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Mutual Aid

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,670 ratings  ·  97 reviews
In this cornerstone of modern liberal social theory, Peter Kropotkin states that the most effective human and animal communities are essentially cooperative, rather than competitive. Kropotkin based this classic on his observations of natural phenomena and history, forming a work of stunning and well-reasoned scholarship. Essential to the understanding of human evolution a ...more
Paperback, 236 pages
Published May 29th 2008 by BiblioLife (first published 1891)
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This book cannot be overestimated in importance. It was written in response to Social Darwinism (and the horrifying excuse Social Darwinism gave for mass extermination of races), based on Kropotkin's scientific experiences in Siberia concerning cooperation in nonhuman animals, as well as his studies of savages, barbarians, the medieval city, and ourselves. This book concludes that cooperation and mutual aid are the most important factors in the evolution of the species and the ability to survive ...more
Bryn Hammond
Aug 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd only heard of him as an anarchist until I began to read about emotion & the beginnings of ethics in animals -- in such authors as Frans de Waal -- where he was always mentioned as a forerunner. One of those books sent me to Darwin Without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought... which was totally interesting, as a lesson in how scientific understandings differ in different environments. Kropotkin wasn't on his own, but part of a Russian trend. I wish evolutionary theory h ...more
Steven Peterson
Dec 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Peter Kropotkin is one of the most noteworthy anarchist thinkers over the last two centuries. As with other political thinkers, so, too, with Kropotkin--his analysis of human nature is critical for understanding his overall philosophical position. For his view of human nature, "Mutual Aid" is a key for understanding his views. His work is a harbinger of more recent studies of sociobiology, many of which explore the roots of altruism--human and otherwise.

Much of his thinking on the nature of soc
Stephie Jane Rexroth
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As clear, relevant and powerful as the day it was written; if not more desperately needed in our present day.

Mutual aid is our evolutionary heritage and ONLY path for the future. We are not meant to struggle to survive all alone but to thrive together.

Paradigm shifted.

"Man is no exception in nature. He is also subject to the great principle of Mutual Aid which grants the best chances of survival to those who best support each other in the struggle for life."

P.J. Sullivan
Oct 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Darwinians
Shelves: science, philosophy
Kropotkin argues that mutual aid, co-operation, solidarity with one’s neighbors, sociability, have played the leading parts in human evolution, not competition. The Darwinian struggle for survival has been with the environment, not with other people. Man is not the warlike being he is claimed to be. “At no period of man’s life were wars the normal state of existence.” He challenges Thomas Hobbes on his view of human nature. Primitive man always preferred peace to war, though migration was someti ...more
Kevin Macleod
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A eyeopener in today's world drunk with infallibility of individualism-in its narrow terminological sense. Kropotkin empirically debunks Darwinism, particularly social Darwinism by hundreds of examples of studies done on human societies & a range of species from the minutest of organisms to the biggest on earth.
The book predominantly focuses on man's struggle for existence from the stone age to the dark ages, progressing on to the medieval period and finally ending with the modern times(lat
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is made up of separate essays written over several years illustrating the natural tendency to organize around institutions of mutual aid. The essays each focus on mutual aid amongst one of the following: 1)animals 2)"savages"-primitive societies 3)"barbarians"-agrarian societies across Europe and Asia up to feudalism 4)inhabitants of the mediaeval cities of Europe and 5)"ourselves" contemporary societies at the time of writing (at the turn of the 20th century).

I really enjo
J.M. Hushour
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Taking pretty much everything that current cultural and social thought vultures around down a couple of notches, Kropotkin makes a logical, sad-because-it-was-even-necessary argument for what biologists now call mutualism. The basic idea is simple and anyone who has ever had kids or felt even a glimmer or twinge of compassion for the homeless person coveting your pocket change as you satre greasily at them through the seditious steam of your fucking latte has felt it: we progress further by help ...more
This is the edition I have. It's a reprint of the 1914 edition, and includes the preface to the 1914 edition. The book was not written as a unit--it was pieced together from essays published, in large part, in the journal The Nineteenth Century. There's a real need for a table of contents and index for this journal, which included a lot of work by prominent writers--literary criticism (some sensible, some quite absurd), philosophy, scientific work--a variety of subjects by prominent authors and ...more
Nick Klagge
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I had this on my Kindle as a "backup" book for a while, because it was a free download from Project Gutenberg and I like Kropotkin pretty well (see some reviews I wrote of other books of his). I had chipped away at it piecemeal over time, on flights when I finished whatever other book I was reading and the like, but I recently went ahead and finished it (because I got a bunch of great free John Muir books as my new backups!).

