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.


What position, then, does Anarchism occupy in the great intellectual movement of the nineteenth century?

The answer to this question has already been partly formulated in the preceding pages. Anarchism is a world-concept based upon a mechanical explanation of all phenomena, 1 embracing the whole of Nature--that is, including in it the life of human societies and their economic, political, and moral problems. Its method of investigation is that of the exact natural sciences, by which every scientific conclusion must be verified. Its aim is to construct a synthetic philosophy comprehending in one generalization all the phenomena of Nature--and therefore also the life of societies,--avoiding, however, the errors mentioned above into which, for the reasons there given, Comte and Spencer had fallen.

It is therefore natural that to most of the questions of modern life Anarchism should give new answers, and hold with regard to them a position differing from those of all political and, to a certain extent, of all socialistic parties, which have not yet freed themselves from the metaphysical fictions of old.

Of course, the elaboration of a complete mechanical world-conception has hardly been begun in its sociological part--in that part, that is, which deals with the life and the evolution of societies. But the little that has been done undoubtedly bears a marked--though often not fully conscious--character. In the domain of philosophy of law, in the theory of morality, in political economy, in history, (both of nations and institutions), Anarchism has already shown that it will not content itself with metaphysical conclusions, but will seek, in every case a natural-scientific basis. It rejects the metaphysics of Hegel, of Schelling, and of Kant; it disowns the commentators of Roman and Canon Law, together with the learned apologists of the State; it does not consider metaphysical political economy a science; and it endeavors to gain a clear comprehension of every question raised in these branches of knowledge, basing its investigations upon the numerous researches that have been made during the last thirty or forty years from a naturalist point of view.

In the same way as the metaphysical conceptions of a Universal Spirit, or of a Creative Force in Nature, the Incarnation of the Idea, Nature's Goal, the Aim of Existence, the Unknowable, Mankind (conceived as having a separate spiritualized existence), and so on--in the same way as all these have been brushed aside by the materialist philosophy of to-day, while the embryos of generalizations concealed beneath these misty terms are being translated into the concrete language of natural sciences,--so we proceed in dealing with the facts of social life. Here also we try to sweep away the metaphysical cobwebs, and to see what embryos of generalizations--if any--may have been concealed beneath all sorts of misty words.


When the metaphysicians try to convince the naturalist that the mental and moral life of man develops in accordance with certain "Immanent (in-dwelling) Laws of the Spirit," the latter shrugs his shoulders and continues his physiological study of the mental and moral phenomena of life, with a view to showing that they can all be resolved into chemical and physical phenomena. He endeavors to discover the natural laws on which they are based. Similarly, when the Anarchists are told, for instance, that--as Hegel says--every development consists of a Thesis, an Antithesis, and a Synthesis; or that "the object of Law is the establishment of Justice, which represents the realization of the Highest Idea;" or, again, when they are asked,--What, in their opinion, is "the Object of Life?" they, too, simply shrug their shoulders and wonder how, at the present state of development of natural science, old fashioned people can still be found who believe in "words" like these and still express themselves in the language of primitive anthromorphism (the conception of nature as of a thing governed by a being endowed with human attributes). High-flown words do not scare the Anarchists, because they know that these words simply conceal ignorance--that is, uncompleted investigation--or, what is much worse, mere superstition. They therefore pass on and continue their study of past and present social ideas and institutions according to the scientific method of induction. And in doing so they find, of course, that the development of a social life is incomparably more complicated--and incomparably more interesting for practical purposes--than it would appear from such formulæ.

We have heard much of late about "the dialectic method," which was recommended for formulating the socialist ideal. Such a method we do not recognize, neither would the modern natural sciences have anything to do with it. "The dialectic method" reminds the modern naturalist of something long since passed--of something outlived and now happily forgotten by science. The discoveries of the nineteenth century in mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology, physical psychology, anthropology, psychology of nations, etc., were made--not by the dialectic method, but by the natural-scientific method, the method of induction and deduction. And since man is part of nature, and since the life of his "spirit"--personal as well as social--is just as much a phenomenon of nature as is the growth of a flower or the evolution of social life amongst the ants and the bees,--there is no cause for suddenly changing our method of investigation when we pass from the flower to man, or from a settlement of beavers to a human town.

The inductive-deductive method has proved its merits so well, in that the nineteenth century, which has applied it, has caused science to advance more in a hundred years than it had advanced during the two thousand years that went before. And when, in the second half of this century, this method began to be applied to the investigation of human society, no point was ever reached where it was found necessary to abandon it and again adopt mediæval scholasticism--as revised by Hegel. Besides, when, for example, philistine naturalists, seemingly basing their arguments on "Darwinism," began to teach, "Crush everyone weaker than yourself; such is the law of nature," it was easy for us to prove by the same scientific method that no such law exists: that the life of animals teaches us something entirely different, and that the conclusions of the philistines were absolutely unscientific. They were just as unscientific as, for instance, the assertion that the inequality of wealth is a law of nature, or that capitalism is the most convenient form of social life calculated to promote progress. Precisely this natural-scientific method, applied to economic facts, enables us to prove that the so-called "laws" of middle-class sociology, including also their political economy, are not laws at all, but simply guesses, or mere assertions which have never been verified at all. Moreover, every investigation only bears fruit when it has a definite aim--when it is undertaken for the purpose of obtaining an answer to a definite and clearly worded question. And it is the more fruitful the more clearly the observer sees the connect that exists between his problem and his general concept of the universe--the place which the former occupies in the latter. The better he understands the importance of the problem in the general concept, the easier will the answer be. The question, then, which Anarchism puts to itself may be stated thus: "What forms of social life assure to a given society, and then to mankind generally, the greatest amount of happiness, and hence also of vitality?" "What forms of social life allow this amount of happiness to grow and to develop, quantitatively as well as qualitatively,--that is, to become more complete and more varied?" (from which, let us note in passing, a definition of progress is derived). The desire to promote evolution in this direction determines the scientific as well as the social and artistic activity of the Anarchist. bar


1 It were more correct to say, a kinetic explanation, but this word is not so commonly known.

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