Read With Me: Friedrich Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State - Part 2

karl marx property family institutions #readwithme communism socialism friedrich engels nuclear family aleksandr solzhenitsyn gulag

Erik Rostad for AdamSmithWorks


This also points to a key difference between men like Friedrich Engels and Adam Smith. Engels took humankind as he wished them to be (without jealousy) in order for his proposed worldview to work. Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, takes men as they are. In the famous “benevolence of the butcher” quote, Smith acknowledged that humankind acts in their own self-interest. Capitalism harnesses this self-interest instead of punishing it. Engels seeks to punish those acting out of self-interest.
This is the second part of a #ReadWithMe series. Here's Part 1.

Friedrich Engels relies on a set of assumptions in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State to power his prehistoric worldview and subsequent call for revolution. Here are three of the assumptions:
 
1.     The oldest and most natural structure of the family was a group family.
2.     Jealousy did not exist. Engles claims that in the absence of sexual prohibitions and restrictions, the “barrier(s) of jealousy go down” and that “the feeling of jealousy develops relatively late.” 
3.     Evil lies in institutions and not people.
 
The first assumption about group marriage was largely based upon the research of 3 contemporary anthropologists to Engels who studied native tribes in a number of countries. Group marriage existed in some of these tribes and they extrapolated out to suggest group marriage may have existed in prehistoric times as well. Since by definition, prehistory is before the written record, this assumption is simply unprovable but forms the basis for Engels’ argument.
 
The second assumption that one of the most fundamental of human responses, jealousy, simply did not exist in prehistoric times is also unprovable and laughable. The fact that Engels addresses it further by claiming jealous didn’t develop until later in history further highlights the absurdity of this assumption.
 
This also points to a key difference between men like Friedrich Engels and Adam Smith. Engels took humankind as he wished them to be (without jealousy) in order for his proposed worldview to work. Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations, takes men as they are. In the famous “benevolence of the butcher” quote, Smith acknowledged that humankind acts in their own self-interest. Capitalism harnesses this self-interest instead of punishing it. Engels seeks to punish those acting out of self-interest.
 
Regarding the third assumption, perhaps the best way to judge it is to look at the results of Engels’ call for revolution. Unfortunately, this book along with Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto became the user manuals for the implementation of the communist state through social revolution. Those revolutions led to some of the greatest atrocities in the 20th century, especially in Communist China and Soviet Russia.
 
What was the fruit of the social revolution? Was equality of the sexes achieved in China and Russia? What did prisoners of this equality-minded revolution have to say? 
 
Here’s what one of Soviet Russia’s most famous prisoners, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, said:
 
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”
 
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line dividing good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either––but right through every human heart––and through all human hearts.”
 
Solzhenitsyn had these revelations while serving a sentence in the hell of the Gulag system. One of Engels’ key assumptions was that evil resided in institutions. If the institutions were abolished, Eden would be regained. Equality of the sexes would be realized.
 
But what if Engels was wrong in that assumption? What if evil doesn’t reside in the institutions but rather resides in each human heart as Solzhenitsyn suggested? What if Engels blows up the system only to see the same problems reoccur because each human heart has the propensity for both good and evil?
 
Engels calls for social revolution based upon a thesis, arguments, and assumptions that are weak, shaky, and unverifiable. Entire countries were convinced enough to try it and there is not enough paper in the world to write about the ensuing suffering. Engels pines nostalgically for an idyllic past that cannot be retrieved and in doing so, sets in motion unimaginable destruction.

Comments
Mouno Bhaumik

Enjoyed reading

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