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Here is the paragraph that contains the words:

As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels saw clearly, the 19th-century business class

created more massive and more colossal productive forces than all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?

What does "conjured out" mean in this context? What is it that the whole populations conjured out of the ground?

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This is a metaphorical use of the word "to conjure", which means to summon by magic.

The author, to me, is expressing that the explosive growth of technology and population happened so quickly, and started with so little, that it is almost magical.

This could be reasonably restated as:

whole populations came seemingly out of nowhere

  • Isn't the verb "conjure" a transitive verb? doesn't it require an object? – ammar May 25 '17 at 15:28
  • I think your came seemingly out of nowhere sounds much more natural for OP's context. Alternatively, if sticking with conjured, it's worth noting that conjured out of thin air is significantly more common (it's only a metaphoric reference, so it might as well be the one people usually use). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 25 '17 at 15:28
  • @ammarx: The "object" is whole populations. There's no "subject" because it's a "passive" form. God (or similar) conjured those populations up, apparently. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 25 '17 at 15:29
  • ...also note that a goodly proportion of the "standard" idiom usages occur as conjured up out of thin {air}. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 25 '17 at 15:35
  • Shouldn't it be "whole populations were conjured out of the ground"? – ammar May 25 '17 at 16:02

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