Modern Science and Anarchy

Peter Kropotkin

Edited by

Iain McKay

The definitive edition of Peter Kropotkin's final book, Modern Science and Anarchy is the summation of his forty years in the anarchist movement. It represents his theory that the doctrines of anarchism were a necessary consequence of “the great general wakening” in the natural and social sciences of the nineteenth century. He employs that awakening to explore the development of capitalism and the modern state and uses it to imagine new paths to freedom that might release working people from the institutions that enslave them. First published in 1913 in France, some sections of this book have been translated and published as pamphlets or articles, but other portions have never appeared in English, nor has the whole appeared as the single volume that Kropotkin intended. Introduced and annotated by Iain McKay.


Published by AK Press


Introduction: Reality Has a Well-Known Libertarian Bias

A Publication History

Further Reading

Notes on the text


Modern Science and Anarchy


Part I: Modern Science & Anarchy

I. The Origins of Anarchy

II. The Intellectual Movement of the Eighteenth Century

III. The Reaction at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century

IV. Comte’s Positive Philosophy

V. The Awakening in the Years 1856–1862

VI. Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy

VII. The Role of Law in Society

VIII. The Position of Anarchy in Modern Science

IX. The Anarchist Ideal and Previous Revolutions

X. Anarchy

XI. Anarchy (continued)

XII. Anarchy (continued)

XIII. Anarchy (continued)

XIV. Some Conclusions of Anarchy

XV. The Means of Action

XVI. Conclusion

Part II: Communism & Anarchy

I. Anarchist Communism

II. Authoritarian Communism—Communist Communities

III. Small Communist Communities—Causes of Their Failures

IV. Does Communism Imply the Diminishing of the Individual?

Part III: The State: Its Historic Role

Part IV: The Modern State

I. The Essential Principle of Modern Societies

II. Serfs of the State

III. Taxation: A Means of Creating the Powers of the State

IV. Taxation: A Means of Enriching the Wealthy

V. Monopolies

VI. Monopolies in the Nineteenth Century

VII. Monopolies in constitutional England–In Germany–Kings of the Era


IX. War and Industry

X. The Essential Characteristics of the State

XI. Can the State Be Used for the Emancipation of the Workers?

XII. The Modern Constitutional State

XIII. Is it Sensible to Strengthen the Current State?

XIV. Conclusions

Part V: Appendices

I. Explanatory Notes

II. Herbert Spencer: His Philosophy

Supplementary Material

Charles Darwin

Anarchy: Its Philosophy, Its Ideal

Co-operation: A Reply to Herbert Spencer

Letter to Comradeship

Organised Vengeance Called Justice

The State: Creator of Monopolies

Advance Praise

Iain McKay’s definitive version of Modern Science and Anarchy is another welcome product of his continuing effort to broaden our understanding of Kropotkin’s ideas, recovering texts scattered and forgotten in the course of Kropotkin’s transnational activism. More than an exercise in Kropotkiana however, this work offers Kropotkin’s most concise exposition of the ideas that defined his life, focusing on anarchism’s interactions with the defining scientific and political currents of modern European history, and staking a claim for anarchism as a vital, and intellectually sophisticated, component of this story. – Matthew Adams, author of Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism

Finally – after all these years the definitive edition of Kropotkin’s Modern Science and Anarchy. Here we have not only a mature restatement of Kropotkin’s anarchist communism, but Kropotkin’s own history of anarchist ideas and movements, a survey of libertarian and anarchist currents throughout human history, as Kropotkin describes the perennial struggle between authority and liberty.  But that is not all – the second half of the book, a series of essays selected by Kropotkin himself on the rise of capitalism and the state, contains some of Kropotkin’s best work, including "The State: Its Historic Role." Iain McKay is to be commended for so carefully editing and annotating one of Kropotkin’s most important books, well deserving a place alongside Mutual Aid and The Conquest of Bread. – Robert Graham, author of 'We Do Not Fear Anarchy - We Invoke it': The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement and editor of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

This new, definitive edition of Kropotkin's Modern Science and Anarchy is an important addition to the literature on one of the most influential figures in the development of modern libertarian communism. Iain McKay’s introduction is a model of scholarship and succeeds not only in contextualising and explaining Kropotkin’s ideas, but also in addressing a number of misunderstandings and misrepresentations along the way. He also makes a convincing case for the book’s continuing relevance for present-day radicals. – David Berry, author of A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917 to 1945

This is a welcome new translation of a long neglected text by Peter Kropotkin. In the spirit of Kropotkin, the volume includes a highly knowledgeable and sympathetic - yet not uncritical - introduction by the editor, who also adds some clarifying footnotes to the original text. In Modern Science and Anarchy Kropotkin positions his anarchism in relation to Comte, Spencer and Hegel. Whilst Kropotkin’s enthusiasm for science (and indeed his somewhat mechanistic account of science) is dated, there is much more to the text than a simplistic paean to positivism. It rightly identifies anarchism as a product of oppressed peoples’ struggle rather than the outcome of specialist technical thinkers (though he also pays debts to Bakunin and Proudhon) and provides a concise and attractive account of anarchist communism and a still pertinent discussion of alternatives. This book will not only be of keen interest to specialists in science studies, political epistemology and the history of political ideas, but also to contemporary libertarian activists who will still find plenty of relevant, clearly explained material to engage with. – Benjamin Franks, author of Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchisms