Kropotkin is a member of what I like to call Those Poor MisUnderstood Anarchists. People often toss Anarchists into two opposite bins. Some think of Anarchism as the philosophy of individualism pushed to its farthest extreme, some sort of heartless Libertarianism on steroids. Others think the opposite: that Anarchists operate under the false and idealistic notion that, gosh, if only government would get out of the way, we’d all just get along and share everything and live like one big family, as if we were all natural Communists in our heart of hearts. Hmph. Dream on.
Now as with any deep, dense, and rich philosophy (including philosophical religions) there develop over time all sorts of slightly or even drastically differentiated sects. And each sect will of course have its zealots. But we should not judge an entire philosophy or religion by a few cultish offshoots or a couple of crazies. Sadly, it is the cults and zealots that get the press and imprint themselves upon the common person’s mind. This is unfortunate, not only for the unjustly treated philosophy, but because it encourages people in their tendency to close their minds to new thoughts that upset their mostly unconsciously absorbed and comfortable habits of mind.
Okay. Prepare youself… Kropotkin represents the intersection between Socialism and Libertarianism. Did your mind just explode at the very idea?
The idea that Socialism and Libertarianism could even peacefully coexist would likely blow the mind of the average person who has received as wisdom from the mountaintop that these philosophies are warring opposites that could never possibly have overlap, much less be united under one worldview.
True, Kropotkin did not think ANY kind of centralized government was conducive to the happiness of the individual. This would be his Libertarian side. But he also felt that the immense profit the Capitalists expropriate for themselves is despicable theft. This would make Kropotkin a communist in the minds of many.
Actually, in The Conquest Of Bread, Kropotkin went to some pains to demonstrate that he was not a Communist– at least not a Marxist, or any other type of authoritarian communist. He had no sympathy for any government, communist or democratic, that would “make itself felt in the smallest details of a citizen’s life, even if that government had no other aim than the good of the community.” He calls government councils, “talking shops,” and is convinced that an average group of local folk can put their affairs together better than a bunch of bureaucrats who may in fact be total strangers and have spent little or no time in the locale that they arrogate themselves to govern.
His reasons for supporting power decentralization are quite commonsensical, believing as he does that experience has taught us that people are better off when they are able to “take upon themselves to organize what they know, what touches them directly.” He is convinced that the best approach is to “trust the decision to those whom it concerns most nearly.” No one else will know and consider the “hundred and one details” which would be overlooked or devalued or misjudged from afar.
Kropotkin has no more patience with democracy than with authoritarianism, saying that “the people commit blunder on blunder when they have to choose by ballot some hare-brained candidate who solicits the honor of representing them and takes upon himself to know all, do all, and to organize all.” Amen.