The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
By Friedrich Engels (1884)
Free PDF: Origin of the Family
Relying on the pioneering work of Lewis Morgan and other early anthropologists, Engels traces the origins of class society back to the agricultural revolution (around 10,000 BC when our hunter gatherer ancestors transformed themselves into farmers). The advent of agriculture resulted in a “surplus” of food, which became the responsibility of an elite (kings and priests) to safeguard for the winter and hard times.
The production of an agricultural surplus also enables the accumulation of wealth and the desire to bequeath one’s riches to descendants. This can only happen if men can trace the paternity of their offspring. Men’s desire to pass on wealth resulted in the introduction of the marriage contract to bind all women to a single man (while men were allowed unlimited partners) and the replacement of matriarchal society with patriarchy.
Engels goes on to trace how this early wealth creation led to the concept of private property and the feudalistic state. To have a state you have to have a king or supreme leader. He maintains power via a standing army and rewards “knights” in his army with gifts of private property. And because property is no longer owned communally, peasants are forced off the land that provides their subsistence and forced to go to work for knights and lords who have expropriated their land.
The book contains a fascinating section about the way the Iroquois Nation governed themselves – including their use of consensus in decision making, inheritance through the female line and their collective ownership of property. He also outlines how various Iroquois tribes were united in a Confederacy governed by a Federal Council (which formed the basis for state-federal structure the colonists adopted in the Articles of Confederation).
There is also a section about democracy in ancient Athens and the coalescence of Latin tribes into a single Roman government. The final chapter concerns the amalgamation of the various Germanic tribes into the states of Germany and France.