The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

December 9, 2013

December 9, 1842

Pyotr Kropotkin (December 9, 1842 to February 8, 1921) was a Russian aristocrat, a geographer and writer, whose pursuit of his anarchist ideas got him disinherited, and jailed (1874). Fleeing prison he spent most of his life in England, where he feuded with Marx and, in the words of one scholar, Roger Baldwin , Kropotkin "put into anarchism the methods of science."

Baldwin says, that Oscar Wilde called Pyotr Kropotkin one of the two "really happy men he had ever met." Kropotkin lived what Tolstoi advocated, Baldwin quotes, which I take to mean Kropotkin  shared what little he had while refusing to accept money from organizations. Anarchism has as a goal, living without oppressive organizations, especially government organizations. Kropotkin therefore refused to accept money associated with this aspect of society. Meaning he was dirt poor most of the time. Projects needing more than a few men, got done, in the anarchist view, by people gathering together voluntarily in certain trade unions.

Kropotkin went to great lengths to outline a scientific basis allowing anarchism as a viable option: though Darwinism already by the end of the 19th century meant a fierce competition between individuals and groups, Kropotkin insisted cooperation was just as apparent from the record.

His book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, (1902), in Baldwin's words, "provided an alternative view on animal and human survival, beyond the claims of interpersonal competition and natural hierarchy proffered at the time by some.... He [Kropotkin] argued "that it was an evolutionary emphasis on cooperation instead of competition in the Darwinian sense that made for the success of species, including the human..." He did not deny competitive forces, just that they were not the main explanation.

"He used many real life examples in an attempt to show that the main factor in facilitating evolution is cooperation between individuals in free-associated societies and groups, without central control, authority, or compulsion. This was in order to counteract the conception of fierce competition as the core of evolution, that provided a rationalization for the dominant political, economic, and social theories of the time..."

Here is an excerpt from this book:

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. ..., the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.

Baldwin collected many of Kropotkin's writings in Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings (1927.) Here we see the man who has spent time in jail, when Kropotkin makes the point that degrading prison conditions destroy men and when upon their release they are shunned, they have no choice but to commit more crime. This argument precedes a section titled "The Effect of Prison Clothes and Discipline" And we quote:

Everyone knows the influence of decent clothing. Even an animal is ashamed to appear before his fellow creatures if something makes him look ridiculous. A cat whom somebody has painted black and yellow will not dare mingle with other cats. But men begin by giving the clothes of a lunatic to those whom they profess to want to reform.[ those in prison.]

Your first impression may be the words above are those of a man raised by a wealthy aristocrats, one who feels the sting of ordinary clothing. Yet, at the time, and for millenia prior to the last century, clothing functioned to distinguish classes and define men far more powerfully than we can now imagine.

Yet in his comments about cats we see the basic superficiality of those who espouse societies in which all are equal. They cannot have deeply considered the world around them, if they think cats are concerned about what other cats think of their stripes. 

And still Kropotkin inspires--- he is an examplar of the innocent intellectual who has the purity of his convictions, to live according to certain made up ideas.  These ideas please a generous heart, if not an inquiring intellect. 

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