Submitted by libcom on January 31, 2006

Two aspects of animal life impressed me most during the

journeys which I made in my youth in Eastern Siberia and Northern

Manchuria. One of them was the extreme severity of the struggle

for existence which most species of animals have to carry on

against an inclement Nature; the enormous destruction of life

which periodically results from natural agencies; and the

consequent paucity of life over the vast territory which fell

under my observation. And the other was, that even in those few

spots where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find --

although I was eagerly looking for it -- that bitter struggle for

the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same

species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not

always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of

struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.

The terrible snow-storms which sweep over the northern

portion of Eurasia in the later part of the winter, and the

glazed frost that often follows them; the frosts and the

snow-storms which return every year in the second half of May,

when the trees are already in full blossom and insect life swarms

everywhere; the early frosts and, occasionally, the heavy

snowfalls in July and August, which suddenly destroy myriads of

insects, as well as the second broods of the birds in the

prairies; the torrential rains, due to the monsoons, which fall

in more temperate regions in August and September -- resulting in

inundations on a scale which is only known in America and in

Eastern Asia, and swamping, on the plateaus, areas as wide as

European States; and finally, the heavy snowfalls, early in

October, which eventually render a territory as large as France

and Germany, absolutely impracticable for ruminants, and destroy

them by the thousand -- these were the conditions under which I

saw animal life struggling in Northern Asia. They made me realize

at an early date the overwhelming importance in Nature of what

Darwin described as "the natural checks to over-multiplication,"

in comparison to the struggle between individuals of the same

species for the means of subsistence, which may go on here and

there, to some limited extent, but never attains the importance

of the former. Paucity of life, under-population -- not

over-population -- being the distinctive feature of that immense

part of the globe which we name Northern Asia, I conceived since

then serious doubts -- which subsequent study has only confirmed

-- as to the reality of that fearful competition for food and

life within each species, which was an article of faith with most

Darwinists, and, consequently, as to the dominant part which this

sort of competition was supposed to play in the evolution of new


On the other hand, wherever I saw animal life in abundance,

as, for instance, on the lakes where scores of species and

millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny; in

the colonies of rodents; in the migrations of birds which took

place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri; and

especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the

Amur, and during which scores of thousands of these intelligent

animals came together from an immense territory, flying before

the coming deep snow, in order to cross the Amur where it is

narrowest -- in all these scenes of animal life which passed

before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to

an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest

importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each

species, and its further evolution.

And finally, I saw among the semi-wild cattle and horses in

Transbaikalia, among the wild ruminants everywhere, the

squirrels, and so on, that when animals have to struggle against

scarcity of food, in consequence of one of the above-mentioned

causes, the whole of that portion of the species which is

affected by the calamity, comes out of the ordeal so much

impoverished in vigour and health, that no progressive evolution

of the species can be based upon such periods of keen


Consequently, when my attention was drawn, later on, to the

relations between Darwinism and Sociology, I could agree with

none of the works and pamphlets that had been written upon this

important subject. They all endeavoured to prove that Man, owing

to his higher intelligence and knowledge, may mitigate the

harshness of the struggle for life between men; but they all

recognized at the same time that the struggle for the means of

existence, of every animal against all its congeners, and of

every man against all other men, was "a law of Nature." This

view, however, I could not accept, because I was persuaded that

to admit a pitiless inner war for life within each species, and

to see in that war a condition of progress, was to admit

something which not only had not yet been proved, but also lacked

confirmation from direct observation.

On the contrary, a lecture "On the Law of Mutual Aid," which

was delivered at a Russian Congress of Naturalists, in January

1880, by the well-known zoologist, Professor Kessler, the then

Dean of the St. Petersburg University, struck me as throwing a

new light on the whole subject. Kessler's idea was, that besides

the law of Mutual Struggle there is in Nature the law of Mutual

Aid, which, for the success of the struggle for life, and

especially for the progressive evolution of the species, is far

more important than the law of mutual contest. This suggestion --

which was, in reality, nothing but a further development of the

ideas expressed by Darwin himself in The Descent of Man -- seemed

to me so correct and of so great an importance, that since I

became acquainted with it (in 1883) I began to collect materials

for further developing the idea, which Kessler had only cursorily

sketched in his lecture, but had not lived to develop. He died in


In one point only I could not entirely endorse Kessler's

views. Kessler alluded to "parental feeling" and care for progeny
as to the source of mutual inclinations in

animals. However, to determine how far these two feelings have

really been at work in the evolution of sociable instincts, and

how far other instincts have been at work in the same direction,

seems to me a quite distinct and a very wide question, which we

hardly can discuss yet. It will be only after we have well

established the facts of mutual aid in different classes of

animals, and their importance for evolution, that we shall be

able to study what belongs in the evolution of sociable feelings,

to parental feelings, and what to sociability proper -- the

latter having evidently its origin at the earliest stages of the

evolution of the animal world, perhaps even at the

"colony-stages." I consequently directed my chief attention to

establishing first of all, the importance of the Mutual Aid

factor of evolution, leaving to ulterior research the task of

discovering the origin of the Mutual Aid instinct in Nature.

The importance of the Mutual Aid factor -- "if its generality

could only be demonstrated" -- did not escape the naturalist's

genius so manifest in Goethe. 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"

(Gespr?che, edition of 1848, vol. iii. pp. 219, 221).

Unfortunately, this study was never made, although it is very

possible that Brehm, who has accumulated in his works such rich

materials relative to mutual aid among animals, might have been

inspired by Goethe's remark.

Several works of importance were published in the years

1872-1886, dealing with the intelligence and the mental life of

animals (they are mentioned in a footnote in Chapter I of this

book), and three of them dealt more especially with the subject

under consideration; namely, Les Soci?t?s animales, by Espinas

(Paris, 1877); La Lutte pour l'existence et l'association pout la

lutte, a lecture by J.L. Lanessan (April 1881); and Louis

B?chner's book, Liebe und Liebes-Leben in der Thierwelt, of which

the first edition appeared in 1882 or 1883, and a second, much

enlarged, in 1885. But excellent though each of these works is,

they leave ample room for a work in which Mutual Aid would be

considered, not only as an argument in favour of a pre-human

origin of moral instincts, but also as a law of Nature and a

factor of evolution. Espinas devoted his main attention to such

animal societies (ants, bees) as are established upon a

physiological division of labour, and though his work is full of

admirable hints in all possible directions, it was written at a

time when the evolution of human societies could not yet be

treated with the knowledge we now possess. Lanessan's lecture has

more the character of a brilliantly laid-out general plan of a

work, in which mutual support would be dealt with, beginning with

rocks in the sea, and then passing in review the world of plants,

of animals and men. As to B?chner's work, suggestive though it is

and rich in facts, I could not agree with its leading idea. The

book begins with a hymn to Love, and nearly all its illustrations

are intended to prove the existence of love and sympathy among

animals. However, to reduce animal sociability to love and

sympathy means to reduce its generality and its importance, just

as human ethics based upon love and personal sympathy only have

contributed to narrow the comprehension of the moral feeling as a

whole. It is not love to my neighbour -- whom I often do not know

at all -- which induces me to seize a pail of water and to rush

towards his house when I see it on fire; it is a far wider, even

though more vague feeling or instinct of human solidarity and

sociability which moves me. So it is also with animals. It is not

love, and not even sympathy (understood in its proper sense)

which induces a herd of ruminants or of horses to form a ring in

order to resist an attack of wolves; not love which induces

wolves to form a pack for hunting; not love which induces kittens

or lambs to play, or a dozen of species of young birds to spend

their days together in the autumn; and it is neither love nor

personal sympathy which induces many thousand fallow-deer

scattered over a territory as large as France to form into a

score of separate herds, all marching towards a given spot, in

order to cross there a river. It is a feeling infinitely wider

than love or personal sympathy -- an instinct that has been

slowly developed among animals and men in the course of an

extremely long evolution, and which has taught animals and men

alike the force they can borrow from the practice of mutual aid

and support, and the joys they can find in social life.

