Modern Science and Anarchism

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By Peter Kropotkin.


Part I (Volume I, No. 6)

ANARCHISM, like Socialism in general, and like every other social movement, has not, of course, developed out of science or out of some philosophical school. The social sciences are still very far removed from the time when they shall be as exact as are physics and chemistry. Even in meteorology we cannot yet predict the weather a month, or even one week, in advance. It would be unreasonable, therefore, to expect of the young social sciences, which are concerned with phenomena much more complex than winds and rain, that they should foretell social events with any approach to certainty. Besides, it must not be forgotten that men of science, too, are but human, and that most cf them either belong by descent to the possessing classes, and are steeped in the prejudices of their class, or else are in the actual service of the government. Not out of the universities, therefore, does Anarchism come.

As Socialism in general, Anarchism was born among the people; and it will continue to be full of life and creative power only as long as it remains a thing of the people.

At all times two tendencies were continually at war in human society. On the one hand, the masses were developing, in the form of customs, a number of institutions which were necessary to make social life at all possible—to insure peace amongst men, to settle any disputes that might arise, and to help one another in everything requiring co-operative effort. The savage clan at its earliest stage, the village community, the hunters', and, later on, the industrial guilds, the free-town republics of the middle ages, the beginnings of international law which were worked out in those early periods, and many other institutions,—were elaborated, not by legislators, but by the creative power of the people.

And at all times, too, there appeared sorcerers, prophets, priests, and heads of military organizations, who endeavored to establish and to strengthen their authority over the people. They supported one another, concluded [10] alliances, in order that they might reign over the people, hold them in subjection, and compel them to work for the masters.

Anarchism is obviously the representative of the first tendency—that is, of the creative, constructive power of the people themselves, which aimed at developing institutions of common law in order to protect them from the power-seeking minority. By means of the same popular creative power and constructive activity, based upon modern science and technics, Anarchism tries now as well to develop institutions which would insure a free evolution of society. In this sense, therefore, Anarchists and Governmentalists have existed through all historic times.

Then, again, it always happened also that institutions —even the most excellent so far as their original purpose was concerned, and established originally with the object of securing equality, peace and mutual aid—in the course of time became petrified, lost their original meaning, came under the control of the ruling minority, and became in the end a constraint upon the individual in his endeavors for further development. Then men would rise against these institutions. But, while some of these discontented endeavored to throw off the yoke of the old institutions—of caste, commune or guild—only in order that they themselves might rise over the rest and enrich themselves at their expense; others aimed at a modification of the institutions in the interest of all, and especially in order to shake off the authority which had fixed its hold upon society. All reformers—political, religious, and economic—have belonged to this class. And among them there always appeared persons who, without abiding the time when all their fellow-countrymen, or even a majority of them, shall have become imbued with the same views, moved onward in the struggle against oppression, in mass where it was possible, and single-handed where it could not be done otherwise. These were the revolutionists, and them, too, we meet at all times.

But the revolutionists themselves generally appeared under two different aspects. Some of them, in rising against the established authority, endeavored, not to abolish it, but to take it in their own hands. In place of the authority which had become oppressive, these re- [11] -formers sought to create a new one, promising that if they exercised it they would have the interests of the people dearly at heart, and would ever represent the people themselves. In this way, however, the authority of the Caesars was established in Imperial Rome, the power of the Church rose in the first centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, and the tyranny of dictators grew up in the mediaeval communes at the time of their decay. Of the same tendency, too, the kings and the tsars availed themselves to constitute their power at the end of the feudal period. The belief in a popular emperor, that is, Csesarism, has not died out even yet.

But all the while another tendency was ever manifest. At all times, beginning with Ancient Greece, there were persons and popular movements that aimed, not at the substitution of one government for another, but at the abolition of authority altogether. They proclaimed the supreme rights of the individual and the people, and endeavored to free popular institutions from forces which were foreign and harmful to them, in order that the unhampered creative genius of the people might remould these institutions in accordance with the new requirements. In the history of the ancient Greek republics, and especially in that of the mediaeval commonwealths, we find numerous examples of this struggle (Florence and Pskov are especially interesting in this connection). In this sense, therefore, Jacobinists and Anarchists have existed at all times among reformers and revolutionists.

