Wednesday, July 04, 2007

In a previous post on the article 'Egalitarian Motives in Humans' Molly made reference to Kropotkin's idea of "justice" as being intimately bound up with egalitarian "instincts" in humans. To give the reader a flavour of what Kropotkin was saying I quote the following passage from pages 30 and 31 of 'Ethics: Origin and Development'. This was Kropotkin's last book, actually left in unfinished condition when he died on Feb. 8th, 1921. Kropotkin's editor Nicolas Lebedev brought out a Russian edition in 1922 under the imprint of the anarchist newspaper Golos Truda which was still hanging on in a precarious state under Bolsevik persecution. The first English translation was published in New York in 1924 by which time pretty well all opposition, not just the anarchists, to the growing Communist tyranny had become to all intents impossible within Russia. The copy that Molly uses is the Black Rose Books reprint of 1992 (Montreal).
Kropotkin says,
"The elements for such a new conception of morality are already at hand. The importance of sociality, of mutual aid, in the evolution of the animal world and human history may be taken, I believe, as a positively established scientific truth, free of any hypothetical assumptions. We may also take next, as granted that in proportion as mutual aid becomes an established custom in a human community, and so to say instinctive, it leads to a parallel development of the sense of justice, with its necessary accompaniment of the sense of equity and egalitarian self restraint. The idea that the personal rights of every individual are as unassailable as the same rights of every other individual, grows in proporation as class distinctions fade away; and this thought becomes a current conception when the institutions of a given community have been altered permanently in this sense. A certain degree of identification of the individual with the interests of the group to which it belongs has necessarily existed since the very beginning of social life, and it manifests itself even among the lowest animals. But in proportion as relations of equity and justice are solidly established in the human community the ground is prepared for the further and more general development of more refined relations , under which man understands and feels so well the bearing of his actions on the whole of society that he refrains from offending others , even though he may have to renounce on that account the gratification of some of his own desires, and when he so identifies his feelings with those of others that he is ready to sacrifice his powers for their benefit without expecting anything in return. These unselfish feelings and habits, usually called by the somewhat inaccurate names of "altruism" and "self-sacrifice" , alone deserve, in my opinion, the name of morality, properly speaking, although most writers confound them, under the name of altruism, with the mere sense of justice.
Mutual Aid-Justice-Morality are thus the consecutive steps of an ascending series, revealed to us by the study of the animal world and man. They constitute an organic necessity which carries in iyself its own justification, confirmed by the whole of the evolution of the animal kingdom, beginning in its earliest stages (in the form of colonies of the most primitive organisms) and gradually rising to our civilized human communities. Figuratively speaking, it is a universal law of organic evolution, and this is why the sense of Mutual Aid, Justice and Morality are rooted in man's mind with all the force of an inbuilt instinct- the first instinct, that of Mutual Aid, being evidently the strongest, while the third, developed later than the others, is an unstable feeling and the least apparent of the three. "
Kropotkin wrote 'Ethics' as the vise of Bolshevik amoralism had almost completely its strangulation of the creative forces of the Russian Revolution. He saw the need for an ethical system of action that would guide revolutionaries as opposed to the "ends justify the means" opportunism of the Bolsheiks. Bolshevik amoralism was perhaps best expressed by Leon Trotsky in 'Their Morals and Ours'. As to which one was right, Kropotkin or Trotsky and Lenin, the judgement of history has been given in unequivocal form. The slave empires of Stalinism and their death camps is precisely what the Leninist idea of "realism" leads to. He also wrote it with the idea that it would vastly expand the ideas presented in his earlier work, Mutual Aid. It probably would have if he had had time to complete it.
The passage cited above should show that Kropotkin held that there was an instinctual sense of justice in humans, one that he counted on to act in driving social evolution. A few other things are apparent as well. Kropotkin uses the term "instinct" is a way very different from modern usuage. Habits do not become instincts by sheer force of repetition. They become more likely in a population because the results of them leads to the relatively successful reproduction of the organisms who have underlaying genetic predispositions that lead to such habits. How this happens in terms of the "rewards" for anarchism is complex, far more so than Kropotkin could ever have imagined. The "level of selection" is not the group(usually), nor especially the species (a view Kropotkin often trended towards). It is the gene and the individual. Kropotkin writes as he does above because, unlike modern evolutionists, he was a lifelong Lamarkian. He could easily believe that the three layers of sociality/morality could grow from the "primitive" mutual aid "instinct" because he believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Habit thus grows into instinct in this view.
Three forms of sociality, each more "developed" than the prior one. Kropotkin was not alone in advancing the importance of mutual aid as an aid to survival and thus reproduction. He was part of a whole school of Russian naturalists ,and ironically enough American ones as well, who saw that their studies of nature gave evidence that cooperation was an imprtant tool in adaption. This contrasted with English and Continental scientists who seemed to find more evidence of intraspecific competition than cooperation. Some have speculated that the differences were because of the different ecosystems that the two groups of scientists studied. In relatively clement climates such as those of western Europe or the tropics, where some studied, resources were quite abundant, and population "booms" led to increased competition for resources. In climates such as Siberia or America's Great Plains weather resources were in short supply and much harder to obtain and a harsher climate put a natural check on population growth before excessive populations could develop. The observations of both sets of naturalists were equally true. In Siberia or the Great Plains, however, cooperation was much more visible because it was much more necessary to obtain resources in a natural state of scarcity.
One last observation. Kropotkin was a convinced "progressivist". He believed that evolution had a direction even though he rejected the academic fantasies of teleology spun by those under the influence of Hegelianism. The echoes of a "great chain of being" sound throughout not just the above passage but through all of Kropotkin's work. This metaphor, borrowed from Christianity, was actually a spur to the pre-Darwinian development of the idea of evolution. Darwin's idea of "natural selection" as the mechanism of evolution (he hardly conceived the idea of evolution) should have put finis to this concept, but it lingered on to inform many evolutionists, Kropotkin included, and still has at least a popular following in the modern world. It doesn't accord with scientific details. Take thee the tales of the tapeworm and the appendix to heart. Under certain conditions ecosystems can indeed change (not evolve in a Darwinian sense) to states of greater complexity, and there is much argument about whether such complex systems are inherantly "better" in the sense of more stable. Under other conditions, however, external conditions favour systems of lesser complexity, and one community can change "backward" into a less complex one.
The whole idea of "progress" is a complex subject, and hardly one to be dealt with at anything less than extensive detail. Just take it for now that Kropotkin's politics meshed with his scientific views in this aspect as well.


Werner said...

No comments on "Justice", that's unfortunate ... Lamarkianism is par for the course among people who have been influenced by academic socialist ideas. So Kropotkin was easily in the best of a bad bunch category. Years ago I saw a debate which among other things pitted physicist William Shockley against a group of social "science" students over the issue of race and intelligence. Shockley was a racist but an intelligent one of course. One of the students was challenged by Shockley to define natural selection and "naturally" he/she/it vomited out the usual about "acquired characteristics". Then Shockley just walked all over her. Shag have never forgotten this simulacrum (but a useful one) of what has always been wrong with leftists.

mollymew said...

To my mind the Maoist professors are either soon to be retired, retired already or dead. A new generation of students is unlikely to be exposed to this trash masquerading as "education". It will take another 20 years for the nonsense of 'post-modernism' to work its faddish ways through the academy, but to my mind Lamarckism has basically been relegated to the "kooky internet" section of the intellectual world. Not that it isn't in the finacial interest of a large class of people-social workers and social "planners" in general- to promote "environmental determinism", but they lack present day intellectual support. Time moves on.
Anyways, I'll give my caveats in a seperate post on the main blog.