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Karl Marx and Saint Augustine on Historical Causation

8 Mai 2020 , Rédigé par patient benjamin apollinaire Publié dans #education, #histoire


The study of history is the study of causes, said E.H. Carr; Michael Stanford to explain by saying that: “the whole universe is in ceaseless motion, and change is the order of the day”.

Four courses of energy as distinguished by

Pure nature: naturally things occur

Nature in the service of man: action of man

Human societies with their laws: rules, customs, traditions, skills, arrangement in the society.

Area of intention: human wants.

These lead us to understand how action occurred in History, so that history is explained using these four courses of energy. For example: pure nature as cause can help us to explain the Indian in America, who crossed from India to America during the ice age, but could not return back due to melting of ice which occurred, that is a pure nature cause which explains an historical events.

In the question, what is necessary or sufficient to bring things about; … answers by saying that: “a cause is necessary for a certain effect if that effect never comes about without it, secondly: a cause is sufficient if the effect always follows from that cause’’ therefore He continues saying that: “the historian has to seek for a necessary cause which is defined as: that without which the effect never comes about”. For example: colonization was inevitable due to the industrial growing in Europe, which is referred to us by Karl Marx as the growth of capitalism, this growth has put Europe in a situation of wanting more: raw materials, market; the need of wanting more resulted in a conflict in Europe about area of influence, the pic of this was the scramble and partition of Africa. Now let us going back and removed one element in this chain of events, the industrial revolution, if this did not happen so that Europe could have remained in the primary production, which is agriculture, therefore no need for raw materials or market, so that all the remain has no existence.



Karl Marx

Marx, Karl (1818-1883), German political philosopher and revolutionist, cofounder with Friedrich Engels of scientific socialism (modern communism), and, as such, one of the most influential thinkers of all times.

Marx was born in Trier and was educated at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Jena. In 1842, shortly after contributing his first article to the Cologne newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, Marx became editor of the paper. His writings in the Rheinische Zeitung criticizing contemporary political and social conditions embroiled him in controversy with the authorities, and in 1843 Marx was compelled to resign his editorial post, and soon afterward the Rheinische Zeitung was forced to discontinue publication. Marx then went to Paris. There, as a result of his further studies in philosophy, history, and political science, he adopted communist beliefs. In 1844, when Engels visited him in Paris, the two men found that they had independently arrived at identical views on the nature of revolutionary problems. They began a collaboration to elucidate systematically the theoretical principles of communism and to organize an international working-class movement dedicated to those principles. For information on their collaboration, which continued until Marx’s death, see Engels, Friedrich.

Causes of History according to Karl Marx

According to Karl Marx: history is the action in which man expressed his thoughts and nature was more than the environment of history, it was the source from which its pattern was derived; therefore historical events have natural causes.

History for Marx therefore is a process of the continuous creation, satisfaction and recreation of human needs (Giddens, 1994).

Marx developed a methodological approach to the study of society, economics and history, which is called the historical materialism; and this explains changes in material conditions (technology and productive capacity), as the primary influence on how society and the economy are organized. Some people said Marx, live off the fruits of others’ labor by owning the means of production.

According to Reisss (1997), Marx seeks to explain historical changes by examining technological progress, social development and class struggle.

For Marx, the driving force behind all development in history is the tension between opposing classes; example: masters opposing slaves, slaves opposing masters as this dialectic tension leads to revolution and change. The whole history of mankind has been a history of class struggles, conflict between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes. The nationalism in Africa, the boxer revolution in china, can be explained by Economic and political exploitation of China by various Western powers and Japan and humiliating military defeats inflicted by Britain in the Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860) and by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) were the main causes of Chinese resentment, compounded by general economic problems.

The American Revolution can also be explained as followed: The main causes of the American Revolution were economic. Colonists opposed British attempts to keep the colonies in a dependent relationship based on mercantilism. They also opposed British taxes to pay for the colonial British army in North America. The colonists faced a formidable enemy. The British government, including King George III and Parliament, was willing to pay large military and naval costs to suppress the rebellion. American colonists were able to defeat the British because they enjoyed the advantages of fighting on their home ground and because they had support from the French navy. The American Revolution left a powerful legacy of ideas—particularly the Declaration of Independence and its principle of the equality of all people. These ideas influenced other colonial resistance movements, particularly in Latin America. And this explained the all Marxist idea of class struggle as the driving force behind the development in history.

Marx continues saying that: the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. This is explained fully when looking at imperialism, which refers to political and economic control exercised by a country over another. Industrial revolution was the basis of the needs for raw materials and market for the surplus product, so that colonies of exploitation were established to feed the greed of the growing industry; they would talk about plantation colonies in America, which were producing raw materials for the Europeans’ industries and also serving as market for finished products.

Role of man in the causation of history

When Marx explains that that economic systems determines the history of the epoch and that the history of society is a history of struggles between exploiting and exploited, that is between ruling and oppressed social classes; He is also trying to explain the role of man in the causation of history.

When talking about economy, we are just talking about production and exchange, but production is the more important which comes first, while he considered that the most sophisticated the tools of production is human relationship, so that man becomes the engine of those causes so that without him nothing could have existed.

Man is the creator of his own history; no gods, no spiritual forces outside nature can influence his life and development Oswald (1982).

In his theory, the Marxism or scientific socialism, Marx established the stages of development of any society as followed: the primitive communism, hunter; the slave society; the feudalism; capitalism and socialism, communism, however He continues saying that for a society to move from one stage of development to another, something has to happened; revolution, man has to struggle for change, so that man is an important factor in the changes in history.

