Ethics: Origin and Development — Chapter 11 : Development of Moral Teachings -- XIX Era (Continued)

By Peter Kropotkin (1924)

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Revolt Library Anarchism Ethics: Origin and Development Chapter 11

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(1842 - 1921)

Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism

: As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From: Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "The communes of the next revolution will proclaim and establish their independence by direct socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property. When the revolutionary situation ripens, which may happen any day, and governments are swept away by the people, when the middle-class camp, which only exists by state protection, is thus thrown into disorder, the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvelous wisdom, a few economic reforms." (From: "The Commune of Paris," by Peter Kropotkin, Freedo....)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From: "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
• "The fatherland does not exist.... What fatherland can the international banker and the rag-picker have in common?" (From: "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)

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Chapter 11

 Photo by Lionel Martinez, CC BY-NC-ND License

Photo by Lionel Martinez,
CC BY-NC-ND License

It may be seen from our brief survey of the various explanations of the origin of morality, that almost all who wrote on this subject came to the conclusion that we possess an inherent feeling  that leads us to identify ourselves with others. Different thinkers gave different names to this feeling and offered varying explanations of its origin. Some spoke of the inherent moral feeling without going into any further explanations; others, who endeavored to gain a deeper insight into the essence of this feeling, called it sympathy, i. e., the co-miseration of one individual with others, his equals; some, like Kant, making no distinction between the promptings of our feelings and the dictates of our reason, which most frequently and perhaps always govern our actions, preferred to speak of conscienceor the imperative of heart and reason, or of the sense of duty, or simply of the consciousness of duty, which is present in all of us. And they did not enter into a discussion of whence these things originate, and how they have been developing in man, as is now done by the writers of the anthropological and evolutionist school. Side by side with these explanations of the origin of morality, another group of thinkers, who did not deem instinct and feeling an adequate explanation of the moral tendencies in man, sought their solution in reason. This attitude was especially noticeable among the French writers of the second half of the eighteenth century, i. e., among the Encyclopædists and especially in Helvétius. But although they endeavored to explain the moral propensities of man exclusively as the result of cold reason and egoism, they recognized at the same time another active force, that of practical idealism. This quite frequently makes man act by force of plain sympathy, by commiseration, by man's putting himself in the position of the wronged person and by identifying himself with another.

Remaining faithful to their fundamental point of view, the French thinkers explained these actions by "reason," which finds the gratification of one's selfishness" and of "one's higher needs" in acts directed toward the good of one's fellow-man,

As is known, the complete development of these views was given, after Bentham's manner, by his pupil, John Stuart Mill.

Parallel with these thinkers there were at all times two further groups of moral philosophers who attempted to place morality on an entirely different basis.

Some of them held that the moral instinct, feeling, tendency, -- or whatever we choose to call it, -- is implanted in man by the Creator of Nature, and thus they connected ethics with religion. And this group more or less directly influenced all of moral thought up to the most recent times. The other group of moral philosophers, which was represented in Ancient Greece by some of the Sophists, in the seventeenth century by Mandeville, and in the nineteenth by Nietzsche, took an utterly negative and mocking attitude toward all morality, representing it as a survival of religious environment and of superstitions. Their chief arguments were, on the one hand, the assumption of the religious nature of morality, and on the other, the variety and changeability of moral conceptions.

We shall have occasion to return to these two groups of interpreters of morality. For the present we will merely note that in all the writers on morality who assumed its origin from the inherent instincts, from the feeling of sympathy, etc., we already have in one form or another an indication of the consciousness that one of the bases of all morality lies in the mind's conception of justice.

We have already seen that many writers and thinkers, -- Hume, Helvétius, and Rousseau among them, closely approached the conception of justice as a constituent and necessary part of morality; they did not, however, express themselves clearly and definitively on the significance of justice in ethics.

At last the great French Revolution, most of whose leaders were under the influence of Rousseau's ideas, introduced into legislation and into life the idea of >political equality, i. e., of the equality of rights of all the citizens of the State. In 1793-94 part of the revolutionists went still further and demanded "actual equality," i. e., economic equality. These new ideas were being developed during the Revolution in the People's Societies, Extremists' Clubs, by the "Enragés" ("The Incensed"), the "anarchists," etc. The advocates of these ideas were, as is known, defeated in the Thermidor reaction, (July 1794), when the Girondists returned to power. The latter were soon overthrown by the military dictatorship. But the demand for a revolutionary program-the abolition of all the vestiges of feudalism and of serfdom, and the demand for equality of rights, were spread by the Republican armies of France throughout Europe and to the very borders of Russia. And though in 1815 the victorious Allies, headed by Russia and Germany, succeeded in effecting a "restoration" of the Bourbons to the throne, nevertheless "political equality" and the abolition of all survivals of feudal inequality became the watchwords of the desired political system throughout Europe, and has so continued up to the present time.

Thus, at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth many thinkers began to see the basis of human morality in justice, and if this view did not become the generally accepted truth it was due to two causes, one of which is psychological and the other historical. As a matter of fact, side by side with the conception of justice and the striving for it, there exists in man equally the striving for personal domination, for power over others. Throughout the entire history of mankind, from the most primeval times, there is a conflict between these two elements: the striving for justice, i. e., equity, and the striving for individual domination over others, or over the many. The struggle between these two tendencies manifests itself in the most primitive societies. The "elders," in their accumulated wisdom of experience, who saw what hardships were brought upon the entire tribe through changes in the tribal mode of life, or who had lived through periods of privation, were afraid of all innovations, and resisted all changes by force of their authority. In order to protect the established customs they founded the first institutions of the ruling power in society. The were gradually joined by the wizards, shamans, sorcerers, in combination with whom they organized secret societies for the purpose of keeping in obedience the other members of the tribe and for protecting the traditions and the established system of tribal life. At the beginning these societies undoubtedly supported equality of rights, preventing individual members from becoming excessively rich or from acquiring dominant power within the tribe. But these very secret societies were the first to oppose the acceptance of equity as the fundamental principle of social life.

