Ethics: Origin and Development — Chapter 4 : Moral Conceptions of Primitive Peoples

By Peter Kropotkin (1924)

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Revolt Library Anarchism Ethics: Origin and Development Chapter 4

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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.)
• "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.)
• "...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 strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From: "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)

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Chapter 4

 Photo by Obra fotográfica de Federico Romero, CC BY-NC-ND License

Photo by Obra fotográfica de Federico Romero,
CC BY-NC-ND License

The progress made by the natural sciences in the nineteenth century awakened in modern thinkers the desire to work out a new system of ethics on positive bases. After having established the fundamental principles of a universal philosophy free from postulates of supernatural forces, and at the same time, majestic, poetical, and capable of stimulating in men the highest motives,-modern science no longer needs to resort to supernatural inspiration to justify its ideals of moral beauty. Besides, science foresees that in the not-distant future, human society, liberated, through the progress of science, from the poverty of former ages, and organized on the principles of justice and mutual aid, will be able to secure for man free expression of his intellectual, technical, and artistic creative impulses. And this prevision opens up such broad moral possibilities for the future, that for their realization there is no longer any need either of the influence of the supernatural world, or of fear of punishment in an existence after death. There is, consequently, the need of a new ethics on a new basis. The first chapter of this inquiry was devoted to demonstrating the present necessity of the new ethics.

Having awakened from a period of temporary stagnation, modern science, at the end of the fifties of the last century, began to prepare the materials for working out this new, rational ethics. In the works of Jodl, Wundt, Paulsen and of many others, we have excellent surveys of all previous attempts to base ethics on various foundations: religious, metaphysical, and physical. Throughout the entire nineteenth century a series of attempts was made to find the bases of the moral nature of man in rational self-love, in love of humanity (Auguste Comte and his followers), in mutual sympathy and intellectual identification of one's personality with mankind, (Schopenhauer), in usefulness (utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill) and in a theory of development, i. e., in evolution (Darwin, Spencer and Guyau).

The foundation of this last ethics was laid by Darwin; he attempted to derive the primary supports of the moral sentiment from the social instinct, which is deeply ingrained in all social animals. Since most writers on ethics pay no attention to this attempt, and since it was passed over in silence by most Darwinians, I have dwelt on it in detail in the third chapter, "The Moral Principle in Nature." In my book, "Mutual Aid," I already pointed out the widespread occurrence of the social instinct among the majority of animals of all species and subdivisions, while in the third chapter of the present treatise we have seen how the most primitive men of the Glacial and of the early Post-glacial period, had to learn the ways of social life, and its ethics, from the animals, with whom they lived then in close communication. And we have discovered how, in the earliest fairy tales and legends, man transmitted from generation to generation the practical instruction acquired from this knowledge of animal life.

Thus the first moral teacher of man was Nature. Not the nature described by the desk philosophers unfamiliar with it, or by naturalists who have studied nature only among the dead samples in the museums. It was the Nature in the midst of which lived and worked on the American continent, then sparsely populated, and also in Africa and Asia, the great founders of descriptive zoölogy: Audubon, Azara, Brehm, and others. It was, in short, that Nature which Darwin had in mind when he gave in his book, "The Descent of Man," a brief survey of the origin of the moral sentiment among mankind.

There is no doubt that the social instinct, inherited by man and therefore deeply rooted in him, had in it the germs of later development and strengthening, nothwithstanding even the hard struggle for existence. I also showed in the same work on Mutual Aid-again on the basis of works of competent investigators,-how far social life is developed among savages, and also how the sentiment of equity is developed in the most primitive representatives of the human race. I also showed how, due to sociality, the development of human societies was made possible, in spite of their hard life amid wild nature.

Therefore, referring the reader to "Mutual Aid," I will now attempt to analyze how further moral conceptions were developed among the societies of primitive savages, and what influence those conceptions had on the later development of morality.

We know nothing about the life of the earliest primitive human beings of the Glacial Period and of the end of the Tertiary Period beyond the fact that they lived in small groups, eking out with difficulty-meager means of support from the lakes and the forests, and making for that purpose implements of bone and stone.