In past ages there were even great popular movements of this latter (Anarchist) character. Many thousands of people then rose against authority—its tools, its courts and its laws—and proclaimed the supreme rights of man. Discarding all written laws, the promoters of these movements endeavored to establish a new society based on equality and labor and on the government of each by his own conscience. In the Christian movement against Roman law, Roman government, and Roman morality (or, rather, Roman immorality), which began in Judea in the reign of Augustus, there undoubtedly existed much that was essentially Anarchistic. Only by degrees it degenerated into an ecclesiastical movement, modeled upon the ancient Hebrew church and upon Imperial Rome itself, which killed the Anarchistic germ, assumed Roman government [12] al forms, and became in time the chief bulwark of government authority, slavery, and oppression.

Likewise, in the Anabaptist movement (which really laid the foundation for the Reformation) there was a considerable element of Anarchism. But, stifled as it was by those of the reformers who, under Luther's leadership, joined the princes against the revolting'peasants, it died out after wholesale massacres of the peasants had been carried out in Holland and Germany. Thereupon the moderate reformers degenerated by degrees into those compromisers between conscience and government who exist to-day under the name of Protestants.

Anarchism, consequently, owes its origin to the constructive, creative activity of the people, by which all institutions of communal life were developed in the past, and to a protest—a revolt against the external force which had thrust itself upon these institutions; the aim of this protest being to give new scope to the creative activity of the people, in order that it might work out the necessary institutions with fresh vigor.

In our own time Anarchism arose from the same critical and revolutionary protest that called forth Socialism in general. Only that some of the Socialists, having reached the.negation of Capital and of our social organization based upon the exploitation of labor, went no further. They did not denounce what, in our opinion, constitutes the chief bulwark of Capital, namely, Government and its chief supports; centralization, law (always written by a minority in the interest of that minority), and Courts of Justice (established mainly for the defence of Authority and Capital).

Anarchism does not exclude these institutions from its criticism. It attacks not only Capital, but also the main sources of the power of Capitalism.


But, although Anarchism, like all other revolutionary movements, was born among the people—in the struggles of real life, and not in the philosopher's studio,—it is none the less important to know what place it occupies among the various scientific and philosophic streams of thought now prevalent: what is its relation to them; upon [13] which of them principally does it rest; what method it employs in its researches—in other words, to which school of philosophy of law it belongs, and to which of the now existing tendencies in science it has the greatest affinity.

We have heard of late so much about economic metaphysics that this question naturally presents a certain interest; and I shall endeavor to answer it as plainly as possible, avoiding difficult phraseology wherever it can be avoided.

The intellectual movement of our own times originated in the writings of the Scotch and the French philosophers of the middle and end of the eighteenth century. The universal awakening of thought which began at that time stimulated these thinkers to desire to embody all human knowledge in one general system. Casting aside mediaeval scholasticism and metaphysics, till then supreme, they decided to look upon the whole of Nature— the world of the stars, the life of the solar system and of our planet, the development of the animal world and of human societies—as upon phenomena open to scientific investigation and constituting so many branches of natural science.

Freely availing themselves of the truly scientific, inductive-deductive method, they approached the study of every group of phenomena—whether of the starry realm, of the animal world, or of the world of human beliefs and institutions—just as the naturalist approaches the study of any physical problem. They carefully investigated the phenomena, and attained their generalizations by means of induction. Deduction helped them in framing certain hypotheses; but these they considered as no more final than, for instance, Darwin regarded his hypothesis concerning the origin of new species by means of the struggle for existence, or Mendeleeff his "periodic law." They saw in these hypotheses suppositions that were very convenient for the classification of facts and their further study, but which were subject to verification by inductive means, and which would become laws—that is, verified generalizations—only after they have stood this test, and after an explanation of cause and effect had been given. [14]

