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Viewed retrospectively, the most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century were Karl Marx (1818–83) and Charles Darwin (1809–82). Two of their central concepts, class struggle and evolution, both focused on the idea of ‘struggle’, and clearly had some common origin, as Marx at least recognised. Together they provided a definitive leitmotif for fin de siècle Europe and America, whose inheritance was bequeathed to the twentieth century, at least to 1945 (for Social Darwinism), and to 1991 (for Marxism).
There is one great fact, characteristic of this our nineteenth century, a fact that no party dares deny. On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire. In our days, everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labour, we behold starving and overworking it.
The nineteenth century was seemingly a period of great progress. Huge advancements and achievements were made in science, technology and industry that transformed life and work alike. But a growing pride in modernity and innovation was tainted by a sense of the loss of the past and the multiple threats which novelty posed. The Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century Thought provides an impressive survey of the period's major ideas and trends. Leading scholars explore some of the most influential concepts and debates within philosophy, history, political thought, economics, religion and the social sciences, as well as feminism and imperialism. Some of these debates continued into the following century and many still remain relevant in the present day. This Companion is an excellent tool for readers seeking to understand the genesis of modern discourse across a range of humanities and social science subjects.
This article explores the ideas of “Walking” John Stewart (1747–1822), a little-known adventurer and philosopher active in debates over social reformation during the French Revolutionary period. Renowned as a peripatetic who walked from India to Britain, Stewart befriended Thomas Paine and others during the early years of the Revolution. His main aim was to persuade them of the value of his philosophy, which was derived from French materialism as well as Hindu and Buddhist sources. But Stewart also came under the influence of the Shakers, Dunkers, Moravians, and other North American sectarian communities. As early as 1791 he commended small-scale “cohabitations” of no more than 100 men and 100 women as the ideal form of association. Here, and in his radical approaches to marriage and sexual relationships, he strikingly anticipated the ideas of Robert Owen and the early socialists.