This "bringing up" of primitive man continued for tens of thousands of years and, in this manner, the social instinct kept on developing and became in the course of time stronger than any selfish consideration. Man was learning to think of his ego in no other way than through the conception of his group. The high educational value of this way of thinking will be shown further, in our discussion. 1

Already in the animal world we see how the personal will of individuals blends with the common will. The social animals learn this at a very early age-in their play, 2 where it is necessary to submit to certain rules of the game: it is not permitted to gore with the horns in earnest, to bite in earnest, or even to stand in the w.` of another's turn. And when they attain adult age the absorbing of the personal will by the social will is clearly seen in many cases The preparations of the birds for their migrations from the North` to the South and back; their "practice" flights in the evenings, during the few days preceding the migrations; coordination of actions all the wild beasts and birds of prey during hunting; the common defense against the beasts of prey of all the animals that live in herds; migrations of animals, and, also, the whole social life of the bees, wasps, ants, termites, almost all the wading birds, parrots, beavers, monkeys, etc.,-all these facts are prominent examples of such subordination of the personal will. They clearly show the coordination of the individual will  with the will and the purpose, of the whole, and thus coordination has already become an hereditary habit, i. e., an instinct. 3

As early as 1625 Hugo Grotius clearly understood that such an instinct contains the rudiments of law. But there is no doubt that the men of the Quaternary Period stood at least on the same step of social development, and' most likely, even on a considerably higher level. Once co-habitation is established, it unavoidably leads to certain forms of life, certain customs and traditions, which, being acknowledged useful and becoming habitual ways of thinking, evolve first into instinctive habits and then into rules of life. Thus each group evolves its own morality, its own ethics, which the elders - the preservers of the tribal customs-place under the protection of superstitions and religion, i. e., in substance, under the protection of the dead ancestors. 4

Some prominent naturalists recently made various observations and experiments for the purpose of determining whether dogs, horses, and other animals living in close proximity to man, have conscious moral conceptions. The results gave a fairly definite affirmative answer. Thus, for example, the facts related by Spencer in the appendix to the second volume of his "Principles of Ethics" are particularly convincing and lead to conclusions that are by no means unimportant. Similarly, there are several quite convincing facts in the above-mentioned work by Romanes. We will not dwell on these facts, however. It is sufficient to establish that already in animal societies, and so much more in human societies owing to the social habit itself, conceptions are unavoidably developed which identify the personal "I" with the social "We," and as these conceptions evolve into hereditary instinct, the personal "1" even submits to the social 'We." 5

But once we have established that such identification of the individual with society was present even to a slight degree among men, it follows that if this attitude were useful to humanity it would unavoidably tend to become stronger and to develop, especially since Man had the gift of speech, which leads to the establishment of tradition. And finally, this attitude would lead to the creation of permanent moral instinct.

This assertion, however, will probably give rise to some doubts, and many will probably ask: "Is it possible that, without the interference of any supernatural power, a semi-animal sociality could evolve into- such high moral teachings as those of Socrates, Plato, Confucius, Buddha, and Christ?" Ethics must answer this question. It would not suffice simply to point to biology, which shows how microscopical unicellular organisms evolve in the course of tens of thousands of years into more highly developed organisms, up to higher mammals and Man. Ethics, therefore, will have to perform a task similar to that accomplished by Auguste Comte and Spencer in Biology, and by many research workers in the History of Law. Ethics must demonstrate how moral conceptions were able to develop from the sociality inherent in higher animals and primitive savages, to highly idealistic moral teachings.

The rules governing one mode of life of the various savage tribes of our time are different. In different climates, among tribes surrounded by different neighbors, varying customs and traditions were developed. Besides, the very descriptions of these customs and traditions by various travelers differ materially from one another, depending on the nature of the historian and on his general attitude toward his "lower brethren." It is wrong, therefore, to combine into a unit the descriptions of all kinds of primitive tribes, without giving consideration to the level of development of each particular tribe, and without weighing critically the authors of these descriptions. This error was made by some beginners in anthropology, and even Spencer did not escape this fallacy in his ponderous compilation of anthropological data, 6 or even in his later work, "Ethics." On the other hand, Waitz, in his "Anthropology of Primitive Peoples," and a whole series of anthropologists such as Morgan,- Maine, M. Kovalevsky, Post, and many others, did not fall into this error. In general, among the various accounts of savage life, only those can be utilized which were written by travelers and missionaries who spent a fairly long time among the savages they describe; the length of sojourn is in itself, to a certain extent, an indication of mutual understanding. And then, if we wish to learn something about the first beginnings of moral conceptions, we must study those savages who were able to preserve better than others some features of the tribal mode of life, from the time of the earliest Post-glacial period.

There are, of course, no tribes who have preserved completely the mode of life of that period. It is, however, best preserved by the savages of the extreme North-the Aleuts, the Chukchi, and the Eskimos, who are to this day living in the same physical environment in which they lived at the very beginning of the melting of the huge ice sheet, 7 and also by some tribes of the extreme South, i. e., of Patagonia and New Guinea, and by small remnants of tribes that survived in some mountain regions, especially in the Himalayas.

We have reliable information about these very tribes of the far North from men who lived among them; particularly, about the Aleuts of North Alaska from a remarkable social historian, the missionary Venyaminov: and about the Eskimos from various expeditions that spent the winter in Greenland. The description of the Aleuts by Venyaminov is particularly instructive.

