who had talked of superseding it by a supposed system of inductive logic. He required his inductive logic to “supplement and not supersede.” For several years he searched in vain for the means of concatenation. Finally, in 1837, on reading William Whewell’s Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences and rereading John F.W. Herschel’s Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, Mill at last saw his way clear both to formulating the methods of scientific investigation and to joining the new logic onto the old as a supplement. A System of Logic, in two volumes, was published in 1843 (3rd–8th editions, introducing many changes, 1851–72). Book VI is his valiant attempt to formulate a logic of the human sciences—including history, psychology, and sociology—based on causal explanation conceived in Humean terms, a formulation that has lately come in for radical criticism.

Mill distinguished three stages in his development as a political economist. In 1844 he published the Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy, which he had written several years earlier, and four out of five of these essays are solutions of perplexing technical problems—the distribution of the gains of international commerce, the influence of consumption on production, the definition of productive and unproductive labour, and the precise relations between profits and wages. Here for the most part Mill appears as the disciple of David Ricardo, striving after more precise statements and reaching forward to further consequences. In his second stage, originality and independence become more conspicuous as he struggles toward the standpoint from which he wrote his Principles of Political Economy. This was published in 1848 (2 vol.; 2nd and 3rd eds., with significant differences, 1849, 1852), and, at about the same time, Mill was advocating the creation of peasant proprietorships as a remedy for the distresses and disorder in Ireland. Thereafter, he made a more thorough study of Socialist writers. He was convinced that the social question was as important as the political question. He declined to accept property, devised originally to secure peace in a primitive society, as necessarily sacred in its existing developments in a quite different stage of society. He separated questions of production and distribution and could not rest satisfied with the distribution that condemned the labouring classes to a cramped and wretched existence, in many cases to starvation. He did not come to a Socialist solution, but he had the great merit of having considered afresh the foundations of society. This he called his third stage as a political economist, and he says that he was helped toward it by Mrs. Taylor (Harriet Hardy), who became his wife in 1851.

It is generally supposed that Mill writes with a lover’s extravagance about Harriet’s powers. He expressly says, indeed, that he owed none of his technical doctrine to her, that she influenced only his ideals of life for the individual and for society, and that the only work directly inspired by her is the essay on the “Enfranchisement of Women” (Dissertations, vol. 2). Nevertheless, Mill’s relations with her have always been something of a puzzle.

During the seven years of his marriage Mill became increasingly absorbed in the work of the British East India Company and in consequence published less than at any other period of his life. In 1856 he became head of the examiner’s office in the India House, and for two years, till the dissolution of the company in 1858, his official work kept him fully occupied. It fell to him as head of the office to write the defense of the company’s government of India when the transfer of its powers was proposed. Mill opposed the transfer, and the documents in which he defended the company’s administration are models of trenchant and dignified pleading. On the dissolution of the company, Mill was offered a seat in the new council but declined it and retired with a pension of £1,500. His retirement from official life was followed almost immediately by his wife’s death at Avignon, France. He spent most of the rest of his life at a villa at Saint-Véran, near Avignon, returning to his house at Blackheath only for a short period in each year.

The later years
Mill sought relief by publishing a series of books on ethics and politics that he had meditated upon and partly written in collaboration with his wife. The essay On Liberty appeared in 1859 with a touching dedication to her and the Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform in the same year. In his Considerations on Representative Government (1861) he systematized opinions already put forward in many casual articles and essays. It has been remarked how Mill combined enthusiasm for democratic government with pessimism as to what democracy was likely to do; practically every discussion in these books exemplifies this. His Utilitarianism (in Fraser’s Magazine, 1861; separate publication, 1863) was a closely reasoned attempt to answer objections to his ethical theory and to remove misconceptions about it. He was especially anxious to make it clear that he included in “utility” the pleasures of the imagination and the gratification of the higher emotions; and to make a place in his system for settled rules of conduct.

Mill also began to write again on the wider philosophical questions that had occupied him in the Logic. In 1865 he published both his Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy and his Auguste Comte and Positivism, but in both writings his motives were largely political. It was because he regarded the writings and sayings of Sir William Hamilton as the great fortress of intuitional philosophy in Great Britain that Mill undertook to counter his pretensions. In dealing with Comte, Mill distinguished sharply between Comte’s earlier philosophical doctrine of Positivism and his later religion of humanity. The doctrine he commended (as he had frequently done previously) because he regarded it as a natural development of the outlook of George Berkeley and Hume; the religion he attacked because he saw in it merely another attempt to foist a priestly hierarchy upon suffering humanity. It is noticeable that Mill’s language in these books is much closer to the language of Bentham and James Mill than it had been since his boyhood, and it was as an act of piety that in 1869 he republished his father’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind with additional illustrations and explanatory notes.

While engaged in these years mainly with theoretical studies, Mill did not remit his interest in current politics. He supported the North in the U.S. Civil War, using all his strength to explain that the real issue at stake in the struggle was the abolition of slavery. In 1865 he stood as parliamentary candidate for Westminster, on conditions strictly in accordance with his principles. He would not canvass or pay agents to canvass for him, nor would he engage to attend to the local business of the constituency. He was with difficulty persuaded even to address a meeting of the electors but was elected. He took an active part in the debates preceding the passage of the 1867 Reform Bill, and helped to extort from the government several useful modifications of the bill, for the prevention of corrupt practices. The reform of land tenure in Ireland (see his England and Ireland, 1868, and his Chapters and Speeches on the Irish Land Question, 1870), the representation of women (see below), the reduction of the national debt, the reform of London government, and the abrogation of the Declaration of Paris (1856)—concerning the carriage of property at sea during the Crimean War—were among the topics on which he spoke. He took occasion more than once to enforce what he had often advocated, England’s duty to intervene in foreign politics in support of freedom. As a speaker Mill was somewhat hesitating, but he showed great readiness in extemporaneous debate. Elected rector of St. Andrews University, he published his “Inaugural Address” in 1867.

Mill’s subscription to the election expenses of the freethinker and radical politician Charles Bradlaugh and his attack on the conduct of Gov. E.J. Eyre in Jamaica were perhaps the main causes of his defeat in the general parliamentary election of 1868. But his studied advocacy of unfamiliar projects of reform had made him unpopular with “moderate Liberals.” He retired with a sense of relief to Avignon. His villa was filled with books and newspapers; the country round it furnished him with a variety of walks; he read, wrote, discussed, walked, botanized. He was extremely fond of music and was himself a fair pianist. His stepdaughter, Helen Taylor (died January 1907), was his constant companion after his wife’s death. Mill was an enthusiastic botanist all his life and a frequent contributor of notes and short papers to the Phytologist. During his last journey to Avignon he was looking forward to seeing the spring flowers and completing a flora of the locality.

Mill did not relax his laborious habits or his ardent outlook on human affairs. The essays in the fourth volume of his Dissertations (1875; vol. 3 had appeared in 1867)—on endowments, on land, on labour, and on metaphysical and psychological questions—were written for the Fortnightly Review at intervals after his short parliamentary career. In 1867 he had been one of the founders, with Mrs. P.A. Taylor, Emily Davies, and others, of the first women’s suffrage society, which developed into the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and in 1869 he published The Subjection of Women (written 1861), the classical theoretical statement of the case for woman suffrage. His last public activity was concerned with the starting of the Land Tenure Reform Association, for which he wrote in The Examiner and made a public speech a few months before his death; the interception by the state of the unearned increment on land and the promotion of cooperative agriculture were the most striking features in his program, which he regarded as a timely compromise in view of the impending struggle between capital and labour in Europe. He died in 1873, and his Autobiography and Three Essays on Religion (1874) were published posthumously.