But that which we find among the societies of primitive savages, and, in general, among the peoples leading a tribal mode of life, has been continued throughout the entire history of mankind up to the present time. The Magi of the East, the priests of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, who were the first investigators of nature and of its mysteries, and then the kings and the tyrants of the East, the emperors and the senators of Rome, the ecclesiastical princes in Western Europe, the military, the judges, etc. -- all endeavored in every possible way to prevent the ideas of equity, constantly seeking expression in society, from being realized in life and from threatening their right to inequality, to domination.

It is easy to understand to what an extent the recognition of equity as the fundamental principle of social life was retarded by this influence of the most experienced, the most developed, and frequently the most homogeneous part of society, supported by superstition and religion. It is also evident how difficult it was to abolish inequality, which developed historically in society in the form of slavery, serfdom, class distinctions, "tables of rank" etc., all the more that this inequality was sanctioned by religion and, alas, by science.

The philosophy of the eighteenth century and the popular movement in France ending in the Revolution, were a powerful attempt to throw off the age-long yoke, and to lay the foundations of the new social system on the principle of equity. But the terrible social struggle which developed in France during the Revolution, the cruel bloodshed, and the twenty years of European wars, considerably retarded the application to life of the ideas of equity. Only sixty years after the beginning of the Great Revolution, i. e., in 1848, there again began in Europe a new popular movement under the banner of equity, but in a few months this movement, too, was drowned in blood. And after these revolutionary attempts it was only in the second half of the 'fifties that there occurred a great revolution in the natural sciences, the result of which was the creation of a new generalizing theory -- the theory of development, of evolution.

Already in the 'thirties the positivist philosopher, Auguste Comte, and the founders of socialism -- Saint-Simon and Fourier (especially his followers) in France, -- and Robert Owen in England, endeavored to apply to the life of human societies the theory of the gradual development of plant and animal life, promulgated by Buffon and Lamarck and partly by the Encyclopædists. In the second half of the nineteenth century the study of the development of the social institutions of man, made possible for the first time the full realization of the importance of the development in mankind of this fundamental conception of all social life -- equity.

We have seen how closely Hume, and even more Adam Smith and Helvétius, especially in his second work ("De l'homme, de ses facultés individuelles et de son éducation")1 approached the recognition of justice, and consequently also of equity, as the basis of morality in man.

The proclamation of equity by the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" at the time of the French Revolution (in 1791) put still greater emphasis on this fundamental principle of morality.

We must note here one extremely important and essential step forward that was made with respect to the conception of justice. At the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth many thinkers and philosophers began to understand by justice and equity not only political and civic equity, but primarily economic equality. We have already mentioned that Morelly, in his novel, "Basiliade," 2 and especially in his "Code de la Nature," openly and definitely demanded complete equality of possessions. Mably, in his "Traité de la Législation" (1776), very skillfully proved that political equality alone would be incomplete without economic equality, and that equality will be an empty sound if private property is to be preserved.3 Even the moderate Condorcet declared, in his "Esquisse d'un tableau historique du progrès de 1'esprit humain" (1794), that all wealth is usurpation. Finally, the passionate Brissot, who later fell a victim of the guillotine, and who was a Girondist, i.e., a moderate democrat, asserted in a series of pamphlets that private property is a crime against nature. 4

All these hopes and strivings toward economic equality found expression at the end of the Revolution in the communistic teaching of Gracchus Babeuf.

After the Revolution, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, ideas of economic justice and economic equality were advanced in the teaching which received the name of Socialism. The fathers of this teaching in France were Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, and in England, Robert Owen. Already among these early founders of socialism we find two different points of view as to the methods by which they proposed to establish social and economic justice in society. Saint-Simon taught that a just social system can be organized only with the aid of the ruling power, whereas Fourier, and to some extent Robert Owen held that social justice may be attained without the interference of the State. Thus Saint-Simon's interpretation of socialism is authoritarian, whereas that of Fourier is libertarian.

In the middle of the nineteenth century socialistic ideas began to be developed by numerous thinkers, among whom should be noted -- in France: Considérant, Pierre Leroux, Louis Blanc, Cabet, Vidal, and Pecqueur, and later Proudhon; in Germany: Karl Marx, Engels, Rodbertus, and Schäffle; in Russia: Bakunin, Chernyshevsky, Lavrov, etc.5 All these thinkers and their followers bent their efforts either to the spreading of the socialistic ideas in understandable form, or to putting them upon a scientific basis.

The ideas of the first theorists of socialism, as they began to take a more definite form, gave rise to the two principal socialistic movements: authoritarian communism, and anarchistic (non-authoritarian) communism, as well as to a few intermediate forms. Such are the schools of State capitalism (State ownership of all the means of production), collectivism, cooperationism, municipal socialism (semi-socialistic institutions established by cities), and many others.

At the same time, these very thoughts of the founders of socialism, (especially of Robert Owen) helped to originate among the working masses themselves a vast labor movement, which is economic in form, but is, in fact, deeply ethical. This movement aims to unite all the workingmen into unions according to trades, for the purpose of direct struggle with capitalism. In 1864-1879 this movement gave origin to the International, or the International Workers Alliance, which endeavored to establish international cooperation among the united trades.

Three fundamental principles were established by this intellectual and revolutionary movement:

1) Abolition of the wage system, which is nothing but a modern form of the ancient slavery and serfdom.

2) Abolition of private ownership of all that is necessary for production and for social organization of the exchange of products.

3) The liberation of the individual and of society from that form of political enslavement -- the State -- which serves to support and to preserve economic slavery.

The realization of these three objects is necessary for the establishment of a social justice in consonance with the moral demands of our time. For the last thirty years the consciousness of this necessity has penetrated deeply into the minds not only of working-men, but also progressive men of all classes.

