School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Karl Marx -
Introduction

 


The Person The Work
Introduction The Overall Doctrine
Marx Becomes a Young Hegelian Class Theory
Parisian Days: Marx Becomes a Socialist Alienation
The End of Apprenticeship The Sociology of Knowledge
The Founding of the First International Dynamics of Social Change
 

Introduction

Karl Marx, the eldest son of Heinrich and Henrietta Marx, was born on May 5, 1818 in the Rhenish city of Trier, where his father practiced law and later rose to become head of the bar. Both his mother and father came from long lines of rabbis, Heinrich's in the Rhineland and Henrietta's in Holland.

Marx's father, the first in his line to receive a secular education, had broken with the world of the ghetto and had become a disciple of the Enlightenment--of Leibniz and Voltaire, of Kant and Lessing. His native Trier had once been the seat of a Prince-Archbishop, but early in the century it had been occupied by the French and incorporated by Napoleon in the Confederation of the Rhine. Under the French regime, the Jews, who had suffered from grievous civil disabilities earlier, achieved equal rights as citizens. The doors of trades and professions hitherto closed to them were now open. Since the Jews of the Rhineland owed their emancipation to the Napoleonic regime, they supported it with ardor. They faced a major crisis, however, when, after Napoleon's defeat, the Rhineland was assigned by the Congress of Vienna to Prussia, where Jews were still deprived of their civil rights. Threatened with the loss of his legal practice, Marx's father decided in 1817 to convert to the mildly liberal Lutheran Church of Prussia. Being a vague deist and having had no contacts with the synagogue, he regarded conversion as an act of expediency without great moral significance.

The young Marx grew up in a bourgeois household where tensions stemming from its minority status were at best subjacent. His mother, a fairly uneducated woman who never learned to write correct German or to speak it without an accent, does not seem to have had a major influence on him. In contrast, relations with his father, despite some strain, remained close almost throughout the latter's life. He introduced the young Marx to the world of human learning and letters--to the great figures of the Enlightenment and to the Greek and German classics. Although Marx was early repelled by his father's subservience to governmental authority and the high and mighty, the intellectual bonds that had been created between father and son began to be severed only in the last year of the father's life, when the son became a Young Hegelian rebel at Berlin University.

The young Marx was fortunate to have another role model besides his father, the Freiherr Ludwig von Westphalen, a next-door neighbor. Westphalen, though socially his superior, enjoyed cordial relations with Marx's father: they were both at least nominal Protestants in a largely Catholic city, and they shared an admiration for the Enlightenment and for liberal ideas. An uncommonly cultivated man, Westphalen spoke several languages, knew Homer by heart, and was exceedingly well read in ancient and modern philosophy and literature. He soon found himself attracted to his neighbor's son; he encouraged him, lent him books, and took him on long walks during which he talked to him about Shakespeare and Cervantes and also about the new social doctrines, especially that of the Saint-Simonians, which had lately created such a stir in Paris. The bond between the two was close, and the distinguished upper-class Prussian government official became the spiritual mentor of the future leader of proletarian socialism.

From Coser, 1977:58-59.



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010