Modern Science and Anarchism

Peter Kropotkin

This text was taken from my copy translated from the Russian original by David A. Modell and published by The Social Science Club of Philadelphia in 1903.


In these erroneous views, however, Spencer does not stand alone. Following Hobbes, all the philosophy of the nineteenth century continues to look upon the savages as upon bands of wild beasts which lived an isolated life and fought among themselves over food and wives, until some benevolent authority appeared among them and forced them to keep the peace. Even such a naturalist as Huxley advocated the same views as Hobbes, who maintained that in the beginning people lived in a state of war, fighting "each against all,"1 till, at last, owing to a few advanced persons of the time, the "first society" was created (see his article "The Struggle for Existence--a Law of Nature.") Even Huxley, therefore, failed to realize that it was not Man who created society, but that social life existed among animals much earlier than the advent of man. Such is the power of deep-rooted prejudice.

Were we, however, to trace the history of this prejudice, it would not be difficult to convince ourselves that it originated chiefly in religions and among their representatives. The secret leagues of sorcerers, rain-makers, and so on, among primitive clans, and later on, the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Indian, Hebrew and other priesthoods, and later still the Christian priests, have always been endeavoring to persuade men that they lay deep in sin, and that only the intercession of the shaman, the magician, and the priest can keep the evil spirit from assuming control over man, or can prevail with a revengeful God not to visit upon man his retribution for sin. Primitive Christianity, it is true, faintly attempted to break up this prejudice; but the Christian Church, adhering to the very language of the gospels concerning "eternal fire" and "the wrath of God," intensified it still more. The very conception of a son of God who had come to die for "the redemption of sin," served as a basis for this view. No wonder that later on "the Holy Inquisition" subjected people to the most cruel tortures and burned them slowly at the stake in order to afford them an opportunity of repenting and of saving themselves thereby from eternal torment. And not the Catholic Church alone, but all other Christian Churches vied with one another in investing all kinds of tortures in order to better people "steeped in sin." Up to the present time, nine hundred and ninety-nine persons in a thousand still believe that natural calamities--droughts, floods, earthquakes, and epidemic diseases--are sent by a Divine Being for the purpose of recalling sinful mankind to the right path. In this belief an enormous majority of our children are being brought up to this very day.

At the same time the State, in its schools and universities, countenances the same belief in the innate perversity of man. To prove the necessity of some power that stands above society and inculcates in it the moral principles (with the aid of punishments inflicted for violations of "moral law," for which, by means of a clever trick, the written law is easily substituted),--to keep people in this belief is a matter of life or death to the State. Because, the moment people come to doubt the necessity and possibility of such an inoculation of morality, they will begin to doubt the higher mission of their rulers as well.

In this way everything--our religious, our historical, our legal, and our social education--is imbued with the idea that man, left to himself, would soon turn into a beast. If it were not for the authority exercised over them, people would devour one another; nothing but brutality and war of each against all can be expected from "the mob." It would perish, if the policeman, the sheriff and the hangman--the chosen few, the salt of the earth--did not tower above it and interpose to prevent the universal free-fight, to educate the people to respect the sanctity of law and discipline, and with a wise hand lead them onward to those times when better ideas shall find a nesting place in the "uncouth hearts of men" and render the rod, the prison, and the gallows less necessary than they are at present.

We laugh at a certain king who, on going into exile in 1848, said: "My poor subjects; now they will perish without me!" We smile at the English clerk who believes that the English are the lost tribe of Israel, appointed by God himself to administer good government to "all other, lower races." But does not the great majority of fairly educated people among all the nations entertain the same exalted opinion with regard to itself?


And yet, a scientific study of the development of human society and institutions leads to an entirely different conclusion. It shows that the habits and customs for mutual aid, common defence, and the preservation of peace, which were established since the very first stages of human pre-historic times--and which alone made it possible for man, under very trying natural conditions, to survive in the struggle for existence,--that these social conventions have been worked out precisely by this anonymous "mob." As to the so-called "leaders" of humanity, they have not contributed anything useful that was not developed previously in customary law; they may have emphasized (they nearly always vitiated) some useful existing customs, but they have not invented them; while they always strove, on their side, to turn to their own advantage the common-law institutions that had been worked out by the masses for their mutual protection, or, failing in this, endeavored to destroy them.