Among the socialists, Proudhon (1809-1865) approached nearer than any other the interpretation of justice as the basis of morality. Proudhon's importance in the history of the development of ethics passes unnoticed, like the importance of Darwin in the same field. However, the historian of Ethics, Jodl, did not hesitate to place this peasant-compositor, -- a self-taught man who underwent great hardships to educate himself, and who was also a thinker, and an original one, -- side by side with the profound and learned philosophers who had been elaborating the theory of morality.

Of course, in advancing justice as the fundamental principle of morality, Proudhon was influenced on one side by Hume, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Voltaire and the Encyclopædists, and by the Great French Revolution, and on the other side by German philosophy, as well as by Auguste Comte and the entire socialistic movement of the 'forties. A few years later this movement took the form of the International Brotherhood of Workers, which put forward as one of its mottoes the masonic formula: "There are no rights without obligations; there are no obligations without rights."

But Proudhon's merit lies in his indicating clearly the fundamental principle following from the heritage of the Great Revolution-the conception of equity, and consequently of justice, and in showing that this conception has been always at the basis of social life, and consequently of all ethics, in spite of the fact that philosophers passed it by as if it were non-existent, or were simply unwilling to ascribe to it a predominating importance.

Already in his early work, "What is property?" Proudhon identified justice with equality (more correctly-equity), referring to the ancient definition of justice: "Justum aequale est, injustum inaequale" (The equitable is just, the inequitable-unjust). Later he repeatedly returned to this question in his works, "Contradictions économiques" and "Philosophie du Progrès"; but the complete elaboration of the great importance of this conception of justice he gave in his three-volume work, "De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l'Église," which appeared in 1858.6

It is true that this work does not contain a strictly systematic exposition of Proudhon's ethical views, but such views are expressed with sufficient clearness in various passages of the work. An attempt to determine to what an extent these passages are Proudhon's own ideas, and how far they are adaptations from earlier thinkers, would be difficult and at the same time useless. I shall, therefore, simply outline their main contentions.

Proudhon regards moral teaching as a part of the general science of law; the problem of the investigator lies in determining the bases of this teaching: its essence, its origin, and its sanction, i. e., that which imparts to law and to morality an obligatory character, and that which has educational value. Moreover, Proudhon, like Comte and the encyclopædists, categorically refuses to build his philosophy of law and of morality on a religious or a metaphysical basis. It is necessary, he says, to study the life of societies and to learn from it what it is that serves society as a guiding principle.7

Up to this time all ethical systems were constructed more or less under the influence of religion, and not a single teaching dared to advance the equity of men and the equality of economic rights as the basis of ethics. Proudhon attempted to do this as far as was possible in the days of Napoleonic censorship, always on guard against socialism and atheism. Proudhon wished to create, as he expressed it, a philosophy of the people, based on knowledge. He regards his book, "On justice in the Revolution and in the Church," as an attempt made in that direction. And the object of this philosophy, as of all knowledge, is foresight, so that the path of social life may be indicated before it is actually laid out.

Proudhon considers the sense of personal dignity as the true essence of justice and the fundamental principle of all morality. If this sense is developed in an individual it becomes with reference to all men-regardless of whether they are friends or enemies-a sense of human dignity. The right is an ability, inherent in all, to demand from all others that they respect human dignity in their own person; and duty is the demand that everyone should recognize this dignity in others. We cannot love everybody, but we must respect each man's personal dignity. We cannot demand the love of others, but we unquestionably have a right to demand respect for our personality. It is impossible to build a new society on mutual love, but it can and should be built on the demand of mutual respect.

"To feel and to assert human dignity first in all that pertains to us, and then in the personality of our fellow-men, without falling into egoism, as well as not paying attention either to deity or to society-this is right. To be ready under all circumstances to rise energetically in defense of this dignity -- this is justice."

It would seem that at this point Proudhon should have declared quite definitely that a free society can be built only on equity. But he did not so declare, perhaps because of the Napoleonic censorship; in reading his "Justice" this conclusion (equity) seems almost inevitable, and in a few passages it is more than implied.

The question of the origin of the sense of justice was answered by Proudhon in the same manner as by Comte and by modern science, that it represents the product of the development of human societies.

In order to explain the origin of the moral element Proudhon endeavored to find for morality, i.e., for justice,8 an organic base in the psychic structure of man.9 Justice, he says, does not come from above  nor is it a product of the calculation of one's interests, for no social order can be built on such a basis. This faculty, moreover, is something different from the natural kindness in man, the feeling of sympathy, or the instinct of sociality upon which the Positivists endeavor to base ethics. A man is possessed of a special feeling, one that is higher than the feeling of sociality, -- namely, the sense of righteousness, the consciousness of the equal right of all men to a mutual regard for personality.10

"Thus," Jodl remarks, "after his most vigorous protests against transcendentalism, Proudhon turns, after all, to the old heritage of intuitional ethics-conscience." ("Geschichte der Ethik," ch. 11, p, 267.) This remark, however, is not quite correct. Proudhon merely meant to say that the conception of justice cannot be a simple inborn tendency, because if it were it would be difficult to account for the preponderance it acquires in the struggle with other tendencies continually urging man to be unjust to others. The tendency to protect the interests of others at the expense of our own cannot be solely an inborn feeling, although its rudiments were always present in man, but these rudiments must be developed. And this feeling could develop in society only through experience, and such was actually the case.

In considering the contradictions furnished by the history of human societies, between the conception of 'justice native to man and social injustice (supported by the ruling powers and even by the churches), Proudhon came to the conclusion that although the conception of justice is inborn in man, thousands of years had to elapse before the idea of justice entered as a fundamental conception into legislation, -- at the time of the French Revolution in the "Declaration of the Rights of Man."

