What is True and Just – and Christian?
The translator recommended reading just the conclusion. The book is 352 pages long; the conclusion, of course, much shorter. I’ve read the whole book – but the translator is correct: you’ll get much evidence and are likely to be convinced even if you read just the conclusion – and it may change the way you see – and act in the world.
“In 1894, one of the first English translations of this book found its way into the hands of a young Gandhi. Inspired by its message of nonresistance to evil, the Mahatma declared it a source of ‘independent thinking, profound morality, and truthfulness.’ Much of this work’s emotional and moral appeal lies in its emphasis on fair treatment of the poor and working class. Its view of Christianity [is] not as a mystic religion but as a workable philosophy” [from – http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/658.The_Kingdom_of_God_Is_Within_You]
It’s not an easy read: the conclusion is long and the significance – true and uncomfortable still today. Read it anyway. And reflect.
Tolstoy based his book on his own experiences and written accounts of others. The bold text is my emphasis.
I had ended this two years’ labor, when, on the ninth of September, I happened to travel on a train to a locality in the Governments of Túla and Ryazán, where the peasants had been starving the year before, and were starving still more in the present year. At one of the stations the train in which I was travelling met a special train which, under the leadership of the governor, was transporting troops with guns, cartridges, and rods for the torture and killing of those very famine-stricken peasants.
The torturing of the peasants with rods for the purpose of enforcing the decision of the authorities, although corporal punishment was abolished by law thirty years ago, has of late been applied more and more freely in Russia.
I had heard of it, had even read in newspapers of the terrible tortures of which the Governor of Nízhni-Nóvgorod, [Nikolai Mikhailovich] Baránov, is said to have boasted, of the tortures which had taken place in Chernígov, Tambóv, Sarátov, Astrakhán, Orél, but not once had I had a chance to see men in the process of executing these deeds.
Here I saw with my own eyes good Russians, men who are permeated with the Christian spirit, travelling with guns and rods, to kill and torture their starving brothers [my emphasis].
The cause that brought them out was the following:
In one of the estates of a wealthy landowner the peasants had raised a forest on a pasture which they owned in common with the proprietor (had raised, that is, had watched it during its growth), and had always made use of it, and so regarded this forest as their own, at least as a common possession; but the proprietor, appropriating to himself this forest, began to cut it down. The peasants handed in a complaint. The judge of the first instance irregularly (I say “irregularly,” using the word employed by the prosecuting attorney and the governor, men who ought to know the case) decided the case in favor of the proprietor. All the higher courts, among them the senate, though they could see that the case had been decided irregularly, confirmed the decision, and the forest was adjudged to the proprietor. The proprietor began to cut down the forest, but the peasants, unable to believe that such an obvious injustice could be done them by a higher court, did not submit to the decree, and drove away the workmen who were sent to cut down the forest, declaring that the forest belonged to them, and that they would petition the Tsar, but would not allow the proprietor to cut down the forest.
The case was reported to St. Petersburg, whence the governor was ordered to enforce the decree of the court. The governor asked for troops, and now the soldiers, armed with bayonets, ball-cartridges, and, besides, a supply of rods, purposely prepared for this occasion and carried in a separate car, were travelling to enforce this decree of the higher authorities.
The enforcement of the decree of the higher authorities is accomplished by means of killing, of torturing men, or by means of a threat of doing one or the other, according as to whether any opposition is shown or not.
In the first case, if the peasants show any opposition, the following takes place in Russia (the same things happen wherever there are a state structure and property rights): the chief makes a speech and demands submission. The excited crowd, generally deceived by its leaders, does not understand a word that the representative of the power says in official book language, and continues to be agitated. Then the chief declares that if they do not submit and disperse, he will be compelled to have recourse to arms. If the crowd does not submit even then, the chief commands his men to load their guns and shoot above the heads of the crowd. If the crowd does not disperse even then, he commands the soldiers to shoot straight into the crowd, at haphazard, and the soldiers shoot, and in the street fall wounded and killed men, and then the crowd generally runs away, and the troops at the command of the chiefs seize those who present themselves to them as the main rioters, and lead them away under guard.
After that they pick up the blood-stained, dying, maimed, killed, and wounded men, frequently also women and children; the dead are buried, and the maimed are sent to the hospital. But those who are considered to be the plotters are taken to the city and tried by a special military court. If on their part there was any violence, they are sentenced to be hanged. Then they put up a gallows and with the help of ropes choke to death a few defenseless people, as has many times been done in Russia and as is being done, and must be done where the public structure is based on violence. Thus they do in case of opposition.
In the second case, when the peasants submit, there takes place something special and peculiarly Russian. What happens is this: the governor arrives at the place of action, makes a speech to the people, rebuking them for their disobedience, and either stations troops in the farms of the village, where the soldiers, quartering at times as much as a month at a time, ruin the peasants, or, satisfied with threatening them, graciously pardons the people and returns home, or, which happens more frequently than anything else, announces to them that the instigators ought to be punished, and arbitrarily, without trial, selects a certain number of men, who are declared to be the instigators and in his presence are subjected to tortures.
In order to give an idea as to how these things are done, I will describe an affair which took place at Orél and received the approval of the higher authorities.
What happened in Orél was this: just as here, in the Government of Túla, a proprietor wanted to take away some property from certain peasants, and the peasants opposed him, just as they did here. The point was that the landed proprietor wanted without the consent of the peasants to keep the water in his mill-pond at so high a level that their fields were inundated. The peasants objected. The proprietor entered a complaint before the County Council chief. The County Council chief illegally (as was later declared by the court) decided the case in favor of the proprietor, by permitting him to raise the water. The proprietor sent his workmen to raise the ditch through which the water ran down. The peasants were provoked by this irregular decision, and called out their wives, to prevent the proprietor’s workmen from raising the ditch. The women went to the dam, overturned the carts, and drove off the workmen. The proprietor entered a complaint against the women for taking the law into their hands. The County Council chief ordered one woman from each peasant farm in the whole village to be locked up (“in the cold room”). The decision could not well be carried out; since there were several women on each farm, it was impossible to determine which of them was liable to arrest, and so the police did not carry out the decree. The proprietor complained to the governor of the inactivity of the police, and the governor, without looking into the matter, gave the rural chief the strict order immediately to enforce the decision of the County Council chief. Obeying the higher authorities, the rural chief arrived in the village and, with a disrespect for men which is characteristic of the Russian authorities, commanded the policemen to seize one woman from each house. But since there were was more than one woman in each house, and it was impossible to tell which one of them was subject to incarceration, there began quarrels, and opposition was shown. In spite of these quarrels and this opposition, the rural chief commanded that one woman, no matter who she be, be seized in each house and led to a place of confinement. The peasants began to defend their wives and mothers, did not give them up, and upon this occasion beat the police and the rural chief. There appeared the first terrible crime — an assault on the authorities — and this new crime was reported to the city. And so the governor, like the Governor of Túla, arrived on a special train with a battalion of soldiers, with guns and rods, having made use of the telegraph, of telephones, and of the railway, and brought with him a learned doctor, who was to watch the hygienic conditions of the flogging, thus fully personifying Genghis Khan with the telegraphs, as predicted by Herzen.
Near the township office stood the troops, a squad of policemen with red cords, to which is attached the revolver, official persons from among the peasants, and the accused. Round about stood a crowd of one thousand people or more. Upon driving up to the township office, the governor alighted from his carriage, delivered a speech previously prepared, and called for the guilty and for a bench. This command was not understood at first. But a policeman, whom the governor always took with him, and who attended to the preparation of the tortures, which had more than once been employed in the Government, explained that what was meant was a bench for flogging. A bench was brought, the rods, which had been carried on the train, were piled up, and the executioners were called for. These had been previously chosen from among the horse-thieves of the village, because the soldiers refused to perform this duty.
When everything was ready, the governor commanded the first of the twelve men pointed out by the proprietor as the most guilty to step forward. The one that came out was the father of a family, a respected member of society of about forty years of age, who had bravely defended the rights of society and so enjoyed the respect of the inhabitants. He was led up to the bench, his body was bared, and he was ordered to lie down.
The peasant tried to beg for mercy, but when he saw that this was useless, he made the sign of the cross and lay down. Two policemen rushed forward to hold him down. The learned doctor stood near by, ready to offer learned medical aid. The prisoners, spitting into their hands, swished the rods and began to strike. However, it turned out that the bench was too narrow and that it was too difficult to keep the writhing, tortured man upon it. Then the governor ordered another bench to be brought and to be cleated to the first. Putting their hands to their visors and muttering: “Yes, your Excellency,” some men hurriedly and humbly fulfilled the commands; meanwhile the half-naked, pale, tortured man, frowning and looking earthward, waited with trembling jaws and bared legs. When the second bench was attached, he was again put down, and the horse-thieves began to beat him again. The back, hips, and thighs, and even the sides of the tortured man began more and more to be covered with wales and bloody streaks, and with every blow there were heard dull sounds, which the tortured man was unable to repress. In the surrounding crowd were heard the sobs of the wives, mothers, children, relatives of the tortured man and of all those who were selected for the punishment.
The unfortunate governor, intoxicated by his power, thought that he could not do otherwise, and, bending his fingers, counted the blows, and without stopping smoked cigarettes, to light which several officious persons hastened every time to hand him a lighted match. When fifty blows had been dealt, the peasant stopped crying and stirring, and the doctor, who had been educated in a Crown institution for the purpose of serving his Tsar and country with his scientific knowledge, walked over to the tortured man, felt his pulse, listened to the beating of his heart, and announced to the representative of power that the punished man had lost consciousness and that according to the data of science it might be dangerous to his life to continue the punishment. But the unfortunate governor, who was now completely intoxicated by the sight of blood, commanded the men to go on, and the torture lasted until they had dealt seventy blows, to which number it for some reason seemed to him necessary to carry the number of the blows. When the seventieth blow was dealt, the governor said, “Enough! The next!” And the disfigured man, with his swollen back, was lifted up and carried away in a swoon, and another was taken up. The sobs and groans of the crowd became louder; but the representative of the governmental power continued the torture.
Thus they flogged the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth man — each man receiving seventy blows. All of them begged for mercy, groaned, cried. The sobs and groans of the mass of women grew louder and more heartrending, and the faces of the men grew gloomier and gloomier; but the troops stood all about them, and the torture did not stop until the work was accomplished in the measure which for some reason appeared indispensable to the caprice of the unfortunate, half-drunken, deluded man, called a governor.
Not only were officials, officers, soldiers present, but with their presence they took part in this matter and kept this order of the fulfillment of the state act from being impaired on the part of the crowd.
When I asked one of the governors why these tortures are committed on men, when they have already submitted and troops are stationed in the village, he replied to me, with the significant look of a man who has come to know all the intricacies of state wisdom, that this is done because experience has shown that if the peasants are not subjected to torture they will again counteract the decrees of the power, while the performance of the torture in the case of a few men forever confirms the decrees of the authorities.
And so now the Governor of Túla was travelling with his officials, officers, and soldiers, in order to perform just such a work. In just the same manner, that is, by means of murder or torture, were to be carried out the decree of the higher authorities, which consisted in this, that a young fellow, a landed proprietor, who had an income of one hundred thousand roubles per year, was to receive another three thousand roubles, for a forest which he had in a rascally manner taken away from a whole society of hungry and cold peasants, and be able to spend this money in two or three weeks in the restaurants of Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Paris. It was to do such a deed that the men whom I met were travelling.
Fate, as though on purpose, after my two years’ tension of thought in one and the same direction, for the first time in my life brought me in contact with this phenomenon, which showed me with absolute obviousness in practice what had become clear to me in theory, namely, that the whole structure of our life is not based, as men who enjoy an advantageous position in the existing order of things are fond of imagining, on any juridical principles, but on the simplest, coarsest violence, on the murder and torture of men.
Men who own large tracts of land or have large capitals, or who receive large salaries, which are collected from the working people, who are in need of the simplest necessities, as also those who, as merchants, doctors, artists, clerks, savants, coachmen, cooks, authors, lackeys, lawyers, live parasitically about these rich people, are fond of believing that those prerogatives which they enjoy are not due to violence, but to an absolutely free and regular exchange of services, and that these prerogatives are not only not the result of assault upon people, and the murder of them, like what took place this year in Orél and in many other places in Russia, and continually takes place in all of Europe and of America, but has even no connection whatsoever with these cases of violence. They are fond of believing that the privileges which they enjoy exist in themselves and take place and are due to a voluntary agreement among people, while the violence exerted against people also exists in itself and is due to some universal and higher juridical, political, and economical laws. These men try not to see that they enjoy the privileges which they enjoy only by dint of the same thing which now would force the peasants, who raised the forest and who were very much in need of it, to give it up to the rich proprietor, who took no part in the preservation of the forest and had no need of it, that is, that they would be flogged or killed if they did not give up this forest.
And yet, if it is quite clear that the Orél mill began to bring greater returns to the proprietor, and that the forest, which the peasants raised, is turned over to the proprietor, only in consequence of assaults or murders, or the threat of them, it must be just as clear that all the other exclusive rights of the rich, which deprive the poor of their prime necessities, are based on the same thing. If the peasants, who are in need of the land for the support of their families, do not plow the land which adjoins their very farms, while this land, which is capable of supporting something like one thousand families, is in the hands of one man — a Russian, Englishman, Austrian, or some large landed proprietor — who does not work on this land, and if the merchant, buying up the corn from the needy agriculturists, can securely keep this corn in his granaries, amidst starving people, and sell it at three times its price to the same agriculturists from whom he bought it at one-third its present worth, it is evident that this takes place from the same causes. And if one man cannot buy cheap goods, which are sold to him from beyond a conventional line called a border, without paying customs dues to people who had no share whatsoever in the production of the goods; and if people cannot help but give up their last cow for taxes, which are distributed by the government to officials and are used for the maintenance of soldiers who will kill these very taxpayers, it would seem to be obvious that even this does not take place in consequence of some abstract rights, but in consequence of the same that happened in Orél and that now may happen in the Government of Túla, and periodically in one form or another takes place in the whole world, wherever there is a state structure and there are the rich and the poor.
Because not all human relations of violence are accompanied by tortures and murders, the men who enjoy the exclusive prerogatives of the ruling classes assure themselves and others that the privileges which they enjoy are not due to any tortures or murders, but to other mysterious common causes, abstract rights, and so forth. And yet, it would seem, it is clear that, if people, though they consider this to be an injustice (all working people now do), give the main portion of their work to the capitalist, the landed proprietor, and pay taxes, though they know that bad use is made of them, they do so first of all, not because they recognize any abstract rights, of which they have never heard, but only because they know that they will be flogged and killed, if they do not do so.
But if there is no occasion to imprison, flog, and kill men, every time the rent for the land is collected by the landed proprietor, and the man in need of corn pays to the merchant who has cheated him a threefold price, and the factory hand is satisfied with a wage which represents proportionately half the master’s income, and if a poor man gives up his last rouble for customs dues and taxes, this is due to the fact that so many men have been beaten and killed for their attempts to avoid doing what is demanded of them, that they keep this well in mind. As the trained tiger in the cage does not take the meat which is placed under his mouth, and does not lie quiet, but jumps over a stick, whenever he is ordered to do so, not because he wants to do so, but because he remembers the heated iron rod or the hunger to which he was subjected every time he did not obey — even so men who submit to what is not advantageous for them, what even is ruinous to them, do so because they remember what happened to them for their disobedience.
But the men who enjoy prerogatives which are the result of old violence, frequently forget, and like to forget, how these prerogatives were obtained. We need, however, only think of history, not the history of the successes of various dynasties of rulers, but real history, the history of the oppression of the majority by a small number of men, to see that the bases of all the prerogatives of the rich over the poor have originated from nothing but switches, prisons, hard labor, murders.
We need but think of that constant, stubborn tendency of men to increase their well-being, which guides the men of our time, to become convinced that the prerogatives of the rich over the poor could not and cannot be maintained in any other way.
There may be oppressions, assaults, prisons, executions, which have not for their purpose the preservation of the prerogatives of the wealthy classes (though this is very rare), but we may boldly say that in our society, for each well-to-do, comfortably living man, there are ten who are exhausted by labor, who are envious and greedy, and who frequently suffer with their whole families — all the prerogatives of the rich, all their luxury, all that superfluity which the rich enjoy above the average laborer, all that is acquired and supported only by tortures, incarcerations, and executions.
The train which I came across the ninth of September, and which carried soldiers, with their guns, cartridges, and rods, to the starving peasants, in order to secure to the rich proprietor the small forest, which he had taken from the peasants and which the peasants were in dire need of, showed me with striking obviousness to what extent men have worked out the ability of committing acts which are most revolting to their convictions and to their conscience, without seeing that they are doing so.
The special train with which I fell in consisted of one car of the first class for the governor, the officials, and the officers, and of several freight-cars, which were crammed full of soldiers.
The dashing young soldiers, in their clean new uniforms, stood crowding or sat with dangling legs in the wide-open doors of the freight-cars. Some smoked, others jostled one another, jested, laughed, displaying their teeth; others again cracked pumpkin seeds, spitting out the shells with an air of self-confidence. Some of them were running up and down the platform, toward the waterbarrel, in order to get a drink, and, upon meeting an officer, tempered their gait, went through the stupid gesture of putting their hands to their brows, and with serious faces, as though they were doing not only something sensible, but even important, walked past them, seeing them off with their eyes, and then raced more merrily, thumping with their feet on the planks of the platform, laughing, and chattering, as is characteristic of healthy, good lads, who in good company travel from one place to another.
