Blog Post #1 - Marx and Engels II: History and Class Struggle

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"The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte"

1.- "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past" (p.111) Can you elaborate on this quote by giving examples from modern social events, e.g. politics of the U.S. etc. and explain what it means for social change and stability.

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past" (p.111). This quote from the reading describes how, in society, the state of things in the present day are set up by the structure of society in the past. It is almost impossible to do something without the past having an influence on the decision making process. It is difficult to progress outside of the previous structure because that is all that is known. Even the slightest change could be considered extremely controversial and put down. For example, in modern United States politics, the Vice President does virtually nothing but has still continued being a part of the Executive. The only real purpose of the Vice President is to replace the President if he/she is unable to serve any longer for any reason. There are other ways in which the President could be replaced in times of emergency, but for some reason we still have a Vice President. If someone suggested that we remove the position of Vice President from the government, there would almost certainly be an uproar of dissension. The government of the United States overall has remained relatively unchanged since its establishment even though there are arguably much more efficient ways of governing. This is reflective of the quote from page 111 because even though politicians run government and may slightly alter policies or laws, the government still functions in generally the same way it always has.
One example in the text used a person who is just beginning to learn a new language. The beginner continually has to translate the new language back to the mother tongue in order to understand what is being heard. This is similar to society in that the past structure is always present in the back of the mind of the modern day individual. There is constant comparison to earlier modes of organization which cannot escape the mind. When learning a new language, the only way a person can understand the new language without translating it back to the mother language is when that person forgets the native tongue when using the new. It does not say to discard the mother language altogether, but it does say to forget about the old language when using the new or else the person will not be able to apply the new language most efficiently. The same can be said about society. When implementing new societal structure or when making a drastic change to the format of society, one must forget about the previous societal construction. If this is done, the new design can be successful integrated. If not, the new society will simply be "draped" as the old.
Since the past always has an effect on the present, it makes it very challenging for social change to occur. People get stuck in their ways, and it is difficult to progress up the social ladder. Generally, children end up apart of the same social class as their parents. Most do not stray far up, or down, from where their parents were throughout life. The past structure of society makes it difficult for this change to occur because of multiple influences. Some of these influences being social, cultural, and financial capital. Since there is generally not much leeway for people to move throughout social classes, these classes of people are fairly stable. For example, the upper class is most likely always going to consist of a small minority of the population; if nobody is moving up or down the ladder it is going to remain the same general size. As a result of pre-existing circumstances, societal structure is going to remain fairly stable with little social change; people remain in the same general social class (as their parents) throughout their whole lives. Therefore, the social classes and the structure of society are not going to vary much throughout time.

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This page contains a single entry by Evan Nelson published on January 29, 2012 11:58 PM.

[1-30] Marx & Engels II: History and Class Struggle. "How can one man have all this power?" - Kanye West was the previous entry in this blog.

Discussion Questions Emile Durkheim Introduction to Part II and The Rules of Sociological Method is the next entry in this blog.

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