The Scourge of Civilization, The State

History is not an uninterrupted natural development. Again and again development has stopped in one particular territory only to emerge somewhere else. Egypt, the Near East, the Mediterranean shores and Central Europe have all in turn been centers of historical development. But every time the pattern has been the same: beginning with the phase of the primitive tribe followed by the village commune; then by the free city, finally to die with the advent of the State.

In Egypt, civilization begins with the primitive tribe. It advances to the village commune and later to the period of the free cities; later still to the State which, after a period in which it flourished, leads to death.

Development starts afresh in Syria, in Persia and in Palestine. It follows the same pattern: the tribe, the village commune, the free city, the all-powerful State and…death!

A new civilization then comes to life in Greece. Always through the tribe. Slowly it reaches the level of the village commune and then to the republican cities. In these cities civilization reaches its zenith. But the East communicates its poisonous breath, its traditions of despotism. Wars and conquests create the Empire of Alexander of Macedonia. The State asserts itself, grows, destroys all culture and…it is death.

Rome in its turn restarts civilization. Once more one finds at the beginning the primitive tribe, then the village commune followed by the city. At this phase Rome was at the height of its civilization. But then come the State and the Empire and then…death!

On the ruins of the Roman Empire, Celtic, Germanic, Slavonic and Scandanavian tribes once more take up the threads of civilization. Slowly the primitive tribe develops its institutions and manages to build up the village commune. It lingers in this phase until the twelfth century when the republican city arises, and this brings with it the blossoming of the human spirit, proof of which are the masterpieces of architecture, the grandiose development of the arts, the discoveries which lay the foundations of natural sciences…But then the State emerges…Death? Yes: death – or renewal!

Either the State for ever, crushing individual and local life, taking over in all fields of human activity, bringing with it all its wars and domestic struggles for power, its palace revolutions which only replace one tyrant by another, and inevitably at the end of this development there is…death!

Or the destruction of States, and new life starting again in thousands of centers on the principles of the lively initiative of the individual and groups and that of free agreement.

The choice lies with you!

-Peter Kropotkin, “The State: Its Historic Role,” 1896

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