First of all, it must be noted that there are two divisions in Aleutian ethics, as well as in the ethics of other primitive peoples. Observance of one kind of custom, and consequently of the ethical regulations, is absolutely obligatory; observance of the other kind is merely recommended as desirable, and the transgressors are subjected only to ridicule or to a reminder. The Aleuts, for example, say that it is "shameful" to do certain things. 8

"Thus, for example," wrote Venyaminov, "it is 'shameful' to fear unavoidable death; it is shameful to beg an enemy for mercy; it is shameful to be detected in theft; also to have one's boat capsized in the harbor. -It is shameful to be afraid to put to sea during a storm; to be the first to weaken in a long voyage, or to show greed ~in' dividing the spoils (in such a case all the rest give the greedy one their share; so-as to shame him); it is shameful to babble to one's wife about the secrets of the tribe; it is shameful, while hunting with another, not to offer the best part of the game to one's companion; it is shameful to brag of one's deeds, especially the imaginary ones, or to call another derogatory names. It is also shameful to beg alms; to caress one's wife in the presence of others, or to dance with her; or to bargain personally with a purchaser, since the price for goods offered is to be fixed by a third party. For a woman, it is shameful to be unable to sew or to dance, or, in general, not to know how to do things within the scope of a woman's duties: shameful to caress her husband or even to converse with him in the presence of others." 9

Venyaminov gives no information as to how these features of the Aleutian ethics are maintained. But one of the expeditions which spent a winter in Greenland gives a description of how the Eskimos live,-several families in one dwelling. Each family is decided from the others by a curtain made of hides. These corridor-like dwellings are sometimes made in the shape of a cross in the center of which is located the hearth. On long winter nights the women sing songs in which they not infrequently ridicule those who are in some way guilty of transgressing the customs of good behavior, But there are also regulations that are absolutely obligatory: in the first place stands, of course, the absolute insufferance of fratricide, i.e., of a murder within the tribe. It is equally insufferable that a murder, or a wound inflicted by a member of some other tribe, should pass without clan vengeance.

Then there is a whole series of actions that are so strictly obligatory that failure to observe them brings upon the offender the contempt of the whole tribe, and he runs the risk of becoming an outcast and of being banished from his clan. Otherwise, the offender against these rules might bring upon the whole tribe the displeasure of the wronged animals, such, for example, as the crocodiles, the bears, or of the invisible spirits of the ancestors who protect the tribe.

Thus, for instance, Venyaminov tells of the following case. Once when he was embarking for a voyage, the natives assisting him forgot to take a mess of dried fish which had been given to him as a present. Half a-year later, when he returned to this place, he learned that in his absence the tribe had lived through a period of utter famine. But the fish presented to him were, of course, left untouched, and were brought to him intact. To have acted differently would have meant to precipitate various troubles upon the tribe. Similarly, Middendorf wrote that in the swampy plains of Northern Siberia no one will remove anything from a sleigh left by others in the marshes, even if it contains provisions. It is' well known that the inhabitants of the far North are frequently on the verge of starvation, but to use any of the supplies left -behind would be what we call a crime, and such a crime might bring all sorts of evil upon the tribe. The individual is in this case identified with the tribe.

Furthermore, the Aleuts, like all other primitive savages, have also a group of regulations that are absolutely obligatory, one may say, sacred. They include all that- pertains to the conservation of the tribal mode of life: the division into classes, the marriage regulations, the conceptions of the tribal and the family property, the regulations to be observed in hunting or fishing (jointly or singly), the migrations, etc.; and finally, there-is a series of tribal rites of a' purely religious character. Here we have a strict law the violation of which would bring misfortune upon the whole clan, or even upon the whole tribe, and therefore noncompliance with such a law is unthinkable or even impossible. And if once in a great while a violation of such a law does occur, it is punished like treason, by banishment from the tribe, or even by death. It must be said, however, that the violation of such laws is so rare that it is even considered unthinkable, just as the Roman Law considered parricide unthinkable and, accordingly, had no law providing punishment forth this crime.

Generally speaking, all the primitive peoples known to us have developed a very complicated mode of tribal life. They have consequently, their own morality, their own ethics. And in all these unwritten "statutes" protected tradition, three main categories of tribal regulations are to be found.

