Kropotkin: We are already doing what is to be done

I am in the throes of reading Todd May’s The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, about which I haven’t yet decided what I think.

Although May has his critique of Kropotkin, he points us approvingly to this line, from The Conquest of Bread (Chapter XI), which for me hits the mark:

Accustomed as we are by hereditary prejudices and absolutely unsound education and training to see Government, legislation and magistracy everywhere around, we have come to believe that man would tear his fellow man to pieces like a wild beast the day the police took his eye off him; that chaos would come about if authority were overthrown during a revolution. And with our eyes shut we pass by thousands and thousands of human groupings which form themselves freely, without any intervention of the law, and attain results infinitely superior to those achieved under governmental tutelage.

I think the first belief–that we will tear ourselves apart as soon as the State looks away–is best cured by reading and understanding Hobbes, who taught us to believe that crap.  For Kropotkin, this false belief produces the second problem, our blindness to the many non-State ways of life (as Virno might put it) that proliferate everywhere.

Though Kropotkin is mostly griping here, I think we can read this passage not so much as a complaint about what is wrong, but as a clarion call to a positive politics.  We are already doing what is to be done; we already are who we want to be.  We just need to get better at seeing it, everywhere, in the world around us, and better at developing those kernels into more robust, enduring, and democratic ways of life.


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