They were traveling to slay their hungry fathers and grandfathers, as though going to some very jolly, or at least very usual, piece of work.
The same impression was conveyed by the officials and officers, in gala-uniform, who were scattered on the platform and in the hall of the first class. At the table, which was covered with bottles, dressed in his semi-military uniform, sat the governor, the chief of the expedition, eating something, and speaking calmly about the weather with an acquaintance whom he had met, as though the matter which he was about to attend to were so simple and so common that it could not impair his calm and his interest in the change of the weather.
At some distance away from the table, not partaking of any food, sat a general of gendarmes, with an impenetrable, but gloomy look, as though annoyed by the tedious formality. On all sides moved and chattered officers, in their beautiful, gold-bedecked uniforms: one, sitting at the table, was finishing a bottle of beer; another, standing at the buffet, munched at an appetizing patty, shaking off the crumbs which had lodged on the breast of his uniform, and throwing the money on the table with a self-confident gesture; a third, vibrating both legs, was walking past the cars of our train, ogling the feminine faces.
All these men, who were on their way to torture or kill hungry, defenceless men, the same that fed them, had the appearance of men who know conclusively that they are doing what is right, and even are proud, “stuck up,” about what they are doing.
What is this?
All these men are one half-hour’s ride away from the place where, to secure to a rich fellow some three thousand useless roubles, which he has taken away from a whole community of starving peasants, they may be compelled to perform the most terrible acts that one can imagine, may begin, just as in Orél, to kill or to torture innocent men, their brothers, and they calmly approach the place and time where and when this may happen.
It is impossible to say that these men, all these officials, officers, and soldiers, do not know what awaits them, because they prepared themselves for it. The governor had to give his orders concerning the rods, the officials had to purchase birch switches, to haggle for them, and to enter this item as an expense. The military gave and received and executed commands concerning the ball-cartridges. All of them know that they are on the way to torture and, perhaps, to kill their famished brothers, and that they will begin to do this, perhaps, within an hour.
It would be incorrect to say that they do this from conviction — as is frequently said and as they themselves repeat — from the conviction that they do this because it is necessary to maintain the state structure, in the first place, because all these men have hardly ever even thought of the state structure and of its necessity; in the second place, they can in no way be convinced that the business in which they take part maintains the state, instead of destroying it, and, in the third place, in reality the majority of these men, if not all, will not only never sacrifice their peace and pleasure for the purpose of supporting the state, but will even never miss a chance of making use, for their peace and pleasure, of everything they can, even though it be to the disadvantage of the state. Consequently they do not do so for the sake of the abstract principle of the state.
What is it, then?
I know all these men. If I do not know them personally, I know approximately their characters, their past, their manner of thought. All of them have mothers, and some have wives and children. They are, for the most part, good-hearted, meek, frequently tender men, who despise every cruelty, to say nothing of the murder of men, and many of them would be incapable of killing or torturing animals; besides, they are all people who profess Christianity and consider violence exerted against defenceless men a low and disgraceful matter. Not one of these men would be able for the sake of his smallest advantage to do even one-hundredth part of what the Governor of Orél did to those people; and any of them would even be offended, if it were assumed that in his private life he would be capable of doing anything like it.
And yet, here they are, within half an hour’s ride from the place, where they may be led inevitably to the necessity of doing it.
What is it, then?
But, besides these people who are travelling on the train, and who are ready to commit murder and tortures, how could those people with whom the whole matter began — the proprietor, the superintendent, the judges, and those who from St. Petersburg prescribed this matter and by their commands are taking part in it — how could these men, the minister, the emperor, also good men, who are professing the Christian religion, have undertaken and ordered such a thing, knowing its consequences? How can even those who do not take part in this matter, the spectators, who are provoked at every special case of violence or at the torture of a horse, admit the performance of so terrible a deed? How can they help being provoked at it, standing on the road, and shouting, “No, we shall not allow hungry people to be killed and flogged for not giving up their property, which has been seized from them by force”? But not only does no one do so — the majority of men, even those who were the instigators of the whole thing, like the superintendent, the proprietor, the judges, and those who were the participants in it and who gave the orders, like the governor, the minister, the emperor, are calm, and do not even feel any pangs of conscience. Just as calm are apparently all those men who are travelling to commit this evil deed.
The spectators, too, it seemed, who were not in any way interested in the matter, for the most part looked with sympathy, rather than with disapproval, upon the men who were getting ready for this execrable deed. In the same car with me there was travelling a merchant, a lumber dealer from the peasant class, and he loudly proclaimed his sympathy for those tortures to which the peasants were about to be subjected: “It is not right not to obey the authorities,” he said; “that’s what the authorities are for. Just wait, they will have their fleas driven out of them — they won’t think of rioting after that. Serves them right.”
What is it, then?
It is equally impossible to say that all these men — the instigators, participants, abettors of this matter — are such rascals that, knowing all the baseness of what they are doing, they, either for a salary, or for an advantage, or out of fear of being punished, do a thing which is contrary to their convictions. All these men know how, in certain situations, to defend their convictions. Not one of these officials would steal a purse, or read another person’s letter, or bear an insult without demanding satisfaction from the insulter. Not one of these officers would have the courage to cheat at cards, not to pay his card debts, to betray a friend, to run away from the field of battle, or to abandon his flag. Not one of these soldiers would have the courage to spit out the sacrament or to eat meat on Good Friday. All these men are prepared to bear all kinds of privations, sufferings, and dangers, rather than do something which they consider to he bad. Consequently, there is in these men a counteracting force, whenever they have to do something which is contrary to their convictions.
Still less is it possible to say that all these men are such beasts that it is proper and not at all painful for them to do such things. We need but have a talk with these men, to see that all of them, the proprietor, the judges, the minister, the Tsar, the governor, the officers, and the soldiers not only in the depth of their hearts do not approve of such deeds, but even suffer from the consciousness of their part in them, when they are reminded of the significance of this matter. They simply try not to think of it.
We need but have a talk with them, with all the participants in this matter, from the proprietor to the last policeman and soldier, to see that all of them in the depth of their hearts know that this is a bad thing and that it would be better not to take part in it, and that they suffer from it.
A lady of liberal tendencies, who was travelling on the same train with us, upon noticing the governor and the officers in the hall of the first class, and learning of the purpose of their journey, began on purpose in a loud voice, so as to be heard, to curse the orders of our time and to put to shame the men who were taking part in this matter. All persons present felt ill at ease. Nobody knew whither to look, but no one dared to answer her. The passengers looked as though it were not worth while to reply to such empty talk. But it was evident from the faces and fugitive eyes that all felt ashamed. This also I noticed in the case of the soldiers. They, too, knew that the business for which they were travelling was a bad one, but they did not wish to think of what awaited them.
When the lumber dealer began insincerely, as I thought, merely to show his culture, to speak of how necessary such measures were, the soldiers who heard it turned away from him, as though they did not hear him, and frowned.
All these men, both those who, like the proprietor, the superintendent, the minister, the Tsar, participated in the performance of this act, and those who are just now travelling on the train, and even those who, without taking part in this matter, look on at the accomplishment of it, know every one of them that this is a bad business, and are ashamed of the part which they are taking in it and even of their presence during its execution.
Why, then, have they been doing and tolerating it?
Ask those who, like the proprietor, started this matter, and those who, like the judges, handed down a formally legal, but obviously unjust decision, and those who ordered the enforcement of the decree, and those who, like the soldiers, the policemen, and the peasants, will with their own hands carry it into execution — who will beat and kill their brothers — all of them, the instigators, and the accomplices, and the executors, and the abettors of these crimes, and all will give you essentially the same answer.
The men in authority, who provoked the matter and cooperated in it and directed it, will say that they are doing what they are doing because such matters are necessary for the maintenance of the existing order; and the maintenance of the existing order is necessary for the good of the country and of humanity, for the possibility of a social life and a forward movement of progress.
The men from the lower spheres, the peasants and the soldiers, those who will be compelled with their own hands to exercise the violence, will say that they are doing what they are doing because this is prescribed by the higher authorities, and that the higher authorities know what they are doing. That the authorities consist of the very men who ought to be the authorities and that they know what they are doing, presents itself to them as an incontestable truth. If these lower executors even admit the possibility of an error or delusion, they admit it only in the case of the lower authorities; but the highest power, from whom all this proceeds, seems to them to be unquestionably infallible.
Though explaining the motives for their activities in a different manner, both the rulers and the ruled agree in this, that they do what they do because the existing order is precisely the one which is indispensable and which must exist at the present time, and which, therefore, it is the sacred duty of every person to maintain.
On this recognition of the necessity, and so of the unchangeableness of the existing order, is based the reflection, which has always been adduced by all the participants in state violence in their justification, that, since the present order is unchangeable, the refusal of a single individual to perform the duties imposed upon him will not change the essence of the matter, and will have no other effect than that in place of the person refusing there will be another man, who may perform the duty less well, that is, more cruelly, more harmfully for those men against whom the violence is practised.
This conviction that the existing order is indispensable, and so unchangeable, and that it is the sacred duty of every man to maintain it, is what gives to good people and, in private life, to moral people the possibility of participating with a more or less calm conscience in such affairs as the one which took place in Orél and the one which the people who were travelling in the Túla train were getting ready to act in.
But on what is this conviction based?
It is naturally agreeable and desirable for the proprietor to believe that the existing order is indispensable and unchangeable, because it is this very existing order which secures for him the income from his hundreds and thousands of desyatínas, thanks to which he leads his habitual idle and luxurious life.
Naturally enough, the judge, too, readily believes in the necessity of the order in consequence of which he receives fifty times as much as the most industrious laborer. This is just as comprehensible in the case of the supreme judge, who receives a salary of six or more thousand, and in the case of all the higher officials. Only with the present order can he, as a governor, prosecutor, senator, member of various councils, receive his salary of several thousands, without which he would at once perish with all his family, because, except by the position which he holds, he would not be able, with his ability, industry, and knowledge, to earn one hundredth part of what he is getting. In the same situation are the minister, the emperor, and every higher authority, but with this difference, that, the higher they are and the more exclusive their position is, the more indispensable it is for them to believe that the existing order is the only possible order, because outside of it they not only cannot get an equal position, but will have to stand much lower than the rest of mankind. A man who voluntarily hires himself out as a policeman at a salary of ten roubles, which he can easily get in any other position, has little need of the preservation of the existing order, and so can get along without believing in its unchangeableness. But a king or an emperor, who in his position receives millions; who knows that all around him there are thousands of men who are willing to depose him and take his place; who knows that in no other position will he get such an income and such honors; who in the majority of cases, with a more or less despotic rule, knows even this, that, if he should be deposed, he would be tried for everything he did while in possession of his power, cannot help but believe in the unchangeableness and sacredness of the existing order. The higher the position which a man occupies, the more advantageous and, therefore, the more unstable it is, and the more terrible and dangerous a fall from it is, the more does a man who holds that position believe in the unchangeableness of the existing order, and with so much greater peace of mind can such a man, as though not for himself, but for the support of the existing order, do bad and cruel deeds.
Thus it is in the case of all the men of the ruling classes who hold positions that are more advantageous than those which they could hold without the existing order — beginning with the lowest police officials and ending with the highest authorities. All these men more or less believe in the unchangeableness of the existing order, because, above all else, it is advantageous for them.
But what is it that compels the peasants, the soldiers, who stand on the lowest rung of the ladder, who have no profit from the existing order, who are in a condition of the most abject submission and humiliation, to believe that the existing order, in consequence of which they are in a most disadvantageous and humble state, is the very order which must be, and which, therefore, must be maintained, even by performing the basest and most unconscionable acts for it.
What is it that compels these men to make the false reflection that the existing order is invariable and, therefore, must be maintained, whereas it is evident that, on the contrary, it is unchangeable only because it is maintained as such?
What is it that compels the men who were but yesterday taken from the plow, and who are dressed up in these monstrous, indecent garments with blue collars and gilt buttons, to travel with guns and swords, in order to kill their hungry fathers and brothers? They certainly have no advantages, and are in no danger of losing the position which they hold, because their condition is worse than the one from which they are taken.
The men of the higher ruling classes, the proprietors, ministers, kings, officers, take part in these matters, thus supporting the existing order, because it is advantageous for them. Besides, these frequently good, meek men feel themselves able to take part in these things for this other reason, that their participation is limited to instigations, decrees, and commands. None of these men in authority do themselves those things which they instigate, determine upon, and order to be done. For the most part they do not even see how all those terrible things which they provoke and prescribe are carried out.
But the unfortunate people of the lower classes, who derive no advantage from the existing order, who, on the contrary, in consequence of this order are held in the greatest contempt, why do they, who, for the maintenance of this order, with their own hands tear people away from their families, who bind them, who lock them up in prisons and at hard labor, who watch and shoot them, do all these things?
What is it that compels these men to believe that the existing order is unchangeable and that it is necessary to maintain it?
All violence is based only on them, on those men who with their own hands beat, bind, lock up, kill. If these men did not exist — these soldiers and policemen — the armed men in general, who are prepared on command to commit violence and to kill all those whom they are commanded to kill, not one of the men who sign the decrees for executions, life imprisonment, hard labor, would ever have the courage himself to hang, lock up, torture to death one thousandth part of those whom now, sitting quietly in their studies, they order to be hung and to be tortured in every way, only because they do not see it and it is not done by them, but somewhere far away by obedient executors.
All those injustices and cruelties which have entered into the curriculum of the existing life, have entered there only because there exist these people, who are always prepared to maintain these injustices and cruelties. If these men did not exist, there would not be any one to offer violence to all these enormous masses of violated people, and those who give orders would never even dare either to command or even to dream of what they now command with so much self-assurance. If there were no people who would be ready at the command of those whom they obey to torture or to kill him who is pointed out to them, no one would ever dare to affirm, what is with so much self-confidence asserted by the non-working landowners, that the land which surrounds the peasants, who are dying for lack of land, is the property of a man who does not work on it, and that the supply of corn, which has been garnered in a rascally manner, ought to be kept intact amidst a starving population, because the merchant needs some profit, and so forth. If there were no men who would be ready at the will of the authorities to torture and kill every person pointed out to them, it could never occur to a landed proprietor to take away from the peasants a forest which had been raised by them, nor to the officials to consider legal the payment to them of salaries, which are collected from the hungry masses, for oppressing them, to say nothing of executing men, or locking them up, or exiling them, because they overthrow the lie and preach the truth. All this is demanded and done only because these ruling people are firmly convinced that they have always at hand submissive people, who will be ready to carry any of their demands into execution by means of tortures and murders.
The only reason why they commit deeds like those committed by all the tyrants from Napoleon down to the last commander of a company, who shoots into a crowd, is because they are stupefied by the power behind them, consisting of subservient men who are ready to do anything they are commanded. The whole strength, therefore, lies in the men who with their hands do acts of violence, in the men who serve with the police, among the soldiers, more especially among the soldiers, because the police do their work only when they have an army behind them.
What is it, then, that has led these good men, who derive no advantage from it, who are compelled with their hands to do all these terrible things, men on whom the whole matter depends, into that remarkable delusion that assures them that the existing disadvantageous, pernicious, and for them painful order is the one which must be?
Who has led them into this remarkable delusion?
They have certainly not assured themselves that they must do what is not only painful, disadvantageous, and pernicious to them and their whole class, which forms nine-tenths of the whole population, and what is even contrary to their conscience.
“How are you going to kill men, when in God’s law it says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’?” I frequently asked soldiers, and, by reminding them of what they did not like to think about, I always made them feel awkward and embarrassed. Such a soldier knew that there was an obligatory law of God, “Thou shalt not kill,” and he knew that there was an obligatory military service, but it had never occurred to him that there was any contradiction there. The sense of the timid answers that I always received to this question consisted approximately in this, that murder in war and the execution of criminals at the command of the government were not included in the common prohibition of murders. But when I told them that no such limitation was made in God’s law, and reminded them of the doctrine of brotherhood, of the forgiveness of offences, of love, which are obligatory for all Christians and which could in no way be harmonized with murder, the men of the people generally agreed with me, and on their side put the question to me as to how it happened that the government, which, according to their ideas, could not err, commanded the armies, when necessary, to go to war, and ordered the execution of prisoners. When I answered them that the government acted incorrectly when it commanded these things to be done, my interlocutors became even more embarrassed, and either broke off the conversation or grew provoked at me.
“There must be such a law. I guess the bishops know better than we,” I was told by a Russian soldier. And, having said this, the soldier apparently felt his conscience eased, being fully convinced that his guides had found a law, the same under which his ancestors had served, and the kings and the kings’ heirs, and millions of people, and he himself served, and that what I was telling him was some piece of cunning or cleverness, like a riddle.
