Rediscovering Kropotkin

At the recent social ecology colloquium, Peter Prontzos drew our attention to the renewed interest among scientists in understanding the potential evolutionary basis for human cooperation. Among other developments, this has encouraged some evolutionary biologists to reconsider the work of Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin’s best known book, Mutual Aid, pioneered the study of cooperation in animal and human evolution more than 100 years ago, and has long been considered a classic work in the emerging anarchist intellectual and literary tradition of that period.

Last September, the Scientific American website ran a fascinating interview with evolutionary biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin, whose book, The Prince of Evolution, focuses on the important links between Kropotkin’s scientific achievements and his political ideas. In the interview, Dugatkin explores the links between Kropotkin’s ideas and those of thinkers ranging from Adam Smith to Darwin and Lamarck, and the problems raised by E.O. Wilson’s theory of sociobiology. Dugatkin explains:

Everything that he did from his work on biology and geology to his work on anarchy to his work on prisons or the French Revolution were all done through the prism of science. He made a point of arguing that one of the things that separated the anarchist philosophy from other political systems, including Marxism, is that anarchism was based on scientific principles, and specifically those principles derived from evolutionary thinking.

The full interview is at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/2011/09/13/prince-of-evolution, and an excerpt from Dugatkin’s book can be found at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-prince-of-evolution-peter-kropotkin.

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