A bronze statue of Mill stands on the Thames embankment in London, and G.F. Watts’s copy of his original portrait of Mill hangs in the National Gallery there.

Influence and significance
Mill was a man of extreme simplicity in his mode of life. The influence that his works exercised upon contemporary English thought can scarcely be overestimated, nor can there be any doubt about the value of the liberal and inquiring spirit with which he handled the great questions of his time. Beyond that, however, there has been considerable difference of opinion about the enduring merits of his philosophy. At first sight he is the most lucid of philosophers. Many people have spoken of the marvelous intelligibility of his writing. Usually, however, it is not long before doubts begin to creep in. Although the lucidity remains, its span is seen to be somewhat limited, and one sometimes has the uneasy feeling that he is being equally lucid on both sides of a question.

Oddly enough, however, this judgment has not led to any neglect of Mill. Little attention is now paid to Hamilton or to Whewell, but Mill’s name continually crops up in philosophical discussions. This is partly due to the fact that Mill offers a body of doctrine and a set of technical terms on many subjects (notably on induction) that have proved extremely useful in the classroom. But a more important reason is that he has come to be regarded as a sort of personification of certain tendencies in philosophy that it is regarded as continually necessary to expound or expose because they make such a powerful appeal to serious minds. Thus he is or says he is a Utilitarian; yet nothing, it is pointed out, could tell more strongly against Utilitarianism than certain passages in his writings. Then again, he is said to be an Empiricist (although he says himself that he is not), and his theories of the syllogism and of mathematics are constantly used to demonstrate the fatal consequences of this way of thinking.

It is misleading to speak without qualification of Mill’s Utilitarianism. Nor is it sufficient to add that Mill modified the Utilitarianism that he inherited from Bentham and from his father in one way and another in order to meet the criticisms that it encountered in Victorian times. He does, it is true, sometimes give that impression (as in his essay Utilitarianism); but elsewhere (as in his essay On Liberty) he scarcely attempts to conceal the fact that his premises are completely independent of Bentham’s. Thus, contrary to the common belief, it appears to be very hazardous to characterize offhand the precise position of Mill on any major philosophical topic. He sometimes behaved with a reckless disregard of consequences more suitable to a Romantic than to a Utilitarian. He is thoroughly romantic, again, and thoroughly representative of his age in the eagerness with which he seeks out and endeavours to assimilate every last exotic line of thought which shows any signs of vitality. He himself claimed to be superior to most of his contemporaries in “ability and willingness to learn from everybody,” and indeed, for all his father’s careful schooling, there was never anybody less buttoned up against alien influences than Mill. In his writings there can be discerned traces of every wind of doctrine of the early 19th century.

Richard Paul Anschutz



James Mill
Scottish philosopher, historian, and economist

born April 6, 1773, Northwater Bridge, Forfarshire, Scot.
died June 23, 1836, London, Eng.

Scottish philosopher, historian, and economist. He was prominent as a representative of philosophical radicalism, a school of thought also known as Utilitarianism, which emphasized the need for a scientific basis for philosophy as well as a humanist approach to politics and economics. His eldest son was the celebrated Utilitarian thinker John Stuart Mill.

After distinguishing himself as a Greek scholar at the University of Edinburgh, James Mill was licensed a Presbyterian preacher in 1798. He soon turned to teaching, however, and embarked on historical and philosophical studies. In 1802 he went to London to devote himself to a career in journalism. In 1804 he wrote a pamphlet on the corn trade, arguing against a bounty on the exportation of grain, and in 1806 he began his History of British India, 3 vol. (1817).

Mill became acquainted with Jeremy Bentham, who founded Utilitarianism, in 1808. As Bentham’s chief companion and ally for many years, he adopted Bentham’s principles in their entirety and did more to propagate them and to oppose the beginnings of Romanticism than anyone else. He was a regular contributor (1806–18) to the Anti-Jacobin Review, the British Review, the Eclectic Review, and the Edinburgh Review (1808–13). In 1811 he helped edit the periodical Philanthropist with the English writer William Allen, contributing his opinions on education, freedom of the press, and prison discipline. He also participated in the discussions that led to the founding of London University in 1825. In 1814 Mill undertook to write various articles on politics, law, and education for the six-volume Supplement to the 4th, 5th, and 6th editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica. As reprints they enjoyed a wide circulation in his time. One of the articles, “government,” had considerable influence on public opinion in the 1820s. (See the Britannica Classic: government.) In it, Mill concluded that a representative democracy based on wide suffrage is a necessary element of good government. “Government,” which was possibly the most succinct statement of the political theory of the philosophical radicals, helped prepare the ground for passage of the first Reform Bill by Parliament in 1832.

In 1819, two years after Mill’s History of British India appeared, he was appointed an official in India House, despite his drastic criticisms in the History of British rule in India. He rose gradually through the ranks until he was appointed head of the examiner’s office in 1830. The History, his major literary achievement, was the first full historical treatment of the British conquest of India. Mill harshly criticized the British administration of India, and during his 17 years with the India House he helped completely reform the system of government in the colony. However, the History’s severe Utilitarian analysis of Indian civilization also popularized among European readers an image of the subcontinent as perpetually backward and undeveloped. Mill never actually visited India.

Mill was also influential in English politics. His writings and his personal connections with radical politicians helped determine the change of view from theories of the rights of man and the absolute equality of men, as promulgated by the French Revolution, to the claiming of securities for good government through wide extension of the franchise. His Elements of Political Economy (1821), an especially precise and lucid work, summarizes the views of the philosophical radicals, based primarily on the work of the economist David Ricardo. In this work Mill maintained: (1) that the chief problem of political reformers is to limit the increase of population, on the assumption that capital does not naturally increase at the same rate as population; (2) that the value of a thing depends entirely on the quantity of labour put into it; and (3) that what is now known as the “unearned increment” of land is a proper object for taxation. The enunciation of the second of these propositions is important in view of the use made of it by Karl Marx. Mill developed Bentham’s doctrines by his explanation of the association of ideas. This theory, presented in Mill’s Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, 2 vol. (1829), centres on the interrelatedness of mental concepts.



Jeremy Bentham
British philosopher and economist

born Feb. 15, 1748, London
died June 6, 1832, London

English philosopher, economist, and theoretical jurist, the earliest and chief expounder of Utilitarianism.

Early life and works.
At the age of four, Bentham, the son of an attorney, is said to have read eagerly and to have begun the study of Latin. Much of his childhood was spent happily at his two grandmothers’ country houses. At Westminster School he won a reputation for Greek and Latin verse writing. In 1760 he went to Queen’s College, Oxford, and took his degree in 1763. In November he entered Lincoln’s Inn to study law and took his seat as a student in the King’s Bench division of the High Court, where he listened with rapture to the judgments of Chief Justice Lord Mansfield. In December 1763 he managed to hear Sir William Blackstone lecture at Oxford but said that he immediately detected fallacies that underlay the grandiloquent language of the future judge. He spent his time performing chemical experiments and speculating upon the more theoretical aspects of legal abuses rather than in reading law books. On being called to the bar, he “found a cause or two at nurse for him, which he did his best to put to death,” to the bitter disappointment of his father, who had confidently looked forward to seeing him become lord chancellor.