All the men of our Christian world know, know firmly, from tradition, and from revelation, and from the irrefutable voice of conscience, that murder is one of the most terrible crimes which a man can commit, as the Gospel says, and that this sin cannot be limited to certain men, that is, that it is a sin to kill some men, but not a sin to kill others. All know that if the sin of murder is a sin, it is always a sin, independently of what men are the victims of it, just like the sin of adultery and thieving and any other; at the same time men have seen, since childhood, since youth, that murder is not only admitted, but even blessed by all those whom they are accustomed to respect as their spiritual guides, ordained by God; they see that their worldly guides with calm assurance institute murders, bear arms of murder, of which they are proud, and demand of all, in the name of the civil and even the divine law, that they shall take part in murder. Men see that there is here some contradiction, and, being unable to solve it, they involuntarily assume that this contradiction is due only to their ignorance. The very coarseness and obviousness of the contradiction sustains them in this conviction. They cannot imagine that their enlighteners, learned men, should be able with such confidence to preach two such seemingly contradictory propositions — the obligatoriness for every one of the law and of murder. A simple, innocent child, and later a youth, cannot imagine that men who stand so high in his opinion, whom he considers to be either holy or learned, should for any reason be deceiving him so unscrupulously. But it is precisely this that has been done to him all the time. This is accomplished, in the first place, by impressing all the laboring people, who have not themselves any time to solve moral and religious questions, from childhood, and up to old age, by example and direct teaching, with the idea that tortures and murders are compatible with Christianity, and that, for certain purposes of state, tortures and murders are not only admissible, but even peremptory; in the second place, by impressing some of them, who are chosen by enlistment or levy, with the idea that the performance of tortures and murders with their own hands forms a sacred duty and even an act which is valorous and worthy of praise and of reward.
The common deception, which is disseminated among all men, consists in this, that in all the catechisms, or the books which have taken their place and which are now the subject of obligatory instruction for the children, it says that violence, that is, tortures, imprisonments, and executions, as also murders in civil or external wars for the purpose of maintaining and defending the existing order of the state (whatever it be, autocratic, monarchical, a convention, a consulship, an empire of either Napoleon or of Boulanger, a constitutional monarchy, a commune, or a republic), is quite legitimate, and does not contradict either morality or Christianity.
This it says in all the catechisms or books used in the schools. And men are so convinced of it that they grow up, live, and die in this conviction, without doubting it even once.
This is one deception, a common deception, which is practised on all men; there is another, a private deception, which is practised on soldiers or policemen, who are chosen in one way or another and who perform the tortures and the murders which are needed for the support and the defence of the existing order.
In all the military codes it says in so many words what in the Russian military code is expressed as follows: “(Art. 87) Precisely and without discussion to carry out the commands of the authorities means to carry out precisely the command given by the authorities, without discussing whether it is good or bad, and whether it is possible to carry it out. The chief himself answers for the consequences of a command given out by him. (Art. 88) The subject may refuse to carry out the commands of his superior only when he sees clearly that by carrying out his superior’s command he” — one involuntarily imagines that what will follow is “when he sees clearly that by carrying out his superior’s command he violates the law of God;” but that is not at all the case: “when he sees clearly that he is violating the oath of allegiance and fidelity, and his service to the emperor.”
It says that a man, being a soldier, must carry out all the commands of his chief without any exception whatever, which for a soldier mainly means murder, and so must violate all divine and human laws, except his fidelity and service to him who at the given moment happens to be in power.
Thus it says in the Russian military code, and precisely the same, though in different words, is said in all the military codes, as indeed it cannot be otherwise, because in reality upon this deception of emancipating men from their obedience to God or to their conscience, and of substituting for this obedience the obedience to the accidental superior, is all the power of the army and the state based.
So it is this on which is founded that strange conviction of the lower classes that the existing order, which is pernicious for them, is as it ought to be, and that they are, therefore, obliged to support it with tortures and murders.
This conviction is based on a conscious deception, which is practised upon them by the upper classes.
Nor can it be otherwise. To compel the lower, most numerous classes of men to oppress and torment themselves, committing with this such acts as are contrary to their conscience, it was necessary to deceive these lower, most numerous classes. And so it was done.
The other day I again saw an open practice of this shameless deceit, and I was again surprised to see with what boldness and freedom it was practised.
In the beginning of November, as I was passing through Túla, I again saw at the gate of the County Council Office the familiar dense crowd of people, from which proceeded drunken shouts and the pitiful wail of mothers and of wives. This was a levy of recruits.
As upon other occasions, I was unable to drive past this spectacle: it attracts me as by some evil charm. I again entered among the crowd, stood, looked, asked questions, and marvelled at the freedom with which this most terrible crime is perpetrated in broad daylight and in a populous city.
As in former years, the elders in all the villages of Russia, with its one hundred millions of inhabitants, on the first of November selected from lists a given number of lads, frequently their own sons, and took them to the city.
On the way the recruits went on an uninterrupted spree, in which they were not interfered with by their elders, who felt that going to such a mad business as the one to which the recruits were going, abandoning their wives and mothers and renouncing everything holy to them, in order to become somebody’s senseless instruments of murder, was too painful a matter, if they did not intoxicate themselves with liquor.
And so they travelled, drinking, cursing, singing, fighting, and maiming themselves. The nights they passed in inns. In the morning they again became drunk and gathered in front of the County Council Office.
One part of them, in new short fur coats, with knitted shawls about their necks, with moist drunken eyes or with savage self-encouraging shouts, or quiet and dejected, crowd at the gate amidst weeping mothers and wives, waiting for their turns (I fell in with them on the very day of the levy, that is, when those who were sent up were to be examined); another part at this time crowds in the waiting-room of the Office.
In the Office they are busy working. The door is opened, and the janitor calls Peter Sídorov. Peter Sídorov is startled, makes the sign of the cross, and enters into a small room with a glass door. Here the prospective recruits undress themselves. A naked recruit, a companion of Peter Sídorov, just accepted, comes in from the Office, with trembling jaws, and puts on his clothes. Peter Sídorov has heard and sees by his face that he is accepted. Peter Sídorov wants to ask him something, but he is told to hurry and undress himself as quickly as possible. He throws off his fur coat, pulls off his boots with his feet, takes off his vest, draws his shirt over his head, and with protruding ribs, naked, with shivering body, and emitting an odor of liquor, tobacco, and perspiration, with bare feet, enters into the Office, without knowing what to do with his bared muscular arms.
In the Office there hangs in full sight and in a large gilt frame the portrait of the emperor in a uniform with a sash, and in the corner a small portrait of Christ in a shirt and a crown of thorns. In the middle of the room there stands a table covered with green cloth, upon which lie papers and stands a triangular thing with an eagle, which is called the Mirror of Laws. Around the table sit the chiefs, with confident, calm looks. One of them smokes, another examines some papers. The moment Sídorov has entered, a janitor comes up to him, and he is put on the measuring-scale, receives a knock under his chin, and has his legs straightened out. There walks up a man with a cigarette. It is the doctor, and he, without looking into the recruit’s face, but somewhere past him, loathingly touches his body, and measures and feels, and tells the janitor to open the recruit’s mouth wide, and commands him to breathe and to say something. Somebody makes some notes. Finally, without looking once into his eyes, the doctor says, “Able-bodied! Next!” and with a fatigued expression again seats himself at the table. Again soldiers push the lad and hurry him off. He somehow manages in his hurry to pull the shirt over him, after missing the sleeves, somehow puts on his trousers, and leg-rags, draws on his boots, looks for his shawl and cap, grasps his fur coat, and is led into the hall, where he is placed behind a bench. Beyond this bench wait all the accepted recruits. A village lad, like him, but from a distant Government, a full-fledged soldier with a gun, with a sharp bayonet attached to it, keeps watch on him, ready to run the bayonet through him, if he should think of running away.
Meanwhile the crowd of fathers, mothers, wives, pushed by the policemen, press close to the gate, to find out who is accepted, and who not. There appears one of the rejected, and he announces that Peter has been accepted, and there is heard the wail of Peter’s wife, for whom the word “accepted” means a separation of four or five years, and the life of a soldier’s wife as a cook, in debauchery.
But just then a long-haired man in a special attire, which distinguishes him from all other men, drives up and, getting down from the carriage, walks up to the house of the County Council Office. The policemen clear a path for him through the crowd. “The father has come to administer the oath.” And this father, who has been assured that he is a special, exclusive servant of Christ, who for the most part does not himself see the deception under which he is, enters into the room where the accepted recruits are waiting, puts on a gold-embroidered apron, draws his hair out from underneath it, opens the very Gospel in which taking an oath is prohibited, lifts up a cross, the very cross on which Christ was crucified for not doing what this His imaginary servant orders to be done, and puts it on the pulpit, and all these defenceless and deceived lads repeat after him the lie which he pronounces boldly and by habit. He reads, and they repeat after him: “I promise and swear by the Almighty God, before His holy Gospel… etc., to defend, that is, to kill all those whom I am commanded to kill, and to do everything I am ordered to do by those people whom I do not know, and who need me for nothing else but that I should commit the evil deeds by which they are kept in their positions, and by which they oppress my brothers.” All the accepted recruits senselessly repeat these wild words, and the so-called “father” drives away with the consciousness of having correctly and scrupulously done his duty, and all these deceived lads think that all those insipid, incomprehensible words, which they have just pronounced, have now, for the whole time of their military service, freed them from their human obligations and have bound them to new, more obligatory military obligations.
And this is done publicly, and no one will shout to the deceivers and to the deceived: “Bethink yourselves and scatter, for this is the basest and meanest lie, which ruins not only our bodies, but also our souls.”
No one does so; on the contrary, when all are accepted, and it becomes necessary to let them out, the military chief, as though to scorn them, enters with self-confident, majestic mien into the hall where the deceived, drunken lads are locked up, and boldly exclaims to them in military fashion, “Your health, boys! I congratulate you on your Tsar’s service.” And the poor fellows (somebody has instructed them what to do) babble something with an unaccustomed, half-intoxicated tongue to the effect that they are glad of it.
In the meantime, the crowd of fathers, mothers, and wives stand at the door and wait. The women look with tearful, arrested eyes through the door. And the door opens, and out come, staggering, and with a look of bravado, the accepted recruits — Petrúkha, and Vanyúkha, and Makár — trying not to look at their relatives. The wail of the mothers and wives is heard. Some embrace one another and weep; others try to look brave; others again console their people. Mothers and wives, knowing that now they will be orphaned for three, four, or five years, without a supporter, wail and lament at the top of their voices. The fathers do not speak much, and only pitifully smack their tongues and sigh, knowing that now they will no longer see their helpers, whom they have raised and instructed, and that there will return to them, not those peaceful, industrious agriculturists that they have been, but generally debauched, dandyish soldiers, who are no longer used to a simple life.
And now the whole crowd take up seats in their sleighs and start down the street, in the direction of inns and restaurants, and still louder are heard, interfering with one another, songs, sobs, drunken shouts, the laments of the mothers and wives, the sounds of the accordion, and curses. All make for saloons and restaurants, the revenue from which goes to the government, and they abandon themselves to intoxication, which drowns in them the perceived consciousness of the illegality of what is being done to them.
For two or three weeks they live at home, and for the most part are having a good time, that is, are out on a spree.
On a set day they are collected, and driven like cattle to one place, and are taught military methods and exercises. They are instructed by just such deceived and bestialized men as they, who entered the service two or three years ago. The means of instruction are deception, stupefaction, kicks, vodka. And not a year passes but that spiritually sound, bright, good fellows are turned into just such wild beings as their teachers.
“Well, and if the prisoner, your father, runs away?” I asked a young soldier.
“I can run the bayonet through him,” he replied, in the peculiar, senseless voice of a soldier. “And if he ‘removes himself,’ I must shoot,” he added, apparently proud of his knowledge of what to do when his father “removes himself.”
When he, the good young man, is brought to a condition lower than an animal, he is such as those who use him as an instrument of violence want him to be. He is all ready: the man is lost, and a new instrument of violence has been created.
And all this takes place every year, every autumn, everywhere, in the whole of Russia, in broad daylight, in a populous city, in the sight of all men, and the deception is so clever, so cunning, that all see it and in the depth of their hearts know all its baseness, all its terrible consequences, and are unable to free themselves from it.
When the eyes shall be opened to this terrible deception which is practised on men, one must marvel how preachers of the religion of Christianity and morality, educators of youth, simply good, intelligent parents, who always exist in every society, can preach any doctrine of morality amidst a society in which all the churches and governments openly acknowledge that tortures and murders form an indispensable condition of the life of all men, and that amidst all men there must always be some special men, who are prepared to kill their brothers, and that every one of us may be such.
How can children and youths be taught and men in general be enlightened, to say nothing of the enlightenment in the Christian spirit, how can they be taught any morality by the side of the doctrine that murder is indispensable for the maintenance of the common, consequently of our own, well-being, and so is legitimate, and that there are men (any of us may be these men) whose duty it is to torture and kill our neighbors and to commit all kinds of crime at the will of those who have the power in their hands? If it is possible and right to torture and kill and commit all kinds of crimes by the will of those who have the power in their hands, there is, and there can be, no moral teaching, but there is only the right of the stronger. And so it is. In reality, such a teaching, which for some men is theoretically justified by the theory of the struggle for existence, does exist in our society.
Really, what kind of a moral teaching can there be, which would admit murder for any purposes whatsoever? This is as impossible as any mathematical doctrine, which would admit that two is equal to three.
With the admission of the fact that two is equal to three there may be a semblance of mathematics, but there can be no real mathematical knowledge. With the admission of murder in the form of executions, wars, self-defence, there may be a semblance of morality, but no real morality. The recognition of the sacredness of every man’s life is the first and only foundation of all morality.
The doctrine of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life was put aside by Christianity for the very reason that this doctrine is only a justification of immorality, only a semblance of justice, and is devoid of sense. Life is a quantity which has no weight and no measure and which cannot be equalized to any other, and so the destruction of one life for another can have no meaning. Besides, every social law is a law which has for its purpose the improvement of human life. But in what way can the destruction of the lives of a few individuals improve the lives of men? The destruction of life is not like its improvement, but an act of suicide.
The destruction of another man’s life for the purpose of preserving justice is like what a man would do who, to mend the calamity which consists in his having lost one arm, should for the sake of justice cut off his other arm.
But, to say nothing of the sin of deception, with which the most terrible crime presents itself to men as their duty; to say nothing of the terrible crime of using Christ’s name and authority for the purpose of legalizing what is most denied by this same Christ, as is done in the case of the oath; to say nothing of the offence by means of which not only the bodies, but even the souls of “these little ones” are ruined; to say nothing of all that, how can men, even in view of their personal security, men who think highly of their forms of life, their progress, admit the formation among them of that terrible, senseless, cruel, pernicious force which is established by every organized government that rests on the army? The most cruel and terrible of robber bands is not so terrible as such a state organization. Every leader of robbers is none the less limited in his power, because the men who form his band retain at least a small part of their human liberty and may oppose the performance of acts contrary to their conscience. But for men forming a part of a regularly organized government with an army, with discipline carried to the point to which it is at the present time, there are no barriers whatsoever. There are no crimes so terrible that they would not be committed by men forming a part of the government and of the army, by the will of him who accidentally (Boulanger, Pugachév, Napoleon) may stand at its head.
Frequently, when I see, not only the levies of recruits, the military exercises, the manoeuvres, but also the policemen with loaded revolvers, the sentries standing with guns and adjusted bayonets; when I hear (as I do in the Khamóvniki, where I live) for whole days the whistling and the pinging of bullets striking the target; and when I see, in the very city where every attempt at self-help and violence is prohibited, where there is a prohibition against the sale of powder, medicines, fast driving, unlicensed medical practice, and so forth, when I see in this same city thousands of disciplined men, who have been taught to commit murder and who are subject to one man — I ask myself: “How can the men who think so highly of their security bear all this?” To say nothing of the harmfulness and immorality, nothing can be more dangerous than this. How can all men, I do not say Christians, Christian pastors, but all philanthropists, moralists, all those men who value their lives, their security, their well-being, quietly look on? This organization will certainly act in the same way, no matter in whose hands it may be: today, let us say, this power is in the hands of an endurable ruler; tomorrow a Biron, an Elizabeth, a Catherine, a Pugachév, a Napoleon the First, a Napoleon the Third may usurp it. And again, the man in whose hands is the power, and who today may be endurable, may tomorrow turn into a beast, or his place may be taken by an insane or half-witted heir of his, as was the case with the King of Bavaria and Paul.
And not only these higher rulers, but also all those minor satraps, who are distributed everywhere like so many Baránovs, chiefs of police, even rural officers, commanders of companies, under-officers, may commit terrible crimes before there has been time to depose them, as happens constantly.
Involuntarily one asks himself: “How can men permit such things to happen, if not for the sake of higher considerations of state, at least for the sake of their security?”
The answer to this question is this, that it is not all men who permit this to happen (one part of them — the great majority of men — the deceived and the subjected, cannot help but permit anything to be done), but those who with such an organization hold an advantageous position; they permit it, because for them the risk of suffering, because at the head of the government or the army there may be a senseless or cruel man, is always less than the disadvantages to which they would be subjected in case of the destruction of the organization itself.
The judge, policeman, governor, officer will hold his position equally under Boulanger, or a republic, or Pugachév or Catherine; but he will certainly lose his position, if the existing order, which secures for him his advantageous position, falls to pieces. And so all these men are not afraid of who will stand at the head of the organization of violence — they adapt themselves to anybody — but only of the destruction of the organization itself, and so they always support it, often unconsciously.
