Guest post by PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY
The introduction to Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Peter Kropotkin’s masterly rejoinder to competitive social Darwinists published in 1902, recounts the following anecdote: “When Eckermann told once to Goethe—it was in 1827—that two little wren-fledglings, which had run away from him, were found by him next day in the nest of robin redbreasts (Rothkehlchen), which fed the little ones, together with their own youngsters, Goethe grew quite excited about this fact. He saw in it a confirmation of his pantheistic views, and said: — ‘If it be true that this feeding of a stranger goes through all Nature as something having the character of a general law — then many an enigma would be solved.’ He returned to this matter on the next day, and most earnestly entreated Eckermann (who was, as is known, a zoologist) to make a special study of the subject, adding that he would surely come “to quite invaluable treasuries of results.”
This is the Goethe of The Theory of Colors and Metamorphosis of Plants, a unique dimension of the savant known and appreciated by artists and morphologists since. But why does a classical anarchist like Kropotkin needs to cite Goethe, whose inclinations for the storm and stress can only be matched by his surpassing urge to produce enduring literature and critiquing dilettantism at all levels? How the connection between ecology, evolution and philosophical anarchism gets stitched in the first place—before the advent of chaos and complexity theories, long before Earth First and Sierra Club became hip tags? Is it sound to dismiss such hitching as one more instance of misguided and modernist humanism as many radicals of our time—deep ecologists and votaries of biocentrism, not to speak of more mainstream anti-utopians—often tend to do?