Some of them preserved the usages established for procuring means of livelihood for each individual and for the whole tribe. These regulations set down the principles of using what belongs to the whole tribe: the water expanses, the forests, sometimes the fruit trees wild or cultivated, the hunting regions, and also the boats. There are also strict rules for hunting, for migrations, for preservation of fire, etc. 10

Then the individual rights and relations are determined the subdivision of the tribe into clans, and the system of permissible marital relations,-another very complicated division, where the institutions become almost religious. To the same category belong the rules for bringing up the youth, sometimes in the special "long huts," as is done by the savages of the Pacific Islands; the relations to the old people and to the newly born; -and, finally the ways of preventing acute personal collisions, i.e., what is to be done when the multiplication of separate families makes violence possible within the tribe, and also in case of an individual's dispute with a neighboring tribe, especially if the dispute might lead to war. An array of rules is here established which, as was shown by the Belgian professor, Ernest Nys, later developed into the beginnings of international law. And, finally, there is the third category of regulations, which are held sacred and pertain to religious superstitions, and the rights connected with the season of the year, hunting, migrations, etc.

All these questions can be definitely answered by the old men of each tribe. Of course, these answers are not the same for different clans and tribes, just as the rites are different. What is important here, however, is the fact that every clan or tribe, no matter how low its stage of development, already has its own very complicated ethics, its own system of the moral and the immoral.

The origin of this morality lies, as we have seen, in the feeling of sociality, in the herd instinct, and in the need of mutual aid, which became developed among all social animals and which was still further developed by primitive human societies. It is natural that Man, owing to the gift of speech which helps the development of memory and creates tradition, worked out much more complicated cased rules of life than the animals. Moreover, with the appearance of religion, even in its crudest form, human ethics was enriched by a new element, which gave to that ethics a certain stability, and later contributed to it inspiration and a measure of idealism.

Then, with further development of social life, the conception of justice in mutual relations had to become more and more prominent. The first signs of justice in the sense of equity, can be observed among animals, especially the mammals, in cases where the mother feeds a few sucklings, or in the play of many animals, where there is always desire or adherence to certain rules of play. But the unavoidable transition from the social instinct, i. e., from the simple need to live among similar creatures, to the conclusion that justice is necessary in mutual relations, had to be made by Man for the -sake of the preservation of social life itself. And truly, in any society the desires and the passions of individuals inevitably collide with-the desires of the other members of the same society. Such collisions would inevitably lead to endless feuds and to disintegration of the society, if it were not that- human beings develop, at the same time,-(just as it is already developing in some gregarious animals-a conception of the equality of right of all the members of the society. The same conception had to evolve gradually into the conception of justice, as is suggested by the very origin of the word-Æquitas, Équité, which denotes the conception of justice, equality. It is for this reason that the ancients represented justice as a blindfold woman holding a pair of scales.

Let us take a case from actual life. There are, for example, two men who have quarreled. Word follows word, and one of them accuses the other of having insulted him. The other tries to prove that he was right, that he was justified in saying what he said. It is true he had thereby insulted the other, but his insult was but a retaliation for the insult offered him, and it was equal, equivalent to the latter, and by no means greater.

If such a dispute leads to a quarrel and finally results in a fight, both will try to prove that the first blow was a retaliation for a grave insult, and that each subsequent blow was a retaliation for the exactly equivalent blow of the adversary. Then, if the case goes as far as injury and a trial, the judges will consider the extent of the injuries, and he who has inflicted the greater injury will have to pay the fine, to reestablish the equality-of injuries. This had been the practice for many centuries, whenever the case was laid before the communal judgment.

It is clearly seen from this example, which is not imaginary but is taken from actual life, what the most primitive savages understood by "justice,'? and what the more enlightened peoples understand to this day by the words fairness, justice, Æquitas, Équité, Rechtigkeit, etc. They see in these conceptions the reestablishment of the disturbed equality. No one is to disturb the equality of two members of society; and once it is disturbed it has to be reestablished by the interference of society. Thus proclaimed the Mosaic Pentateuch, saying: "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound," but no more. Thus acted Roman justice, thus act to this day all the savages,-and many of these notions are still ~- preserved in modern jurisprudence.

Of course, in any society, regardless of its stage of development, there will always be individuals aiming to take advantage of their strength, adroitness, cleverness, daring, in order to subrogate the will of others to their own will, and some of these individuals attain their aim. Such individuals were found, of course, also among the most primitive peoples, and we meet them among all tribes and peoples in all stages of social development. But to counterbalance such tendencies customs were evolved, among peoples in all stages of development, which tended to resist the aggrandizement of an individual- at the expense of the whole society. All the institutions developed at various times by the human race-the tribal code of life, the village commune, the city, the republics with their common councils, self-government of the parishes and districts, representative government, etc.-all these were really meant to protect societies from the arbitrary acts of such individuals and from their rising power.