Like Comte, Proudhon very well realized the progress that was taking place in the development of mankind and he was convinced that further progressive development would occur. Of course, he had in mind not merely the development of culture (i. e., of the material conditions of life), but mainly of civilization, enlightenment, i. e., the development of the intellectual and the spiritual organization of society, the improvement in institutions and in mutual relations among men.11 In this progress he ascribed a great importance to idealization, to the ideals that in certain periods acquire the ascendancy over the petty daily cares, when the discrepancy between the law, understood as the highest expression of justice, and actual life as it is developed under the power of legislation, acquires the proportions of a glaring, unbearable contradiction.

In a later part of this work we shall have occasion to return to the significance of justice in the elaboration of the moral conceptions. For the present I will simply remark that no one prepared the ground for the correct understanding of this fundamental conception of all morality so well as Proudhon.12

The highest moral aim of man is the attaining of justice. The entire history of mankind, says Proudhon, is the history of human endeavor to attain justice in this life. All the great revolutions are nothing but the attempt to realize justice by force; and since during the revolution the means, i. e., violence, temporarily prevailed over the old form of oppression, the actual result was always a substitution of one tyranny for another. Nevertheless, the impelling motive of every revolutionary movement was always justice, and every revolution, no matter into what it later degenerated, always introduced into social life a certain degree of justice. All these partial realizations of justice will finally lead to the complete triumph of justice on earth.

Why is it that in spite of all the revolutions that have taken place, not a single nation has yet arrived at the complete attainment of justice? The principal cause of this lies in the fact that the idea of justice has not as yet penetrated into the minds of the majority of men. Originating in the mind of a separate individual, the idea of justice must become a social idea inspiring the revolution. The starting point of the idea of justice is the sense of personal dignity. In associating with others we find that this feeling becomes generalized and becomes the feeling of human dignity. A rational creature recognizes this feeling in another -- friend or enemy alike -- as in himself. In this, justice differs from love and from other sensations of sympathy; this is why justice is the antithesis of egoism, and why the influence which justice exerts upon us prevails over other feelings. For the same reason, in the case of a primitive man whose sense of personal dignity manifests itself in a crude way, and whose self-aimed tendencies prevail over the social, justice finds its expression in the form of supernatural prescription, and it rests upon religion. But little by little, under the influence of religion, the sense of justice (Proudhon writes simply "justice," without defining whether he considers it a conception or a feeling ) deteriorates. Contrary to its essence this feeling becomes aristocratic, and in Christianity (and in some earlier religions) it reaches the point of humiliating mankind. Under the pretext of respect for God, respect for man is banished, and once this respect is destroyed justice succumbs, and with it society deteriorates.

Then a Revolution takes place which opens a new era for mankind. It enables justice, only vaguely apprehended before, to appear in all the purity and completeness of its fundamental idea. "Justice is absolute and unchangeable; it knows no 'more or less.' "13 It is remarkable, adds Proudhon, that from the time of the fall of the Bastille, in 1789, there was not a single government in France which dared openly to deny justice and to declare itself frankly counter-revolutionary. However, all governments violated justice, even the government at the time of the Terror, even Robespierre,-especially Robespierre.14

Proudhon pointed out, however, that we should guard against tramping upon the interests of the individual for the sake of the interests of society. True justice consists in a harmonious combination of social interest with those of the individual. Justice, thus interpreted, contains nothing mysterious or mystical. Neither is it a desire for personal gain, since I consider it my duty to demand respect for my fellow-men, as well as for myself. Justice demands respect for personal dignity even in any enemy (hence the international military code).

Since man is a being capable of progressing, justice opens the path to progress for all alike. Therefore, wrote Proudhon, justice found expression in the earliest religions, in the Mosaic law, for example, which bade us love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our might, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (in the book of "Tobit," where we are told not to do unto others what we do not want done unto us).15 Similar ideas were expressed by the Pythagoreans, by Epicurus, and Aristotle, and the same demand was made by non-religious philosophers like Gassendi, Hobbes, Bentham, Helvétius, etc.16

In short, we find that equity is everywhere considered the basis of morality, or, as Proudhon wrote: as regards the mutual personal relations -- "without equality -- there is no justice."17

Unfortunately, all the worshipers of the ruling power, even the State -- socialists, fail to notice this fundamental principle of all morality and continue to support the necessity of the inequality and non-equity inherent in the State. Nevertheless, equity became in principle the basis of all the declarations of the Great French Revolution (just as it was accepted earlier in the Declaration of Rights in the North American Republic). Already the Declaration of 1789 proclaimed that "nature made all men free and equal." The same principle was reiterated in the Declaration of July 24, 1793.

The Revolution proclaimed individual equality, equality of political and civic rights, and also equality before the law and the courts. More than that, it created a new social economy by recognizing instead of private rights, the principle of the equivalent value of mutual service.18

The essence of justice is respect for our fellow-men, Proudhon constantly insisted. We know the nature of justice, he wrote; its definition can be given in the following formula:

"Respect thy neighbor as thyself, even if thou canst not love him, and do not permit that he or thyself be treated with disrespect." "Without equality -- there is no justice." (I. 204, 206). 19

Unfortunately, this principle has not as yet been attained either in legislation or in the courts, and certainly not in the Church.

Economics suggested one way out-the subdivision of labor in order to increase production, which increase is, of course, necessary; but it has also shown, at least through the testimony of some economists, such as Rossi, for example, that this division of labor leads to apathy among the workers and to the creation of a slave class. We thus see that the only possible way out of this situation is to be found in mutuality of service, instead of the subordination of one kind of service to another (I. 269), -- and therefore in the equality of rights and possessions. This is just what was asserted by the declaration of the Convention of February 15, and July 24 of 1793, in which Freedom and the Equality of all before the law were proclaimed, and this declaration was reiterated in 1795, 1799, 1814, 1830, and 1848, (I. 270.) Justice, as Proudhon sees it, is not merely a restraining social force. He sees in it a creative force, like reason and work.20 Then, having remarked, as Bacon had already done, that thought is born of action, and dedicating for this reason a series of excellent pages to the necessity of manual labor and of the study of trades in schools as a means of broadening our scientific education, -- Proudhon proceeds to consider justice in its various applications: with respect to individuals, in the distribution of wealth, in the State, in education, and in mentality.