This is an interesting hybrid sort of book. Kropotkin is an anarchist
Tracey Madeley
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
The essence of this book is about how species work together for mutual benefit, despite the Darwinian argument of competition adopted by the capitalist system.

Kropotkin argues that he does not find the bitter struggle for existence, among any other animal of the same species, except human beings. He points to Rouseau who saw love, peace and harmony in nature being destroyed by the ascendancy of man. Indeed he goes further by saying natural selection finds ways to avoid competition wh
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"The constructed work of these unknown masses, you never see in the writings of academics and intellectuals, but it's the importance of that work in the growth of forms of society, fully appeared to me at this time. Something you can't learn from books." ~ Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin was the first person to get scientists to start thinking that cooperation and altruism can be the product of natural processes via evolution. Before this book, evolution always favor those who can out-compe
Sean Sullivan
When I used to work at Bound Together, an anarchist bookshop in San Francisco, they teased me because I had never read this book by Kropotkin (aka the anarchist formerly known as prince). The concept just seemed so basic that it didn't seem necessary to read the damn thing. Mike Menser made me read it for a class he was teaching on social philosophy. I still don't think it's really worth your time though.

Wanna know the gist? Ok, societies work just as well, no; actually they often wo
I was expecting more from this book.... I mean, I certainly appreciated Kropotkin's claims that seemed to reject a lot of what we hear about evolution (and its applications to human societies)--ie, that, within the realm of adaptability, etc., mutual aid is as important (if not moreso) than struggle--but I feel like he certainly romanticized quite a few historical social structures that, I think, most anarchists would take issue with (ie, patriarchy, monarchy, etc.). His argument makes clear tha ...more
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What an excellent book. Pyotr in about 200 pages completely dispels the notion of Western individualism, and presents facts that show that societies that based their structure on cooperation, rather than competition achieved the highest economic, scientific, and moral levels. From animals who help each other, to earlier humans who survived only because of their communal (communistic) approach to even present society where despite the inequalities created by division of wealth, the masses sill he ...more
Nuno R.
If books change lives and make us who we are, then I owe this one a lot. The bottom line: "social darwinism is wrong and cooperating is what make us human".

Published original in 1891, it is still (maybe even more) polemic. Political optimism is now regarded as obscene. And it's always easier to believe that we do naturally prey on each other and come up with a general rule to explain it.

The problem is that there are many ideologies and ideas that promote behaviors where humans are s
Sebastian Coe
Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kropotkin presents a wider view of what "survival of the fittest" truly means. Not intended as a refutation of Darwin's work, but rather an application of it in it's fullest context. He reminds us that modernity has brought with it a decline in human relations, but at the core human beings are primed to help each other in greater and greater ways.
Rift Vegan
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Such an interesting book! I was most interested (of course) in the first two sections, which are about animals. He then goes into "savages", "barbarians", the medieval city, then his current time, which was early 1900s... less interesting, but still a good *thumbs up* on this book.
Daithi Coombes
Apr 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book should be thought in every school across the planet. For anybody that wants to understand, scientifically, the foundation of our nature as a species, then this is the book for you.
Otto Lehto
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Kropotkin's optimistic and visionary work represents the best kind of left-wing anarchism. It rejects centralized State power and offers, in its stead, a vision of life that is based on the power of mutual aid and mutual support between people, as between animals, as a tool of progress and a factor of evolution.

The book provides a strong challenge to the "nature red in tooth and claw" mentality of some of the followers of Darwin and Malthus in the social sciences: “The mutual-aid tendency in ma
Nils Brandsma
When did you last read a book about politics that actually made you feel good? That gave you some hope that humans, after all, are not selfish, awful and greedy beings?

