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Mutual Aid

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,154 ratings  ·  154 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 evolutionar ...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
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
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."

"The craft organizatio
Nov 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Compassion is a necessary outcome of social life. But compassion also means a considerable advance in general intelligence and sensibility. It is the first step towards the development of higher moral sentiments. It is, in its turn, a powerful factor of further evolution." (49)

"There is the gist of human psychology. Unless men are maddened in the battlefield, they 'cannot stand it' to hear appeals for help, and not to respond to them. The hero goes; and what the hero does, all feel that they ou
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 enjoyed and got
Karla  Fox
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(late 19
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 supposed to f
Dec 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Kropotkin's argument is really solid and he backs it up with loads of examples, but the sheer number of detailed examples quickly became repetitive. This made the book much longer than it needed to be. He also uses some problematic language towards indigenous and tribal cultures, although that may just be a product of his time. ...more
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 work better th
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
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
Shhhhh Ahhhhh
Oct 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Kropotkin seems a little optimistic in his theory of mutual aid but only in the same measure that the theories of social darwinism or inherent individuality and competition are pessimistic. I think he was on the right path here, to the extent that any single flat model is the right path to a holistic explanatory framework.

Takeaways from this include that all modern nations rose out cities which were their own states, with high walls to prevent siege and their own internal infrastructure. Even m
Kasey Denton
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I didn’t know Mutual Aid was more a rebuttal to Darwin’s work than an anarchist text. Reading this put an amazing perspective on not only political systems and ways to organize a collective group but on how political organizing is much in the same as how animals work together to survive in different ecosystems and conditions. The collective is truly more important than the individual that makes up the collective. Kropotkin does an amazing job of tying the migration of birds to the role of unioni ...more
Cris Edwards
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
An interesting study of the evolutionary advantages of mutual aid, expanding on the concept from both zoological and anthropological viewpoints. The author viewed Darwin's writing on the subject to be much too brief and problematic, and here provides a wealth of examples where altruism and community support have shown to be a norm of survival instincts among societies. While history books are full of wars and sociopolitical upheavals, this book demonstrates that most of history has been a status ...more
Cheeky re-read of a personal favorite.
Jan 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
I liked Kropotkin as a teenager, but had never read this. Wordy by today’s standards but I enjoyed this survey of social good works among animals and people.
Pufnasta Zecija Sapica
I recommend reading this prior to The Conquest of Bread.
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
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
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 wherever possi
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-compete that lead
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
The crux of this book consists of the two chapters on "Mutual Aid in the Mediaeval City" (chapters 5 & 6). For Kropotkin, the period from 1000AD to 1350AD was a high point of civilization, as evidenced by the spontaneously organizing communes, not only on the Italian peninsulas, but all over Europe: "[I]n less than a hundred years free cities had been called into existence on the coasts of the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Baltic, the Atlantic Ocean, down to the fjords of Scandinavia; at the ...more
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: unfinished
This was an eye-opening read. As he explains why Darwin has been misapplied to humanity, Kropotkin rationally explains, with detailed examples, that without mutual aid, we will go nowhere as a species; his conclusion is that individualism and privatization of land and assets, is taking us down a dark path of self-destruction. Instead of helping our starving neighbors or destroyed environments, we lament that the state isn't stepping in to take care of it. His research makes me hate capitalism ev ...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
Jun 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
It's hard for me to give such a low rating to an Anarchist classic, but honestly, this book was very boring. The main idea behind the book is that cooperation increases the fitness rate of a species. Kropotkin uses some examples of ancient through modern civilizations and adds some examples for animals as well.

But honestly, the examples he gives are plentiful and boring, and his science is sketchy at best. Kropotkin might have thought that referencing everything was overkill but he was wrong. Y
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Good Kropotkin book. Mutual aid rather than competition is the law of people says Kropotkin. In contrast to social darwinism , capitalism, eugenics,fascism,and providing more imagination and peace than socialism, is the evolutionary and communal goal of mutual aid, which recognizes the contribution if the individual but also the importance of the group in cooperation rather than domination (socialism) or competition (capitalism). Or domination and destruction (fascism-naziism). I recommend the b ...more
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. ...more
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Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Пётр Алексеевич Кропоткин, other spelling: Peter Kropotkin, Pëtr Alekseevič Kropotkin, Pëtr Kropotkin), who described him as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia." He wrote many books, pamphlets and articles, the most prominent being The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops, and his principal scientific off ...more

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“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.” 55 likes
“in the long run the practice of solidarity proves much more advantageous to the species than the development of individuals endowed with predatory inclinations.” 26 likes
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