Even the most primitive savages, as we have just seen, have groups of customs that are evolved for this purpose. On the one side, custom establishes the equality of rights. Thus, for example, Darwin, while observing the Patagonian savages, was astonished to note that whenever any of the whites gave to a savage a bit of food, the savage immediately shared the morsel equally among all those present. The same circumstance is mentioned by many observers in connection with various primitive tribes, and 1, too, had occasion to observe the same thing even among people in a more advanced stage of development-among the Bouriats, who live in remote parts of Siberia. 11

There is a great number of such facts in all the serious descriptions of primitive peoples. 12 Wherever they are studied, the observers always find the same sociable tendencies, the same social spirit, the same readiness to curb willfulness for the sake of supporting the social life. And when we attempt to penetrate into the life of Man at the most primitive stages of his development, we find the same tribal life, the same alliances of men for mutual aid. And we are forced to acknowledge that the social qualities of Man constitute the principal- factor in his past development and in his future progress.

In the eighteenth century, under the influence of the first acquaintance with the savages of the Pacific Ocean, a tendency developed to idealize the savages, who lived "in a natural state,"- perhaps to counterbalance the philosophy of Hobbes and his followers, who pictured primitive men as a crowd of wild beasts ready to devour one another. Both these conceptions, however, proved erroneous, as we now know from many conscientious observers. The primitive man is not at all a paragon of virtue, and not at all a -tiger-like beast. But he always lived and still lives in societies, like thousands of other creatures. In those societies he has developed not only those social qualities that are inherent to all social animals, but, owing to the gift of speech and, consequently, to a more developed intelligence, he has still further developed his sociality, and with it he has evolved the rules of social life, which we call morality.

In the tribal stage Man first of all learned the fundamental rule of all social life: do not unto others what you do not wish to have done unto you; he learned to restrain in venous ways those who did not desire to submit to this rule. And then he developed the ability to identify his personal life with the life of his tribe. In studying primitive men, beginning with those who still preserve the mode of life of the Glacial and of the early Post-glacial period, and ending with those-who are in the latest stages of development of the tribal system-we are most impressed by this feature: the identification  of the individual man with his tribe. This principle can be traced throughout the early history of the development of the human race, and it is particularly well preserved by those who still retain the primitive forms of the tribal system and the most primitive devices for fighting the stepmother, Nature. Such are the Eskimos, the Aleuts, the inhabitants of Terra del Fuego, and some mountain tribes. And the more we study primitive man, the more we are convinced that, even in his insignificant acts, he identified and still identifies his life with the life of his tribe.

The conceptions of good and evil were thus evolving not on the basis of what represented good or evil for a separate individual, but on what represented good and evil for the whole tribe. These conceptions, of course, varied with time and locality, and some of the rules, such, for example, as human sacrifices for the purpose of placating the formidable forces of nature-volcanoes, seas, earthquakes,-were simply preposterous. But once this or that rule was established by the tribe, the individual submitted to it, no matter how hard it was to abide by it.

Generally speaking, the primitive savage identified himself with his tribe. He became truly unhappy if he committed an act that might bring upon his tribe the curse of the wronged one, or the vengeance of the "great multitude" of ancestors, or of some animal tribe: crocodiles, bears, tigers, etc. The "code of custom" means more to a savage man than religion to the modern man-it forms the foundation of his life, and therefore, self-restraint in the interests of the tribe,-and in separate individuals, self-sacrifice for the same reason,-is a most common occurrence. 13

In short, the nearer the primitive society is to its most ancient forms, the more strictly is the rule, "everyone for all," observed. And it is only due to their total lack of knowledge of the actual life of primitive man, that such thinkers as Hobbes and Rousseau and their followers, asserted that morality originated from an imaginary "moral covenant," and others explained its appearance of the "inspiration from a above", coming to a mythical lawgiver. In reality, the source of morality lies in a sociality inherent in all the higher animals, and so much more in Man.

Unfortunately, in the tribal system, the rule "everyone for all" does not extend further than the individual's own tribe. A tribe is not obliged to share its food with other tribes. Moreover, the territory is divided among various tribes, as it is in the cases of some mammals and some birds, and each tribe has its own district for hunting or fishing. Thus from the most ancient times Man was developing two kinds of relations: within his own tribe, and with the other tribes where an atmosphere was created for disputes and wars. It is true that already in the tribal stage attempts were made, and are still being made, to improve the mutual relations of neighboring tribes. When a man enters a dwelling all weapons are to be left outside, at the entrance; and even in case of war between two tribes there are certain rules to be observed, relating to the wells and the paths which women use for drawing and carrying water. But, generally speaking, inter-tribal relations (unless a federation between neighboring tribes was arranged) are entirely different from relations within the tribe. And in the subsequent development of the human race no religion could eradicate the conception of a "stranger." Actually, religions most frequently b~ came a source of ferocious enmity, which grew still more acute-with the development of the State. And as a result a double standard of ethics was being developed, which still exists in our own time and leads to such horrors as the recent war.

