The text is from my copy of Peter Kropotkin, Ethics: Origins and
Development, London: George E Harrap Co, Ltd.
Ethics: Origin and Development
by Peter Kropotkin
Introduction by the Russian Editor
"ETHICS" is the swan song of the great humanitarian scientist and revolutionist-anarchist, and constitutes, as it were, the crowning work and the résumé of all the scientific, philosophical, and sociological views of Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin, at which he arrived in the course of his long and unusually rich life. Unfortunately, death came before he could complete his work, and, according to the will and desire of Peter Alekseyevich, the responsible task of preparing "Ethics" for the press fell upon me.
In issuing the first volume of "Ethics", I feel the necessity of saying a few words to acquaint the reader with the history of this work.
In his "Ethics" Kropotkin wished to give answers to the two fundamental problems of morality: whence originate man's moral conceptions? and , what is the goal of the moral prescriptions and standards? It is for this reason that he subdivided his work into two parts: the first was to consider the question of the origin and the historical development of morality, and the second part Kropotkin planned to devote to the exposition of the bases of realistic ethics, and its aims.
Kropotkin had time to write only the first volume of "Ethics," and even that not in finished form. Some chapters of the first volume were written by him in rough draft only, and the last chapter, in which the ethical teachings of Stirner, Nietzsche, Tolstoi, Multatuli, and of other prominent contemporary moralists were to be discussed, remained unwritten.
For the second volume of "Ethics" Kropotkin had time to write only a few essays, which he planned to publish at first in the form of magazine
articles, -- and a series of rough drafts and notes. They are the essays: "Primitive Ethics," "Justice, Morality, and Religion," "Ethics and Mutual Aid," "Origins of Moral Motives and of the Sense of Duty," and others.
Kropotkin began to occupy himself with moral problems as early as in the 'eighties, but he devoted particularly close attention to the questions of morality during the last decade of the nineteenth century, when voices began to be heard in literature proclaiming that morality is not needed and when the a-moralist doctrine of Nietzsche was gaining attention. At the same time, many representatives of science and of philosophic thought, under the influence of Darwin's teaching, -- interpreted literally, -- began to assert that there reigns in the world but one general law, -- the "law of struggle for existence," and by this very assumption they seemed to lend support to philosophical a-moralism.
Kropotkin, feeling all the falseness of such conclusions, decided to prove from the scientific point of view that nature is not a-moral and does not teach man a lesson of evil, but that morality constitutes the natural product of the evolution of social life not only of man, but of almost all living creatures, among the majority of which we find the rudiments of moral relations.
In 1890 Kropotkin delivered, before the "Ancoats Brotherhood" of Manchester, a lecture on the subject "Justice and Morality," and somewhat later he repeated this lecture in amplified form before the London Ethical Society.
During the period 1891-1894 he printed in the magazine, Nineteenth Century, a series of articles on the subject of mutual aid among the animals, savages, and civilized peoples. These essays, which later formed the contents of the book "Mutual Aid, a factor of evolution," constitute, as it were, an introduction to Kropotkin's moral teaching.
In 1904-1905 Kropotkin printed in the magazine Nineteenth Century two articles directly devoted to moral problems: "The Ethical Need of the Present Day," and "The Morality of Nature." These essays, in somewhat modified form, constitute the first three chapters of the present volume. About the same time Kropotkin wrote in French a small pamphlet, "La Morale Anarchiste." In this pamphlet Kropotkin exhorts man to active participation in life, and calls upon man to remember that his power is not in isolation but in alliance with his fellow men, with the people, with the toiling masses. In opposition to anarchistic individualism he attempts to create social morality, the ethics of sociality and solidarity.
The progress of mankind, says Kropotkin, is indissolubly bound up with social living. Life in societies inevitably engenders in men and in animals the instincts of sociality, mutual aid, -- which in their further development in men become transformed into the feeling of benevolence, sympathy, and love.
It is these feelings and instincts that give origin to human morality, i.e., to the sum total of moral feelings, perceptions, and concepts, which finally mould themselves into the fundamental rule of all moral teachings: "do not unto others that which you would not have others do unto you."