This He explains by saying that: “history is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends; for Marx, man is a creator. He said: “it is a work which allows man to express himself as a creative human being. The better the tools he commands, the more he can produce. The more material goods he has produced – the more he becomes free to use his real creative power in art, sport, philosophy, music… Man has therefore to fight against exploitation, because it hinders him from expressing himself in his work and robs him from the creation of his hands because the factory – owner claims the product as his own.





Sainte Augustine

Augustine, Saint (354-430), greatest of the Latin Fathers and one of the most eminent Western Doctors of the Church.

Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in Tagaste, Numidia (now Souk-Ahras, Algeria). His father, Patricius (died about 371), was a pagan (later converted to Christianity), but his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian who labored untiringly for her son's conversion and who was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Augustine was educated as a rhetorician in the former North African cities of Tagaste, Madaura, and Carthage. Between the ages of 15 and 30, he lived with a Carthaginian woman whose name is unknown; in 372 she bore him a son, whom he named Adeodatus, which is Latin for “the gift of God.” About 383 Augustine left Carthage for Rome, but a year later he went on to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric. There he came under the influence of the philosophy of Neoplatonism and also met the bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, then the most distinguished ecclesiastic in Italy. Augustine presently was attracted again to Christianity. At last one day, according to his own account, he seemed to hear a voice, like that of a child, repeating, “Take up and read.” He interpreted this as a divine exhortation to open the Scriptures and read the first passage he happened to see. Accordingly, he opened to Romans 13:13-14, where he read: “...not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” He immediately resolved to embrace Christianity. Along with his natural son, he was baptized by Ambrose on Easter Eve in 387. His mother, who had rejoined him in Italy, rejoiced at this answer to her prayers and hopes. She died soon afterward in Ostia. Augustine returned to North Africa and was ordained in 391. He became bishop of Hippo (now Annaba, Algeria) in 395, an office he held until his death.(Theodore, 2004).

Augustine views on causation in History

Augustine took a Biblical stand in explaining the causes of history (Markus 1988); this is the Biblical narrative of God’s creation and saving works among his chosen people, the promise and the preparation in the Old Testament and the fulfillment in the New Testament. For him therefore all history, sacred or secular, has its origin in God’s creation of the world.

For Saint Augustine, the Bible supersedes all other authorities for Christians, so that for them, the Biblical authors are their philosophers and their historians.

Role of God

The Augustinian philosophy puts God as the super and divine determinant of direction of all happenings, both natural and human.

In the 5th century, Saint Augustine wrote the “City of God”, in which he explained some theological issues such as the supremacy of the church over the transient state, the control of God over history, free will and the resurrection of the faithful.

About God being in control over history, Saint Augustine argues that: “God directs human life, events and their changeability; God is in charge of history, as he determines and govern all players of history.

For example taking the Biblical account of the decline of the Babylon civilization as the work of God, who has seen that his people had repented from their evilness and were ready to start a fresh, he sent the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great in 539 to conquered the Babylonian and let God’s people to go free in their land, Cyrus is therefore seen here as a vehicle through which God is saving his people, therefore it is not the Persian work, but God’s work of salvation.

What about the continuation killing and troubled in history? Saint Augustine see, secular history as the troubled careers of men, societies, and their institutions.

Secular history for Saint Augustine, becomes the rest or all that is left when people subtracts from history the element of sacred, however this did not mean the absence of God in history; as the force behind every historical event, Saint Augustine always see God’s continuing activity in everything that happens: the vilest and the least significant of things as well as the destiny of nations, the crimes of man, no less than their finest achievements are in the hands of the lord of history (Quasten et all 1982).

God creates us without man’s participation, but cannot save him without his participation. Therefore to the question of the role of man in the causation of history, Saint Augustine says that, man by his free will choses to do what he wills. Augustine puts it in this way: “People may wish to be happy in the future, but may not be able to achieve this because to do so would be dependent on factors that are beyond one’s control; meaning there are always external constraints which hinder humans in fulfilling their desires.

There is no freedom of action but freedom of will; when people use the concept of “something being in our power”, they simply mean “being able to do what they will” ( Portalie 1907). The will is what makes an action one’s own, placing the burden of responsibility on the one performing the action (Howe 1967). The action of doing good things is what is expected from man, but due to his free will, man chooses to do evil, therefore man is a sinner because of his free will and will be punished for that. Therefore the force behind any historical event is the Devine, man is expected to cooperate by his free will.




From the above analysis on the causation in history, we will agree and conclude by saying that both Karl Marx and Saint Augustine are conscious of the role of man in the move of any historical events, in any situation a stand of man is important to make a change whether by the use of his free will or by the use of his freedom. However on the principle cause of historical events they have different stand so that for Marx it is the struggle between classes in the society for him, change in history did not occur by pure chance; rather it resulted from the operation of certain observable laws which are economic so that the tension between slaves and masters; masters and slaves are the driving forces of historical events.

But for Saint Augustine, it is God who is the force behind any historical events, this He explains by using the concept of time in history; time is an important concept in history and he said that God is eternal, He is not located in time at all, so that He is the author of time by creation therefore the force behind history.




Arthur Marwick. (1989). The Nature of History. Third Edition. London; Macmillan Press LTD.

Theodore M. Hesburgh. (2004). Augustine, Saint. Micosoft Encarta Encyclopedia. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Collinghwood R.G.(1993). The Idea of History. Oxford; Oxford University Press.

Reiss, E. (1997). Marx: A Clear Guide. London; Pluto Press Publication.

Omodie E. A. (2015). Causation in History; teacher’s note.















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