Bentham’s first book, A Fragment on Government, appeared in 1776. The subtitle, “being an examination of what is delivered, on the subject of government in general, in the introduction to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries,” indicates the nature of the work. Bentham found the “grand and fundamental” fault of the Commentaries to be Blackstone’s “antipathy to reform.” Bentham’s book, written in a clear and concise style different from that of his later works, may be said to mark the beginning of philosophic radicalism. It is also a very good essay on sovereignty. Lord Shelburne (afterward 1st Marquess of Lansdowne), the statesman, read the book and called upon its author in 1781. Bentham became a frequent guest at Shelburne’s home. At this period Bentham’s mind was much-occupied with writing the work that was later published in French in 1811 by his admirer Étienne Dumont and entitled Théorie des peines et des récompenses. This work eventually appeared in English as The Rationale of Reward (1825) and The Rationale of Punishment (1830). In 1785 Bentham started, by way of Italy and Constantinople, on a visit to his brother, Samuel Bentham, an engineer in the Russian armed forces; and it was in Russia that he wrote his Defence of Usury (published 1787). This, his first essay in economics, presented in the form of a series of letters from Russia, shows him as a disciple of the economist Adam Smith but one who argued that Smith did not follow the logic of his own principles. Bentham held that every man was the best judge of his own advantage, that it was desirable from the public point of view that he should seek it without hindrance, and that there was no reason to limit the application of this doctrine in the matter of lending money at interest. His later works on political economy followed the laissez-faire principle, though with modifications. In the “Manual of Political Economy” he gives a list of what the state should and should not do, the second list being much longer than the first.

Mature works.
Disappointed, after his return to England in 1788, in the hope of making a political career, he settled down to discovering the principles of legislation. The great work on which he had been engaged for many years, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, was published in 1789. In this book he defined the principle of utility as “that property in any object whereby it tends to produce pleasure, good or happiness, or to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered.” Mankind, he said, was governed by two sovereign motives, pain and pleasure; and the principle of utility recognized this state of affairs. The object of all legislation must be the “greatest happiness of the greatest number.” He deduced from the principle of utility that, since all punishment involves pain and is therefore evil, it ought only to be used “so far as it promises to exclude some greater evil.”

The fame of his writings spread widely and rapidly. Bentham was made a French citizen in 1792, and in later life his advice was respectfully received in several of the states of Europe and America. With many of the leading men of these countries Bentham maintained an active correspondence. The codification of law was one of Bentham’s chief preoccupations, and it was his ambition to be allowed to prepare a code of laws for his own or some foreign country. He was accused of having underestimated both the intrinsic difficulties of the task and the need for diversity of institutions adapted to the tradition and civilization of different countries. Even so, Bentham must be reckoned among the pioneers of prison reform. It is true that the particular scheme that he worked out was bizarre and spoiled by the elaborate detail that he loved. “Morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused” and other similar desiderata would, he thought, be the result if his scheme for a model prison, the “Panopticon,” were to be adopted; and for many years he tried to induce the government to adopt it. His endeavours, however, came to nothing; and though he received £23,000 in compensation in 1813, he lost all faith in the reforming zeal of politicians and officials.

In 1823 he helped to found the Westminster Review to spread the principles of philosophic radicalism. Bentham had been brought up a Tory, but the influence of the political theory of the Enlightenment served to make a democrat of him. As far back as 1809 he had written a tract, A Catechism of Parliamentary Reform, advocating annual elections, equal electoral districts, a wide suffrage, and the secret ballot, which was, however, not published until 1817. He drafted a series of resolutions based on this tract that were introduced in the House of Commons in 1818. A volume of his Constitutional Code, which he did not live to complete, was published in 1830.

After Bentham’s death, in accordance with his directions, his body was dissected in the presence of his friends. The skeleton was then reconstructed, supplied with a wax head to replace the original (which had been mummified), dressed in Bentham’s own clothes and set upright in a glass-fronted case. Both this effigy and the head are preserved in University College, London.

Bentham’s life was a happy one. He gathered around him a group of congenial friends and pupils, such as the philosopher James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, with whom he could discuss the problems upon which he was engaged. His friends, too, practically rewrote several of his books from the mass of rough though orderly memoranda that Bentham himself prepared. Thus the Rationale of Judicial Evidence, 5 vol. (1827), was put in its finished state by J.S. Mill and the Book of Fallacies (1824) by Peregrine Bingham. The services of Étienne Dumont in recasting as well as translating the works of Bentham were still more important.

Bentham was less a philosopher than a critic of law and of judicial and political institutions. Unfortunately, he was not aware of his limitations. He tried to define what he thought were the basic concepts of ethics, but the majority of his definitions are oversimple or ambiguous or both, and his “felicific calculus,” a method for calculating amounts of happiness, as even his warmest admirers have admitted, cannot be used. As a moralist and psychologist, Bentham has similarly appeared to be inadequate; his arguments, though sometimes elaborate, rest too often on insufficient and ambiguous premises. His analyses of the concepts that men use to describe and explain human behaviour are too simple. He seems to have believed both that man is completely selfish and that everyone ought to promote the greatest happiness, no matter whose. Not even the formula of which he made so much, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” possesses a definite meaning.

Given all this, it should be noted that the publication since World War II of Bentham’s previously unknown manuscripts has done much to enhance his reputation as a philosopher of law. His Victorian editor, Sir John Bowring, cut out from Bentham’s work much that was both original and well-argued. The more up-to-date scholarship of such Bentham specialists as Herbert L.A. Hart, J.H. Burns, Frederick Rosen, and Lea Campos-Boralevi has revealed a more rigorous and systematic thinker than the legendary muddled Utilitarian that Bentham appeared to be to earlier generations.

As a critic of institutions Bentham was admirable. In his Rationale of Judicial Evidence he describes the methods that a court should use to get at the truth as quickly as possible; and in the Essay on Political Tactics he describes what he considers the most effective forms of debate for a legislative assembly—an account largely based on the procedure of the House of Commons. In these works and in others Bentham is concerned to discover what makes for efficiency. Though he defines efficiency in terms of happiness, his reader need not do so; or, if he does, he need not think of happiness as Bentham did. Bentham’s assumptions about what makes for happiness are often quite ordinary and sensible; the reader can accept them and still insist that happiness is not to be defined in terms of pleasure and is not to be measured. Whatever is excellent, ingenious, and original in Bentham—and there is a great deal of it—need not depend on the “felicific calculus” and “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”

John P. Plamenatz



Karl Marx
German philosopher
in full Karl Heinrich Marx

born May 5, 1818, Trier, Rhine province, Prussia [Germany]
died March 14, 1883, London

revolutionary, sociologist, historian, and economist. He published (with Friedrich Engels) Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (1848), commonly known as The Communist Manifesto, the most celebrated pamphlet in the history of the socialist movement. He also was the author of the movement’s most important book, Das Kapital. These writings and others by Marx and Engels form the basis of the body of thought and belief known as Marxism.

See the articles socialism and Communism for full treatment of those ideologies.