Proudhon had to acknowledge that the development of justice in human societies requires time: a high development of ideals and of the feeling of solidarity with all, is required, and this can be attained only through long individual and social evolution. We will return to this subject in another volume. I will only add here that all this part of Proudhon's book, and his conclusion in which he determines wherein lies the sanction of the conception of justice, contain very many ideas stimulating to human thought. This quality of mental stimulation is characteristic of all Proudhon's writings, and it was pointed out by Herzen and by many others.

However, in all his excellent words about justice, Proudhon did not indicate clearly enough the distinction between the two meanings given in the French language to the word "Justice." One meaning is equality, an equation in the mathematical sense, --while the other meaning is the administering of justice, i. e., the act of judging, the decision of the court, and even the taking of the law into one's own hands. Of course, when justice is mentioned in ethics it is interpreted only in the first sense, but Proudhon at times used the word Justice in its second sense, which circumstance leads to a certain indefiniteness. This is probably the reason why he did not try to trace the origin of this concept in man,-a problem with which, as we will see later, Littré dealt at some length.

At any rate, from the time of the appearance of Proudhon's work, "Justice in the Revolution and in the Church," it became impossible to build an ethical system without recognizing as its basis equity, the equality of all citizens in their rights. It is apparently for this reason that the attempt was made to subject this work of Proudhon's to a unanimous silence, so that only Jodl was unafraid of compromising himself and assigned to the French revolutionist a prominent place in his history of ethics. It is true that the three volumes which Proudhon devoted to justice contain a great deal of irrelevant matter, a vast amount of polemics against the Church (the title, "Justice in the Revolution and in the Church," justifies this, however, all the more because the subject under discussion is not justice in the Church, but in Christianity and in the religious moral teachings in general); they also contain two essays on woman, with which most modern writers will, of course, not agree; and finally they contain many digressions, which, though they serve a purpose, help to befog the main issue. But notwithstanding all this, we have at last in Proudhon's work an investigation in which justice (which had been already alluded to by many thinkers who occupied themselves with the problem of morality) was assigned a proper place; in this work, at last, it is stated that justice is the recognition of equity and of the striving of men for equality, and that this is the basis of all our moral conceptions.

Ethics had for a long time been moving toward this admission. But all along it had been so bound up with religion, and in recent times with Christianity, that this recognition was not fully expressed by any of Proudhon's predecessors.

Finally, I must point out that in Proudhon's work, "Justice in the Revolution and in the Church," there is already a hint of the threefold nature of morality. He had shown in the first volume though in a very cursory way, in a few lines, -- the primary source of morality-sociality, which is observed even among the animals. And he dwelt later, toward the end of his work, on the third constituent element of all scientific, as well as of religious morality: the ideal. But he did not show where the dividing line comes between justice (which says: "give what is due," and is thus reduced to a mathematical equation), and that which man gives to another or to all "above what is due," without weighing what he gives or what he receives --which, to my mind, constitutes a necessary, constituent part of morality. But he already finds it necessary to complete justice by adding the ideal , i. e., the striving for idealistic actions, due to which, according to Proudhon, our very conceptions of justice are continually broadened and become more refined. And indeed, after all that mankind lived through from the time of the American and the two French Revolutions, our conceptions of justice are clearly not the same as they were at the end of the eighteenth century, when serfdom and slavery called forth no protest even from liberal moralists. We have now to consider a series of works on ethics by thinkers who take the evolutionist viewpoint and who accept Darwin's theory of the development of all organic life, as well as of the social life of man. Here ought to be included a succession of works by modern thinkers, because almost all who wrote on ethics in the second half of the nineteenth century show evidence of the influence of the evolutionist theory of gradual development --which rapidly conquered the mind, after it was so carefully elaborated by Darwin in its application to organic nature.

Even among those who did not write especially on the development of the moral sense in mankind, we find indications of the gradual growth of this sense parallel with the development of other conceptions -- intellectual, scientific, religious, political, and of all the forms of social life in general, Thus, Darwin's theory had a tremendous and a decisive influence upon the progress of modern realistic ethics, or at least on some of its divisions. I will limit myself, however, to the discussion of only three chief representatives of evolutionist ethics: Herbert Spencer, Huxley, as a direct assistant of Darwin, and M. Guyau, although there is a group of very valuable works on ethics, carried out in the spirit of evolutionism, -viz., the great work of Westermarck, "The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas"; by Bastian, "Der Mensch in der Geschichte"; by Gizicky, etc., not to mention non-original works like those of Kidd and Sutherland, or the popular works written for propaganda by socialists, social-democrats, and anarchists.21

I have already discussed Darwin's ethics in the third chapter of this book, In brief, it reduces itself to the following: we know that there is a moral sense in man, and the question naturally arises as to its origin. That each one of us acquires it separately is highly improbable, once we recognize the general theory of the gradual development of man. And, indeed, the origin of this sense is to be sought in the development of feelings of sociality -- instinctive or innate -- in all social animals and in man. Through the strength of this feeling an animal deserves to be in the society of its fellow-creatures, to know itself in sympathy with them; but this sympathy is not to be interpreted in the sense of commiseration or love, but in the narrow sense of the word, as the feeling of comradeship, feeling together, the ability to be affected by the emotions of others.

