Spring 2014

HIEU 3812


Allan Megill

MARXISM IS ALL BUT DEAD, one of the casualties of the twentieth century. However, from both a historical and a philosophical point of view Marx remains extremely interesting. He is one of a small group of philosophers whose work repays sustained and detailed attention, although he is almost never studied in philosophy departments. He is also, arguably, the most rigorous and consistent social thinker who ever lived. It is worth devoting an entire semester to his thought. Finally, in some respects he was right about capitalism (and, in other respects, wrong).

This course carefully surveys Marx's social and economic thought, with special attention to its philosophical underpinnings. Accordingly, we shall devote a bit more than half the semester to his highly interesting early writings, those he wrote up to late 1844 (the year he turned 26). In the final third of the semester we look selectively at Capital, vol. 1.

The main emphasis is on seeing what Marx’s theory was and on how and why he arrived at it. Marx denied that he was a Marxist, and students in the class will be surprised to find how far so-called “Marxism” is from Marx’s own thinking. By the end of the semester you will be able to say that you actually know what Marx’s theory was. Many people who claim to know what Marx held actually don’t. This includes many academics.

The course presupposes no prior knowledge of the subject, but it does require the ability to read and think carefully, as well as commitment to keeping up with the reading. There is no specific prerequisite, although it may help to have already taken a basic course in political theory or philosophy.

Requirements: do the reading ON TIME; 9-10 short "think questions," to be done ON TIME; midterm test; synthesizing term paper (based on the course reading only, to be handed in ON TIME); final exam.

Books: Marx, Early Writings (Penguin or Vintage [introduction by Lucio Colletti]); Marx and Engels, Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. (Norton); Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (Penguin or Vintage [introduction by Ernest Mandel]); Megill, Karl Marx: The Burden of Reason (Rowman & Littlefield). These specific books are required. Often they can be obtained on-line, second-hand, at lower cost. Do not try to substitute other books for these, and do not rely on Kindle or other non-paper editions.

There is a small amount of in-copyright material to be downloaded from COLLAB and printed off by students for their individual use.

I am writing a short, 60,000-word biography of Marx, and I may circulate parts of the draft of this work to the class. Note, however, that the focus of the course is on Marx’s thought  rather than on his life.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
contact page