But not to do unto others that which you would not have others do unto you, is not a complete expression of morality, says Kropotkin. This rule is merely the expression of justice, equity. The highest moral consciousness cannot be satisfied with this, and Kropotkin maintains that together with the feeling of mutual aid and the concept of justice there is another fundamental element of morality, something that men call magnanimity, self-abnegation or self-sacrifice.
Mutual Aid, Justice, Self-sacrifice -- these are the three elements of morality, according to Kropotkin's theory. While not possessing the character of generality and necessity inherent in logical laws, these elements, according to Kropotkin, lie, nevertheless, at the basis of human ethics, which may be regarded as the "physics of human conduct." The problem of the moral philosopher is to investigate the origin and the development of these elements of morality, and to prove that they are just as truly innate in human nature as are all other instincts and feelings.
Arriving in Russia after forty years of exile, Kropotkin settled at first in Petrograd, but soon his physicians advised him to change his residence to Moscow. Kropotkin did not succeed, however, in settling permanently in Moscow. The hard conditions of life in Moscow at the time compelled him, in the summer of 1918, to go to the tiny, secluded village of Dmitrov (60 versts from Moscow), where Kropotkin, almost in the literal sense of the word isolated from the civilized world, was compelled to live fore three years, to the very day of his death.
Needless to say, the writing of such a work as "Ethics" and its exposition of the history and development of moral teachings, while the author was living in so isolated a place as Dmitrov, proved an extremely difficult task. Kropotkin had very few books at hand(all his library remained in England), and the verification of references consumed much time and not infrequently held up the work for long periods.
Owing to lack of means Kropotkin could not purchase the books he needed, and it was only through the kindness of his friends and acquaintances that he succeeded at times in obtaining with great difficulty this or that necessary book. Because of the same lack of means Kropotkin could not afford the services of a secretary or a typist, so that he was obliged to do all the mechanical part of the work himself, at times copying portions of his manuscript again and again. Of course, all this had its unfavourable influences on the work. To this must be added the circumstance that after coming to Dmitrov, Kropotkin, perhaps owing to inadequate nourishment, began often to feel physical indisposition. Thus, in his letter to me dated January 21, 1919, he writes: I am diligently working on 'Ethics,' but I have little strength, and I am compelled at times to interrupt my work." To this a series of other untoward circumstances was added. For instance, Kropotkin was compelled for a long time to work evenings by a very poor light, etc.
Kropotkin considered his work on ethics a necessary and a revolutionary task. In one of his last letters (May 2, 1920) he says "I have resumed my work on moral questions, because I consider that this work is absolutely necessary. I know that intellectual movements are not created by books, and that just the reverse is true." But I also know that for clarifying an idea the help of a book is needed, a book that expresses the bases of thought in their complete form. And in order to lay the bases of morality, liberated from religion, and standing higher than the religious morality...it is necessary to have the help of clarifying books." -- "The need of such clarification is felt with particular insistence now, when human thought is struggling between Nietzsche and Kant ....
In his conversations with me he often said, "Of course, if I were not so old I would not potter over a book on ethics during the Revolution, but I would, you may be sure, actively participate in the building of the new life."
A realist and a revolutionist, Kropotkin regarded Ethics not as an abstract science of human conduct, but he saw in it first of all a concrete scientific discipline, whose object is to inspire men in their practical activities. Kropotkin saw that even those who call themselves revolutionists and communists are morally unstable, that the majority of them lack a guiding moral principle, a lofty moral ideal. He said repeatedly that it was perhaps due to this lack of a lofty moral ideal that the Russian Revolution proved impotent to create a new social system based on the principles of justice and freedom, and to fire other nations with a revolutionary flame, as happened at the time of the Great French Revolution and of the Revolution of 1848.
And so he, an old revolutionist-rebel, whose thoughts were always bent on the happiness of mankind, thought with his book on Ethics to inspire the young generation to struggle, to implant in them faith in the justice of the social revolution, and to light in their hearts the fire of self-sacrifice, by convincing men that "happiness is not in personal pleasure, not in egotistic, even in higher joys, but in struggle for truth and justice among the people and together with the people."
Denying the connection of morality with religion and metaphysics, Kropotkin sought to establish ethics on purely naturalistic bases, and endeavoured to show
that only by remaining in the world of reality may one find strength for a truly moral life. In his "Ethics," Kropotkin, like the poet, gives to mankind his last message:
"Dear friend, do not with wary soul aspire
Away from the gray earth - your sad abode;
No! Throb with th' earth, let earth your body tire, --
So help your brothers bear the common load."