This feeling of social sympathy, which develops gradually with the increasing complexity of social life, becomes more and more varied, rational, and free in its manifestations. In man the feeling of social sympathy becomes the source of morality. But how are moral conceptions developed from it? Darwin answers this question as follows: man possesses memory and the ability to reason. And when a man does not hearken to the voice of the feeling of social sympathy, and follows some opposite feeling, as hatred for others, then after a brief sensation of pleasure or of gratification he experiences a feeling of inner dissatisfaction, and an oppressive emotion of repentance. At times, even at the very moment of man's inner struggle between the feeling of social sympathy and the opposite tendencies, reason imperatively points out the necessity of following the feeling of social sympathy, and pictures the consequences and the results of the act; in such a case, reflection, and the consciousness that the dictates of the promptings of social sympathy and not the opposite tendencies, are to be obeyed, becomes the consciousness of duty, the consciousness of the right way to act. Every animal in which the instincts of sociality, including the paternal and the filial instincts, are strongly developed, will inevitably acquire moral sense or conscience, provided its mental abilities become developed to the same extent as in man.22

Later, in a further stage of development, when the social life of men reaches a high level, moral feeling finds a strong support in public opinion, which points the way to acting for the common good. This public opinion is not at all an elaborate invention of a conventional up-bringing, as was rather flippantly asserted by Mandeville and his modem followers, but is the result of the development in society of mutual sympathy and a mutual bond. Little by little such acts for the common good become a habit.

I will not repeat here Darwin's further reasoning about the origin of morality in man, for I have already considered them in the third chapter of this work. I will merely point out that Darwin had thus returned to the idea expressed by Bacon in his "Great Instauration." I have already mentioned that Bacon was the first to point out that the social instinct is "more powerful" than the personal instinct. The same conclusion was reached, as we have seen, by Hugo Grotius. 23

Bacon's and Darwin's ideas of the greater power, permanency, and preponderance of the instinct of social self-preservation over the instinct of personal self-preservation, shed such a bright light on the early periods of the progress of morality in the human race, that it would seem as if these ideas ought to become fundamental in all modern works on ethics. But in reality these views of Bacon and Darwin passed almost unnoticed. For instance, when I spoke to some English Darwinian naturalists about Darwin's ethical ideas, many of them asked "Did he write anything on Ethics?" While others thought that I had reference to the "merciless struggle for existence" as the fundamental principle of the life of human societies; and they were always greatly astonished when I pointed out to them that Darwin explained the origin of the sense of moral duty in man by the preponderance in man of the feeling of social sympathy over personal egoism. For them "Darwinism" consisted in the struggle for existence of everyone against all, and because of this they failed to take note of any other consideration.24

This interpretation of "Darwinism" strongly affected the work of Darwin's principal disciple -- Huxley, whom Darwin selected for the popularization of his views in connection with the variability of species.

This brilliant evolutionist, who was so successful in confirming and spreading Darwin's teaching of the gradual development of organic forms on the earth, proved to be quite incapable of following his great teacher in the realm of moral thought. As is known, Huxley expounded his views on this subject, shortly before his death, in a lecture, "Evolution and Ethics," which he delivered at the University of Oxford in 1893.25 It is also known from Huxley's correspondence, published by his son, that he attributed great importance to this lecture, which he prepared with thorough care. The press took this lecture as a sort of agnostic manifesto,26 and the majority of English readers looked upon it as the last word that modern science can say on the subject of the bases of morality, i. e., on the final goal of all philosophical systems. It is also necessary to say that to this study of evolution and ethics was ascribed such significance not only because it was the expression of views held by one of the leaders of scientific thought, who all his life fought for the recognition of evolutionist philosophy, and not only because it was written in so polished a form that it was acclaimed as one of the finest models of English prose, but chiefly because it expressed just those views on morality which are now predominant among the educated classes of all nations, which are so deep-rooted, and which are considered so irrefutable, that they may be called the religion of these classes.

The predominant thought of this research, the leit-motive pervading the entire exposition, consists of the following:

There is a "cosmic process," i. e., the universal life, and an "ethical process," i. e., the moral life, and these processes are diametrically opposed to each other, a negation of each other. The whole of nature, including plants, animals, and primitive man, is subject to the cosmic process: this process is crimsoned with blood, it stands for the triumph of the strong beak and the sharp claw. This process is a denial of all moral principles. Suffering is the lot of all sentient creatures; it constitutes an essential constituent part of the cosmic process. The methods of struggle for existence characteristic of the ape and the tiger, are its distinguishing features. "In the case of mankind, (in the primitive stage), self-assertion, the unscrupulous seizing upon all that can be grasped, the tenacious holding of all that can be kept, which constitute the essence of the struggle for existence, have answered." (p. 51.)

And so on in the same vein. In short, the lesson which nature teaches is the lesson of "unqualified evil."

Thus, evil and immorality -- this is what we can learn from Nature. It is not that the good and the evil approximately balance each other in Nature: no, -- the evil predominates and triumphs. We cannot learn from Nature even that the sociality and the self-restraint of the individual are the mighty implements of success in the cosmic process of evolution. In his lecture Huxley categorically denied such an interpretation of life; he persistently endeavored to prove that "cosmic nature is no school of virtue, but the headquarters of the enemy of ethical nature." (Ibid., p. 75.) "The practice of that which is ethically best -- what we call goodness or virtue -- involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence.... It repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence." (pp. 81-82.)

And amid this cosmic life, which had been lasting for innumerable thousands of years and which had been continually teaching lessons of struggle and immorality, there suddenly arises without any .natural cause, and we know not whence, the "ethical process," i. e., the moral life which was implanted in man in the later period of his development, we know not by whom or by what, but at any rate, not by Nature. "Cosmic evolution," Huxley insists, "is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before." (p. 80.) Nevertheless, for some unknown reason, there begins in human society "social progress" which does not constitute a part of the "cosmic process" (i. e., of universal life), but "means a checking of the cosmic process at every step and the substitution for it of another, which may be called the ethical process; the end of which is not the survival of those who may happen to be the fittest, in respect of the whole of the conditions which obtain, but of those who are ethically the best." (p. 81.) Why, whence, this sudden revolution in the ways of nature which is concerned with organic progress, i. e., the gradual perfecting of structure? Huxley does not say a word about this, but he continued to remind us persistently that the ethical process is not at all the continuation of the cosmic; it appeared as a counterbalance to the cosmic process and finds in it "a tenacious and powerful enemy."

