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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 real?
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 fa‡ade 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 society.
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.

Source:
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
halsall@murray.fordham.edu