ETHICS Origin and Development by Peter Kropotkin. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

EthicssmallETHICS.  Origin and Development by Peter Kropotkin

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Kropotkin’s Ethics: Origin and Development (£1.00 via Paypal to [email protected]) , is, in a sense, a continuation of his well-known work, “Mutual Aid as a Factor of Evolution.” The basic ideas of the two books are closely connected, almost inseparable, in fact: — the origin and progress of human relations in society. Only, in the “Ethics” Kropotkin approaches his theme through a study of the ideology of these relations removing ethics from the sphere of the speculative and metaphysical, and bringing human conduct and ethical teaching back to its natural environment: the ethical practices of men in their everyday concerns — from the time of primitive societies to our modern highly organized States. Thus conceived, ethics becomes a subject of universal interest.

On Anarchist Morality

This study of the origin and function of what we call “morality” was written for pamphlet publication as a result of an amusing situation. An anarchist who ran a store in England found that his comrades in the movement regarded it as perfectly right to take his goods without paying for them. “To each according to his need” seemed to them to justify letting those who were best able to foot the bills pay for them. Kropotkin was appealed to, with the result that he not only condemned such doctrine, but was moved to write the comrades this sermon.

Its conception of morality is based on the ideas set forth in Mutual Aid and later developed in his Ethics. Here they are given special application to “right and wrong” in the business of social living. The job is done with fine feeling and with acute shafts at the shams of current morality.

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MUTUAL AID A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

MutualAidMUTUAL AID A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin  LOOK INSIDE  

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Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid is usually, and rightly, called his masterpiece. While the high quality of all his work makes it hard to say whether this classic can be considered his best, it is fair to say that it is probably his most famous and one of his most widely read. Suffice to say, that it is rarely out of print testifies to its importance as well as the quality and timelessness of its message.

It is often called an anarchist classic. This is not entirely accurate. Yes, it is a classic and it was written by an anarchist, indeed the leading anarchist thinker of the time. However, it is not a book about anarchism. It is, first and foremost, a work of popular science, a “best-selling work,” which made co-operation “well known in lay society” while ensuring it would “be discussed among biologists in the following decades.” It was aimed at rebutting the misuse of evolutionary theory to justify the status quo, but its synthesis of zoological, anthropological, historical and sociological data achieved far more and, consequently, its influence is great. “It is arguable that of all the books on co-operation written by biologists,” suggests Lee Alan Dugatkin Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Louisville, “Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid had the most profound affect on biologists, social scientists, and laymen alike.” Anthropologist Ashley Montagu dedicated his book Darwin, Competition and Co-operation, to Kropotkin, stating it was a “classic” and “no book in the whole realm of evolutionary theories is more readable or more important, for it is Mutual Aid which provides the first thoroughly documented demonstration of the importance of co-operation as a factor in evolution.”

This is not to say that anarchism plays no part in it nor that it holds nothing of interest for anarchists or anarchist theory. Far from it! The very mode of analysis, the looking into mutual aid tendencies of everyday life is inherently libertarian. It flows from the “bottom-up” and is rooted in popular history. More than that, it is documented with the skill of a talented scientist and, in this, it is somewhat unusual. It is often noted that Proudhon, the founding father of anarchism, was unique in being a socialist thinker who was also working class. In the case of Kropotkin, he was one of the few socialist thinkers who was a trained scientist, an extremely gifted one according to his peers. This education in the scientific method can be seen from all his work, but most obviously in Mutual Aid.