One often marvels why free men, who are not urged to it by anything, the so-called flower of society, enter the army, in Russia, in England, Germany, Austria, even France, and why they seek an opportunity for becoming murderers. Why do parents, moral men, send their children to institutions which prepare them for military matters? Why do mothers buy their children helmets, guns, swords as their favorite toys? (The children of peasants never play soldier.) Why do good men, and even women, who are in no way connected with military affairs, go into ecstasies over the exploits of a Skobelévski and of others, and why do they take so much pains to praise them? Why do men, who are not urged to do so, who do not receive any salary for it, like the marshals of nobility in Russia, devote whole months of assiduous work to performing a physically hard and morally agonizing piece of business — the reception of recruits? Why do all the emperors and kings wear military costumes, attend manœuvres and parades, distribute rewards to soldiers, erect monuments to generals and conquerors? Why do free, wealthy men consider it an honor to perform lackeys’ duties to crowned heads, why do they humble themselves, and natter them, and pretend that they believe in the special grandeur of these persons? Why do men, who have long ago stopped believing in the medieval superstitions of the church, and who are unable to believe in them, seriously and invariably pretend that they believe, thus maintaining the offensive and blasphemous religious institution? Why is the ignorance of the masses so zealously guarded, not only by the governments, but also by the free men from the higher classes? Why do they with such fury attack every attempt at destroying the religious superstitions, and every true enlightenment of the masses? Why do men — historians, novelists, poets — who can certainly receive nothing for their flattery, describe as heroes long deceased emperors, kings, or generals? Why do men who call themselves learned devote their whole lives to the formation of theories, from which it follows that violence which is exerted by the power against the nation is not violence, but some especial right?
One often marvels why, for what reason a lady of the world or an artist, who, it would seem, is interested neither in social, nor in military questions, condemns labor strikes and preaches war, and always definitely attacks one side and defends the other?
But one marvels at this only so long as one does not know that this is all done so because all the men of the ruling classes feel instinctively what it is that maintains and what destroys the organization under which they can enjoy the privileges they are enjoying.
The lady of the world has not even made the reflection that, if there are no capitalists, and no armies to defend them, her husband will have no money, and she will have no salon and no costumes; and the artist has not made the reflection as to this, that he needs the capitalists, who are protected by the armies, to buy his pictures; but the instinct, which in this case takes the place of reason, guides them unerringly. It is precisely the same instinct that with few exceptions guides all those men who support all those political, religious, economic establishments, which are advantageous to them.
But can the men of the upper classes maintain this order of things, only because it is advantageous for them? These men cannot help but see that this order of things is in itself irrational, no longer corresponds to the degree of men’s consciousness, not even to public opinion, and is full of dangers. The men of the ruling classes — the honest, good, clever men among them — cannot help but suffer from these internal contradictions, and cannot help but see the dangers with which this order threatens them. Is it possible the men of the lower classes, all the millions of these people, can with a calm conscience perform all these obviously bad acts, tortures, and murders, which they are compelled to perform, only because they are afraid of punishment? Indeed, that could not have been, and neither the men of the one class nor of the other could help but see the irrationality of their activity, if the peculiarity of the state structure did not conceal from them the whole unnaturalness and irrationality of the acts committed by them.
This irrationality is concealed by the fact that in the commission of each of these acts there are so many instigators, accomplices, abettors, that not one of the men [or women] taking part in it feels himself to be morally responsible.
Murderers compel all the persons who are present at a murder to strike the dead victim, so that the responsibility may be distributed among the largest possible number of men. The same thing, having assumed definite forms, has established itself in the structure of the state in the commission of all those crimes, without the constant commission of which no state organization is thinkable. The, rulers of the state always try to draw as large a number of citizens as possible into the greatest possible participation in all the crimes committed by them and indispensable for them.
Of late this has found a most lucid expression in the drafting of the citizens into the courts in the form of jurors, into the armies in the form of soldiers, and into the local government and into the legislative assembly in the form of electors and representatives.
In the structure of the state, in which, as in a basket made of rods, all the ends are so concealed that it is not possible to find them, the responsibility for crimes committed is so concealed from men that they, in committing the most awful deeds, do not see their own responsibility in them.
In olden times the tyrants were blamed for the commission of evil deeds, but in our time most awful crimes, unthinkable even in the time of a Nero, are committed, and there is no one to blame.
Some men demanded, others decreed, others again confirmed, others proposed, others reported, others prescribed, others executed. Women, old men, innocent people, are killed, hanged, flogged to death, as lately happened in Russia in the Yuzovsky Plant, and as happens everywhere in Europe and in America, in the struggle with anarchists and all kinds of violators of the existing order; hundreds, thousands of men will be shot to death, killed, and hanged, or, as is done in wars, millions of men will be killed or ruined, or, as is constantly done, the souls of men are ruined in solitary confinement, in the debauched condition of militarism — and no one is to blame.
On the lowest stage of the social ladder, soldiers with guns, pistols, swords, torture and kill men, and with the same tortures and murders compel men to enter the army, and are fully convinced that the responsibility for these acts is taken from them by those authorities who prescribe these acts to them.
On the highest stage, kings, presidents, ministers, Chambers, prescribe these tortures and murders and the enlistment of soldiers, and are fully convinced that, since they are put into their places by God, or since the society which they rule over demands from them precisely what they prescribe, they cannot be blamed.
In the middle between the two are the intermediate persons, who order the tortures and murders and the enlistment of soldiers, and they are fully convinced that their responsibility has been taken from them, partly by the commands from above, and partly because the same orders are demanded of them by all those who stand on the lower stages.
The administrative and the executive powers, which lie at the two extremes of the structure of the state, meet like two ends that are united into a ring, and one conditions and maintains the other and all the intervening links.
Without the conviction that there exists such a person, or such a number of persons, who take upon themselves the responsibility for the acts committed, not one soldier would be able to raise his hands for the purpose of torturing or killing. Without the conviction that this is demanded by the whole nation, not one emperor, king, president, not one assembly would be able to prescribe these same tortures and murders. Without the conviction that there are persons who stand above him and take upon themselves the responsibility for his act, and men who stand below him and demand the fulfilment of such acts for their own good, not one of the men who stand on the stages intermediate between the ruler and the soldier would be able to commit those acts which he is committing.
The structure of the state is such that, no matter on what rung of the social ladder a man may stand, his degree of irresponsibility is always one and the same: the higher he stands the more is he subjected to the influence of the demand for orders from below and the less he is subjected to the influence of the prescriptions from above, and vice versa.
Thus, in the case before me, every one who had taken part in the matter was the more under the influence of the demand for orders from below and the less under the influence of prescriptions from above, the higher his position was, and vice versa.
But not only do all men who are connected with the structure of the state shift their responsibility for deeds committed upon others: the peasant who is drafted into the army, upon the nobleman or merchant who has become an officer; and the officer, upon the nobleman who holds the position of governor; and the governor, upon the son of an official or nobleman who occupies the position of minister; and the minister, upon a member of the imperial house who holds the position of emperor; and the emperor again, upon all these officials, noblemen, merchants, and peasants; not only do men in this manner free themselves from the consciousness of responsibility for acts committed by them — they even lose the moral consciousness of their responsibility for this other reason, that, uniting into a political structure, they so constantly, continuously, and tensely convince themselves and others that they are not all identical men, but men who differ from one another as does “one star from another,” that they begin themselves sincerely to believe so. Thus they convince one set of men that they are not simple men, identical with others, but a special kind of men, who have to be honored, while they impress others with the idea that they stand beneath all other men and so must unflinchingly submit to what they are commanded to do by their superiors.
On this inequality and exaltation of one class of men and the annihilation of the other is mainly based the inability of men to see the irrationality of the existing order and its cruelty and criminality, and of that deception which is practised by some and to which the others submit.
Some, those who are impressed with the idea that they are vested with some supernatural significance and grandeur, are so intoxicated by this imaginary grandeur that they stop seeing their responsibility in the acts committed by them; the other men, who, on the contrary, are impressed with the idea that they are insignificant creatures, who must in everything submit to the higher, in consequence of this constant condition of humiliation fall into a strange condition of intoxication of servility, and under the influence of their intoxication also fail to see the significance of their acts, and lose the consciousness of their responsibility for them. The intermediate people, who, partly submitting to the higher, and partly considering themselves to be superior, succumb simultaneously I to the intoxication of power and that of servility, and so I lose the consciousness of their responsibility.
We need but look in any country at a superior chief, intoxicated by his grandeur, accompanied by his staff, all of them on magnificently caparisoned horses, in special uniforms and signs of distinction, as he, to the sound of the harmonious and festive music produced by wind-instruments, rides past a line of soldiers stiffened up from a sense of servility and presenting arms — we need but look at him, in order that we may understand that at these moments the highest chief and the soldier and all the intermediate persons, being in a state of intoxication, are equally capable of committing acts which they would not think of committing under other circumstances.
But the intoxication experienced by men under such phenomena as are parades, imperial receptions, church solemnities, coronations, is a temporary and acute condition; there are also other, chronic, constant conditions of intoxication, which are equally experienced by all men who have any power, from the power of the emperor to that of a policeman in the street, and by men who submit to power and who are in a condition of intoxication through servility, and who in justification of this their condition always ascribe, as has always shown itself in the case of slaves, the greatest significance and dignity to him whom they obey.
On this deception of the inequality of men and the resulting intoxication of power and of servility is preeminently based the ability of men united into a political structure to commit, without experiencing any pangs of conscience, acts which are contrary to their conscience.
Under the influence of such an intoxication, both of power and of servility, men present themselves to themselves and to others, not as what they are in reality — men — but as especial, conventional beings — noblemen, merchants, governors, judges, officers, kings, ministers, soldiers, who no longer are subject to common human obligations, but, above all else, and before all human, to nobiliary, commercial, gubernatorial, judicial, military, royal, ministerial obligations.
Thus, the proprietor who litigated concerning the forest did what he did only because he did not present himself to himself as a simple man, like any of the peasants who were living by his side, but as a large landed proprietor and a member of the gentry, and so, under the influence of the intoxication of power, he felt himself insulted by the pretensions of the peasants. It was only for this reason that, without paying any attention to the consequences which might arise from his demand, he handed in the petition requesting the restitution of his imaginary right.
Similarly, the judges who irregularly adjudged the forest to the proprietor did so only because they do not imagine themselves to be simple men, just like all other men, and so under obligation in all cases to be guided only by what is the truth, but under the intoxication of power they imagine themselves to be the guardians of justice, who cannot err; but under the influence of the intoxication of servility they imagine themselves to be men who are obliged to carry out certain words which are written in a certain book and are called the law. As just such conventional persons, and not as what they are in reality, present themselves, under the influence of the intoxication of power and of servility, to themselves and to others, all the other participants in this matter, from the highest representatives of power, who sign their approval on documents, from the marshal, who drafts recruits at the levy of soldiers, and the priest, who deceives them, to the last soldier, who is now getting ready to shoot at his brothers. They all did what they did, and are preparing themselves to do what awaits them, only because they present themselves to themselves and to others, not as what they are in reality — men who are confronted with the question as to whether they should take part in a matter which is condemned by their conscience, or not — but as different conventional persons — one, as an anointed king, a special being, who is called upon to care for the well-being of one hundred million men; another, as a representative of nobility; a third, as a priest, who with his ordainment has received a special grace; a fourth, as a soldier, who is obliged by his oath to fulfill without reflection what he is commanded to do.
Only under the influence of the intoxication of power and servility, which result from their imaginary positions, can all these men do what they do.
If all these men did not have a firm conviction that the callings of kings, ministers, governors, judges, noblemen, landed proprietors, marshals, officers, soldiers, are something actually in existence and very important, not one of these men would think without terror and disgust of participating in the acts which he is committing now.
The conventional positions, which were established hundreds of years ago, which have been recognized through the ages, and which are now recognized by all men about us, and which are designated by special names and particular attires, and which, besides, are maintained by means of every kind of magnificence and effects on the outer senses, are to such a degree instilled in people that they, forgetting the habitual conditions of life, common to all, begin to look upon themselves and upon all men only from this conventional point of view, and are guided by nothing but this conventional point of view in the valuation of other men’s acts.
Thus a mentally sound old man, for no other reason than that some trinket or fool’s dress is put over him, some keys on his buttocks, or a blue ribbon, which is proper only for a dressed-up little girl, and that he is on that occasion impressed with the idea that he is a general, a chamberlain, a Cavalier of St. Andrews, or some such silliness, suddenly becomes self-confident, proud, and even happy; or, on the contrary, because he loses or does not receive a desired trinket or name, becomes so sad and unhappy that he even grows sick. Or, what is even more startling, an otherwise mentally sound, free, and even well-to-do young man, for no other reason than that he calls himself, and others call him, an investigating magistrate or County Council chief, seizes an unfortunate widow away from her minor children, and locks her up, or has her locked up in a prison, leaving her children without a mother, and all that because this unfortunate woman secretly trafficked in liquor and thus deprived the Crown of twenty-five roubles of revenue, and he does not feel the least compunction about it. Or, what is even more startling, an otherwise intelligent and meek man, only because a brass plate or a uniform is put on him and he is told that he is a watchman or a customs soldier, begins to shoot with bullets at men, and neither he nor those who surround him consider him blameworthy for it, and would even blame him if he did not shoot; I do not even speak of the judges and jurors, who sentence to executions, and of the military, who kill thousands without the least compunction, only because they have been impressed with the idea that they are not simply men, but jurors, judges, generals, soldiers.
Such a constant, unnatural, and strange condition of men in the life of the state is generally expressed in words as follows: “As a man I pity him, but as a watchman, judge, general, governor, king, soldier, I must kill or torture him,” as though there can exist a given position, acknowledged by men, which can make void duties which are imposed upon each of us by a man’s position.
Thus, for example, in the present case, men are travelling to commit murder and tortures on hungry people, and they recognize that in the dispute between the peasants and the proprietor the peasants are in the right (all men in authority told me so), and know that the peasants are unfortunate, poor, and hungry; the proprietor is rich and does not inspire sympathy, and all these men none the less are on their way to kill the peasants, in order thus to secure three thousand roubles to the proprietor, for no other reason than that these men at this moment do not consider themselves to be men, but a governor, a general of gendarmes, an officer, a soldier, and think that not the eternal demands of their consciences, but the accidental, temporary demands of their positions as officers and soldiers are binding on them.
However strange this may seem, the only explanation for this remarkable phenomenon is this, that these men are in the same position as those hypnotized persons who are commanded to imagine and feel themselves in certain conventional positions, and to act like those beings whom they represent; thus, for example, when a hypnotized person receives the suggestion that he is lame, he begins to limp, or that he is blind, he does not see, or that he is an animal, he begins to bite. In this state are not only the men who are travelling on this train, but also all men who preferably perform their social and their political duties, to the disadvantage of their human duties.
The essence of this condition is this, that the men under the influence of the one idea suggested to them are not able to reflect upon their acts, and so do, without any reflection, what is prescribed to them in correspondence with the suggested idea, and what they are led up to through example, advice, or hints.
The difference between those who are hypnotized by artificial means and those who are under the influence of the political suggestion consists in this, that to the artificially hypnotized their imaginary condition is suggested at once, by one person, and for the briefest space of time, and so the suggestion presents itself to us in a glaring form, which sets us to wondering, while to the men who act under the political suggestion their imaginary position is suggested by degrees, slowly, imperceptibly, from childhood, at times not only in a certain number of years, but through whole generations, and, besides, is not suggested by one person, but by all those who surround them.
“But,” I shall be told, “in all societies the majority of men — all the children, all the women, who are absorbed in the labor of pregnancy, child-bearing, and nursing, all the enormous masses of the working people, who are placed under the necessity of tense and assiduous physical labor, all the mentally weak by nature, all abnormal men with a weakened spiritual activity in consequence of nicotine, alcohol, and opium poisoning, or for some other reason — all these men are always in such a condition that, not being able to reason independently, they submit either to those men who stand on a higher stage of rational consciousness, or to family and political traditions, to what is called public opinion, and in this submission there is nothing unnatural or contradictory.”
And, indeed, there is nothing unnatural in it, and the ability of unthinking people to submit to the indications of men standing on a higher stage of consciousness is a constant property of men, that property in consequence of which men, submitting to the same rational principles, are able to live in societies: some — the minority — by consciously submitting to the same rational principles, on account of their agreement with the demands of their reason; the others — the majority — by submitting unconsciously to the same principles, only because these demands have become the public opinion. Such a subjection of the unthinking to public opinion presents nothing unnatural so long as the public opinion is not split up.
But there are times when the higher truth, as compared with the former degree of the consciousness of the truth, which at first is revealed to a few men, in passing by degrees from one set to another, embraces such a large number of men that the former public opinion, which is based on a lower stage of consciousness, begins to waver, and the new is ready to establish itself, but is not yet established. There are times, resembling spring, when the old public opinion has not yet been destroyed and the new is not yet established, and when men begin to criticize their own acts and those of others on the basis of the new consciousness, and yet in life, from inertia, from tradition, continue to submit to principles which only in former times formed the higher degree of rational consciousness, but which now are already in an obvious contradiction to it. And then the men, feeling, on the one hand, the necessity of submitting to the new public opinion, and not daring, on the other, to depart from the former, find themselves in an unnatural, wavering state. It is in such a condition that, in relation to the Christian truths, are not only the men on this train, but also the majority of the men of our time.