Many expect that Kropotkin's "Ethics" will be some sort of specifically "revolutionary" or anarchist" ethics, etc. Whenever this subject was broached to Kropotkin himself, he invariably answered that his intention was to write a purely human ethics (sometimes he used the expression "realistic")
He did not recognize any separate ethics; he held that ethics should be one and the same for all men. When it was pointed out to him that there can be no single ethics in modern society, which is subdivided into mutually antagonistic classes and castes, he would say that any "bourgeois" or "proletarian" ethics rests, after all, on the common basis, on the common ethnological foundation, which at times exerts a very strong influence on the principles of the class or group morality. He pointed out that no matter to what class or party we may belong, we are, first of all, human beings, and constitute a part of the general animal species, Man. The genus "Homo Sapiens," from a most cultured European to a Bushman, and from the most refined "bourgeois" to the last "proletarian," in spite of all distinctions, constitutes a logical whole. And in his plans for the future structure of society Kropotkin always thought simply in terms of human beings -- without that sediment of the social "table of ranks," which has thickly settled upon us in the course of the long historical life of mankind.
Kropotkin's ethical teaching may be characterized as the teaching of Brotherhood, although the world "brotherhood" is scarcely ever met with in his book. He did not like to use the word brotherhood, and preferred the term solidarity. Solidarity, in his opinion, is something more "real" than brother hood. As a proof of his thought he pointed out that brothers frequently quarrel among themselves, hate one another, and even go as far as murder. In fact, according to the Biblical legend, the history of the human race begins with fratricide. But the conception of solidarity expresses the physical and the organic relation among the elements in every human being, and in the world of moral relations solidarity is expressed in sympathy, in mutual aid, and in co-miseration. Solidarity harmonizes with freedom and equity, and solidarity and equity constitute the necessary conditions of social justice. Hence Kropotkin's ethical formula: "Without equity there is no justice, and without justice there is no morality."
Of course, Kropotkin's ethics does not solve all the moral problems that agitate modern humanity (and it is not within expectation to think that they will ever be completely solved, for with every new generation the moral problem while remaining unchanged in its essence, assumes different aspects, and engenders new questions). In his "Ethics" Kropotkin merely indicates the path and offers his solution of the ethical problem His work is an attempt by a revolutionist-anarchist and a learned naturalist to answer the burning question: why must I live a moral life? It is extremely unfortunate that death prevented Kropotkin from writing in final, finished form the second part of his work, in which he planned to expound the bases of the naturalistic and realistic ethics, and to state his ethical credo.
Kropotkin, in his search for the realistic bases of ethics, seems to us an inspired reconnoiterer in the complicated world of moral relations. To all those who strive to reach the promised land of freedom and justice, but who are still subjected to the bitter pains of fruitless wanderings in the world of oppression and enmity, to all those Kropotkin stands out as a steadfast way-mark. He points the path to the new ethics, to the morality of the future which will not tolerate an immoral subdivision of human beings into "masters" and "slaves," into "rulers" and "subjects," but will be the expression of the free, collective co-operation of all for the common good, of that co-operation which alone will permit the establishment on earth of a real, and not an ephemeral, kingdom of brotherly labour and freedom.
A few last words. In editing, I endeavoured to be guided by the remarks that Peter Alekseyevich himself made in the course of our conversations and discussions, and also by the directions which he left among his documents, "Instructions as to the disposition of my papers," and in a brief sketch, "À un continuateur." In the latter paper, Kropotkin writes, among other things: "si je ne réussi pas a terminer mon Éthique, -- je prie ceux qui tâcheront peut-être de la terminer, d'utiliser mes notes."
For the purpose of the present editions these notes have remained unutilized, in the first place because the relatives and friends of the late Peter Alekseyevich decided that it is much more important and more interesting to publish "Ethics" in the form in which it was left by the author, and secondly, because the sorting and arranging of these notes will require much time and labour, and would have considerably retarded the appearance of "Ethics" in print.
In subsequent editions all the material left by Kropotkin pertaining to Ethics, will, of course, be utilized in one form or another.
May 1, 1922
Go to Chapter 1
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Anarchist Archives