Thus Huxley asserted that the lesson taught by Nature is in reality a lesson of evil (p. 85), but as soon as men combined into organized societies there appeared, we know not whence, an "ethical process," which is absolutely opposed to everything that nature teaches us. Later, the law, customs, and civilization continued to develop this process.

But where are the roots, where is the origin of the ethical process? It could not originate from observation of Nature, because, according to Huxley's assertion, Nature teaches us the opposite; it could not be inherited from pre-human times, because among the swarms of animals, before the appearance of man, there was no ethical process even in an embryonic form. Its origin, consequently, lies outside of Nature. Hence, the moral law of restraining personal impulses and passions originated like the Mosaic Law-not from already existing customs, not from habits that had already become ingrained in human nature, but it could appear only as a divine revelation, that illuminated the mind of the law-giver. It has a superhuman, nay, more than that, a supernatural origin.

This conclusion so obviously follows from reading Huxley, that immediately after Huxley delivered his lecture at Oxford, George Mivart, a noted and able evolutionist, and at the same time an ardent Catholic, printed in the magazine, "Nineteenth Century," an article in which he congratulates his friend upon his return to the teachings of the Christian Church. After citing the passages given above, Mivart wrote: "Just so! It would be difficult to declare more emphatically that ethics could never have formed part and parcel of the general process of evolution."27 Man could not voluntarily and consciously invent the ethical idea. "It was in him, but not of him." (p. 207.) It comes from the "Divine Creator."

And really, it is one of the two; either the moral conceptions of man are merely the further development of the moral habits of mutual aid, which are so generally inherent in social animals that they may be called a law of Nature, -- and in that event our moral conceptions, in so far as they are the product of reason, are nothing but the conclusion arrived at from man's observation of nature, and in so far as they are the product of habit and instinct, they constitute a further development of instincts and habits inherent in social animals. Or our moral conceptions are revelations from above, and all further investigations of morality become merely interpretation of the divine will. Such was the inevitable conclusion from this lecture.

And then, when Huxley published his lecture, "Evolution and Ethics," in the form of a pamphlet provided with long and elaborate notes, he included one note28 in which he completely surrenders his position and destroys the very essence of his lecture, for he acknowledges in this note that the ethical process constitutes "part and parcel of the general process of evolution," i. e., of the "Cosmic Process," in which there are already contained the germs of the ethical process.

Thus it turns out that everything that was said in the lecture about the two opposite and antagonistic processes, the natural and the ethical, was incorrect. The sociality of animals already contains the germs of moral life, and they merely continue to be developed and perfected in human societies.

By what path Huxley came to such an abrupt change in his views, we do not know. It may only be supposed that it was done under the influence of his personal friend, Professor Romanes of Oxford, who acted as chairman during Huxley's lecture on "Evolution and Ethics." At that very time Romanes was working on an extremely interesting research on the subject of morality in animals.

As an extremely truthful and humanitarian man, Romanes probably protested against Huxley's conclusions and pointed out their utter lack of correct foundations. Possibly it was under the influence of this protest that Huxley introduced the addition which refuted the very essence of what he had advocated in his lecture. It is very regrettable that death prevented Romanes from completing his work on morality among animals; he had gathered extensive material for this task. 29

(The manuscript of the eleventh chapter ends with these words.)


1[Appeared posthumously, in 1793; his first work is De I'Esprit, 1753.] -- Trans. Note.

2[That is, Naufrage des îles flottatantes.] -- Trans. Note.

3[De la législation; ou Principes des lois, 2 vols., Amsterdam.] -- Trans. Note.

4Extensive and valuable material on the subject of the socialistic tendencies in the eighteenth century is to be found in the monograph by André Lichtenberger, Le Socialisme au XVIII siècle. -- [Paris, 1895.]

5[Most of these names are well-known. François Vidal was a French socialist of '48. Constantin Pecqueur (1801-87) author of Économie sociale. Albert E. F. Schäffle wrote his Bau und Leben des Sozialen Körpers, in 1875-78, 4 vols. Chernyshevsky is the author of the novel, Wbat is to be done?  and of several fine works in economics, not found in English. Piotr L. Lavrov (1823-1900) wrote the Historical Letters, available in a French and a German translation.] -- Trans. Note.

6[Qu'est-ce que la Propriéte?, Paris, 1840; Contradictions économiques, by B. R. Tucker, Boston, 1888; Philosophie du Progrés, Bruxelles, 1853. The others are noted below.] -- Trans. Note.

7Qu'est-ce que la Propriété?  pp. 181 ff.; also 220-221. [Two English translations are available, of which the more recent was published in London, in 1902, -- What is Property; an inquiry into the principle of right and of Government. 2 vols.] -- Trans. Note.

8De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l'Église, vol. 1, p. 216.

9At this point Jodl falls into the same error as Proudhon, by identifying Morality in general with justice, which, in my opinion, constitutes but one of the elements of Morality.

10Geschichte der Ethik, 11, p. 266, references to Proudhon's Justice, etc., Étude II.

11In recent time these two entirely different conceptions have begun to be confused in Russia.

12In addition to the work, "De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l'Église  (Noueaux principes de philosophie pratique), 3 vols. Paris, 1858, very valuable thoughts on ethics and justice may be found in his Système des contradictions économiques, ou, philosophie de la misère, 2 vols. (A work which, of course, lost none of its considerable merit on account of Marx's malignant pamphlet, La Misère de la Philosophie); also Idée générale sur la Révolution au XIX siècle, and Qu'est-ce que la Propriéte? An ethical system was shaping itself in Proudhon's mind from the time of his very first appearance as a writer, at the beginning of the 'forties. [Karl Marx's Réponse à la Philosophie de la Misère de M. Proudhon, Paris and Bruxelles, 1847; Eng. tr. by H. Quelch, Chicago, 1910. Proudhon's Idée générale, etc., Paris, 1851.] -- Trans. Note.