In the same condition are equally the men of the higher classes, who enjoy exclusive, advantageous positions, and the men of the lower classes, who without opposition obey what they are commanded to obey.
Some, the men of the ruling classes, who no longer possess any rational explanation for the advantageous positions held by them, are put to the necessity, for the purpose of maintaining these positions, of suppressing in themselves the higher rational faculties of love and of impressing upon themselves the necessity for their exclusive position; the others, the lower classes, who are oppressed by labor and purposely stupefied, are in a constant state of suggestion, which is unflinchingly and constantly produced on them by the men of the higher classes.
Only thus can be explained those remarkable phenomena with which our life is filled, and as a striking example of which there presented themselves to me my good, peaceful acquaintances, whom I met on September 9th, and who with peace of mind were travelling to commit a most beastly, senseless, and base crime. If the consciences of these men [and women] had not been in some way put to sleep, not one of them would be able to do one hundredth part of what they are getting ready to do, and, in all probability, will do.
It cannot be said that they do not have the conscience which forbids them to do what they are about to do, as there was no such conscience in men four hundred, three hundred, two hundred, one hundred years ago, when they burned people at the stake, tortured people, and flogged them to death; it exists in all these men, but it is put to sleep in them — in some, the ruling men, who are in exclusive, advantageous positions, by means of auto-suggestion, as the psychologists call it; in the others, the executors, the soldiers by a direct, conscious suggestion, hypnotization, produced by the upper classes.
The conscience is in these men put to sleep, but it exists in them, and through the auto-suggestion and suggestion, which hold sway over them, it already speaks in them and may awaken any moment.
All these men are in a condition resembling the one a hypnotized man would be in, if it were suggested to him and he were commanded to do an act which is contrary to everything which he considers rational and good — to kill his mother or child. The hypnotized man feels himself bound by the suggestion induced in him, and it seems to him that he cannot stop; at the same time, the nearer he comes to the time and the place of the commission of the crime, the stronger does the drowned voice of the conscience rise in him, and he begins to show more and more opposition and to writhe, and wants to wake up. And it is impossible to say in advance whether he will do the suggested act, or not, and what it is that will win, the rational consciousness or the irrational suggestion. Everything depends on the relative strength of the two.
Precisely the same is now taking place in all the men on this train, and in general in all the men who in our time commit political acts of violence and exploit them.
There was a time when men, who went out for the purpose of torturing and killing people, for the purpose of setting an example, did not return otherwise than having performed the act for which they had gone out, and, having performed the act, they were not tormented by repentance and doubt, but, having flogged men to death, calmly returned home to their family, and petted their children — jested, laughed, and abandoned themselves to quiet domestic pleasures. It did not then occur even to those who gained by these acts of violence, to the landed proprietors and the rich men, that the advantages which they enjoyed had any direct connection with these cruelties. But now it is not so: men know already, or are very near to knowing, what they are doing, and for what purpose they are doing what they are doing. They may shut their eyes and cause their consciences to be inactive, but with eyes unshut and consciences unimpaired they — both those who commit the acts and those who gain by them — no longer can fail to see the significance which these acts have. It happens that men understand the significance of what they have done only after they have performed the act; or it happens that they understand it before the very act. Thus the men who had in charge the tortures in Nízhni-Nóvgorod, Sarátov, Orél, Yuzovsky Plant, understood the significance of what they did only after the commission of the act, and now they are tormented with shame before public opinion and before their consciences. Both those who ordered the tortures and those who executed them are tormented. I have spoken with soldiers who have executed such acts, and they have always cautiously evaded all conversation about it; when they spoke, they did so with perplexity and terror. Cases happen when men come to their senses immediately before the commission of the act. Thus I know a case of a sergeant, who during a pacification was beaten by two peasants, and who reported accordingly, but who the next day, when he saw the tortures to which the peasants were subjected, begged the commander of the company to tear up the report and to discharge the peasants who had beaten him. I know a case when the soldiers, who were commanded to shoot some men, declined to obey; and I know many cases where the commanders refused to take charge of tortures and murders. Thus it happens that the men who establish violence and those who commit acts of violence at times come to their senses long before the commission of the act suggested to them, at others before the very act, and at others again after the act.
The men who are travelling on this train have gone out to torture and kill their brothers, but not one of them knows whether he will do what he has set out to do, or not. No matter how hidden for each of them is the responsibility in this matter, no matter how strong the suggestion may be, in all these men, that they are not men, but governors, rural judges, officers, soldiers, and that, as such beings, they may violate their human obligations, the nearer they approach the place of their destination, the stronger will the doubt rise in them whether they should do what they have started out to do, and this doubt will reach the highest degree when they reach the very moment of the execution.
The governor, in spite of all the intoxication of the surrounding circumstance, cannot help but reflect for a moment, when he has to give his last decisive command concerning the murder or the torture. He knows that the case of the Governor of Orél provoked the indignation of the best men of society, and he himself, under the influence of the public opinion of those circles to which he belongs, has more than once expressed his disapproval of it; he knows that the prosecutor, who was to have gone with them, refused outright to take part in this business, because he considered it disgraceful; he knows also that changes may take place in the government at any time, and that in consequence of them that which was a desert today may tomorrow be the cause of disfavor; he knows, too, that there is a press, if not in Russia, at least abroad, which may describe this matter and so disgrace him for life. He already scents that new public opinion which is making void what the former public opinion demanded. Besides, he cannot be absolutely sure that at the last moment the executors will obey him. He wavers, and it is impossible to foretell what he will do.
The same thing, in a greater or lesser measure, is experienced by all the officials and officers who are travelling with him. They all know in the depth of their hearts that the deed which is to be done is disgraceful, that participation in it lowers and denies a man in the eyes of a few men, whose opinion they already value. They know that it is a shame to appear after the torture or murder of defenceless men in the presence of their fiancées or wives, whom they treat with a show of tenderness. Besides, like the governor, they are in doubt whether the soldiers are sure to obey them. And, no matter how unlike it is to the self-confident look with which all these ruling men now move in the station and up and down the platform, they all in the depth of their hearts suffer and even waver. It is for this very reason that they assume this confident tone, in order to conceal their inner wavering. And this sensation increases in proportion as they come nearer to the place of action.
However imperceptible this may be, and however strange it may appear, all this mass of young soldiers, who seem so subservient, is in the same state.
They are all of them no longer the soldiers of former days, men who have renounced their natural life of labor, and who have devoted their lives exclusively to dissipation, rapine, and murder, like some Roman legionaries or the warriors of the Thirty-Years War, or even the late soldiers of twenty-five years of service; they are, for the most part, men who have but lately been taken away from their families, all of them full of recollections of that good, natural, and sensible life from which they have been taken away.
All these lads, who for the most part come from the country, know what business is taking them out on the train; they know that the proprietors always offend their brothers, the peasants, and that therefore the same thing is taking place here. Besides, the greater half of these men know how to read, books, and not all books are those in which the business of war is lauded — there are also those in which its immorality is pointed out. Amidst them frequently serve freethinking companions — volunteer soldiers — and just such liberal young officers, and into their midst has been thrown the seed of doubt as to the unconditional legality and valor of their activity. It is true, all of them have passed through that terrible, artificial drill, worked out by ages, which kills all independence in a man, and they are so accustomed to mechanical obedience that at the words of command, “Fire by company! Company, fire!” and so forth, their guns rise mechanically and the habitual motions take place. But “Fire!” will not mean now having fun while shooting at a target, but killing their tormented, offended fathers and brothers, who — here they are — are standing in crowds, with their women and children in the street, and shouting and waving their hands. Here they are — one of them, with a sparse beard, in a patched caftan and in bast shoes, just like their own fathers at home in the Government of Kazán or of Ryazán; another, with a gray beard and stooping shoulders, carrying a large stick, just like their father’s father, their grandfather; another, a young lad in boots and red shirt, exactly as the soldier who is now to shoot at him was a year ago. And here is a woman in bast shoes and linen skirt, just like mother at home —
Are they really going to shoot at them?
God knows what each soldier will do during this last moment. One slightest indication as to its not being right, above all as to the possibility of not doing it, one such word, one hint, will be sufficient, in order to stop them.
All men who are travelling on this train will, when they proceed to execute the deed for which they have set out, be in the same position in which a hypnotized person would be, who has received the suggestion to chop a log, and, having walked up to what has been pointed out to him as a log and having raised the axe to strike, suddenly sees or is told that it is not a log, but his sleeping brother. He may perform the act suggested to him, and he may wake up before its performance. Even so all these men may awaken, or not. If they do not, as terrible a deed as the one in Orél will be done, and in other men the auto-suggestion and the suggestion under which they act will be increased; if they awaken, such a deed will not only not be performed, but many others, upon finding out the turn which the affair has taken, will be freed from that suggestion in which they are, or at least will approach such a liberation.
But if not all men travelling on this train shall awaken and refrain from doing the deed which has been begun, if only a few of them shall do so and shall boldly express to other men the criminality of this affair, these few men even may have the effect of awakening all the other men from the suggestion, under which they are, and the proposed evil deed will not take place.
More than that: if only a few men, who do not take part in this affair, but are only present at the preparations for the same, or who have heard of similar acts previously committed, will not remain indifferent, but will frankly and boldly express their disgust with the participants in these matters, and will point out to them their whole senselessness, cruelty, and criminality, even that will not pass unnoticed.
Even so it was in the present case. A few persons, participants and non-participants in this affair, who were free from suggestion, needed but at the time when they were getting ready for this affair boldly to express their indignation with tortures administered in other places, and their disgust and contempt for those men who took part in them; in the present Túla affair a few persons needed but to express their unwillingness to take part in it; the lady passenger and a few other persons at the station needed but in the presence of those who were travelling on the train to express their indignation at the act which was about to be committed; one of the regimental commanders, a part of whose troops were demanded for the pacification, needed but to express his opinion that the military cannot be executioners — and thanks to these and certain other, seemingly unimportant, private influences exerted against people under suggestion, the affair would take a different turn, and the troops, upon arriving on the spot, would not commit any tortures, but would cut down the forest and give it to the proprietor. If there should not be in certain men any clear consciousness as to their doing wrong, and if there should be, in consequence of this, no mutual influence of men in this sense, there would take place the same as in Orél. But if this consciousness should be even stronger, and so the amount of the interactions even greater than what it was, it is very likely that the governor and his troops would not even dare to cut down the forest, in order to give it to the proprietor. If this consciousness had been even stronger and the amount of interactions greater, it is very likely the governor would not even have dared to travel to the place of action. If the consciousness had been stronger still and the amount of interactions even greater, it is very likely that the minister would not have made up his mind to prescribe, and the emperor to confirm such a decree.
Everything, consequently, depends on the force with which the Christian truth is cognized by every individual man.
And so, it would seem, the activity of all the men of our time, who assert that they wish to continue to the welfare of humanity, should be directed to the increase of the lucidity of the demands of the Christian truth.
But, strange to say, those very men, who in our time assert more than any one else that they care for the amelioration of human life, and who are regarded as the leaders in public opinion, affirm that it is not necessary to do that, and that for the amelioration of the condition of men there exist other, more efficacious means. These men assert that the amelioration of human life does not take place in consequence of the internal efforts of the consciousness of individual men and the elucidation and profession of the truth, but in consequence of the gradual change of the common external conditions of life, and that the profession by every individual man of the truth which is not in conformity with the existing order is not only useless, but even harmful, because on the part of the power it provokes oppressions, which keep these individuals from continuing their useful activity in the service of society. According to this doctrine, all the changes in human life take place under the same laws under which they take place in the life of the animals.
Thus, according to this doctrine, all the founders of religions, such as Moses and the prophets, Confucius, Lao-tse, Buddha, Christ, and others preached their teachings, and their followers accepted them, not because they loved truth, elucidated it to themselves, and professed it, but because the political, social, and, above all, economic conditions of the nations among whom these teachings appeared and were disseminated were favorable for their manifestation and diffusion.
And so the chief activity of a man wishing to serve society and ameliorate the condition of humanity must according to this doctrine be directed, not to the elucidation of the truth and its profession, but to the amelioration of the external political, social, and, above all else, economic conditions. Now the change of these political, social, and economic conditions is accomplished partly by means of serving the government and of introducing into it liberal and progressive principles, partly by contributing to the development of industry and the dissemination of socialistic ideas, and chiefly by the diffusion of scientific education.
According to this teaching it is not important for a man to profess in life the truth that has been revealed to him, and so inevitably be compelled to realize it in life, or at least not to do acts which are contrary to the professed truth; not to serve the government and not to increase its power, if he considers this power to be deleterious; not to make use of the capitalistic structure, if he considers this structure to be irregular; not to show any respect for various ceremonies, if he considers them to be a dangerous superstition; not to take part in the courts, if he considers their establishment to be false; not to serve as a soldier; not to swear; in general, not to lie, not to act as a scoundrel, but, without changing the existing forms of life, and submitting to them, contrary to his opinion, he should introduce liberalism into the existing institutions; cooperate with industry, the propaganda of socialism, the advancement of what is called the sciences, and the diffusion of culture. According to this theory is it possible, though remaining a landed proprietor, a merchant, a manufacturer, a judge, an official, receiving a salary from the government, a soldier, an officer, to be, withal, not only a humane man, but even a socialist and revolutionist.
Hypocrisy, which formerly used to have a religious foundation in the doctrine about the fall of the human race, about redemption, and about the church, in this teaching received in our time a new scientific foundation, and so has caught in its net all those men who from the degree of their development can no longer fall back on the religious hypocrisy. Thus, if formerly only a man who professed the ecclesiastic religious doctrine could, considering himself with it pure from every sin, take part in all kinds of crimes committed by the government, and make use of them, so long as he at the same time fulfilled the external demands of his profession, now all men, who do not believe in the church Christianity, have the same kind of a worldly scientific basis for recognizing themselves as pure, and even highly moral men, in spite of their participation in the evil deeds of the state and of their making use of them.
There lives — not in Russia alone, but anywhere you please, in France, England, Germany, America — a rich landed proprietor, and for the right which he gives to certain people living on his land, to draw their sustenance from it, he fleeces these for the most part hungry people to their fullest extent. This man’s right to the possession of the land is based on this, that at every attempt of the oppressed people at making use of the lands which he considers his own, without his consent, there arrive some troops which subject the men who have seized the lands to tortures and extermination. One would think that it is evident that a man who lives in this manner is an egotistical being and in no way can call himself a Christian or a liberal. It would seem to be obvious that the first thing such a man ought to do, if he only wants in some way to come near to Christianity or to liberalism, would be to stop plundering and ruining men by means of his right to the land, which is supported by murders and tortures practised by the government. Thus it would be if there did not exist the metaphysics of hypocrisy, which says that from a religious point of view the possession or non-possession of the land is a matter of indifference as regards salvation, and that from the scientific point of view the renunciation of the ownership of land would be a useless personal effort, and that the cooperation with the good of men is not accomplished in this manner, but through the gradual change of external forms. And so this man, without the least compunction, and without any misgivings as to his being believed, arranges an agricultural exhibition, or a temperance society, or through his wife and children sends jackets and soup to three old women, and in his family, in drawing-rooms, committees, the press, boldly preaches the Gospel or humane love of one’s neighbor in general, and of that working agricultural class in particular which he constantly torments and oppresses. And the men who are in the same condition with him believe him, praise him, and with him solemnly discuss the questions as to what measures should be used for the amelioration of the condition of the working masses, on the spoliation of whom their life is based, inventing for the purpose all kinds of means, except the one without which no amelioration of the people’s condition is possible, of ceasing to take away from these people the land, which is necessary for their maintenance.
A most striking example of such hypocrisy is to be found in the measures taken last year by the Russian landed proprietors in the struggle with the famine, which they themselves had produced, and which they immediately set out to exploit, when they not only sold the corn at the highest possible price, but even sold to the freezing peasants as fuel the potato-tops at five roubles per desyatína.
Or there lives a merchant, whose whole commerce, like any commerce, is based on a series of rascalities, by means of which, exploiting the ignorance and need of men, articles are bought of them below their value, and, again exploiting the ignorance, need, and temptation of men, are sold back at prices above their value. It would seem to be obvious that a man whose activity is based on what in his own language is called rascality, so long as these same acts are performed under different conditions, ought to be ashamed of his position, and is by no means able, continuing to be a merchant, to represent himself as a Christian or a liberal. But the metaphysics of hypocrisy says to him that he may pass for a virtuous man, even though continuing his harmful activity: a religious man need only be believed, but a liberal has only to cooperate with the change of external conditions — the progress of industry. And so this merchant, who frequently, in addition, performs a whole series of direct rascalities, by selling bad wares for good ones, cheating in weights and measures, or trading exclusively in articles which are pernicious to the people’s health (such as wine or opium), boldly considers himself, and is considered by others, so long as he in business does not directly cheat his fellows in deception, that is, his fellow merchants, to be a model of honesty and conscientiousness. If he spends one-thousandth of the money stolen by him on some public institution, a hospital, a museum, an institution of learning, he is also regarded as a benefactor of those very people on the deception and corruption of whom all his fortune is based; but if he contributes part of his stolen money to a church and for the poor, he is regarded even as a model Christian.