In the beginning the whole tribe was made up of one family, and, as it has been proved in modern times, separate families within the tribe began to appear only gradually, while the wives in these families had to be taken from some other tribe.

It is to be noted that the system of separate families led to -the disintegration of the communistic system, for it gave opportunities for amassing family wealth. Nevertheless, the need for sociality, which had been developed during the previous system, began to assume new forms. In the villages, the village commune was evolved, and in the cities-the guilds of the craftsmen and the merchants, from which sprang the medieval free cities. With the help of these institutions the masses were creating a new system of life, where a new type of unity was being born, to take the place of the tribal unity.

On the other hand, the great transmigration of peoples and the continual raids by neighboring tribes and races led unavoidably to the formation of the military class, which kept on gaining in power in proportion as the peaceable rural and urban population came to forget more and more the military art. Simultaneously, the elders, the keepers of the tribal traditions as well as the observers of Nature who were accumulating the rudiments of knowledge, and the performers of the religious rituals, were beginning to form secret societies for the purpose of strengthening their power -among the peasant communities and in the free cities. Later, with the establishment of the State, the military and the ecclesiastical powers formed an alliance, owing to their common subjection to the power of the king.

It must be added, however, that in spite of all the developments described above, there was never a period in the life of the human race when wars constituted a normal condition of life. While the combatants were exterminating each other, and the priests were glorifying the mutual massacres, the great masses in villages and in towns continued to live their ordinary life. They kept on with their habitual work, and at the same time endeavored to strengthen the organizations based on mutual aid and mutual support, i. e., on their code deriving from custom. This process continued even later, after the people fell under the power of the clergy and of the kings.

After all, the whole history of the human race may be regarded as a striving, on the one side, for seizure of power by separate individuals or groups, for the purpose of subjugating the largest possible masses, and on the other hand, the striving, at least by the males, to preserve the equality of rights and to resist the seizure of power, or at least to limit it. In other words: the striving to preserve justice within the tribes or the federation of tribes.

The same striving strongly manifested itself in the medieval free cities, especially during the few centuries immediately following the liberation of these cities from their feudal lords. In fact, the free cities were the defensive alliances of the enfranchised burghers against the surrounding feudal lords.

But little by little division of the population into classes began to manifest itself in the free cities as well. At the beginning trading was conducted by the entire city. The products of city manufacture or the goods purchased in the villages were exported by the city as a whole, through its trusted men, and the profits belonged to the entire city community. But by slow steps trading began to be transformed from communal to private, and began to enrich not only the cities themselves but also private individuals, -and independent merchants-"mercatori libri" especially from the time of the crusades, which brought about lively trading with the Levant. A class of bankers began to be formed. In time of need these bankers were appealed to for loans, at first by the noblemen-knights, and later by the cities as well.

Thus, in each of these once free cities there-began-to develop a merchant aristocracy, which held the cities in the hollow of their hands, supporting alternately the Pope and the Emperor when they were striving for possession of a certain city, or lending aid to a king or prince who was about to seize one of the cities, sometimes with the support of the rich merchants, and sometimes of the poor townsfolk. Thus the ground was prepared for the modern centralized State. The work of centralization was completed when Europe had to defend itself against the invasions of the Moors into Spain in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries, of the Mongolians into Russia in the thirteenth century, and of the Turks in the fifteenth. The cities and the small principalities, which had been continually quarreling among themselves, proved powerless against such mass invasions, and so the process of the subjugation of the small units by the larger ones, and also the process of the centralization of power, culminated in the formation of large political states.

Needless to say, such fundamental changes in social life, as also the religious uprisings and wars, put their stamp on the entire structure of the moral conceptions in the various countries at different times. At some future day an extensive research will probably be undertaken in which the evolution of morality will be studied in connection' with the changes in the mode of social life. We are here entering a field where the science of the moral conceptions end 'teachings, i.e., Ethics, frequently coincides with another science-Sociology, i. e., the science of the life and the development of societies. Therefore, to avoid changing from one field o the other, it will be better to point out beforehand to what objects the realm of Ethics is to be restricted.

We have seen that in all human beings, even at the lowest stages, of development, and also in some gregarious animals, there are certain marked features which we call moral. In all stages of human development ' we find sociality and the herd instinct, and separate individuals manifest also the -readiness to help others, sometimes even at the risk of their own lives. And since such features assist in maintaining and developing social life, which-in turn-insures the life and well-being of all, such qualities, accordingly, were considered by human societies from the most ancient times not only as desirable, but even as obligatory. The elders, the wizards, the sorcerers of the primitive tribes, and later the priests and the clergy, claimed these qualities of human nature as commandments from above, issuing from the mysterious forces of nature, i. e., from the gods, or from one Creator of the universe. But even in the very distant past, and especially from the time of the revival of the sciences,-which began in Ancient Greece more than 2500 years ago,-the thinkers began to consider the question of the natural origin of the moral feelings and conceptions, -those feelings which restrain men from evil acts against their kinsmen and, in general, from acts tending to weaken the social fabric. In other words, they endeavored to find a natural explanation for that element in human nature which it is customary to call moral, and which is considered unquestionably desirable in any society.