After reading this I started seeing what Kropotkin talks about. My experience has been that when people have a choice and are interacting with someone, more often then not they will go out of their way to help one another. However, this needs to be seen in our 21st century context. Why, when faced with possible extinction through
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
In his book Kropotkin shows us one of the main rules of nature: mutual aid. He however, acknowledges that this is not the only rule that drives nature (the other main one being of competition), but chooses to only focus on mutual aid because it has been so far completely ignored by the authors and scientist of this time.
The book is a collection of essays, written in a big time span, that were later turn into a book. In the first chapters a good number of examples from the animal world are given
Becki Iverson
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
I put this on my list after finishing Pulphead, in which there was an essay about animals / the natural world collectively fighting back against humanity (especially in the light of climate change). I thought this was a fascinating concept and this book was cited as a reason for the essay, so I had to pick it up.

On reading, however, I was disappointed with the content in Mutual Aid. The chapters feel repetitive and derivative, and I didn't catch much of the complicated, sentient animalian persp
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book aims to show that "mutual aid," or support of fellow beings, has been just as important as individualism and competition in evolution and history, and that it is the foundation for any ethical society. It does a fairly good job given the state of biology and sociology at the time it was written. Many examples of mutually beneficial tendencies among animals are given, although how exactly they drive a process of evolution is not made clear. Kropotkin also follows the thought of his time ...more
Neil Collins
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Highly important counter to the popular misinterpretations of Darwin's theories which have been embraced by our popular culture to justify capitalism and cut throat competition. "Survival of the fittest" is the most obvious example of this misinterpretation. Kropotkin shows how cooperation is rampant in the animal kingdom, the primates and then the various stages of human societies. He argues that the species which are the most social are the ones who are able to thrive and the speci ...more
Cinnamon Toast READ
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anarchism
I really wonder how Kropotkin would have continued this novel with the addition of a new chapter or two, to cover the 20th and 21st century so far. And given how much science and knowledge have advanced to this point in 2019, I wonder how his various theses about Mutual Aid vs. Mutual Struggle hold up.

Still, many of his observations and criticisms of his 19th century modern life hit home, directly, in 21st century life. The main difference? Mutual Struggle is probably EVEN MORE loved
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Two stars thanks to the remarkable examples of mutual aid in the animal kingdom. The rest was utter nonsense, a very one-sided reflection in which individual cases are generalized to prove wrong those who hold other beliefs. The zeal of the author has made him blind I’m afraid.

What also has made this a terrible experience is the quality of the print. Seldom (never?) has this affected my reading experience in such a negative way. Mysterious page breaks. Missing chapters and headers, etc..
Aug 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I didn't get very much out of it because I've heard all of these arguments before. I did enjoy learning about the ways animals interact and how the social relations differed between the "savages" "Barbarians" and "Medieval" societies as he constructed them if for no other reason than to demystify them.
Josiah Miller
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wishlist
Kropotkin read Darwin as Mutual Aid for the survival of the species when instead he should be arguing against Darwin's survival of the fittest. This history of mutual aid throughout the evolution of our species shows that mutual aid is only reality when a disaster happens. When this catastrophe happens to bring about the final mutual aid of our species will be too late.
Siemen Claeys
A fundamental work on cooperation in nature and society and in my opinion a better entry point to anarchist philosophy than "The Conquest Of Bread". Although it is considerably less prosaic it forms a basis on which theory can be built, establishing that a society without authority has functioned and could do so again.
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Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Пётр Алексеевич Кропоткин, other spelling: Peter Kropotkin, Pëtr Alekseevič Kropotkin) was a geographer, a zoologist, and one of Russia's foremost anarchists. One of the first advocates of anarchist communism, Kropotkin advocated a communist society free from central g ...more
“The mutual-aid tendency in man has so remote an origin, and is so deeply interwoven with all the past evolution of the human race, that is has been maintained by mankind up to the present time, notwithstanding all vicissitudes of history.” 50 likes
“Don’t compete! — competition is always injurious to the species, and you have plenty of resources to avoid it!” 21 likes
More quotes…