Or there lives a manufacturer, whose whole income consists of the pay which is taken away from the workmen, and whose whole activity is based on compulsory, unnatural labor, which ruins whole generations of men; it would seem to be obvious that first of all, if this man professes any Christian or liberal principles, he must stop ruining human lives for the sake of his profit. But according to the existing theory, he is contributing to industry, and he must not — it would even be injurious to men and to society — stop his activity. And here this man, the cruel slaveholder of thousands of men, building for those who have been crippled while working for him little houses with little gardens five feet square, and a savings-bank, and a poorhouse, and a hospital, is fully convinced that in this way he has more than paid for all those physically and mentally ruined lives of men, for which he is responsible, and quietly continues his activity, of which he is proud.
Or there lives a head of a department, or some civil, clerical, military servant of the state, who serves for the purpose of satisfying his ambition or love of power, or, what is most common, for the purpose of receiving a salary, which is collected from the masses that are emaciated and exhausted with labor (taxes, no matter from whom they come, always originate in labor, that is, in the laboring people), and if he, which is extremely rare, does not directly steal the government’s money in some unusual manner, he considers himself and is considered by others like him to be a most useful and virtuous member of society.
There lives some judge, prosecutor, head of a department, and he knows that as the result of his sentence or decree hundreds and thousands of unfortunate people, torn away from their families, are lingering in solitary confinement, at hard labor, going mad and killing themselves with shards of glass, or starving to death; he knows that these thousands of people have thousands of mothers, wives, children, who are suffering from the separation, are deprived of the possibility of meeting them, are disgraced, vainly implore forgiveness or even alleviation of the fates of their fathers, sons, husbands, brothers — and the judge or head of a department is so hardened in his hypocrisy that he himself and his like and their wives and relatives are firmly convinced that he can with all this be a very good and sensitive man. According to the metaphysics of hypocrisy, it turns out that he is doing useful public work. And this man, having ruined hundreds, thousands of men, who curse him, and who are in despair, thanks to his activity, believing in the good and in God, with a beaming, benevolent smile on his smooth face, goes to mass, hears the Gospel, makes liberal speeches, pets his children, preaches to them morality, and feels meek of spirit in the presence of imaginary sufferings.
All these men and those who live on them, their wives, teachers, children, cooks, actors, jockeys, and so forth, live by the blood which in one way or another, by one class of leeches or by another, is sucked out of the working people; thus they live, devouring each day for their pleasures hundreds and thousands of work-days of the exhausted laborers, who are driven to work by the threat of being killed; they see the privations and sufferings of these laborers, of their children, old men, women, sick people; they know of the penalties to which the violators of this established spoliation are subjected, and they not only do not diminish their luxury, do not conceal it, but impudently display before these oppressed laborers, who for the most part hate them, as though on purpose to provoke them, their parks, castles, theatres, chases, races, and at the same time assure themselves and one another that they are all very much concerned about the good of the masses, whom they never stop treading underfoot; and on Sundays they dress themselves in costly attire and drive in expensive carriages into houses especially built for the purpose of making fun of Christianity, and there listen to men especially trained in this lie, who in every manner possible, in vestments and without vestments, in white neckties, preach to one another the love of men, which they all deny with their whole lives. And, while doing all this, these men so enter into their parts that they seriously believe that they actually are what they pretend to be.
The universal hypocrisy, which has entered into the flesh and blood of all the classes of our time, has reached such limits that nothing of this kind ever fills any one with indignation. Hypocrisy with good reason means the same as acting, and anybody can pretend — act a part. Nobody is amazed at such phenomena as that the successors of Christ bless the murderers who are lined up and hold the guns which are loaded for their brothers; that the priests, the pastors of all kinds of Christian confessions, always, as inevitably as the executioners, take part in executions, with their presence recognizing the murder as compatible with Christianity (at an electrocution in America, a preacher was present).
Lately there was an international prison exhibition in St. Petersburg, where implements of torture were exhibited, such as manacles, models of solitary cells, that is, worse implements of torture than knouts and rods, and sensitive gentlemen and ladies went to look at all this, and they enjoyed the sight.
Nor is any one surprised at the way the liberal science proves, by the side of the assumption of equality, fraternity, liberty, the necessity of an army, of executions, custom-houses, the censorship, the regulation of prostitution, the expulsion of cheap labor, and the prohibition of immigration, and the necessity and justice of colonization, which is based on the poisoning, plundering, and destruction of whole tribes of men who are called savage, and so forth.
People talk of what will happen when all men shall profess what is called Christianity (that is, various mutually hostile professions); when all shall be well fed and well clothed; when all shall be united with one another from one end of the world to the other by means of telegraphs and telephones, and shall communicate with one another by means of balloons; when all the laborers shall be permeated with social teachings, and the labor-unions shall have collected so many millions of members and of roubles; when all men shall be cultured, and all shall read the papers and know the sciences.
But of what use or good can all these improvements be, if people shall not at the same time speak and do what they consider to be the truth?
The calamities of men are certainly due to their disunion, and the disunion is due to this, that men do not follow the truth, which is one, but the lies, of which there are many. The only means for the union of men into one is the union in truth; and so, the more sincerely men strive toward the truth, the nearer they are to this union.
But how can men be united in truth, or even approach it, if they not only do not express the truth which they know, but even think that it is unnecessary to do so, and pretend that they consider to be the truth what they do not regard as the truth.
And so no amelioration of the condition of men is possible, so long as men will pretend, that is, conceal the truth from themselves, so long as they do not recognize that their union, and so their good, is possible only in the truth, and so will not place the recognition and profession of the truth, the one which has been revealed to them, higher than anything else.
Let all those external improvements, of which religious and scientific men may dream, be accomplished; let all men accept Christianity, and let all those ameliorations, which all kinds of Bellamys and Richets wish for, take place, with every imaginable addition and correction — but let with all that the same hypocrisy remain as before; let men not profess the truth which they know, but continue to pretend that they believe in what they really, do not believe, and respect what they really do not respect, and the condition of men will not only remain the same, but will even grow worse and worse. The more people shall have to eat, the more there shall be of telegraphs, telephones, books, newspapers, journals, the more means will there be for the dissemination of discordant lies and of hypocrisy, and the more will men be disunited and, therefore, wretched, as is indeed the case at present.
Let all these external changes take place, and the condition of humanity will not improve. But let each man at once in his life, according to his strength, profess the truth, as he knows it, or let him at least not defend the untruth, which he does, giving it out as the truth, and there would at once, in this present year 1893, take place such changes in the direction of the emancipation of men and the establishment of truth upon earth as we do not dare even to dream of for centuries to come.
For good reason Christ’s only speech which is not meek, but reproachful and cruel, was directed to the hypocrites and against hypocrisy. What corrupts, angers, bestializes, and, therefore, disunites men, is not thieving, nor spoliation, nor murder, nor fornication, nor forgery, but the lie, that special lie of hypocrisy which in the consciousness of men destroys the distinction between good and evil, deprives them of the possibility of avoiding the evil and seeking the good, deprives them of what forms the essence of the true human life, and so stands in the way of every perfection of men.
Men who do not know the truth and who do evil, awakening in others a sympathetic feeling for their victims and a contempt for their acts, do evil only to those whom they injure; but the men who know the truth and do the evil, which is concealed under hypocrisy, do evil to themselves and to those whom they injure, and to thousands of others who are offended by the lie, with which they attempt to conceal the evil done by them.
Thieves, plunderers, murderers, cheats, who commit acts that are recognized as evil by themselves and by all men, serve as an example of what ought not to be done, and deter men from evil. But the men who commit the same act of thieving, plundering, torturing, killing, mantling themselves with religious and scientific liberal justifications, as is done by all landed proprietors, merchants, manufacturers, and all kinds of servants of the government of our time, invite others to emulate their acts, and do evil, not only to those who suffer from it, but also to thousands and millions of men, whom they corrupt, by destroying for these men the difference between good and evil.
One fortune acquired by the trade in articles necessary for the masses or by corrupting the people, or by financial speculation, or by the acquisition of cheap land, which later grows more expensive on account of the popular want, or by the establishment of plants ruining the health and the life of men, or by civil or military service to the state, or by any means which pamper to the vices of men — a fortune gained by such means, not only with the consent, but even with the approval of the leaders of society, corrupts people incomparably more than millions of thefts, rascalities, plunderings, which are committed outside the forms recognized by law and subject to criminal prosecution.
One execution, which is performed by well-to-do, cultured men, not under the influence of passion, but with the approval and cooperation of Christian pastors, and presented as something necessary, corrupts and bestializes men more than hundreds and thousands of murders, committed by uncultured laboring men, especially under the incitement of passion. An execution, such as Zhukóvski proposed to arrange, when men, as Zhukóvski assumed, would even experience a religious feeling of meekness of spirit, would be the most corrupting action that can be imagined. (See Vol. VI. of Zhukóvski’s Complete Works.)
Every war, however short its duration, with its usual accompanying losses, destruction of the crops, thieving, admissible debauchery, looting, murders, with the invented justifications of its necessity and its justice, with the exaltation and eulogizing of military exploits, of love of flag and country, with the hypocritical cares for the wounded, and so forth, corrupts in one year more than do millions of robberies, arsons, murders, committed in the course of hundreds of years by individual men under the influence of the passions.
One luxurious life, running temperately within the limits of decency, on the part of one respectable, so-called virtuous, family, which, none the less, spends on itself the products of as many laboring days as would suffice for the support of thousands of people living in misery side by side with this family, corrupts people more than do thousands of monstrous orgies of coarse merchants, officers, laboring men, who abandon themselves to drunkenness and debauchery, who for fun break mirrors, dishes, and so forth.
One solemn procession, Te Deum, or sermon from the ambo or pulpit, dealing with a lie in which the preachers themselves do not believe, produces incomparably more evil than do thousands of forgeries and adulterations of food, and so forth.
We talk of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. But the hypocrisy of the men of our time far surpasses the comparatively innocent hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They had at least an external religious law, in the fulfilment of which they could overlook their obligations in relation to their neighbors, and, besides, these obligations were at that time not yet clearly pointed out; in our time, in the first place, there is no such religious law which frees men from their obligations to their neighbors, to all their neighbors without exception (I do not count those coarse and stupid men who even now think that sacraments or the decision of the Pope can absolve one from sins): on the contrary, that Gospel law, which we all profess in one way or another, directly points out these obligations, and besides these obligations, which at that time were expressed in dim words by only a few prophets, are now expressed so clearly that they have become truisms, which are repeated by gymnasiasts and writers of feuilletons. And so the men of our time, it would seem, cannot possibly pretend that they do not know these their obligations.
The men of our time, who exploit the order of things which is supported by violence, and who at the same time assert that they are very fond of their neighbors, and entirely fail to observe that they are with their whole lives doing evil to these their neighbors, are like a man who has incessantly robbed people, and who, being finally caught with his knife raised over his victim, who is calling for aid in a desperate voice, should assert that he did not know that what he was doing was unpleasant for him whom he was robbing and getting ready to kill. Just as this robber and murderer cannot deny what is obvious to all men, so, it would seem, it is impossible for the men of our time, who live at the expense of the sufferings of oppressed men, to assure themselves and others that they wish for the good of those men whom they rob incessantly, and that they did not know in what manner they acquire what they use as their own.
It is impossible for us to believe that we do not know of those one hundred thousand men in Russia alone, who are always locked up in prisons and at hard labor, for the purpose of securing our property and our peace; and that we do not know of those courts, in which we ourselves take part, and which in consequence of our petitions sentence the men who assault our property or endanger our security to imprisonment, deportation, and hard labor, where the men, who are in no way worse than those who sentence them, perish and are corrupted; that we do not know that everything we have we have only because it is acquired and secured for us by means of murders and tortures. We cannot pretend that we do not see the policeman who walks in front of the windows with a loaded revolver, defending us, while we eat our savory dinner or view a new performance, or those soldiers who will immediately go with their guns and loaded cartridges to where our property will be violated.
We certainly know that if we shall finish eating our dinner, or seeing the latest drama, or having our fun at a ball, at the Christmas tree, at the skating, at the races, or at the chase, we do so only thanks to the bullet in the policeman’s revolver and in the soldier’s gun, which will at once bore a hole through the hungry stomach of the dispossessed man who, with watering mouth, is staying around the corner and watching our amusements, and is prepared to violate them the moment the policeman with the revolver shall go away, or as soon as there shall be no soldier in the barracks ready to appear at our first call.
And so, just as a man caught in broad daylight in a robbery can in no way assure all men that he did not raise his hand over the man about to be robbed by him, in order to take his purse from him, and did not threaten to cut his throat, so we, it would seem, cannot assure ourselves and others that the soldiers and policemen with the revolvers are all about us, not in order to protect us, but to defend us against external enemies, for the sake of order, for ornament, amusement, and parades; and that we did not know that men do not like to starve, having no right to make a living off the land on which they live, do not like to work underground, in the water, in hellish heat, from ten to fourteen hours a day, and in the night, in all kinds of factories and plants, for the purpose of manufacturing articles for our enjoyment. It would seem to be impossible to deny that which is so obvious. And yet it is precisely what is being done.
Though there are among the rich some honest people — fortunately I meet more and more of them, especially among the young and among women — who, at the mention of how and with what their pleasures are bought, do not try to conceal the truth, and grasp their heads and say, “Oh, do not speak of it. If it is so, it is impossible to go on living;” though there are such sincere people, who, unable to free themselves from their sin, none the less see it, the vast majority of the men of our time have so entered into their role of hypocrisy, that they boldly deny what is so startlingly obvious to every seeing person.
“All this is unjust,” they say; “nobody compels the people to work for the proprietors and in factories. This is a question of free agreement. Large possessions and capital are indispensable, because they organize labor and give work to the laboring classes; and the work in the factories and plants is not at all as terrible as you imagine it to be. If there are some abuses in the factories, the government and society will see to it that they be removed and that the work be made still more easy and even more agreeable for the laborers. The working people are used to physical labor, and so far are not good for anything else. The poverty of the masses is not at all due to the ownership of land, nor to the oppression of capital, but to other causes: it is due to the ignorance, the coarseness, the drunkenness of the masses. We, the men of state, who are counteracting this impoverishment by wise enactments, and we, the capitalists, who are counteracting it by the dissemination of useful inventions, we, the clergy, by religious instruction, and we, the liberals, by the establishment of labor-unions, the increase and diffusion of knowledge, in this manner, without changing our position, increase the welfare of the masses. We do not want all men to be poor, like the poor, but want them to be rich, like the rich. The statement that men are tortured and killed to compel them to work for the rich is nothing but sophistry; troops are sent out against the masses only when they, misunderstanding their advantages, become riotous and disturb the peace, which is necessary for the common good. Just as much do we need the curbing of malefactors, for whom are intended the prisons, gallows, and hard labor. We should ourselves like to do away with them, and we are working in this direction.”
The hypocrisy of our time, which is supported from two sides, by the quasi-religion and the quasi-science, has reached such a point that, if we did not live in the midst of it, we should not be able to believe that men could reach such a degree of self-deception. The people have in our time reached the remarkable state when their hearts are so hardened that they look and do not see, that they listen and do not hear or understand.
Men have long been living a life which is contrary to their consciousness. If it were not for hypocrisy, they would not be able to live this life. This order of life, which is contrary to their consciousness, is continued only because it is hidden under hypocrisy.
The more the distance is growing between reality and the consciousness of men, the more does hypocrisy expand, but there are limits even to hypocrisy, and it seems to me that in our time we have reached that limit.
Every man of our time, with the Christian consciousness, which is involuntarily acquired by him, finds himself in a situation which is exactly like that of a sleeping man, who sees in his sleep that he must do what he knows even in his sleep is not right for him to do. He knows this in the very depth of his heart, and yet, as though unable to change his position, he cannot stop and cease doing what he knows he ought not to do. And, as happens in sleep, his condition, becoming more and more agonizing, finally reaches the utmost degree of tension, and then he begins to doubt the reality of what presents itself to him, and he makes an effort of consciousness, in order to break the spell that holds him fettered.
In the same condition is the average man of our Christian world. He feels that everything which is done by himself and about him is something insipid, monstrous, impossible, and contrary to his consciousness, that this condition is becoming more and more agonizing, and has reached the utmost limit of tension.
It cannot be: it cannot be that the men of our time, with our Christian consciousness of the dignity of man, the equality of men, which has permeated our flesh and blood, with our need for a peaceful intercourse and union among the nations, should actually be living in such a way that every joy of ours, every comfort, should be paid for by the sufferings, the lives of our brothers, and that we, besides, should every moment be within a hair’s breadth of throwing ourselves, like wild beasts, upon one another, nation upon nation, mercilessly destroying labor and life, for no other reason than that some deluded diplomat or ruler has said or written something stupid to another deluded diplomat or ruler like himself.
It cannot be. And yet every man of our time sees that it is precisely what is being done, and that the same thing awaits him. The state of affairs is getting more and more agonizing.
As the man in his sleep does not believe that what presents itself to him as reality is actually real, and wants to awaken to the other, the actual reality, so also the average man of our time cannot in the depth of his heart believe that the terrible state in which he is, and which is getting worse and worse, is the reality, and he wants to awaken to the actual reality, the reality of the consciousness which already abides in him.
