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MODERN SCIENCE AND ANARCHISM — Peter Kropotkin

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In ‘Modern Science and Anarchism’ Kropotkin argues that the Idea of anarchism originated not with individual thinkers, but from among the people and that it will preserve its vitality and creative force only for as long as it remains a movement of the people. Kropotkin claims in this work that throughout history ‘two currents of thought and action have been in conflict in the midst of human societies,’ — the ‘mutual aid’ tendency, as 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’. The other current is the authoritarian one, beginning with the ‘magi, shamans, wizards, rain-makers, oracles, and priests’ and continuing with the recorders of laws and the ‘chiefs of military bands’. ‘Kropotkin concludes ‘that anarchy represents the first of these two currents. … We can therefore say that from all times there have been anarchists and statists.’ Kropotkin postulates that the roots of anarchism lie in ‘the remotest Stone-age antiquity’; from this highly personal view of prehistory he continues through all rebellious movements to the rise of the early trade unions, concluding that ‘these are the main popular anarchist currents which we know of in history’. The book’s roots go back to 1887 when Kropotkin wrote an article entitled “The Scientific Bases of Anarchy” for the Nineteenth Century, the magazine edited by James Knowles which published most of Kropotkin’s major works in essay form before they appeared as books. Modern Science and Anarchism originated out of a burst of activity on Kropotkin’s part related to the rise of the clandestine anarchist movement in Russia. The first edition, in Russian, was printed in London in 1901; a later, German edition, was published in 1904, wile the English and French versions did not appear until 1912/13. Kropotkin’s main intention in writing Modern Science and Anarchism was, apparently, to clarify the basic methodological principle of anarchism, and establish the fact that anarchism is a broad based modern sociological science, i.e. political economy broadly defined, including politoligy and psychology, law. Far from endorsing ‘the government of science’ he wanted to see established: “A society in which all the mutual relations of its members are regulated, not by laws, not by authorities, whether self-imposed or elected, but by mutual agreement… and by a sum of social customs and habits—not petrified by law, routine, or superstition, but continually developing and continually readjusted, in accordance with the ever-growing requirements of a free life, stimulated by the progress of science, invention, and the steady growth of higher ideals” (Modern Science and Anarchism).

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In ‘Modern Science and Anarchism’ Kropotkin argues that the Idea of anarchism originated not with individual thinkers, but from among the people and that it will preserve its vitality and creative force only for as long as it remains a movement of the people. Kropotkin claims in this work that throughout history ‘two currents of thought and action have been in conflict in the midst of human societies,’ — the ‘mutual aid’ tendency, as 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’. The other current is the authoritarian one, beginning with the ‘magi, shamans, wizards, rain-makers, oracles, and priests’ and continuing with the recorders of laws and the ‘chiefs of military bands’. ‘Kropotkin concludes ‘that anarchy represents the first of these two currents. … We can therefore say that from all times there have been anarchists and statists.’ Kropotkin postulates that the roots of anarchism lie in ‘the remotest Stone-age antiquity’; from this highly personal view of prehistory he continues through all rebellious movements to the rise of the early trade unions, concluding that ‘these are the main popular anarchist currents which we know of in history’. The book’s roots go back to 1887 when Kropotkin wrote an article entitled “The Scientific Bases of Anarchy” for the Nineteenth Century, the magazine edited by James Knowles which published most of Kropotkin’s major works in essay form before they appeared as books. Modern Science and Anarchism originated out of a burst of activity on Kropotkin’s part related to the rise of the clandestine anarchist movement in Russia. The first edition, in Russian, was printed in London in 1901; a later, German edition, was published in 1904, wile the English and French versions did not appear until 1912/13. Kropotkin’s main intention in writing Modern Science and Anarchism was, apparently, to clarify the basic methodological principle of anarchism, and establish the fact that anarchism is a broad based modern sociological science, i.e. political economy broadly defined, including politoligy and psychology, law. Far from endorsing ‘the government of science’ he wanted to see established: “A society in which all the mutual relations of its members are regulated, not by laws, not by authorities, whether self-imposed or elected, but by mutual agreement… and by a sum of social customs and habits—not petrified by law, routine, or superstition, but continually developing and continually readjusted, in accordance with the ever-growing requirements of a free life, stimulated by the progress of science, invention, and the steady growth of higher ideals” (Modern Science and Anarchism).