Such attempts had been made, it would appear, even in remote antiquity, for traces of- them are seen in China and in India. But in a scientific form they reached us only from Ancient Greece. Here a succession of thinkers, in the course of four centuries,- Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and later the Stoics, gave thoughtful and philosophical consideration to the following questions:

"Whence originate in a human being the moral principles, which contradict his passions and which frequently serve to check them?

"Whence originates the feeling of the obligatory nature of the moral principles, which manifests itself even in men who deny the moral principles of life?

"Is it merely the outcome of our up-bringing,-an outcome that we dare not renounce,-as is now maintained by some writers, and --as, in the past, was proclaimed from time to time by certain negators of-morality?

"Or is the moral conscience of Man the outcome of his very nature? In such a case, might it not be the quality that developed from the very fact of his social life in the course of many thousands of years?

"Finally, if the surmise be true, should that moral conscience be encouraged and developed, or would it be better to eradicate it and to encourage the development of the opposite sentiment of self-love (egoism), which considers as desirable the negation of all morality? And would it be well to hold this negation as the ideal of the developed human being?"

These are the problems over the solution of which the thinkers of the human race have been working for more than two thousand years, alternately supplying answers leaning now toward one, now-toward the other decision. These investigations led to the formation of a special science Ethics, which is closely allied on one side to Sociology, and on the other side to Psychology, i. e., the science of the emotional and the intellectual qualities of Man.

After all, in Ethics, all the aforementioned questions reduce themselves to two fundamental problems. Ethics aims: 1) To establish the origin of the moral conceptions and sentiments; 2) To determine the fundamental principles of morality and to work out in this manner a proper (i. e., one that answers its purpose) moral ideal.

The thinkers of all nations worked and are still working over this problem. Therefore, prior to expounding my own conclusions on these questions, I shall endeavor to make a survey of the conclusions at which the thinkers of various schools have arrived.

We will now take up that task, and I will give special attention to the development of the conceptions of justice, which, if I am not mistaken lies at the root of all morality and constitutes the starting point in all the conclusions of moral philosophy, - although this circumstance is far from being acknowledged by the majority of thinkers who have written on Ethics.


1 AII thinking, as Fouillée justly remarked, has a tendency to become more and more objective, i. e., to renounce personal considerations and to pass gradually to general considerations. (Fouillée, Critique des systèmes de morale contemporaine, Paris, 1883, p. 18). In this manner the social ideal is gradually formed, i.e., a conception of a possibly better system.

2 See on this subject, Play of Animals, by Karl Groos. "English trans. by Elizabeth L. Baldwin, N. Y. 189.8.]-Trans. Note.

3 The reader will find many facts in connection with the rudiments of ethics among the social animals, in the excellent works of Espinas, who analyzed various stages of sociality among animals in his book, Des sociéltés anzmales  (Paris, 1877). See also, Animal Intelligence, by Romanes; Huber's and Forel's books on ants, and Büchner's Liebe und Liebesleben in der Thierwelt  (1879; enlarged edition, 1886). [Alfred Victor Espinas, 2d enlarged ed., 1878. Geo. John Romanes, N. Y., 1883; latest ead., 1912. Pierre Huber, Recherches sur les mceurs des fourmis indigénes, Genéve, Paris, 1810 and 1861; English trans., The Natural History of the Ants, London, 1820, by J. R. Johnson. Auguste Forel, Ants and some other Insects, translated from the German by W. M. Whaler, Chic., 1904; the German work is Die Psychischen fähigheiten der Ameisen, etc., München, 1901. Forel is the author of a vast work, Le monde social des fourmis du globe, comparé à celui de l'homme, Genéve, 1921-23, 5 vols. Kropotkin had in mind, most likely, Forel's Recherches sur les fourmis de la Suisse, Zurich, 1874, which he quotes in his Mutual Aid. The last author named is Ludwig Büchner.]-Trans. Note.

4 Élie Reclus (brother of the geographer Élisée Reclus), wrote brilliantly on the significance of the "great multitude" of dead ancestors in his Les Primitifs -a book of few pages, but rich in ideas and facts. [Paris, 1885. The English trans., Primitive Folk, appeared in the Contemporary Scientific Series, London, 1896.]-Trans. Note.