And as the man asleep needs but make an effort of his consciousness and ask himself whether it is not a dream, in order that what to him appeared as such a hopeless state may be at once destroyed, and he may awaken to a calm and joyous reality, even so the modern man needs only make an effort of his consciousness, needs only doubt in the reality of what his own and the surrounding hypocrisy presents to him, and ask himself whether it is not all a deception, in order that he may immediately feel himself at once passing over, like the awakened man, from the imaginary, terrible world to the real, to the calm and joyous reality.
This man need not perform any acts or exploits, but has only to make an internal effort of consciousness.
Cannot man make this effort?
According to the existing theory, indispensable for hypocrisy, man is not free and cannot change his life.
“Man cannot change his life, because he is not free; he is not free, because all of his acts are conditioned by previous causes. No matter what a man may do, there always exist these or those causes, from which the man has committed these or those acts, and so man cannot be free and himself change his life,” say the defenders of the metaphysics of hypocrisy. They would be absolutely right, if man were an unconscious being, immovable in relation to truth; that is, if, having once come to know the truth, he always remained on the selfsame stage of his cognition. But man is a conscious being, recognizing a higher and still higher degree of the truth, and so, if a man is not free in the commission of this or that act, because for every act there exists a cause, the very causes of these acts, which for conscious man consist in his recognizing this or that truth as an adequate cause for his action, are within man’s power.
Thus man, who is not free in the commission of these or those acts, is free as regards the basis for his acts, something as the engineer of a locomotive, who is not. free as regards the change of an accomplished or actual motion of the locomotive, is none the less free in determining beforehand its future motions.
No matter what a conscious man may do, he acts in this way or that, and not otherwise, only because he either now recognizes that the truth is that he ought to act as he does, or because he formerly recognized it, and now from inertia, from habit, acts in a manner which now he recognizes to be false.
In either case the cause of his act was not a given phenomenon, but the recognition of a given condition as the truth and, consequently, the recognition of this or that phenomenon as an adequate cause of his act.
Whether a man eats or abstains from food, whether he works or rests, runs from danger or is subject to it, if he is a conscious man, he acts as he does only because he now considers this to be proper and rational: he considers the truth to consist in his acting this way, and not otherwise, or he has considered it so for a long time.
The recognition of a certain truth or the non-recognition of it does not depend on external causes, but on some others, which are in man himself. Thus with all the external, apparently advantageous conditions for the recognition of truth, one man at times does not recognize it, and, on the contrary, another, under all the most unfavorable conditions, without any apparent cause, does recognize it. As it says in the Gospel: “No man can come to me, except the Father draw him” (John vi. 44), that is, the recognition of the truth, which forms the cause of all the phenomena of human life, does not depend on external phenomena, but on some internal qualities of man, which are not subject to his observation.
And so a man, who is not free in his acts, always feels himself free in what serves as the cause of his actions — in the recognition or non-recognition of the truth, and feels himself free, not only independently of external conditions taking place outside him, but even of his own acts.
Thus a man, having under the influence of passion committed an act which is contrary to the cognized truth, none the less remains free in its recognition or non-recognition, that is, he can, without recognizing the truth, regard his act as necessary and justify himself in its commission, and can, by recognizing the truth, consider his act bad and condemn it in himself.
Thus a gambler or a drunkard, who has not withstood temptation and has succumbed to his passion, remains none the less free to recognize his gambling or his intoxication either as an evil or as an indifferent amusement. In the first case, he, though not at once, frees himself from his passion, the more, as he the more sincerely recognizes the truth; in the second, he strengthens his passion and deprives himself of every possibility of liberation.
Even so a man, who could not stand the heat and ran out of a burning house without having saved his companion, remains free (by recognizing the truth that a man must serve the lives of others at the risk of his own life) to consider his act bad, and so to condemn himself for it, or (by not recognizing this truth) to consider his act natural, and necessary, and to justify himself in it. In the first case, in recognizing the truth, he, in spite of his departure from it, prepares for himself a whole series of self-sacrificing acts, which inevitably must result from such a recognition; in the second case, he prepares a whole series of egotistical acts, which are opposed to the first.
Not that a man is always free to recognize every truth, or not. There are truths which have long ago been recognized by a man himself or have been transmitted to him by education and tradition, and have been taken by him on faith, the execution of which has become to him a habit, a second nature; and there are truths which present themselves to him indistinctly, in the distance. A man is equally unfree in the non-recognition of the first and the recognition of the second. But there is a third class of truths, which have not yet become for man an unconscious motive for his activity, but which at the same time have already revealed themselves to him with such lucidity that he cannot evade them, and must inevitably take up this or that relation to them, by recognizing or not recognizing them. It is in relation to these same truths that man’s freedom is manifested.
Every man finds himself in his life in relation to truth in the position of a wanderer who walks in the dark by the light of a lantern moving in front of him: he does not see what is not yet illuminated by the lantern, nor what he has passed over and what is again enveloped in darkness, and it is not in his power to change his relation to either; but he sees, no matter on what part of the path he may stand, what is illuminated by the lantern, and it is always in his power to select one side of the road on which he is moving, or the other.
For every man there always are truths, invisible to him, which have not yet been revealed to his mental vision; there are other truths, already outlived, forgotten, and made his own; and there are certain truths which have arisen before him in the light of his reason and which demand his recognition. It is in the recognition or nonrecognition of these truths that there is manifested what we cognize as our freedom.
The whole difficulty and seeming insolubility of the question about man’s freedom is due to this, that the men who decide this question present man to themselves as immovable in relation to truth.
Man is unquestionably not free, if we represent him to ourselves as immovable, if we forget that the life of man and of humanity is only a constant motion from darkness to the light, from the lower stage of the truth to the higher, from a truth which is mixed with errors to a truth which is more free from them.
Man would not be free, if he did not know any truth, and he would not be free and would not even have any idea about freedom, if the whole truth, which is to guide him in his life, were revealed to him in all its purity, without any admixture of errors.
But man is not immovable in relation to truth, and every individual man, as also all humanity, in proportion to its movement in life, constantly cognizes a greater and ever greater degree of the truth, and is more and more freed from error. Therefore men always are in a threefold relation to truth: one set of truths has been so acquired by them that these truths have become unconscious causes of their actions, others have only begun to be revealed to them, and the third, though not yet made their own, are revealed to them with such a degree of lucidity that inevitably, in one way or another, they must take up some stand in relation to them, must recognize them, or not.
It is in the recognition or non-recognition of these truths that man is free.
Man’s freedom does not consist in this, that he can, independently of the course of his life and of causes already existing and acting upon him, commit arbitrary acts, but in this, that he can, by recognizing the truth revealed to him and by professing it, become a free and joyous performer of the eternal and infinite act performed by God or the life of the world, and can, by not recognizing the truth, become its slave and be forcibly and painfully drawn in a direction which he does not wish to take.
Truth not only indicates the path of human life, but also reveals that one path, on which human life can proceed. And so all men will inevitably, freely or not freely, walk on the path of life: some, by naturally doing the work of life destined for them, others, by involuntarily submitting to the law of life. Man’s freedom is in this choice.
Such a freedom, within such narrow limits, seems to men to be so insignificant that they do not notice it: some (the determinists) consider this portion of freedom to be so small that they do not recognize it at all; others, the defenders of complete freedom, having in view their imaginary freedom, neglect this seemingly insignificant degree of freedom. The freedom which is contained between the limits of the ignorance of the truth and of the recognition of a certain degree of it does not seem to men to be any freedom, the more so since, whether a man wants to recognize the truth which is revealed to him or not, he inevitably will be compelled to fulfil it in life.
A horse that is hitched with others to a wagon is not free not to walk in front of the wagon; and if it will not draw, the wagon will strike its legs, and it will go whither the wagon goes, and will pull it involuntarily. But, in spite of this limited freedom, it is free itself to pull the wagon or be dragged along by it. The same is true of man.
Whether this freedom is great or not, in comparison with that fantastic freedom which we should like to have, this freedom unquestionably exists, and this freedom is freedom, and in this freedom is contained the good which is accessible to man.
Not only does this freedom give the good to men, but it is also the one means for the accomplishment of the work which is done by the life of the world.
According to Christ’s teaching, the man who sees the meaning of life in the sphere in which it is not free, in the sphere of consequences, that is, of acts, has not the true life. According to the Christian teaching, only he has the true life who has transferred his life into that sphere in which it is free, into the sphere of causes, that is, of the cognition and the recognition of the truth which is revealing itself, of its profession, and so inevitably of its consequent fulfilment as the wagon’s following the horse.
In placing his life in carnal things, a man does that work which is always in dependence on spatial and temporal causes, which are outside of him. He himself really does nothing — it only seems to him that he is doing something, but in reality all those things which it seems to him he is doing are done through him by a higher power, and he is not the creator of life, but its slave; but in placing his life in the recognition and profession of the truth that is revealed to him, he, by uniting with the source of the universal life, does not do personal, private works, which depend on conditions of space and time, but works which have no causes and themselves form causes of everything else, and have an endless, unlimited significance.
By neglecting the essence of the true life, which consists in the recognition and profession of the truth, and by straining their efforts for the amelioration of their lives upon external acts, the men of the pagan life-conception are like men on a boat, who, in order to reach their goal, should extinguish the boiler, which keeps them from distributing the oarsmen, and, instead of proceeding under steam and propeller, should try in a storm to row with oars that do not reach to the water.
The kingdom of God is taken by force and only those who make an effort get hold of it — and it is this effort of the renunciation of the change of the external conditions for the recognition and profession of truth which is the effort by means of which the kingdom of God is taken and which must and can be made in our time.
Men need but understand this: they need but stop troubling themselves about external and general matters, in which they are not free, and use but one hundredth part of the energy, which they employ on external matters, on what they are free in, on the recognition and profession of the truth which stands before them, on the emancipation of themselves and of men from the lie and hypocrisy which conceal the truth, in order that without effort and struggle there should at once be destroyed that false structure of life which torments people and threatens them with still worse calamities, and that there should be realized that kingdom of God or at least that first step of it, for which men are already prepared according to their consciousness.
Just as one jolt is sufficient for a liquid that is saturated with salt suddenly to become crystallized, thus, perhaps, the smallest effort will suffice for the truth, which is already revealed to men, to take hold of hundreds, thousands, millions of men — for a public opinion to be established to correspond to the consciousness, and, in consequence of its establishment, for the whole structure of the existing life to be changed. And it depends on us to make this effort.
If every one of us would only try to understand and recognize the Christian truth which surrounds us on all sides in the most varied forms, and begs for admission into our souls; if we only stopped lying and pretending that we do not see that truth, or that we wish to carry it out, only not in what it first of all demands of us; if we only recognized the truth which calls us and boldly professed it, we should immediately see that hundreds, thousands, millions of men are in the same condition that we are in, that they see the truth, just as we do, and that, like us, they are only waiting for others to recognize it.
If men only stopped being hypocritical, they would see at once that the cruel structure of life, which alone binds them and which presents itself to them as something firm, indispensable, and sacred, as something established by God, is shaking already and is holding only by that lie of hypocrisy by means of which we and our like support it.
But if this is so, if it is true that it depends on us to destroy the existing order of life, have we the right to destroy it, without knowing clearly what we shall put in its place? What will become of the world, if the existing order of things shall be destroyed?
“What will be there, beyond the walls of the world which we leave behind?” (Herzen’s words.)
Terror seizes us — the void, expanse, freedom…. How can we go, without knowing whither? How can we lose, without seeing any acquisition?
If Columbus had reflected thus, he would never have weighed anchor. It is madness to sail the sea without knowing the way, to sail the sea no one has traversed before, to make for a country, the existence of which is a question. With this madness he discovered a new world. Of course, if the nations could move from one hôtel garni into another, a better one, it would be easier, but unfortunately there is no one to arrange the new quarters. In the future it is worse than on the sea — there is nothing — it will be what circumstances and men make it.
If you are satisfied with the old world, try to preserve it — it is very decrepit and will not last long; but if it is unbearable for you to live in an eternal discord between convictions and life, to think one thing and do another, come out from under the whited medieval vaults at your risk. I know full well that this is not easy. It is not a trifling matter to part from everything a man is accustomed to from the day of his birth, with what he has grown up with from childhood. Men are prepared for terrible sacrifices, but not for those which the new life demands of them. Are they prepared to sacrifice modern civilization, their manner of life, their religion, the accepted conventional morality? Are they prepared to be deprived of all the fruits which have been worked out with such efforts, of the fruits we have been boasting of for three centuries, to be deprived of all the comforts and charms of our existence, to prefer wild youth to cultured debility, to break up their inherited palace from the mere pleasure of taking part in laying the foundation for the new house, which will, no doubt, be built after us? [Herzen, Vol. V., p. 55.]
Thus spoke almost half a century ago a Russian author, who with his penetrating mind even at that time saw very clearly what now is seen by the least reflecting man of our time — the impossibility of continuing life on its former foundations, and the necessity for establishing some new forms of life.
From the simplest, lowest, worldly point of view it is already clear that it is madness to remain under the vault of a building, which does not sustain its weight, and that it is necessary to leave it. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a state which is more wretched than the one in which is now the Christian world, with its nations armed against each other, with the ever growing taxes for the support of these ever growing armaments, with the hatred of the laboring class against the rich, which is being fanned more and more, with Damocles’s sword of war hanging over all, and ready at any moment to drop down, and inevitably certain to do so sooner or later.
Hardly any revolution can be more wretched for the great mass of the people than the constantly existing order, or rather disorder, of our life, with its habitual sacrifices of unnatural labor, poverty, drunkenness, debauchery, and with all the horrors of an imminent war, which is in one year to swallow up more victims than all the revolutions of the present century.
What will happen with us, with all humanity, when each one of us shall perform what is demanded of him by God through the conscience which is implanted in him? Will there be no calamity, because, finding myself entirely in the power of the Master, I in the establishment built up and guided by Him shall do what He commands me to do, but what seems strange to me, who do not know the final ends of the Master?
But it is not even this question as to what will happen that troubles men, when they hesitate to do the Master’s will: they are troubled by the question as to how they could live without those conditions of their life which they have become accustomed to, and which we call science, art, civilization, culture. We feel for ourselves personally the whole burden of the present life, we even see that the order of this life, if continued, will inevitably cause our ruin; but, at the same time, we want the conditions of this our life, which have grown out of it, our arts, sciences, civilizations, cultures, to remain unharmed in the change of our life. It is as though a man living in an old house, suffering from the cold and the inconveniences of this house, and knowing, besides, that this house is about to fall in, should consent to its rebuilding only on condition that he should not come out of it: a condition which is equal to a refusal to rebuild the house. “What if I leave the house, for a time am deprived of all comforts, and the new house will not be built at all or will be built in such a way that it will lack what I am used to?”
But, if the material is on hand and the builders are there, all the probabilities are in favor of the new house being better than the old one, and at the same time there is not only a probability, but even a certainty, that the old house will fall in and will crush those who are left in it. Whether the former, habitual conditions of life will be retained, whether they will be destroyed, or whether entirely new ones, better ones, will arise, it is inevitably necessary to leave the old conditions of our life, which have become impossible and pernicious, and to go ahead and meet the future conditions.
“The sciences, arts, civilizations, and cultures will disappear!”
All these are only different manifestations of the truth, and the imminent change is to take place only in the name of an approximation to truth and its realization. How, then, can the manifestations of the truth disappear in consequence of its realization? They will be different, better, and higher, but they will by no means be destroyed. What will be destroyed in them is what is false; but what there was of truth in them will only blossom out and be strengthened.
Come to your senses, men, and believe in the Gospel, in the teaching of the good. If you shall not come to your senses, you will all perish, as perished the men who were killed by Pilate, as perished those who were crushed by the tower of Siloam, as perished millions and millions of men, slayers and slain, executioners and executed, tormentors and tormented, and as foolishly perished that man who filled up his granaries and prepared himself to live for a long time, and died the same night on which he wanted to begin his new life. “Come to your senses and believe in the Gospel,” Christ said eighteen hundred years ago, and says now with even greater convincingness, through the utter wretchedness and irrationality of our life, predicted by Him and now an accomplished fact.
Now, after so many centuries of vain endeavors to make our life secure by means of the pagan institution of violence, it would seem to be absolutely obvious to everybody that all the efforts which are directed toward this end only introduce new dangers into our personal and social life, but in no way make it secure.
No matter what we may call ourselves; what attires we may put on; what we may smear ourselves with, and in the presence of what priests; how many millions we may have; what protection there may be along our path; how many policemen may protect our wealth; how much we may execute the so-called revolutionary malefactors and anarchists; what exploits we ourselves may perform; what kingdoms we may found, and what fortresses and towers we may erect, from that of Babel to that of Eiffel — we are all of us at all times confronted by two inevitable conditions of our life, which destroy its whole meaning: 1. by death, which may overtake any of us at any moment, and 2. by the impermanency of all the acts performed by us, which are rapidly and tracklessly destroyed. No matter what we may do, whether we found kingdoms, build palaces, erect monuments, compose poems, it is but for a short time, and everything passes, without leaving a trace. And so, no matter how much we may conceal the fact from ourselves, we cannot help but see that the meaning of our life can be neither in our personal, carnal existence, which is subject to inevitable sufferings and inevitable death, nor in any worldly institution or structure.