The importance of this distinction will be easily appreciated

by the student of animal psychology, and the more so by the

student of human ethics. Love, sympathy and self-sacrifice

certainly play an immense part in the progressive development of

our moral feelings. But it is not love and not even sympathy upon

which Society is based in mankind. It is the conscience -- be it

only at the stage of an instinct -- of human solidarity. It is

the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each

man from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependency of

every one's happiness upon the happiness of all; and of the sense

of justice, or equity, which brings the individual to consider

the rights of every other individual as equal to his own. Upon

this broad and necessary foundation the still higher moral

feelings are developed. But this subject lies outside the scope

of the present work, and I shall only indicate here a lecture,

"Justice and Morality" which I delivered in reply to Huxley's

Ethics, and in which the subject has been treated at some length.

Consequently I thought that a book, written on Mutual Aid as

a Law of Nature and a factor of evolution, might fill an

important gap. When Huxley issued, in 1888, his

"Struggle-for-life" manifesto (Struggle for Existence and its

Bearing upon Man), which to my appreciation was a very incorrect

representation of the facts of Nature, as one sees them in the

bush and in the forest, I communicated with the editor of the

Nineteenth Century, asking him whether he would give the

hospitality of his review to an elaborate reply to the views of

one of the most prominent Darwinists; and Mr. James Knowles

received the proposal with fullest sympathy. I also spoke of it

to W. Bates. "Yes, certainly; that is true Darwinism," was his

reply. "It is horrible what 'they' have made of Darwin. Write

these articles, and when they are printed, I will write to you a

letter which you may publish. "Unfortunately, it took me nearly

seven years to write these articles, and when the last was

published, Bates was no longer living.

After having discussed the importance of mutual aid in

various classes of animals, I was evidently bound to discuss the

importance of the same factor in the evolution of Man. This was

the more necessary as there are a number of evolutionists who may

not refuse to admit the importance of mutual aid among animals,

but who, like Herbert Spencer, will refuse to admit it for Man.

For primitive Man -- they maintain -- war of each against all was

the law of life. In how far this assertion, which has been too

willingly repeated, without sufficient criticism, since the times

of Hobbes, is supported by what we know about the early phases of

human development, is discussed in the chapters given to the

Savages and the Barbarians.