5 Spencer analyzes these facts in detail in his Principles of Ethics. [Vols.IX. X of A System of Synthetic Philosophy, N. Y., 1898.]-Trans. Note.

6 Descriptive Sociology, classified and arranged by Herbert Spencer, compiled and abstracted by Davis Duncan, Richard Schappig, and James Collier, 8 volumes in folio. t[Amer. ed., 9 vols., N. Y., 1873-1910.]-Trans. Note.

7 It is very likely that with the gradual melting of the ice sheet, which at the time of its greatest development in the Northern hemisphere extended approximately to 50o North Latitude, these tribes were continually moving northward under pressure of the increasing population of the more southern parts of the Earth (India, North Africa, etc.), unreached by the glacial layer.

8 Memoirs from the Unalashkinsky District, Petrograd, 1840; [3 vols., in Russian]. Excerpts from this work are given in Dall's Alaska. Very similar remarks about the Eskimo tribes of Greenland, and also about the Australian savages of New Guinea, are found in the works of Mikhlucho-Maklay, and some others. [lvan Yevseyevich Venyaminov (1797-1879), who later became Innokenti, Metropolitan of Moscow. For Mikhlucho-Maklay see note, page Healey Dall, Alaska and its Resources. Boston, 1870.]-Trans. Note.

9 In enumerating the principles of Aleutian ethics, Venyaminov includes also: "It is shameful to die without having killed a single enemy." I took the liberty of omitting this statement, because I think that it is based on a misunderstanding. By enemy cannot be meant a man of one's own tribe, for Venyaminov himself states that out of the population of 60,000 there occurred only one murder in the course of forty years, and it had unavoidably to be followed by vendetta, or by reconciliation after the payment of compensation. Therefore, an enemy whom it was absolutely necessary to kill could be only a man from some other tribe. But Venyaminov does not speak of any continual feuds among the clans or tribes. He probably meant to say "it is shameful to die without having killed the enemy who ought to be killed, as a requirement of clan-vendetta." This viewpoint is, unfortunately, still held even among the so-called "civilized" societies, by the advocates of capital punishment.

10 Preservation of fire is a very important thing Mikhlucho-Maklay writes that the inhabitants of New Guinea, among whom he lived, still retain a legend describing how their ancestors once suffered from scurvy because they let the fire go out, and remained without fire for a considerable time, until they were able to get some from the neighboring islands. "Nikolai N. Mikhlucho-Maklay, a Russian traveler and naturalist (1846 88). His notes on New Guinea were contributed to Petermann's Mitteilungen, 1874, 1878. A part of New Guinea bears the name of Maclay Coast. See the article on M-M. by Finsch in Deutsche Geographische Blättern, vol. xi, pts. 3-4, Bremen, 1888. Excerpts from his note-books appear, in Russian, in the lzvestia  of the Russian Geographical Society, 1880, pp. 161 ff.]-Trans. Note.

11 According to the customs of the Bouriats, who live in Sayany, near the Okinski Outpost, when a ram is killed, the whole village comes to the fire where the feast is being prepared, and all take part in the meal. The same custom existed also among the Bouriats of the Verkholensky district.

12 Those who desire further information on this subject are referred to such monumental works as Waitz, Anthropologie der Naturvölker; Post, Afrikaische Jurisprudenz, and Die Geschlechtsgenossenschaft der Uzeit; M. Kovalevsky, Primitive Law. Tableau des origines de la. propriété; Morgan, Ancient Society; Dr. H. Rink, The Eskimo Tribes, and many scattered researches mentioned in the above works, and also in my treatise on Mutual Aid. [Theodor Waitz, Leipzig, 1859-1872, 6 vols. Albert Hermann Post, Afrik. Juris., Oldenburg, 1887, 2 vols. in 1; second work, Oldenburg, 1875. Maxim M. Kovalevsky, Primitive Law in Russian), 1876; Tableau. etc., Stockholm, 1890. Lewis Henry Morgan, N. Y., 1878. Hinrich J. Rink, Copenhagen, 1887-91, 2 vols. in 1. Peter A. Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, London and N. Y., 1919.]-Trans. Note.

13 Bastian, Der Mensch in der Geschichte, vol. 3; Gray, Journals of two expeditions, 1841; and all reliable accounts of the life of savages. On the part played by in intimidation through the "curse," see, the famous work by Professor Westermarck [Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco, London, 1914; and see his L'âr: the transference of conditional oaths in Morocco. (In Anthropological essays presented to Edward Burnett Tylor. Oxford, 1907. pp. 361-374.) Adolf Bastian, Leipzig, 3 vols. in 1, 1860. Sir Geo. Gray, Journals two expeditions of discovery in North-west and western Australia. London 1841, 2 vols.]-Trans. Note.

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.)
• "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....)
• "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.)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From: "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)


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