Even in the remotest antiquity, which is lost in the darkness of the stone age, men already lived in societies. In these societies was already developed a whole network of customs and sacred, religiously-respected institutions of the communal regime or of the clan which rendered social life possible. And through all the subsequent stages of development we find it was exactly this constructive force of the "uninformed mob" that worked out new modes of life and new means for mutual support and the maintenance of peace, as new conditions arose.

On the other hand, modern science has proved conclusively that Law--whether proclaimed as the voice of a divine being or proceeding from the wisdom of a lawgiver--never did anything else than prescribe already existing, useful habits and customs, and thereby hardened them into unchangeable, crystallized forms. And in doing this it always added to the "useful customs," generally recognized as such, a few new rules--in the interest of the rich, warlike and armed minority. "Thou shalt not kill," said the Mosaic law, "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not bear false witness," and then it added to these excellent injunctions: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, his slave, nor his ass," which injunction legalized slavery for all time and put woman on the same level as a slave and a beast of burden.

"Love your neighbor," said Christianity later on, but straightway added, in the words of Paul the Apostle: "Slaves, be subject to your masters," and "There is no authority but from God,"--thereby emphasizing the division of society into slaves and masters and sanctifying the authority of the scoundrels who reigned at Rome. The Gospels, though teaching the sublime idea of "no punishment for offences," which is, of course, the essence of Christianity--the token which differentiates it and Buddhism from all other positive religions--speak at the same time all the while about an avenging God who takes his revenge even upon children, thus necessarily impressing upon mankind the opposite idea of vengeance.

We see the same things in the laws of the so-called "Barbarians," that is, of the Gauls, the Lombards, the Allemains, and the Saxons, when these people lived in their communities, free from the Roman yoke. The Barbarian codes converted into law an undoubtedly excellent custom which was then in the process of formation: the custom of paying a penalty for wounds and killing, instead of practicing the law of retaliation (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, wound for wound, and death for death). But at the same time they also legalized and perpetuated the division of freemen into classes--a division which only then began to appear. They exacted from the offender varying compensations, according as the person killed or wounded was a freeman, a military man, or a king (the penalty in the last case being equivalent to life-long servitude). The original idea of this scale of compensations to be paid to the wronged family according to its social position, was evidently that a king's family of an ordinary freeman by being deprived of its head, was entitled to receive a greater compensation. But the law, by restating the custom, legalized for all time the division of people into classes--and so legalized it that up to the present, a thousand years since, we have not got rid of it.

And this happened with the legislation of every age, down to our own time. The oppression of the preceding epoch was thus transmitted by law from the old society to the new, which grew upon the ruins of the old. The oppression of the Persian empire passed on to Greece; the oppression of the Macedonian empire, to Rome; the oppression and cruelty of the Roman empire, to the mediæval European States then just arising.

Every social safeguard, all forms of social life in the tribe, the commune, and the early medæval town-republics; all forms of inter-tribal, and later on inter-provincial, relations, out of which international law was subsequently evolved; all forms of mutual support and all institutions for the preservation of peace--including the jury,--were developed by the creative genius of the anonymous masses. While all the laws of every age, down to our own, always consisted of the same two elements: one which fixed and crystallized certain forms of life that were universally recognized as useful; the other which was a superstructure--sometimes even nothing but a cunning clause adroitly smuggled in in order to establish and strengthen the growing power of the nobles, the king, and the priest--to give it sanction.

So, at any rate, we are led to conclude by the scientific study of the development of human society, upon which for the last thirty years not a few conscientious men of science have labored. They themselves, it is true, seldom venture to express such heretical conclusions as those stated above. But the thoughtful reader inevitably comes to them on reading their works. bar


1 Hobbes' exact words are: "Bellum omnium contra omnes." (The war of everyone against everybody). --Translator
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