Modern History Sourcebook:
Prince Peter Kropotkin:
Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal, 1896
Educated men---"civilized," as Fourier used to say with
disdain---tremble at the idea that society might some day be without
judges, police, or jailers. But, frankly, do you need them as
much as you have been told in musty books? Books written, be it
noted, by scientists who generally know well what has been written
before them, but, for the most part, absolutely ignore the people
and their everyday life.
If we can wander, without fear, not only in the streets of Paris,
which bristle with police, but especially in rustic walks where
you rarely meet passers-by, is it to the police that we owe this
security? Or rather to the absence of people who care to rob or
murder us? I am evidently not speaking of the one who carries
millions about him. That one---a recent trial tells us---is soon
robbed, by preference in places where there are as many policemen
as lampposts. No, I speak of the man who fears for his life and
not for his purse filled with ill-gotten sovereigns. Are his fears
Besides, has not experience demonstrated quite recently that Jack
the Ripper performed his exploits under the eye of the London
police---a most active force---and that he only left off killing
when the population of Whitechapel itself began to give chase
to him? And in our everyday relations with our fellow citizens,
do you think that it is really judges, jailers, and police that
hinder anti-social acts from multiplying? The judge, ever ferocious,
because he is a maniac of law, the accuser, the informer, the
police spy, all those interlopers that live from hand to mouth
around the law courts, do they not scatter demoralization far
and wide into society? Read the trials, glance behind the scenes,
push your analysis further than the exterior faade of law
courts, and you will come out sickened.
Have not prisons---which kill all will and force of character
in man, which enclose within their walls more vices than are met
with on any other spot of the globe---always been universities
of crime? Is not the court of a tribunal a school of ferocity?
And so on. When we ask for the abolition of the state and its
organs we are always told that we dream of a society composed
of men better than they are in reality. But no; a thousand times,
no. All we ask is that men should not be made worse than they
are, by such institutions!
Once a German jurist of great renown, Ihering, wanted to sum up
the scientific work of his life and write a treatise, in which
he proposed to analyze the factors that preserve social life in
society. Purpose in Law (Der Zweck im Rechte), such is the title
of that book, which enjoys a well-deserved reputation. He made
an elaborate plan of his treatise, and, with much erudition, discussed
both coercive factors which are used to maintain society; wagedom
and the different forms of coercion which are sanctioned by law.
At the end of his work he reserved two paragraphs only to mention
the two non-coercive factors---the feeling of duty and the feeling
of mutual sympathy---to which he attached little importance, as
might be expected from a writer in law. But what happened? As
he went on analyzing the coercive factors he realized their insufficiency.
He consecrated a whole volume to their analysis, and the result
was to lessen their importance! When he began the last two paragraphs,
when he began to reflect upon the non-coercive factors of society,
he perceived, on the contrary, their immense, outweighing importance;
and, instead of two paragraphs, he found himself obliged to write
a second volume, twice as large as the first, on these two factors:
voluntary restraint and mutual help; and yet, he analyzed but
an infinitesimal part of these latter---those which result from
personal sympathy---and hardly touched free agreement, which results
from social institutions.
Well, then, leave off repeating the formulae which you have learned
at school; meditate on this subject; and the same thing that happened
to Ihering will happen to you: you will recognize the infinitesimal
importance of coercion, as compared to the voluntary assent, in
On the other hand, if by following the very old advice given by
Bentham you begin to think of the fatal consequences---direct,
and especially indirect---of legal coercion, then, like Tolstoy,
like us, you will begin to hate the use of coercion, and you will
begin to say that society possesses a thousand other means for
preventing anti-social acts. If it neglects those means today,
it is because, being educated by church and state, our cowardice
and apathy of spirit hinder us seeing clearly on this point. When
a child has committed a fault, it is so easy to punish it; that
puts an end to all discussions! It is so easy to hang a man---especially
when there is an executioner who is paid so much for each execution---and
it dispenses us from thinking of the cause of crimes.
From: Prince Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and
Ideal (London: 1897), pp. 19-21.
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton
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© Paul Halsall May 1998