When the centre of the philosophic movement had shifted from Scotland and England to France, the French philosophers, with their natural sense of harmony, betook themselves to a systematic rebuildnig of all the human sciences—the natural and the humanitarian sciences—on the same principles. From this resulted their attempt to construct a generalization of all knowledge, that is, a philosophy of the whole world and all its life. To this they endeavored to give a harmonious, scientific form, discarding all metaphysical constructions and explaining all phenomena by the action of the same mechanical forces which had proved adequate to the explanation of the origin and the development of the earth.

It is said that, in answer to Napoleon's remark to Laplace that in his "System of the World" God was nowhere mentioned, Laplace replied, "I had no need of this hypothesis." But Laplace not only succeeded in writing his work without this supposition: he nowhere in this work resorted to metaphysical entities; to words which conceal a very vague understanding of phenomena and the inability to represent them in concrete material forms—in terms of measurable quantities. He constructed his system without metaphysics. And although in his "System of the World" there are no mathematical calculations, and it is written in so simple a style as to be accessible to every intelligent reader, yet the mathematicians were able subsequently to express every separate thought of this book in the form of an exact mathematical equation—in terms, that is, of measurable quantities. So rigorously did Laplace reason and so lucidly did he express himself.

The French eighteenth-century philosophers did exactly the same with regard to the phenomena of the spiritual world. In their writings one never meets with such metaphysical statements as are found, say, in Kant. Kant, as is well known, explained the moral sense of man by a "categorical imperative" which might at the same time be considered desirable as a universal law. <ref>Kant's version of the ethical maxim, "Do to others as you would have them do to you," reads: "Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law."—Translator.</ref> [15]

But in this dictum every word ("imperative," "categorical," "law," "universal") is a vague verbal substitute for the material fact which is to be explained. The French encyclopaedists, on the contrary, endeavored to explain, just as their English predecessors had done, whence came the ideas of good and evil to man, without substituting "a word for the missing conception," as Goethe put it. They took the living man as he is. They studied him and found, as did Hutcheson (in 1725) and, after him, Adam Smith in his best work, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments,"—that the moral sentiments have developed in man from the feeling of pity (sympathy), through his ability to put himself in another's place; from the fact that we almost feel pain and grow indignant when a child is beaten in our presence. From simple observations of commoTi facts like these, they gradually attained to the broadest generalizations. In this manner they actually did explain the complex moral sense by facts more simple, and did not substitute for moral facts well known to and understood by us, obscure terms like "the categorical imperative," or "universal law," which do not explain anything. The merit of such a treatment is self-evident. Instead of the "inspiration from above" and a superhuman, miraculous origin of the moral sense, they dealt with the feeling of pity, of sympathy—derived by man through experience and inheritance, and subsequently perfected by further observation of social life.

When the thinkers of the eighteenth century turned from the realm of stars and physical phenomena to the world of chemical changes, or from physics and chemistry to the study of plants and animals, or from botany and zoology to the development of economical and political forms of social life and to religions among men,— they never thought of changing their method of investigation. To all branches of knowledge they applied that same inductive method. And nowhere, not even in the domain of moral concepts, did they come upon any point where this method proved inadequate. Even in the sphere of moral concepts they felt no need of resorting again either to metaphysical suppositions ("God," "immortal soul," "vital force," "a categorical imperative" decreed from above, and the like), or of exchanging the inductive method for some other, scholastic method. They [16] thus endeavor to explain the whole world—all its phenomena—in the same natural-scientific way. The encyclopaedists compiled their monumental encyclopaedia, Laplace wrote his "System of the World," and Holbach "The System of Nature"; Lavoisier brought forward the theory of the indestructibility of matter, and therefore also of energy or motion (Lomonosoff was at the same time outlining the mechanical theory of heat <ref>Readers of Russian literature to whom Lomonosoff is known only by his literary work, may be surprised as much as I was to find his name mentioned in connection with the theory of heat. On seeing the name in the original, I promptly consulted the library—so sure was I that I was confronted with a typographical error. There was no mistake, however. For, Mikhail Vassilievich Lomonosoff (1712-1765), by far the most broadly gifted Russian of his time, was—I have thus been led to discover—even more ardently devoted to science than to the muses. His accomplishments in the physical sciences alone, in which he experimented and upon which he wrote and lectured extensively, would have won for him lasting fame in the history of Russian culture and first mention among its devotees.— Translator.</ref>) ; Lamarck undertook to explain the formation of new species through the accumulation of variations due to environment; Diderot was furnishing an explanation of morality, customs, and religions requiring no inspiration from without; Rousseau was attempting to explain the origin of political institutions by means of a social contract—that is, an act of man's free will. ... In short, there was no branch of science which the thinkers of the eighteenth century had not begun to treat on the basis of material phenomena—and all by that same inductive method.