The number and importance of mutual-aid institutions which

were developed by the creative genius of the savage and

half-savage masses, during the earliest clan-period of mankind

and still more during the next village-community period, and the

immense influence which these early institutions have exercised

upon the subsequent development of mankind, down to the present

times, induced me to extend my researches to the later,

historical periods as well; especially, to study that most

interesting period -- the free medieval city republics, of which

the universality and influence upon our modern civilization have

not yet been duly appreciated. And finally, I have tried to

indicate in brief the immense importance which the mutual-support

instincts, inherited by mankind from its extremely long

evolution, play even now in our modern society, which is supposed

to rest upon the principle: "every one for himself, and the State

for all," but which it never has succeeded, nor will succeed in


It may be objected to this book that both animals and men are

represented in it under too favourable an aspect; that their

sociable qualities are insisted upon, while their anti-social and

self-asserting instincts are hardly touched upon. This was,

however, unavoidable. We have heard so much lately of the "harsh,

pitiless struggle for life," which was said to be carried on by

every animal against all other animals, every "savage" against

all other "savages," and every civilized man against all his

co-citizens -- and these assertions have so much become an

article of faith -- that it was necessary, first of all, to

oppose to them a wide series of facts showing animal and human

life under a quite different aspect. It was necessary to indicate

the overwhelming importance which sociable habits play in Nature

and in the progressive evolution of both the animal species and

human beings: to prove that they secure to animals a better

protection from their enemies, very often facilities for getting

food and (winter provisions, migrations, etc.), longevity,

therefore a greater facility for the development of intellectual

faculties; and that they have given to men, in addition to the

same advantages, the possibility of working out those

institutions which have enabled mankind to survive in its hard

struggle against Nature, and to progress, notwithstanding all the

vicissitudes of its history. It is a book on the law of Mutual

Aid, viewed at as one of the chief factors of evolution -- not on

all factors of evolution and their respective values; and this

first book had to be written, before the latter could become


I should certainly be the last to underrate the part which

the self-assertion of the individual has played in the evolution

of mankind. However, this subject requires, I believe, a much

deeper treatment than the one it has hitherto received. In the

history of mankind, individual self-assertion has often been, and

continually is, something quite different from, and far larger

and deeper than, the petty, unintelligent narrow-mindedness,

which, with a large class of writers, goes for "individualism"

and "self-assertion." Nor have history-making individuals been

limited to those whom historians have represented as heroes. My

intention, consequently, is, if circumstances permit it, to

discuss separately the part taken by the self-assertion of the

individual in the progressive evolution of mankind. I can only

make in this place the following general remark: -- When the

Mutual Aid institutions -- the tribe, the village community, the

guilds, the medieval city -- began, in the course of history, to

lose their primitive character, to be invaded by parasitic

growths, and thus to become hindrances to progress, the revolt of

individuals against these institutions took always two different

aspects. Part of those who rose up strove to purify the old

institutions, or to work out a higher form of commonwealth, based

upon the same Mutual Aid principles; they tried, for instance, to

introduce the principle of "compensation," instead of the lex

talionis, and later on, the pardon of offences, or a still higher

ideal of equality before the human conscience, in lieu of

"compensation," according to class-value. But at the very same

time, another portion of the same individual rebels endeavoured

to break down the protective institutions of mutual support, with

no other intention but to increase their own wealth and their own

powers. In this three-cornered contest, between the two classes

of revolted individuals and the supporters of what existed, lies

the real tragedy of history. But to delineate that contest, and

honestly to study the part played in the evolution of mankind by

each one of these three forces, would require at least as many

years as it took me to write this book.

Of works dealing with nearly the same subject, which have

been published since the publication of my articles on Mutual Aid

among Animals, I must mention The Lowell Lectures on the Ascent

of Man, by Henry Drummond (London, 1894), and The Origin and

Growth of the Moral Instinct, by A. Sutherland (London, 1898).

Both are constructed chiefly on the lines taken in B?chner's

Love, and in the second work the parental and familial feeling as

the sole influence at work in the development of the moral

feelings has been dealt with at some length. A third work dealing

with man and written on similar lines is The Principles of

Sociology, by Prof. F.A. Giddings, the first edition of which was

published in 1896 at New York and London, and the leading ideas

of which were sketched by the author in a pamphlet in 1894. I

must leave, however, to literary critics the task of discussing

the points of contact, resemblance, or divergence between these

works and mine.

The different chapters of this book were published first in

the Nineteenth Century ("Mutual Aid among Animals," in September

and November 1890; "Mutual Aid among Savages," in April 1891;

"Mutual Aid among the Barbarians," in January 1892; "Mutual Aid

in the Medieval City," in August and September 1894; and "Mutual

Aid amongst Modern Men," in January and June 1896). In bringing

them out in a book form my first intention was to embody in an

Appendix the mass of materials, as well as the discussion of

several secondary points, which had to be omitted in the review

articles. It appeared, however, that the Appendix would double

the size of the book, and I was compelled to abandon, or, at

least, to postpone its publication. The present Appendix includes

the discussion of only a few points which have been the matter of

scientific controversy during the last few years; and into the

text I have introduced only such matter as could be introduced

without altering the structure of the work.

I am glad of this opportunity for expressing to the editor of

the Nineteenth Century, Mr. James Knowles, my very best thanks,

both for the kind hospitality which he offered to these papers in

his review, as soon as he knew their general idea, and the

permission he kindly gave me to reprint them.

Bromley, Kent, 1902.