Early years
Karl Heinrich Marx was the oldest surviving boy of nine children. His father, Heinrich, a successful lawyer, was a man of the Enlightenment, devoted to Kant and Voltaire, who took part in agitations for a constitution in Prussia. His mother, born Henrietta Pressburg, was from Holland. Both parents were Jewish and were descended from a long line of rabbis, but, a year or so before Karl was born, his father—probably because his professional career required it—was baptized in the Evangelical Established Church. Karl was baptized when he was six years old. Although as a youth Karl was influenced less by religion than by the critical, sometimes radical social policies of the Enlightenment, his Jewish background exposed him to prejudice and discrimination that may have led him to question the role of religion in society and contributed to his desire for social change.

Marx was educated from 1830 to 1835 at the high school in Trier. Suspected of harbouring liberal teachers and pupils, the school was under police surveillance. Marx’s writings during this period exhibited a spirit of Christian devotion and a longing for self-sacrifice on behalf of humanity. In October 1835 he matriculated at the University of Bonn. The courses he attended were exclusively in the humanities, in such subjects as Greek and Roman mythology and the history of art. He participated in customary student activities, fought a duel, and spent a day in jail for being drunk and disorderly. He presided at the Tavern Club, which was at odds with the more aristocratic student associations, and joined a poets’ club that included some political activists. A politically rebellious student culture was, indeed, part of life at Bonn. Many students had been arrested; some were still being expelled in Marx’s time, particularly as a result of an effort by students to disrupt a session of the Federal Diet at Frankfurt. Marx, however, left Bonn after a year and in October 1836 enrolled at the University of Berlin to study law and philosophy.

Marx’s crucial experience at Berlin was his introduction to Hegel’s philosophy, regnant there, and his adherence to the Young Hegelians. At first he felt a repugnance toward Hegel’s doctrines; when Marx fell sick it was partially, as he wrote his father, “from intense vexation at having to make an idol of a view I detested.” The Hegelian pressure in the revolutionary student culture was powerful, however, and Marx joined a society called the Doctor Club, whose members were intensely involved in the new literary and philosophical movement. Their chief figure was Bruno Bauer, a young lecturer in theology, who was developing the idea that the Christian Gospels were a record not of history but of human fantasies arising from emotional needs and that Jesus had not been a historical person. Marx enrolled in a course of lectures given by Bauer on the prophet Isaiah. Bauer taught that a new social catastrophe “more tremendous” than that of the advent of Christianity was in the making. The Young Hegelians began moving rapidly toward atheism and also talked vaguely of political action.

The Prussian government, fearful of the subversion latent in the Young Hegelians, soon undertook to drive them from the universities. Bauer was dismissed from his post in 1839. Marx’s “most intimate friend” of this period, Adolph Rutenberg, an older journalist who had served a prison sentence for his political radicalism, pressed for a deeper social involvement. By 1841 the Young Hegelians had become left republicans. Marx’s studies, meanwhile, were lagging. Urged by his friends, he submitted a doctoral dissertation to the university at Jena, which was known to be lax in its academic requirements, and received his degree in April 1841. His thesis analyzed in a Hegelian fashion the difference between the natural philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus. More distinctively, it sounded a note of Promethean defiance:

Philosophy makes no secret of it. Prometheus’ admission: “In sooth all gods I hate,” is its own admission, its own motto against all gods, . . . Prometheus is the noblest saint and martyr in the calendar of philosophy.

In 1841 Marx, together with other Young Hegelians, was much influenced by the publication of Das Wesen des Christentums (1841; The Essence of Christianity) by Ludwig Feuerbach. Its author, to Marx’s mind, successfully criticized Hegel, an idealist who believed that matter or existence was inferior to and dependent upon mind or spirit, from the opposite, or materialist, standpoint, showing how the “Absolute Spirit” was a projection of “the real man standing on the foundation of nature.” Henceforth Marx’s philosophical efforts were toward a combination of Hegel’s dialectic—the idea that all things are in a continual process of change resulting from the conflicts between their contradictory aspects—with Feuerbach’s materialism, which placed material conditions above ideas.

In January 1842 Marx began contributing to a newspaper newly founded in Cologne, the Rheinische Zeitung. It was the liberal democratic organ of a group of young merchants, bankers, and industrialists; Cologne was the centre of the most industrially advanced section of Prussia. To this stage of Marx’s life belongs an essay on the freedom of the press. Since he then took for granted the existence of absolute moral standards and universal principles of ethics, he condemned censorship as a moral evil that entailed spying into people’s minds and hearts and assigned to weak and malevolent mortals powers that presupposed an omniscient mind. He believed that censorship could have only evil consequences.

On Oct. 15, 1842, Marx became editor of the Rheinische Zeitung. As such, he was obliged to write editorials on a variety of social and economic issues, ranging from the housing of the Berlin poor and the theft by peasants of wood from the forests to the new phenomenon of communism. He found Hegelian idealism of little use in these matters. At the same time he was becoming estranged from his Hegelian friends for whom shocking the bourgeois was a sufficient mode of social activity. Marx, friendly at this time to the “liberal-minded practical men” who were “struggling step-by-step for freedom within constitutional limits,” succeeded in trebling his newspaper’s circulation and making it a leading journal in Prussia. Nevertheless, Prussian authorities suspended it for being too outspoken, and Marx agreed to coedit with the liberal Hegelian Arnold Ruge a new review, the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher (“German-French Yearbooks”), which was to be published in Paris.

First, however, in June 1843 Marx, after an engagement of seven years, married Jenny von Westphalen. Jenny was an attractive, intelligent, and much-admired woman, four years older than Karl; she came of a family of military and administrative distinction. Her half-brother later became a highly reactionary Prussian minister of the interior. Her father, a follower of the French socialist Saint-Simon, was fond of Karl, though others in her family opposed the marriage. Marx’s father also feared that Jenny was destined to become a sacrifice to the demon that possessed his son.

Four months after their marriage, the young couple moved to Paris, which was then the centre of socialist thought and of the more extreme sects that went under the name of communism. There, Marx first became a revolutionary and a communist and began to associate with communist societies of French and German workingmen. Their ideas were, in his view, “utterly crude and unintelligent,” but their character moved him: “The brotherhood of man is no mere phrase with them, but a fact of life, and the nobility of man shines upon us from their work-hardened bodies,” he wrote in his so-called “Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte aus dem Jahre 1844” (written in 1844; Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 [1959]). (These manuscripts were not published for some 100 years, but they are influential because they show the humanist background to Marx’s later historical and economic theories.)

The “German-French Yearbooks” proved short-lived, but through their publication Marx befriended Friedrich Engels, a contributor who was to become his lifelong collaborator, and in their pages appeared Marx’s article “Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie” (“Toward the Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right”) with its oft-quoted assertion that religion is the “opium of the people.” It was there, too, that he first raised the call for an “uprising of the proletariat” to realize the conceptions of philosophy. Once more, however, the Prussian government intervened against Marx. He was expelled from France and left for Brussels—followed by Engels—in February 1845. That year in Belgium he renounced his Prussian nationality.

