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Mutual Aid by P. Kropotkin

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It is evident that no review of evolution can be complete,
unless these two dominant currents are analyzed. However, the
self-assertion of the individual or of groups of individuals,
their struggles for superiority, and the conflicts which resulted
therefrom, have already been analyzed, described, and glorified
from time immemorial. In fact, up to the present time, this
current alone has received attention from the epical poet, the
annalist, the historian, and the sociologist. History, such as it
has hitherto been written, is almost entirely a description of
the ways and means by which theocracy, military power, autocracy,
and, later on, the richer classes' rule have been promoted,
established, and maintained. The struggles between these forces
make, in fact, the substance of history. We may thus take the
knowledge of the individual factor in human history as granted--
even though there is full room for a new study of the subject on
the lines just alluded to; while, on the other side, the
mutual-aid factor has been hitherto totally lost sight of; it was
simply denied, or even scoffed at, by the writers of the present
and past generation. It was therefore necessary to show, first of
all, the immense part which this factor plays in the evolution of
both the animal world and human societies. Only after this has
been fully recognized will it be possible to proceed to a
comparison between the two factors.

To make even a rough estimate of their relative importance by
any method more or less statistical, is evidently impossible. One
single war--we all know--may be productive of more evil,
immediate and subsequent, than hundreds of years of the unchecked
action of the mutual-aid principle may be productive of good. But
when we see that in the animal world, progressive development and
mutual aid go hand in hand, while the inner struggle within the
species is concomitant with retrogressive development; when we
notice that with man, even success in struggle and war is
proportionate to the development of mutual aid in each of the two
conflicting nations, cities, parties, or tribes, and that in the
process of evolution war itself (so far as it can go this way)
has been made subservient to the ends of progress in mutual aid
within the nation, the city or the clan--we already obtain a
perception of the dominating influence of the mutual-aid factor
as an element of progress. But we see also that the practice of
mutual aid and its successive developments have created the very
conditions of society life in which man was enabled to develop
his arts, knowledge, and intelligence; and that the periods when
institutions based on the mutual-aid tendency took their greatest
development were also the periods of the greatest progress in
arts, industry, and science. In fact, the study of the inner life
of the medieval city and of the ancient Greek cities reveals the
fact that the combination of mutual aid, as it was practised
within the guild and the Greek clan, with a large initiative
which was left to the individual and the group by means of the
federative principle, gave to mankind the two greatest periods of
its history--the ancient Greek city and the medieval city
periods; while the ruin of the above institutions during the
State periods of history, which followed, corresponded in both
cases to a rapid decay.

As to the sudden industrial progress which has been achieved
during our own century, and which is usually ascribed to the
triumph of individualism and competition, it certainly has a much
deeper origin than that. Once the great discoveries of the
fifteenth century were made, especially that of the pressure of
the atmosphere, supported by a series of advances in natural
philosophy--and they were made under the medieval city
organization,--once these discoveries were made, the invention
of the steam-motor, and all the revolution which the conquest of
a new power implied, had necessarily to follow. If the medieval
cities had lived to bring their discoveries to that point, the
ethical consequences of the revolution effected by steam might
have been different; but the same revolution in technics and
science would have inevitably taken place. It remains, indeed, an
open question whether the general decay of industries which
followed the ruin of the free cities, and was especially
noticeable in the first part of the eighteenth century, did not
considerably retard the appearance of the steam-engine as well as
the consequent revolution in arts. When we consider the
astounding rapidity of industrial progress from the twelfth to
the fifteenth centuries--in weaving, working of metals,
architecture and navigation, and ponder over the scientific
discoveries which that industrial progress led to at the end of
the fifteenth century--we must ask ourselves whether mankind
was not delayed in its taking full advantage of these conquests
when a general depression of arts and industries took place in
Europe after the decay of medieval civilization. Surely it was
not the disappearance of the artist-artisan, nor the ruin of
large cities and the extinction of intercourse between them,
which could favour the industrial revolution; and we know indeed
that James Watt spent twenty or more years of his life in order
to render his invention serviceable, because he could not find in
the last century what he would have readily found in medieval
Florence or Brugge, that is, the artisans capable of realizing
his devices in metal, and of giving them the artistic finish and
precision which the steam-engine requires.

To attribute, therefore, the industrial progress of our
century to the war of each against all which it has proclaimed,
is to reason like the man who, knowing not the causes of rain,
attributes it to the victim he has immolated before his clay
idol. For industrial progress, as for each other conquest over
nature, mutual aid and close intercourse certainly are, as they
have been, much more advantageous than mutual struggle.

However, it is especially in the domain of ethics that. the
dominating importance of the mutual-aid principle appears in
full. That mutual aid is the real foundation of our ethical
conceptions seems evident enough. But whatever the opinions as to
the first origin of the mutual-aid feeling or instinct may be
whether a biological or a supernatural cause is ascribed to it--
we must trace its existence as far back as to the lowest stages
of the animal world; and from these stages we can follow its
uninterrupted evolution, in opposition to a number of contrary
agencies, through all degrees of human development, up to the
present times. Even the new religions which were born from time
to time--always at epochs when the mutual-aid principle was
falling into decay in the theocracies and despotic States of the
East, or at the decline of the Roman Empire--even the new
religions have only reaffirmed that same principle. They found
their first supporters among the humble, in the lowest,
downtrodden layers of society, where the mutual-aid principle is
the necessary foundation of every-day life; and the new forms of
union which were introduced in the earliest Buddhist and
Christian communities, in the Moravian brotherhoods and so on,
took the character of a return to the best aspects of mutual aid
i n early tribal life.

Each time, however, that an attempt to return to this old
principle was made, its fundamental idea itself was widened. From
the clan it was extended to the stem, to the federation of stems,
to the nation, and finally--in ideal, at least--to the whole
of mankind. It was also refined at the same time. In primitive
Buddhism, in primitive Christianity, in the writings of some of
the Mussulman teachers, in the early movements of the Reform, and
especially in the ethical and philosophical movements of the last
century and of our own times, the total abandonment of the idea
of revenge, or of "due reward"--of good for good and evil for
evil--is affirmed more and more vigorously. The higher
conception of "no revenge for wrongs," and of freely giving more
than one expects to receive from his neighbours, is proclaimed as
being the real principle of morality--a principle superior to
mere equivalence, equity, or justice, and more conducive to
happiness. And man is appealed to to be guided in his acts, not
merely by love, which is always personal, or at the best tribal,
but by the perception of his oneness with each human being. In
the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest
beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted
origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the
ethical progress of man, mutual support not mutual struggle--
has had the leading part. In its wide extension, even at the
present time, we also see the best guarantee of a still loftier
evolution of our race.

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