13Justice -- etc., Étude II, pp. 194-195, ed. of 1858.

14Ibid, Étude II, p. 196.

15[Tobit, 4, 15] -- Trans. Note.

16I will only add that we find the identical idea in the rules of conduct f all savages. (See my book, Mutual Aid, a factor of Evolution .)

17 "En ce qui touche les personnes, hors de l'égalite point de Justice." (Étude III, beginning; vol. 1, p. 206.)

18 The formula of the communists, adds Proudhon, -- "To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities," can be applied only in a family. Saint-Simon's formula, "to each according to his abilities, to each ability according to its deeds" is a complete negation of actual equality and of equality of rights. In a Fourierist community the principle of mutuality is recognized, but in the application to an individual Fourier denied justice. On the other hand, the principle practiced by mankind from the remotest time is simpler, and, what is most important, more worthy; value is assigned only to the products of industry, -- which does not offend personal dignity, and the economic organization reduces itself to a simple formula -- exchange.

19Proudhon wrote these words in 1858. Since that time many economists have upheld the same principle.

20Man is a creature "rational and toiling, the most industrious and the most social creature, whose chief striving is not love, but a law higher than love. Hence the heroic self-sacrifice for science, unknown to the masses; martyrs of toil and industry are born, whom novels and the theater pass over in silence; hence also the words: 'to die for one's country.'" "Let me bow before you, ye who knew how to arise and how to die in 1789, 1792, and 1830. You were consecrated to liberty, and you are more alive than we, who have lost it." "To originate an idea, to produce a book, a poem, a machine; in short, as those in trade say, to create one's chef d'œuvre; to render a service to one's country and to mankind, to save a human life, to do a good deed and to rectify an injustice, -- all this is to reproduce oneself in social life, similar to reproduction in organic life." Man's life attains its fullness when it satisfies the following conditions: love -- children, family; work -- industrial reproduction; and sociality, i.e., the participation in the life and progress of mankind. (Étude V, ch. v; vol. II. 128-130).

21[Edward A. Westermarck, London & N. Y., 1906-8, 2 vols. Bastian's Der Mensch, etc., Leipzig, 1860, 3 vols. in 1. Alexander C. Sutherland, Origin and Growth of the Moral Instinct, London, 1895, 2 vols.] -- Trans. Note.

22Darwin, Descent of Man, chap. IV, pp. 149-150. London 1859.

23Spinoza's writings also make mention of mutual aid among animals (mutuum juventum), as an important feature of their social life. And if such an instinct exists in animals it is clear that, in the struggle for existence, those species had the better opportunity to survive in difficult conditions of life and to multiply, which made most use of this instinct. This instinct, therefore, had to develop more and more, especially since the development of spoken language, and consequently of tradition, increased the influence in society of the more observant and more experienced man. Naturally, under such circumstances, among very many man-like species with which man was in conflict, that species survived in which the feeling of mutual aid was strongly developed, in which the feeling of social self-preservation held the ascendancy over the feeling of individual self-preservation, -- for the latter could at times act against the interest of the clan or tribe.

24In one of his letters, I do not remember to whom, Darwin wrote: "This subject remained unnoticed, probably because I wrote too briefly about it." This is just what actually happened with what he wrote on Ethics, and, I must add, with a great deal that he wrote in connection with "Lamarckism." In our age of capitalism and mercantilism, "struggle for existence" so well answered the needs of the majority that it overshadowed everything else.

25This lecture was published in the same year in pamphlet form with elaborate and very remarkable notes. Later Huxley wrote an explanatory introduction (Prolegomena) with which this lecture has since been reprinted in his Collected Essays and also in the Essays, Ethical and Political, Macmillan's popular edition, 1903.

26The word "agnostic" was introduced for the first time by a small group of doubting writers, who gathered about the publisher of the magazine Nineteenth Century, James Knowles. They preferred the name of "agnostics," i.e., those who deny "gnosis," to the name of "atheists."

27St. George Mivart, Evolution in Professor Huxley, "Nineteenth Century," August 1893, p. 198.

28Note 19 in the pamphlet; note 20 in the Collected Essays  and in the Essays, Ethical and Political.

29When I decided to deliver a lecture in London on Mutual Aid among Animals, Knowles, the publisher of the "Nineteenth Century," who had become greatly interested in my ideas and had discussed them with his friend and neighbor, Spencer, advised me to invite Romanes as chairman. Romanes accepted my suggestion and very kindly consented to act as chairman. At the end of the lecture, in his closing address, he pointed out the significance of my work and summarized it in the following words: "Kropotkin has unquestionably proved that although external wars are waged throughout the whole of nature by all species, internal wars are very limited, and in most species there is the predominance of mutual aid and cooperation in various forms. The struggle for existence, says Kropotkin, is to be understood in metaphorical sense. I was seated behind Romanes and I whispered to him: "It was not I, but Darwin who said so, in the very beginning of the third chapter, 'On Struggle for Existence."' Romanes immediately repeated this remark to the audience and added that this is just the right way to interpret Darwin's term,-not in a literal but in a figurative sense. If only Romanes could have succeeded in working for another year or two we should undoubtedly have had a remarkable work on animal morality. Some of his observations on his own dog are astounding, and have already gained wide renown. But the great mass of facts that he gathered would be still more important. Unfortunately, no one among the English Darwinists has as yet utilized and published this material. Their "Darwinism" was no more profound than that of Huxley. [Note by Lebedev, the Russian Editor.]

From : Anarchy Archives

(1842 - 1921)

Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism

: As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From: Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "Which side will you take? For the law and against justice, or for justice and against the law?" (From: "An Appeal to the Young," by Peter Kropotkin, 1880.)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From: "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)
• "To recognize all men as equal and to renounce government of man by man is another increase of individual liberty in a degree which no other form of association has ever admitted even as a dream." (From: "Communism and Anarchy," by Peter Kropotkin, 1901.)


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