Brussels period
The next two years in Brussels saw the deepening of Marx’s collaboration with Engels. Engels had seen at firsthand in Manchester, Eng., where a branch factory of his father’s textile firm was located, all the depressing aspects of the Industrial Revolution. He had also been a Young Hegelian and had been converted to communism by Moses Hess, who was called the “communist rabbi.” In England he associated with the followers of Robert Owen. Now he and Marx, finding that they shared the same views, combined their intellectual resources and published Die heilige Familie (1845; The Holy Family), a prolix criticism of the Hegelian idealism of the theologian Bruno Bauer. Their next work, Die deutsche Ideologie (written 1845–46, published 1932; The German Ideology), contained the fullest exposition of their important materialistic conception of history, which set out to show how, historically, societies had been structured to promote the interests of the economically dominant class. But it found no publisher and remained unknown during its authors’ lifetimes.

During his Brussels years, Marx developed his views and, through confrontations with the chief leaders of the working-class movement, established his intellectual standing. In 1846 he publicly excoriated the German leader Wilhelm Weitling for his moralistic appeals. Marx insisted that the stage of bourgeois society could not be skipped over; the proletariat could not just leap into communism; the workers’ movement required a scientific basis, not moralistic phrases. He also polemicized against the French socialist thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in Misère de la philosophie (1847; The Poverty of Philosophy), a mordant attack on Proudhon’s book subtitled Philosophie de la misère (1846; The Philosophy of Poverty). Proudhon wanted to unite the best features of such contraries as competition and monopoly; he hoped to save the good features in economic institutions while eliminating the bad. Marx, however, declared that no equilibrium was possible between the antagonisms in any given economic system. Social structures were transient historic forms determined by the productive forces: “The handmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steammill, society with the industrial capitalist.” Proudhon’s mode of reasoning, Marx wrote, was typical of the petty bourgeois, who failed to see the underlying laws of history.

An unusual sequence of events led Marx and Engels to write their pamphlet The Communist Manifesto. In June 1847 a secret society, the League of the Just, composed mainly of emigrant German handicraftsmen, met in London and decided to formulate a political program. They sent a representative to Marx to ask him to join the league; Marx overcame his doubts and, with Engels, joined the organization, which thereupon changed its name to the Communist League and enacted a democratic constitution. Entrusted with the task of composing their program, Marx and Engels worked from the middle of December 1847 to the end of January 1848. The London Communists were already impatiently threatening Marx with disciplinary action when he sent them the manuscript; they promptly adopted it as their manifesto. It enunciated the proposition that all history had hitherto been a history of class struggles, summarized in pithy form the materialist conception of history worked out in The German Ideology, and asserted that the forthcoming victory of the proletariat would put an end to class society forever. It mercilessly criticized all forms of socialism founded on philosophical “cobwebs” such as “alienation.” It rejected the avenue of “social Utopias,” small experiments in community, as deadening the class struggle and therefore as being “reactionary sects.” It set forth 10 immediate measures as first steps toward communism, ranging from a progressive income tax and the abolition of inheritances to free education for all children. It closed with the words, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!”

Revolution suddenly erupted in Europe in the first months of 1848, in France, Italy, and Austria. Marx had been invited to Paris by a member of the provisional government just in time to avoid expulsion by the Belgian government. As the revolution gained in Austria and Germany, Marx returned to the Rhineland. In Cologne he advocated a policy of coalition between the working class and the democratic bourgeoisie, opposing for this reason the nomination of independent workers’ candidates for the Frankfurt Assembly and arguing strenuously against the program for proletarian revolution advocated by the leaders of the Workers’ Union. He concurred in Engels’ judgment that The Communist Manifesto should be shelved and the Communist League disbanded. Marx pressed his policy through the pages of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, newly founded in June 1849, urging a constitutional democracy and war with Russia. When the more revolutionary leader of the Workers’ Union, Andreas Gottschalk, was arrested, Marx supplanted him and organized the first Rhineland Democratic Congress in August 1848. When the king of Prussia dissolved the Prussian Assembly in Berlin, Marx called for arms and men to help the resistance. Bourgeois liberals withdrew their support from Marx’s newspaper, and he himself was indicted on several charges, including advocacy of the nonpayment of taxes. In his trial he defended himself with the argument that the crown was engaged in making an unlawful counterrevolution. The jury acquitted him unanimously and with thanks. Nevertheless, as the last hopeless fighting flared in Dresden and Baden, Marx was ordered banished as an alien on May 16, 1849. The final issue of his newspaper, printed in red, caused a great sensation.

Early years in London
Expelled once more from Paris, Marx went to London in August 1849. It was to be his home for the rest of his life. Chagrined by the failure of his own tactics of collaboration with the liberal bourgeoisie, he rejoined the Communist League in London and for about a year advocated a bolder revolutionary policy. An “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” written with Engels in March 1850, urged that in future revolutionary situations they struggle to make the revolution “permanent” by avoiding subservience to the bourgeois party and by setting up “their own revolutionary workers’ governments” alongside any new bourgeois one. Marx hoped that the economic crisis would shortly lead to a revival of the revolutionary movement; when this hope faded, he came into conflict once more with those whom he called “the alchemists of the revolution,” such as August von Willich, a communist who proposed to hasten the advent of revolution by undertaking direct revolutionary ventures. Such persons, Marx wrote in September 1850, substitute “idealism for materialism” and regard

pure will as the motive power of revolution instead of actual conditions. While we say to the workers: “You have got to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil wars and national wars not merely in order to change your conditions but in order to change yourselves and become qualified for political power,” you on the contrary tell them, “We must achieve power immediately.”

The militant faction in turn ridiculed Marx for being a revolutionary who limited his activity to lectures on political economy to the Communist Workers’ Educational Union. The upshot was that Marx gradually stopped attending meetings of the London Communists. In 1852 he devoted himself intensely to working for the defense of 11 communists arrested and tried in Cologne on charges of revolutionary conspiracy and wrote a pamphlet on their behalf. The same year he also published, in a German-American periodical, his essay “Der Achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Napoleon” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte), with its acute analysis of the formation of a bureaucratic absolutist state with the support of the peasant class. In other respects the next 12 years were, in Marx’s words, years of “isolation” both for him and for Engels in his Manchester factory.

From 1850 to 1864 Marx lived in material misery and spiritual pain. His funds were gone, and except on one occasion he could not bring himself to seek paid employment. In March 1850 he and his wife and four small children were evicted and their belongings seized. Several of his children died—including a son Guido, “a sacrifice to bourgeois misery,” and a daughter Franziska, for whom his wife rushed about frantically trying to borrow money for a coffin. For six years the family lived in two small rooms in Soho, often subsisting on bread and potatoes. The children learned to lie to the creditors: “Mr. Marx ain’t upstairs.” Once he had to escape them by fleeing to Manchester. His wife suffered breakdowns.

During all these years Engels loyally contributed to Marx’s financial support. The sums were not large at first, for Engels was only a clerk in the firm of Ermen and Engels at Manchester. Later, however, in 1864, when he became a partner, his subventions were generous. Marx was proud of Engels’ friendship and would tolerate no criticism of him. Bequests from the relatives of Marx’s wife and from Marx’s friend Wilhelm Wolff also helped to alleviate their economic distress.

Marx had one relatively steady source of earned income in the United States. On the invitation of Charles A. Dana, managing editor of The New York Tribune, he became in 1851 its European correspondent. The newspaper, edited by Horace Greeley, had sympathies for Fourierism, a Utopian socialist system developed by the French theorist Charles Fourier. From 1851 to 1862 Marx contributed close to 500 articles and editorials (Engels providing about a fourth of them). He ranged over the whole political universe, analyzing social movements and agitations from India and China to Britain and Spain.