Of course, some palpable blunders were made in this daring attempt. Where knowledge was lacking, hypotheses—often very bold, but sometimes entirely erroneous—were put forth. But a new method was being applied to the development of all branches of science, and, thanks to it, these very mistakes were subsequently readily detected and pointed out. And at the same time a means of investigation was handed down to our nineteenth century which has enabled us to build up our entire conception of the world upon scientific bases, having freed [17] it alike from the superstitions bequeathed to us and from the habit of disposing of scientific questions by resorting to mere verbiage.

However, after the defeat of the French Revolution, a general reaction set in—in politics, in science, and in philosophy. Of course the fundamental principles of the great Revolution did not die out. The emancipation of the peasants and townspeople from feudal servitude, equality before the law, and representative (constitutional) government, proclaimed by the Revolution, slowly gaining ground in and out of France. After the Revolution, which had proclaimed the great principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, a slow evolution began—that is, a gradual reorganization which introduced into life and law the principles marked out, but only partly realized, by the Revolution. (Such a realization through evolution of principles proclaimed by the preceding revolution, may even be regarded as a general law of social development). Although the Church, the State, and even Science trampled on the banner upon which the Revolution had inscribed the words "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity"; although to be reconciled to the existing state of things became for a time a universal watchword ; still the principles of freedom were slowly entering into the affairs of life. It is true that the feudal obligations abolished by the republican armies of Italy and Spain were again restored in these countries, and that even the inquisition itself was revived. But a mortal blow had already been dealt them—and their doom was sealed. The wave of emancipation from the feudal yoke reached, first, Western, and then Eastern Germany, and spread over the peninsulas. Slowly moving eastward, it reached Prussia in 1848, Russia in 1861, and the Balkans in 1878. Slavery disappeared in America in 1863. At the same time the ideas of the equality of all citizens before the law, and of representative government were also spreading from west to east, and by the end of the century Russia alone remained under the yoke of autocracy, already much impaired. [18]

On the other hand, on the threshold of the nineteenth century, the ideas of economic emancipation had already been proclaimed. In England, Godwin published in 1793 his remarkable work, "An Enquiry into Political Justice," in which he was the first to establish the theory of non-governmental socialism, that is, Anarchism ; and Babeuf — especially influenced, as it seems, by Buona- rotti — came forward in 1796 as the first theorist of centralized State-socialism.

Then, developing the principles already laid down in the eighteenth century, Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen came forward as the three founders of modern socialism in its three chief schools; and in the forties Proudhon, unacquainted with the work of Godwin, laid down anew the bases of Anarchism.

