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 foot the bills. 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 specific 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.
Kropotkin sees the source of all so-called moral ideas as in primitive superstitions. The real moral sense which guides our social behavior is instinctive, based on the sympathy and unity inherent in group life. Mutual aid is the condition of successful social living. The moral base is therefore the good old golden rule "Do to others as you would have others do to you in the same circumstances,"-- which disposed of the ethics of the shopkeeper's anarchist customers.
This natural moral sense was perverted, Kropotkin says, by the superstitions surrounding law, religion and authority, deliberately cultivated by conquerors, exploiters and priests for their own benefit. Morality has therefore become the instrument of ruling classes to protect their privileges.
He defends the morality of killing for the benefit of mankind, -- as in the assassination of tyrants, -- but never for self. Love and hate he regards as greater social forces for controlling wrong-doing than punishment, which he rejects as useless and evil. Account-book morality, -- doing right only to receive a benefit, -- he scores roundly, urging instead the satisfactions and joy of "sowing life around you" by giving yourself to the uttermost to your fellow-men. Not of course to do them good, in the spirit of philanthropy, but to be one with them, equal and sharing.