In 1859 Marx published his first book on economic theory, Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy). In its preface he again summarized his materialistic conception of history, his theory that the course of history is dependent on economic developments. At this time, however, Marx regarded his studies in economic and social history at the British Museum as his main task. He was busy producing the drafts of his magnum opus, which was to be published later as Das Kapital. Some of these drafts, including the Outlines and the Theories of Surplus Value, are important in their own right and were published after Marx’s death.

Role in the First International
Marx’s political isolation ended in 1864 with the founding of the International Working Men’s Association. Although he was neither its founder nor its head, he soon became its leading spirit. Its first public meeting, called by English trade union leaders and French workers’ representatives, took place at St. Martin’s Hall in London on Sept. 28, 1864. Marx, who had been invited through a French intermediary to attend as a representative of the German workers, sat silently on the platform. A committee was set up to produce a program and a constitution for the new organization. After various drafts had been submitted that were felt to be unsatisfactory, Marx, serving on a subcommittee, drew upon his immense journalistic experience. His “Address and the Provisional Rules of the International Working Men’s Association,” unlike his other writings, stressed the positive achievements of the cooperative movement and of parliamentary legislation; the gradual conquest of political power would enable the British proletariat to extend these achievements on a national scale.

As a member of the organization’s General Council, and corresponding secretary for Germany, Marx was henceforth assiduous in attendance at its meetings, which were sometimes held several times a week. For several years he showed a rare diplomatic tact in composing differences among various parties, factions, and tendencies. The International grew in prestige and membership, its numbers reaching perhaps 800,000 in 1869. It was successful in several interventions on behalf of European trade unions engaged in struggles with employers.

In 1870, however, Marx was still unknown as a European political personality; it was the Paris Commune that made him into an international figure, “the best calumniated and most menaced man of London,” as he wrote. When the Franco-German War broke out in 1870, Marx and Engels disagreed with followers in Germany who refused to vote in the Reichstag in favour of the war. The General Council declared that “on the German side the war was a war of defence.” After the defeat of the French armies, however, they felt that the German terms amounted to aggrandizement at the expense of the French people. When an insurrection broke out in Paris and the Paris Commune was proclaimed, Marx gave it his unswerving support. On May 30, 1871, after the Commune had been crushed, he hailed it in a famous address entitled Civil War in France:

History has no comparable example of such greatness. . . . Its martyrs are enshrined forever in the great heart of the working class.

In Engels’ judgment, the Paris Commune was history’s first example of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Marx’s name, as the leader of The First International and author of the notorious Civil War, became synonymous throughout Europe with the revolutionary spirit symbolized by the Paris Commune.

The advent of the Commune, however, exacerbated the antagonisms within the International Working Men’s Association and thus brought about its downfall. English trade unionists such as George Odger, former president of the General Council, opposed Marx’s support of the Paris Commune. The Reform Bill of 1867, which had enfranchised the British working class, had opened vast opportunities for political action by the trade unions. English labour leaders found they could make many practical advances by cooperating with the Liberal Party and, regarding Marx’s rhetoric as an encumbrance, resented his charge that they had “sold themselves” to the Liberals.

A left opposition also developed under the leadership of the famed Russian revolutionary Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin. A veteran of tsarist prisons and Siberian exile, Bakunin could move men by his oratory, which one listener compared to “a raging storm with lightning, flashes and thunderclaps, and a roaring as of lions.” Bakunin admired Marx’s intellect but could hardly forget that Marx had published a report in 1848 charging him with being a Russian agent. He felt that Marx was a German authoritarian and an arrogant Jew who wanted to transform the General Council into a personal dictatorship over the workers. He strongly opposed several of Marx’s theories, especially Marx’s support of the centralized structure of the International, Marx’s view that the proletariat class should act as a political party against prevailing parties but within the existing parliamentary system, and Marx’s belief that the proletariat, after it had overthrown the bourgeois state, should establish its own regime. To Bakunin, the mission of the revolutionary was destruction; he looked to the Russian peasantry, with its propensities for violence and its uncurbed revolutionary instincts, rather than to the effete, civilized workers of the industrial countries. The students, he hoped, would be the officers of the revolution. He acquired followers, mostly young men, in Italy, Switzerland, and France, and he organized a secret society, the International Alliance of Social Democracy, which in 1869 challenged the hegemony of the General Council at the congress in Basel, Switz. Marx, however, had already succeeded in preventing its admission as an organized body into the International.

To the Bakuninists, the Paris Commune was a model of revolutionary direct action and a refutation of what they considered to be Marx’s “authoritarian communism.” Bakunin began organizing sections of the International for an attack on the alleged dictatorship of Marx and the General Council. Marx in reply publicized Bakunin’s embroilment with an unscrupulous Russian student leader, Sergey Gennadiyevich Nechayev, who had practiced blackmail and murder.

Without a supporting right wing and with the anarchist left against him, Marx feared losing control of the International to Bakunin. He also wanted to return to his studies and to finish Das Kapital. At the congress of the International at The Hague in 1872, the only one he ever attended, Marx managed to defeat the Bakuninists. Then, to the consternation of the delegates, Engels moved that the seat of the General Council be transferred from London to New York City. The Bakuninists were expelled, but the International languished and was finally disbanded in Philadelphia in 1876.

Last years
During the next and last decade of his life, Marx’s creative energies declined. He was beset by what he called “chronic mental depression,” and his life turned inward toward his family. He was unable to complete any substantial work, though he still read widely and undertook to learn Russian. He became crotchety in his political opinions. When his own followers and those of the German revolutionary Ferdinand Lassalle, a rival who believed that socialist goals should be achieved through cooperation with the state, coalesced in 1875 to found the German Social Democratic Party, Marx wrote a caustic criticism of their program (the so-called Gotha Program), claiming that it made too many compromises with the status quo. The German leaders put his objections aside and tried to mollify him personally. Increasingly, he looked to a European war for the overthrow of Russian tsarism, the mainstay of reaction, hoping that this would revive the political energies of the working classes. He was moved by what he considered to be the selfless courage of the Russian terrorists who assassinated the tsar, Alexander II, in 1881; he felt this to be “a historically inevitable means of action.”

Despite Marx’s withdrawal from active politics, he still retained what Engels called his “peculiar influence” on the leaders of working-class and socialist movements. In 1879, when the French Socialist Workers’ Federation was founded, its leader Jules Guesde went to London to consult with Marx, who dictated the preamble of its program and shaped much of its content. In 1881 Henry Mayers Hyndman in his England for All drew heavily on his conversations with Marx but angered him by being afraid to acknowledge him by name.

During his last years Marx spent much time at health resorts and even traveled to Algiers. He was broken by the death of his wife on Dec. 2, 1881, and of his eldest daughter, Jenny Longuet, on Jan. 11, 1883. He died in London, evidently of a lung abscess, in the following year.

Character and significance
At Marx’s funeral in Highgate Cemetery, Engels declared that Marx had made two great discoveries, the law of development of human history and the law of motion of bourgeois society. But “Marx was before all else a revolutionist.” He was “the best-hated and most-calumniated man of his time,” yet he also died “beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow-workers.”

