Modern Science and Anarchism by Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin

ANARCHISM is a creed inspired and ridden by paradox, and thus, while its advocates theoretically reject tradition, they are nevertheless very much concerned with the ancestry of their doctrine. This concern springs from the belief that anarchism is a manifestation of natural human urges, and that it is the tendency to create authoritarian institutions which is the transient aberration. If one accepts this view, then anarchism cannot merely be a phenomenon of the present; the aspect of it we perceive in history is merely one metamorphosis of an element constant in society. It is to tracing this constant but elusive element that anarchist historians, such as Peter Kropotkin, Max Nettlau, and Rudolf Rocker, have largely devoted themselves.

The family tree which these writers have cultivated so carefully is indeed a magnificent growth, and in the shade of its branches one encounters some astonishing forefathers. Kropotkin was perhaps the most extreme of all the anarchist genealogists, for he sought the real origin of his creed not among individual thinkers, but among the anonymous mass of the folk. ‘Anarchism,’ he declared, ‘originated among the people, and it will preserve its vitality and creative force so long only as it remains a movement of the people.’

In Modern Science and Anarchism this belief is elaborated in historical terms. ‘From all times,’ Kropotkin claims in this book, ‘two currents of thought and action have been in conflict in the midst of human societies.’ These are, on the one hand, the ‘mutual aid’ tendency, exemplified in tribal custom, village communities, medieval guilds, and, in fact, all institutions ‘developed and worked out, not by legislation, but by the creative spirit of the masses’, and, on the other hand, the authoritarian current, beginning with the ‘magi, shamans, wizards, rain-makers, oracles, and priests’ and continuing to include the recorders of laws and the ‘chiefs of military bands’. ‘It is evident,’ Kropotkin concluded dogmatically, ‘that anarchy represents the first of these two currents. … We can therefore say that from all times there have been anarchists and statists.’ Elsewhere Kropotkin conjectures that the roots of anarchism, must be found in ‘the remotest Stone-age antiquity’, and from this highly personal view of prehistory he goes on through all the gamut of rebellious movements to the early English trade unions, reaching the eventual conclusion that ‘these are the main popular anarchist currents which we know of in history’. MODERN SCIENCE AND ANARCHISM


I Two fundamental tendencies in Society: the popular and the governmental.–The Kinship of Anarchism and the Popular-creative tendency.

II. The Intellectual movement of the XVIII century: its fundamental traits: the investigation of all phenomena by the scientific method.–The Stagnation of Thought at the Beginning of the XIX century.–The Awakening of Socialism: its influence upon the development of science.–The Fifties.

III. Auguste Comte’s Attempt to build up a Synthetic Philosophy.–The causes of his failure: the religious explanation of the moral sense in man.

IV. The flowering of the Exact Sciences in 1856-62.–The Development of the Mechanical World-Conception, embracing the Development of Human Ideas and Institutions.–A Theory of Evolution.

V. The Possibility of a New Synthetic Philosophy.–Herbert Spencer’s attempt: why it failed.–The Method not sustained.–A False Conception of “The Struggle for Existence.”

VI. The Causes of this Mistake.–The Teaching of the Church: “the World is steeped in Sin.”–The Government’s Inculcation of the same view of “Man’s Radical Perversity.”–The Views of Modern Anthropology upon this subject.–The Development of forms of life by the “Masses,” and the LAw.–Its Two-fold Character.

VII. The Place of Anarchism in Science.–Its Endeavor to Formulate a Synthetic Conception of the World.–Its Object.

VIII. Its origin.–How Its Ideal is Developed by the Natural-Scientific Method.

IX. A Brief Summary of the Conclusions Reached by Anarchism: Law.–Morality.–Economic Ideas.–The Government.

X. Continuation:–Methods of Action.–The Understanding of Revolutions and their Birth.–The Creative Ingenuity of the People.–Conclusion.