Does Capital Feed off of Human Nature?

Arbeit_schändet_-_Georg_Scholz

By Georg Scholz. Source: Wikipedia.

RECAP: As we approach the opening of the (iron?) curtain to Marx’s Capital, we will set the stage by touching upon the work of those that Marx refers to in his magnum opus. Not only should excerpts of related thinkers help show how Capital is expected to be a step up from these, but they should also give a clue as to the power of Capital in highlighting with awesome lucidity the problematic nature of today’s capitalist social relations.

We first presented the status of the worker, focussing on the notion of desire and the role it plays in making a “good society”. In our second element of decor, F.M. Eden curtly describes human nature and gives some advice:

“The workers are peculiarly the creatures of civil institutions, which have recognized that individuals may acquire property by various other means besides the exertion of labour. Persons of independent fortune owe their superior advantages by no means to any superior abilities of their own, but almost entirely to the industry of others.

It is not the possession of land, nor of money, but the command of labour which distinguishes the opulent from the labouring part of the community. This would give the people of property sufficient (but by no means too much) influence and authority over those who work for them; and it would place such labourers, not in an abject or servile condition, but in such a state of easy and liberal dependence.

Such a condition of dependence, as all those who know human nature will admit, is indispensable to the comfort of the workers themselves.”

Two important things pop up here: 1) that workers enjoy golden shackles; 2) that they enjoy it because of their human nature (only theirs?). We’ll tackle the question of the golden shackles next time; for now, we note that obviously the debate about human nature is very old and controversial, and Marx, as we shall see, makes a very important contribution to this question in his approach to capital.

Are capitalists and workers made of a different human nature? If they are made of the same “essence”, on what basis do civil institutions (ex. laws) grant some the power to wield the work of others?

And in case you think Eden was a socialist of the old guard, he was actually a baronet and, most importantly, a disciple of Adam Smith. The plot thickens…


The quote is from Marx’s Capital, Chapter 25. I slightly modified the quote to make it more readable.

The open-source reference to Marx’s Capital, Vol. 1: here.

Wiki page of F.M. Eden: here.

Wiki page of Georg Scholz: here.

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