The contradictory emotions Marx engendered are reflected in the sometimes conflicting aspects of his character. Marx was a combination of the Promethean rebel and the rigorous intellectual. He gave most persons an impression of intellectual arrogance. A Russian writer, Pavel Annenkov, who observed Marx in debate in 1846 recalled that “he spoke only in the imperative, brooking no contradiction,” and seemed to be “the personification of a democratic dictator such as might appear before one in moments of fantasy.” But Marx obviously felt uneasy before mass audiences and avoided the atmosphere of factional controversies at congresses. He went to no demonstrations, his wife remarked, and rarely spoke at public meetings. He kept away from the congresses of the International where the rival socialist groups debated important resolutions. He was a “small groups” man, most at home in the atmosphere of the General Council or on the staff of a newspaper, where his character could impress itself forcefully on a small body of coworkers. At the same time he avoided meeting distinguished scholars with whom he might have discussed questions of economics and sociology on a footing of intellectual equality. Despite his broad intellectual sweep, he was prey to obsessive ideas such as that the British foreign minister, Lord Palmerston, was an agent of the Russian government. He was determined not to let bourgeois society make “a money-making machine” out of him, yet he submitted to living on the largess of Engels and the bequests of relatives. He remained the eternal student in his personal habits and way of life, even to the point of joining two friends in a students’ prank during which they systematically broke four or five streetlamps in a London street and then fled from the police. He was a great reader of novels, especially those of Sir Walter Scott and Balzac; and the family made a cult of Shakespeare. He was an affectionate father, saying that he admired Jesus for his love of children, but sacrificed the lives and health of his own. Of his seven children, three daughters grew to maturity. His favourite daughter, Eleanor, worried him with her nervous, brooding, emotional character and her desire to be an actress. Another shadow was cast on Marx’s domestic life by the birth to their loyal servant, Helene Demuth, of an illegitimate son, Frederick; Engels as he was dying disclosed to Eleanor that Marx had been the father. Above all, Marx was a fighter, willing to sacrifice anything in the battle for his conception of a better society. He regarded struggle as the law of life and existence.

The influence of Marx’s ideas has been enormous. Marx’s masterpiece, Das Kapital, the “Bible of the working class,” as it was officially described in a resolution of the International Working Men’s Association, was published in 1867 in Berlin and received a second edition in 1873. Only the first volume was completed and published in Marx’s lifetime. The second and third volumes, unfinished by Marx, were edited by Engels and published in 1885 and 1894. The economic categories he employed were those of the classical British economics of David Ricardo; but Marx used them in accordance with his dialectical method to argue that bourgeois society, like every social organism, must follow its inevitable path of development. Through the working of such immanent tendencies as the declining rate of profit, capitalism would die and be replaced by another, higher, society. The most memorable pages in Das Kapital are the descriptive passages, culled from Parliamentary Blue Books, on the misery of the English working class. Marx believed that this misery would increase, while at the same time the monopoly of capital would become a fetter upon production until finally “the knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”

Marx never claimed to have discovered the existence of classes and class struggles in modern society. “Bourgeois” historians, he acknowledged, had described them long before he had. He did claim, however, to have proved that each phase in the development of production was associated with a corresponding class structure and that the struggle of classes led necessarily to the dictatorship of the proletariat, ushering in the advent of a classless society. Marx took up the very different versions of socialism current in the early 19th century and welded them together into a doctrine that continued to be the dominant version of socialism for half a century after his death. His emphasis on the influence of economic structure on historical development has proved to be of lasting significance.

Although Marx stressed economic issues in his writings, his major impact has been in the fields of sociology and history. Marx’s most important contribution to sociological theory was his general mode of analysis, the “dialectical” model, which regards every social system as having within it immanent forces that give rise to “contradictions” (disequilibria) that can be resolved only by a new social system. Neo-Marxists, who no longer accept the economic reasoning in Das Kapital, are still guided by this model in their approach to capitalist society. In this sense, Marx’s mode of analysis, like those of Thomas Malthus, Herbert Spencer, or Vilfredo Pareto, has become one of the theoretical structures that are the heritage of the social scientist.

Lewis S. Feuer
David T. McLellan



Friedrich Engels
German philosopher

born November 28, 1820, Barmen, Rhine Province, Prussia
died August 5, 1895, London

German Socialist philosopher, the closest collaborator of Karl Marx in the foundation of modern Communism. They co-authored the Communist Manifesto (1848), and Engels edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapital after Marx’s death.

Early life
Engels grew up in the environment of a family marked by moderately liberal political views, a steadfast loyalty to Prussia, and a pronounced Protestant faith. His father was the owner of a textile factory in Barmen and also a partner in the Ermen & Engels cotton plant in Manchester, Eng. Even after Engels openly pursued the revolutionary goals that threatened the traditional values of the family, he usually could count on financial aid from home. The influence of his mother, to whom he was devoted, may have been a factor in preserving the tie between father and son.

Aside from such disciplinary actions as the father considered necessary in rearing a gifted but somewhat rebellious son, the only instance in which his father forced his will on Engels was in deciding upon a career for him. Engels did attend a Gymnasium (secondary school), but he dropped out a year before graduation, probably because his father felt that his plans for the future were too undefined. Engels showed some skill in writing poetry, but his father insisted that he go to work in the expanding business. Engels, accordingly, spent the next three years (1838–41) in Bremen acquiring practical business experience in the offices of an export firm.

In Bremen, Engels began to show the capacity for living the double life that characterized his middle years. During regular hours, he operated effectively as a business apprentice. An outgoing person, he joined a choral society, frequented the famed Ratskeller, became an expert swimmer, and practiced fencing and riding (he outrode most Englishmen in the fox hunts). Engels also cultivated his capacity for learning languages; he boasted to his sister that he knew 24. In private, however, he developed an interest in liberal and revolutionary works, notably the banned writings of “Young German” authors such as Ludwig Börne, Karl Gutzkow, and Heinrich Heine. But he soon rejected them as undisciplined and inconclusive in favour of the more systematic and all embracing philosophy of Hegel as expounded by the “Young Hegelians,” a group of leftist intellectuals, including the theologian and historian Bruno Bauer and the anarchist Max Stirner. They accepted the Hegelian dialectic—basically that rational progress and historical change result from the conflict of opposing views, ending in a new synthesis. The Young Hegelians were bent on accelerating the process by criticizing all that they considered irrational, outmoded, and repressive. As their first assault was directed against the foundations of Christianity, they helped convert an agnostic Engels into a militant atheist, a relatively easy task since by this time Engels’ revolutionary convictions made him ready to strike out in almost any direction.

In Bremen, Engels also demonstrated his talent for journalism by publishing articles under the pseudonym of Friedrich Oswald, perhaps to spare the feelings of his family. He possessed pungent critical abilities and a clear style, qualities that were utilized later by Marx in articulating their revolutionary goals.

After returning to Barmen in 1841, the question of a future career was shelved temporarily when Engels enlisted as a one-year volunteer in an artillery regiment in Berlin. No antimilitarist disposition prevented him from serving commendably as a recruit; in fact, military matters later became one of his specialties. In the future, friends would often address him as “the general.” Military service allowed Engels time for more compelling interests in Berlin. Though he lacked the formal requirements, he attended lectures at the university. His Friedrich Oswald articles gained him entrée into the Young Hegelian circle of The Free, formerly the Doctors Club frequented by Karl Marx. There he gained recognition as a formidable protagonist in the philosophical battles, mainly directed against religion.

