Tom Flower: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0531-8010


Kropotkin, Cooperation, Selfish gene, mutual aid, symbiosis, evolution

Document Type

Book Review


In 1902, the anarchist Peter Kropotkin published Mutual Aid in which he promoted a radical perspective on evolution in which cooperation, as well as selfishness, drive the form, diversification and organization of life on earth. Despite initial recognition, Kropotkin’s contributions have been largely forgotten, even as modern evolutionary theory has recognized the central role of cooperation. In Mutual Aid: the other law of the jungle, Pablo Servigne and Gauthier Chappelle restore Kropotkin’s insights to their rightful place as foundational for our understanding of evolution. They further seek to overturn the pernicious misconception of the 20th century, that nature is only selfish, and highlight how understanding the mechanisms that have evolved to drive cooperation in non-human organisms are also manifest in humans, our society and political institutions. Building forward, they present models of societies that generate, or atrophy, cooperation and consider how our current state will consequently affect our ability to respond to global crises. Through their emphasis on cooperation and its ubiquity in life, Servigne and Chappelle end by broadening their argument to suggest that we question the very nature of the self and reinterpret our existence as a component of a broader cooperative environment. Yet despite the compelling empirical evidence presented, one wonders whether skepticism has been neglected as the authors follow a single cooperative narrative. Does modern evolutionary theory reject the selfish gene in entirety, does selfishness acquiesce to the good of the group within our societies always, and is the centrality of cooperation grounds for the dissolution of the self? While recognizing the exceptional contribution Mutual Aid: the other law of the jungle makes to, it is also necessary to rebalance the vivacity of their cooperative narrative.




February 24, 2023


May 9, 2023