The scientific foundations of both governmental and non-governmental socialism were thus laid down at the beginning of the nineteenth century with a thoroughness wholly unappreciated by our contemporaries. Only in two respects, doubtless very important ones, has modern socialism materially advanced. It has become revolutionary, and has severed all connection with the Christian religion. It realized that for the attainment of its ideals a Social Revolution is necessary — not in the sense in which people sometimes speak of an "industrial revolution" or of "a revolution in science," but in the real, material sense of the word "Revolution" — in the sense of rapidly changing the fundamental principles of present society by means which, in the usual run of events, are considered illegal. And it ceased to confuse its views with the optimist reforming tendencies of the Christian religion. But this latter step had already been taken by Godwin and R. Owen. As regards the admiration of centralized authority and the preaching of discipline, for which man is historically indebted chiefly to the mediaeval church and to church rule generally — these survivals have been retained among the mass of the State socialists, who have thus failed to rise to the level of their two English forerunners.

Of the influence which the reaction that set in after the Great Revolution has had upon the development of [19] the sciences, it would be difficult to speak in this essay. <ref>Something in this line is set forth in my lecture "On the Scientific Development in the XIX. Century."</ref> Suffice it to say, that by far the greater part of what modern science prides itself on was already marked out, and more than marked out—sometimes even expressed in a definite scientific form—at the end of the eighteenth century. The mechanical theory of heat and the indestructibility of motion (the conservation of energy) ; the modification of species by the action of environment; physiological psychology; the anthropological view of history, religion and legislation; the laws of development of thought—in short, the whole mechanical conception of the world and all the elements of a synthetic philosophy (a philosophy which embraces all physical, chemical, living and social phenomena),—were already outlined and partly formulated in the preceding century.

But, owing to the reaction which set in, these discoveries were kept in the background during a full half-century. Men of science suppressed them or else declared them "unscientific." Under the pretext of "studying facts" and "gathering scientific material," even such exact measurements as the determination of the mechanical power necessary for obtaining a given amount of heat (the determination by Seguin and Joule of the mechanical equivalent of heat) were set aside by the scientists. The English Royal Society even declined to publish the results of Joule's investigations into this subject on the ground that they were "unscientific." And the excellent work of Grove upon the unity of physical forces, written in 1843, remained up to 1856 in complete obscurity. Only on consulting the history of the exact sciences can one fully understand the forces of reaction which then swept over Europe.

The curtain was suddely rent at the end of the fifties, when that liberal, intellectual movement began in Western Europe which led in Russia to the abolition of serfdom, and deposed Schelling and Hegel in philosophy, while in life it called forth the bold negation of intellectual slavery and submission to habit and authority, which is known under the name of Nihilism. [20]

It is interesting to note in this connection the extent to which the socialist teachings of the thirties and forties, and also the revolution of 1848, have helped science to throw off the fetters placed upon it by the post-revolutionary reaction. Without entering here into detail, it is sufficient to say that the above-mentioned Seguin and Augustin Thierry (the historian who laid the foundations for the study of the folkmote regime and of federalism) were Saint-Simonists, that Darwin's fellow-worker, A. R. Wallace, was in his younger days an enthusiastic follower of Robert Owen; that Auguste Comte was a Saint- Simonist , and Ricardo and Bentham were Owenists; and that the materialists Charles Vogt and George Lewis, as well as Grove, Mill, Spencer, and many others, had lived under the influence of the radical socialistic movement of the thirties and forties. It was to this very influence that they owed their scientific boldness.

The simultaneous appearance of the works of Grove, Joule, Berthollet and Helmholtz; of Darwin, Claude Bernard, Moleschott and Vogt; of Lyell, Bain, Mill and Burnouf—all in the brief space of five or six years (1856- 1862),—radically changed the most fundamental views of science. Science suddenly started upon a new path. Entirely new fields of investigation were opened with amazing rapidity. The science of life (Biology), of human institutions (Anthropology), of reason, will and emotions (Psychology), of the history of rights and religions, and so on—grew up under our very eyes, staggering the mind with the boldness of their generalizations and the audacity of their deductions. What in the preceding century was only an ingenious guess, now came forth proved by the scales and the microscope, verified by thousands of applications. The very manner of writing changed, and science returned to the clearness, the precision, and the beauty of exposition which are peculiar to the inductive method and which characterized those of the thinkers of the eighteenth century who had broken away from metaphysics.

(Will be Continued.)