Conversion to communism
After his discharge in 1842, Engels met Moses Hess, the man who converted him to communism. Hess, the son of wealthy Jewish parents and a promoter of radical causes and publications, demonstrated to Engels that the logical consequence of the Hegelian philosophy and dialectic was communism. Hess also stressed the role that England, with its advanced industry, burgeoning proletariat, and portents of class conflict, was destined to play in future upheavals. Engels eagerly seized the opportunity to go to England, ostensibly to continue his business training in the family firm in Manchester.

In England (1842–44), Engels again functioned successfully in business. After hours, however, he pursued his real interests: writing articles on communism for continental and English journals, reading books and parliamentary reports on economic and political conditions in England, mingling with workers, meeting radical leaders, and gathering materials for a projected history of England that would stress the rise of industry and the wretched position of the workers.

In Manchester, Engels established an enduring attachment to Mary Burns, an uneducated Irish working girl, and, though he rejected the institution of marriage, they lived together as husband and wife. In fact, the one serious strain in the Marx–Engels friendship occurred when Mary died in 1863 and Engels thought that Marx responded a little too casually to the news of her death. In the future, however, Marx made a point of being more considerate, and, when Engels later lived with Mary’s sister Lizzy, on similar terms, Marx always carefully closed his letters with greetings to “Mrs. Lizzy” or “Mrs. Burns.” Engels finally married Lizzy, but only as a deathbed concession to her.

In 1844 Engels contributed two articles to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (“German-French Yearbooks”), which were edited by Marx in Paris. In them Engels put forth an early version of the principles of scientific socialism. He revealed what he regarded as the contradictions in liberal economic doctrine and set out to prove that the existing system based on private property was leading to a world made up of “millionaires and paupers.” The revolution that would follow would lead to the elimination of private property and to a “reconciliation of humanity with nature and itself.”

Partnership with Marx
On his way to Barmen, Engels went to Paris for a 10-day visit with Marx, whom he had earlier met in Cologne. This visit resulted in a permanent partnership to promote the socialist movement. Back in Barmen, Engels published Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (1845; The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, 1887), a classic in a field that later became Marx’s specialty. Their first major joint work was Die deutsche Ideologie (1845; The German Ideology), which, however, was not published until more than 80 years later. It was a highly polemical critique that denounced and ridiculed certain of their earlier Young Hegelian associates and then proceeded to attack various German socialists who rejected the need for revolution. Marx’s and Engels’ own constructive ideas were inserted here and there, always in a fragmentary manner and only as corrective responses to the views they were condemning.

Upon rejoining Marx in Brussels in 1845, Engels endorsed his newly formulated economic, or materialistic, interpretation of history, which assumed an eventual communist triumph. That summer he escorted Marx on a tour of England. Thereafter he spent much time in Paris, where his social engagements did not interfere significantly with his major purpose, that of attempting to convert various émigré German worker groups—among them a socialist secret society, the League of the Just—as well as leading French socialists to his and Marx’s views. When the league held its first congress in London in June 1847, Engels helped bring about its transformation into the Communist League.

Marx and he together persuaded a second Communist Congress in London to adopt their views. The two men were authorized to draft a statement of communist principles and policies, which appeared in 1848 as the Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (commonly called the Communist Manifesto). It included much of the preliminary definition of views prepared earlier by Engels in the Grundsätze des Kommunismus (1847; Principles of Communism) but was primarily the work of Marx.

The Revolution of 1848, which was precipitated by the attempt of the German states to throw off an authoritarian, almost feudal, political system and replace it with a constitutional, representative form of government, was a momentous event in the lives of Marx and Engels. It was their only opportunity to participate directly in a revolution and to demonstrate their flexibility as revolutionary tacticians with the aim of turning the revolution into a communist victory. Their major tool was the newspaper Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which Marx edited in Cologne with the able assistance of Engels. Such a party organ, then appearing in a democratic guise, was of prime importance for their purposes; with it they could furnish daily guidelines and incitement in the face of shifting events, together with a sustained criticism of governments, parties, policies, and politicians.

After the failure of the revolution, Engels and Marx were reunited in London, where they reorganized the Communist League and drafted tactical directives for the communists in the belief that another revolution would soon take place. But how to replace his depleted income soon became Engels’ main problem. To support both himself and Marx, he accepted a subordinate position in the offices of Ermen & Engels in Manchester, eventually becoming a full-fledged partner in the concern. He again functioned successfully as a businessman, never allowing his communist principles and criticism of capitalist ways to interfere with the profitable operations of his firm. Hence he was able to send money to Marx constantly, often in the form of £5 notes, but later in far higher figures. When Engels sold his partnership in the business in 1869, he received enough for it to live comfortably until his death in 1895 and to provide Marx with an annual grant of £350, with the promise of more to cover all contingencies.

Engels, who was forced to live in Manchester, corresponded constantly with Marx in London and frequently wrote newspaper articles for him; he wrote the articles that appeared in the New York Tribune (1851–52) under Marx’s name and that were later published under Engels’ name as Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany in 1848 (1896). In the informal division of labour that the two protagonists of communism had established, Engels was the specialist in nationality questions, military matters, to some extent in international affairs, and in the sciences. Marx also turned to him repeatedly for clarification of economic questions, notably for information on business practices and industrial operations.

Marx’s Das Kapital (Capital), his most important work, bears in part a made-in-Manchester stamp. Marx similarly called on Engels’ writing facility to help “popularize” their joint views. While Marx was the brilliant theoretician of the pair, it was Engels, as the apt salesman of Marxism directing attention to Das Kapital through his reviews of the book, who implanted the thought that it was their “bible.” Engels almost alone wrote Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft (1878; Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science [Anti-Dühring]), the book that probably did most to promote Marxian thought. It destroyed the influence of Karl Eugen Dühring, a Berlin professor who threatened to supplant Marx’s position among German Social Democrats.

Last years
After Marx’s death (1883), Engels served as the foremost authority on Marx and Marxism. Aside from occasional writings on a variety of subjects and introductions to new editions of Marx’s works, Engels completed volumes 2 and 3 of Das Kapital (1885 and 1894) on the basis of Marx’s uncompleted manuscripts and rough notes. Engels’ other two late publications were the books Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats (1884; The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State) and Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie (1888; Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy). All the while he corresponded extensively with German Social Democrats and followers everywhere, so as to perpetuate the image of Marx and to foster some degree of conformity among the “faithful.” His work was interrupted when he was stricken with cancer; he died of the disease not long after.

During his lifetime, Engels experienced, in a milder form, the same attacks and veneration that fell upon Marx. An urbane individual with the demeanour of an English gentleman, Engels customarily was a gay and witty associate with a great zest for living. He had a code of honour that responded quickly to an insult, even to the point of violence. As the hatchetman of the “partnership,” he could be most offensive and ruthless, so much so that in 1848 various friends attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Marx to disavow him.

Except for the communist countries, where Engels has received due recognition, posterity has generally lumped him together with Marx without adequately clarifying Engels’ significant role. The attention Engels does receive is likely to be in the form of a close scrutiny of his works to discover what differences existed between him and Marx. As a result, some scholars have concluded that Engels’ writings and influence are responsible for certain deviations from, or distortions of, “true Marxism” as they see it. Yet scholars in general acknowledge that Marx himself apparently was unaware of any essential divergence of ideas and opinions. The Marx-Engels correspondence, which reveals a close cooperation in formulating Marxist policies, bears out that view.

Oscar J. Hammen



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