More about Mutual Aid and Competition
In an earlier post I wrote a little about a paper about Pyotr Kropotkin. In the comments, ‘Anarcho’ links to a very good and thorough longread written by him about Kropotkin. In the comment he states that: “Kropotkin’s work has been more than confirmed by modern science”. Which is, considering this recent piece from neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt (which however does not mention Kropotkin) indeed true. Interestingly, according to Anarcho Kropotkin wrote his work as a reaction to the fundamentalist individualism of Anglosaxon social scientists, which as we know also permeates neoclassical economics:
“As Kropotkin explained in Mutual Aid, the articles the book was based on were written in response to Thomas Henry Huxley’s “The Struggle for Existence in Human Society” written in 1888.”
“As Kropotkin explained in an anarchist essay written after Mutual Aid, Huxley’s position like “all our religious, historical, juridical, and social education is imbued with the idea that human beings, if left to themselves, would revert to savagery; that without authority men would eat one another; for nothing, they say, can be expected from the ‘multitude’ but brutishness and the warring of each against all. Men would perish if above them soared not the elect . . . These saviours prevent, we are told, the battle of all against all.” This, he argued, was nonsense as “a scientific study of societies and institutions brings us to quite different views. It proves that usages and customs created by mankind for the sake of mutual aid, mutual defence, and peace in general, were precisely elaborated by the ‘nameless multitude.’ And it was these customs that enabled man to survive in his struggle for existence in the midst of extremely hard natural conditions.” The notion that the state was merely the instrument of the people is hardly supported by history nor current practice, for what the state and its laws have done is to “fix, or rather to crystallise in a permanent form, such customs as already were in existence” and adding to them “some new rules – rules of inequality and servile submission of the masses in the interest of the armed rich and the warlike minorities.”
Which is totally consistent with the ideas of Aamodt in her blogpost. An aspect which fascinates me: Kropotkin’s views were, though not Anglosaxon, mainstream in Russia (and, might I add, on the entire European continent, as shown by for instance the ideas of Friedrich Hayek or Norbert Elias):
“[The ideas] were but one expression of a broad current in Russian evolutionary thought that pre-dated, indeed encouraged, his work on the subject and was no means confined to leftist thinkers.” Significantly, he “first questioned Darwin’s approach to the struggle for existence while exploring Siberia as a youth and was an accomplished and celebrated naturalist before his political views crystallised. Furthermore . . . his ideas about co-operation in nature were quite common among Russian naturalists of varying political perspectives.”.
“It is arguable that of all the books on co-operation written by biologists,” suggests Lee Alan Dugatkin Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Louisville, “Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid had the most profound affect on biologists, social scientists, and laymen alike.” Anthropologist Ashley Montagu dedicated his book Darwin, Competition and Co-operation, to Kropotkin, stating it was a “classic” and “no book in the whole realm of evolutionary theories is more readable or more important, for it is Mutual Aid which provides the first thoroughly documented demonstration of the importance of co-operation as a factor in evolution.”
Time to include Kropotkin in the economics textbooks?