Whoever you, the reader of these lines, may be, think of your condition and of your duties — not of the condition of landowner, merchant, judge, emperor, president, minister, priest, soldier, which people temporarily ascribe to you, nor of those imaginary duties, which these positions impose upon you, but of that real, eternal condition of existence, which by somebody’s will after a whole eternity of non-existence has issued forth from unconsciousness, and at any moment by somebody’s will may return to where you come from. Think of your duties — not of your imaginary duties as a landowner to your estate, of a merchant to your capital, of an emperor, minister, official to the state — but of those real duties of yours, which result from your real condition of existence, which is called into life and is endowed with reason and love. Are you doing what is demanded of you by Him who has sent you into the world, and to whom you will very soon return? Are you doing what He is demanding of you? Are you doing what is right, when, being a landowner, manufacturer, you take away the productions of labor from the poor, building up your life on this spoliation, or when, being a ruler, a judge, you do violence to people and sentence them to capital punishment, or when, being a soldier, you prepare yourself for wars, and wage war, plunder, and kill?
You say that the world is constructed that way, that this is unavoidable, that you are not doing this of your own will, but that you are compelled to do so. But is it possible that the aversion for human sufferings, for tortures, for the killing of men should be so deeply implanted in you; that you should be so imbued with the necessity for loving men and the still more potent necessity of being loved by them; that you should clearly see that only with the recognition of the equality of all men, with their mutual service, is possible the realization of the greatest good which is accessible to men; that your heart, your intellect, the religion professed by you should tell you the same; that science should tell you the same — and that, in spite of it, you should be by some very dim, complex considerations compelled to do what is precisely opposed to it? that, being a landowner or a capitalist, you should be compelled to construct all your life on the oppression of the masses? or that, being an emperor or a president, you should be compelled to command troops, that is, to be the leader and guide of murderers? or that, being a government official, you should be compelled by violence to take from poor people their hard-earned money, in order to use it yourself and give it to the rich? or that, being a judge, a juror, you should be compelled to sentence erring men to tortures and to death, because the truth has not been revealed to them? or that — a thing on which all the evil of the world is chiefly based — you, every young man, should be compelled to become a soldier and, renouncing your own will and all human sentiments, should promise, at the will of men who are alien to you, to kill all those men whom they may command you to kill?
It cannot be.
Even though men tell you that all this is necessary for the maintenance of the existing structure of life; that the existing order, with its wretchedness, hunger, prisons, executions, armies, wars, is indispensable for society; that, if this order should be impaired, there would come worse calamities — it is only those to whom this structure of life is advantageous that tell you this, while those — and there are ten times as many of them — who are suffering from this structure of life think and say the very opposite. You yourself know in the depth of your heart that this is not true, that the existing structure of life has outlived its time and soon must be reconstructed on new principles, and that, therefore, there is no need to maintain it, while sacrificing human sentiments.
Above all else, even if we admit that the existing order is necessary, why do you feel yourself obliged to maintain it, while trampling on all better human sentiments? Who has engaged you as a nurse to this decaying order? Neither society, nor the state, nor any men have ever asked you to maintain this order, by holding the place of landowner, merchant, emperor, priest, soldier, which you now hold; and you know full well that you took up your position, not at all with the self-sacrificing purpose of maintaining an order of life which is indispensable for the good of men, but for your own sake — for the sake of your greed, love of glory, ambition, indolence, cowardice. If you did not want this position, you would not be doing everything it is necessary for you to do all the time, in order to keep your place. Just try to stop doing those complex, cruel, tricky, and mean things, which you are doing without cessation in order to keep your place, and you will immediately lose it. Just try, while being a ruler or an official, to stop lying, committing base acts, taking part in acts of violence, in executions; being a priest, to stop deceiving; being a soldier, to stop killing; being a landowner, a manufacturer, to stop protecting your property by means of the courts and of violence — and you will at once lose the position which, you say, is imposed upon you, and which, you say, weighs heavily upon you.
It cannot be that a man should be placed against his will in a position which is contrary to his consciousness.
If you are in this position, it is not because that is necessary for anybody, but because you want it. And so, knowing that this position is directly opposed to your heart, your reason, your faith, and even to science, in which you believe, you cannot help but meditate on the question as to whether you are doing right by staying in this position and, above all, by trying to justify it.
You might be able to risk making a mistake, if you had time to see and correct your mistake, and if that in the name of which you should take your risk had any importance. But when you know for certain that you may vanish any second, without the slightest chance of correcting the mistake, either for your own sake or for the sake of those whom you will draw into your error, and when you know, besides, that, no matter what you may do in the external structure of the world, it will disappear very soon, and just as certainly as you yourself, without leaving any trace, it is obvious to you that you have no reason to risk such a terrible mistake.
This is all so simple and so clear, if only we did not with hypocrisy bedim the truth which is revealed to us.
“Share with others what you have, do not amass any wealth, do not glorify yourself, do not plunder, do not torture, do not kill any one, do not do unto others what you do not wish to have done to yourself,” was said, not eighteen hundred, but five thousand years ago, and there could be no doubt as to the truth of this law, if there were no hypocrisy: it would have been impossible, if not to do so, at least not to recognize that we ought always to do so, and that he who does not do so is doing wrong.
But you say that there also exists a common good, for which it is possible and necessary to depart from these rules — for the common good it is right to kill, torture, rob. It is better for one man to perish, than that a whole nation should perish, you say, like Caiaphas, and you sign one, two, three death-warrants, load your gun for that man who is to perish for the common good, put him in prison, take away his property. You say that you do these cruel things, because you feel yourself to be a man of society, the state, under obligation to serve it and to carry out its laws, a landowner, a judge, an emperor, a soldier. But, besides your belonging to a certain state, and the obligations resulting therefrom, you also belong to the infinite life of the world and to God, and have certain obligations resulting from this relation.
And as your duties, which result from your belonging to a certain family, a certain society, are always subordinated to the higher duties, which result from your belonging to the state, so also your obligations, which result from your belonging to the state, must necessarily be subordinated to the duties which result from your belonging to the life of the world, to God.
And as it would be senseless to cut down the telegraph-posts, in order to provide fuel for the family or society, and to increase its well-being, because this would violate the laws which preserve the good of the state, so it would be senseless, for the purpose of making the state secure and increasing its well-being, to torture, execute, kill a man, because this violates the unquestionable laws which preserve the good of the world.
Your obligations, which result from your belonging to the state, cannot help but be subordinated to the higher eternal duty, which results from your belonging to the infinite life of the world, or to God, and cannot contradict them, as Christ’s disciples said eighteen hundred years ago: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Acts iv. 19), and, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts v. 29).
You are assured that, in order not to violate the constantly changing order, which was yesterday established by some men in some corner of the world, you must commit acts of torture and murder separate men, who violate the eternal, invariable order of the universe, which was established by God, or by reason. Can that be?
And so you cannot help but meditate on your position as a landowner, merchant, judge, emperor, president, minister, priest, soldier, which is connected with oppression, violence, deception, tortures, and murders, and you cannot help but recognize their illegality.
I do not say that, if you are a landowner, you should at once give your land to the poor; if you are a capitalist, you should at once give your money, your factory to the laborers; if you are a king, a minister, an official, a judge, a general, you should at once give up your advantageous position; if you are a soldier (that is, occupy a position on which all violence is based), you should, in spite of all the dangers of a refusal to obey, at once throw up your position.
If you do so, you will do the very best possible; but it may happen — and this is most likely — that you will not have the strength to do so: you have connections, a family, inferiors, superiors; you may be under such a strong influence of temptations that you will not be able to do so — but you are always able to recognize the truth as a truth, and to stop lying. Do not assert that you remain a landed proprietor, a manufacturer, a merchant, an artist, a writer, because this is useful for men; that you are serving as a governor, a prosecutor, a king, not because that gives you pleasure and you are used to it, but for the good of humanity; that you continue to be a soldier, not because you are afraid of punishment, but because you consider the army indispensable for the security of human life; you can always keep from lying thus to yourself and to men, and you are not only able, but even must do so, because in this alone, in the liberation of oneself from the lie and in the profession of the truth, does the only good of your life consist.
You need but do this, and your position will inevitably change of its own accord. There is one, only one thing in which you are free and almighty in your life — everything else is beyond your power. This thing is, to recognize the truth and to profess it.
Suddenly, because just such miserable, erring people like yourself have assured you that you are a soldier, emperor, landed proprietor, rich man, priest, general, you begin to do evil, which is obviously and unquestionably contrary to your reason and heart: you begin to torture, rob, kill men, to build up your life on their sufferings, and, above all, instead of doing the one work of your life — recognizing and professing the truth which is known to you — you carefully pretend that you do not know it, and conceal it from yourself and from others, doing thus what is directly opposed to the one thing to which you have been called.
And under what conditions do you do that? You, who are likely to die at any moment, sign a sentence of death, declare war, go to war, sit in judgment, torture, fleece the laborers, live luxuriously among the poor, and teach weak, trustful people that this must be so, and that in this does the duty of men consist, and you are running the chance that, at the moment that you are doing this, a bacterium or a bullet will fly into you, and you will rattle in your throat and die, and will for ever be deprived of the possibility of correcting and changing the evil which you have done to others and, above all, to yourself, losing for nothing the life which is given to you but once in a whole eternity, without having done the one thing which you ought unquestionably to have done.
However simple and old this may be, and however much we may have stupefied ourselves by hypocrisy and the auto-suggestion resulting from it, nothing can destroy the absolute certainty of that simple and clear truth that no external efforts can safeguard our life, which is inevitably connected with unavoidable sufferings and which ends in still more unavoidable death, that may come to each of us at any moment, and that, therefore, our life can have no other meaning than the fulfillment, at any moment, of what is wanted from us by the power that sent us into life and gave us in this life one sure guide — our rational consciousness.
And so this power cannot want from us what is irrational and impossible — the establishment of our temporal, carnal life, the life of society or of the state. This power demands of us what alone is certain and rational and possible — our serving the kingdom of God, that is, our cooperation in the establishment of the greatest union of everything living, which is possible only in the truth, and, therefore, the recognition of the truth revealed to us, and the profession of it, precisely what alone is always in our power.
“Seek ye the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” The only meaning of man’s life consists in serving the world by cooperating in the establishment of the kingdom of God; but this service can be rendered only through the recognition of the truth, and the profession of it, by every separate individual.
“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Yásnaya Polyána, 14 May 1893.
Footnotes: [Which are interesting reading too. Bold print is my emphasis].
 there were slaves then, now we may put the working people in their place
 I know but one piece of writing, not a criticism in the strict sense of the word, but an article which treats the same subject, and which has my book in view, that departs from this common definition. It is Tróitski’s pamphlet (Kazán) The Sermon on the Mount. The author obviously recognizes Christ’s teaching in its real significance. He says that the commandment about non-resistance to evil means what it does, and the same is true of the commandment about swearing; he does not deny, as others do, the significance of Christ’s teaching, but unfortunately he does not make from this recognition those inevitable deductions, which in our life beg for recognition in connection with such a comprehension of Christ’s teaching. If it is not right to resist evil and to swear, every man will naturally ask: “How about military service?” And to this question the author gives no answer, though an answer is demanded. And if it cannot be answered, it is best not to speak at all, because silence produces error.
 The church is the community of the faithful established by our Lord Jesus Christ, extending over the whole world and subject to the authority of legitimate ministers, principally our Holy Father — the Pope
 Khomyakóv’s definition of the church, which has some currency among Russians, does not mend matters, if we recognize with Khomyakóv that the Orthodox is the one true church. Khomyakóv asserts that the church is an assembly of men (of all, both the clergy and the congregation) united in love, and that the truth is revealed only to those who are united in love (Let us love one another, so that in agreement of thought, and so forth), and that such a church is the one which, in the first place, recognizes the Nicene Creed, and, in the second, after the division of the churches, does not recognize the Pope and the new dogmas. But with such a definition of the church there appears a still greater difficulty in harmonizing, as Khomyakóv wants to, the church which is united in love with the church which recognizes the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of Photius. Thus Khomyakóv’s assertion that this church, which is united in love and so is holy, is the church as professed by the Greek hierarchy, is still more arbitrary than the assertions of the Catholics and of the ancient Orthodox. If we admit the concept of the church in the sense which Khomyakóv gives to it, that is, as an assembly of men united in love and in truth, then everything a man can say in relation to this assembly is, that it is very desirable to be a member of such an assembly, if such exists, that is, to be in love and truth; but there are no external signs by which it would be possible to count oneself or another in with this holy assembly, or to exclude oneself from it, as no external institution can correspond to this concept.
 Who are those who are outside of the church? Infidels, heretics, schismatics.
 The true Church will be known by the Word of God being studied clear and unmixed with man’s additions and by the sacraments being maintained faithfully to Christ’s teaching.
 that is, to call heresies
 It is controversial, I know, the right to categorize as such, the tendencies which were so actively opposed by the early Fathers. The very designation of heresy seems an attack on liberty of conscience and of thought. We cannot share these scruples, for it would not amount to anything but to deprive Christianity of all distinctive character.
 The Church is a free association; there is much to be gained by separation from it. Conflict with error has no weapons other than thought and feeling. One uniform type of doctrine has not yet been elaborated; secondary divergencies arise in East and West with complete freedom; theology is not tied to invariable formulas. If in the midst of this diversity appears a mass of beliefs common to all, is one not right to see in it, not a formulated system, framed by the representatives of scholastic authority, but faith itself in its surest instinct and its most spontaneous manifestation? If the same unanimity which is revealed in essential points of belief is found also in rejecting certain tendencies, are we not right to conclude that these tendencies were in flagrant opposition to the fundamental principles of Christianity? And will not this presumption be transformed into certainty if we recognize in the doctrine universally rejected by the church the characteristic traits of one of the religions of the past? To say that gnosticism or ebionitism are legitimate forms of Christian thought, one must boldly deny the existence of christian thought at all, or any specific character by which it could be recognized. It pretends to be a big tent, but it collapses. No one in the time of Plato would have dared to give his name to a doctrine in which the theory of forms had no place, and one would deservedly have excited the just mockery of Greece in trying to represent Epicurus or Zeno as a disciple of the Academy. Let us recognize, then, that if a religion and a doctrine exists which is called christianity, it may have its heresies.
 The unity of this life-conception is not impaired by the fact that so many various forms of life, as that of the tribe, the family, the race, the state, and even the life of humanity, according to the theoretical speculations of the positivists, are based on this social, or pagan, life-conception. All these various forms of life are based on the same concept that the life of the personality is not a sufficient aim of life and that the meaning of life can be found only in the aggregate of personalities.
 Here, for example, is a characteristic judgment of the kind in an article of an American periodical, Arena, October, 1890. The article is entitled “A New Basis of Church Life.” In discussing the significance of the Sermon on the Mount, and especially its non-resistance to evil, the author, who is not obliged, like the ecclesiastic writers, to conceal its meaning, says Christ actually preached complete communism and anarchy; but we must know how to look upon Christ in His historical and psychological significance. “Devout common sense must gradually come to look upon Christ as a philanthropic teacher who, like every enthusiast who ever taught, went to an Utopian extreme of his own philosophy. Every great agitation for the betterment of the world has been led by men, who beheld their own mission with such absorbing intensity, that they could see little else. It is no reproach to Christ to say that he had the typical reformer’s temperament; that his precepts cannot be literally accepted, as a complete philosophy of life; and that men are to analyze them, reverently, but, at the same time, in the spirit of ordinary, truth-seeking criticism,” and so forth. Christ would have liked to speak well, but He did not know how to express Himself as precisely and clearly as we, in the spirit of criticism, and so we will correct him. Everything He said about meekness, sacrifice, poverty, the thoughtlessness for the morrow, He said by chance, having been unable to express himself scientifically.
 he is talking of the establishment of an international tribunal
 you may substitute the word “Europe”
 The fact that in America there exist abuses of power, in spite of the small number of troops, not only does not contradict, but even supports this proposition. In America there is a smaller army than in other countries, and so there is nowhere a lesser oppression of the oppressed classes, and nowhere can we foresee so soon the abolition of the abuses of power and of the power itself. But in America itself there have of late, in proportion as the laboring classes become more unified, been heard voices asking more and more frequently for an increase of the army, although America is not threatened by any external attack. The higher ruling classes know that fifty thousand soldiers will soon be insufficient, and, no longer depending on Pinkerton’s army, they feel that the security of their position lies only in an increase of the army.
 The fact that some nations, the English and the Americans, have not yet any universal military service (though voices in its favor are already heard), but only the enlistment and hire of soldiers, does in no way change the condition of slavery in which the citizens stand relative to the governments. Here everybody has to go himself to kill and be killed; there everybody has to give his labors for the hire and preparation of murderers.
 All the details of this and the preceding cases are authentic.
 Comically striking in this respect is the naive assertion of the Russian authorities in doing violence to other nationalities, the Poles, Baltic Germans, Jews. The Russian government practices extortion on its subjects, for centuries has not troubled itself about the Little Russians in Poland, nor about the Letts in the Baltic provinces, nor about the Russian peasants who have been exploited by all manner of men, and suddenly it becomes a defender of the oppressed against the oppressors, those very oppressors whom it oppresses.
Congratulations – and thank you for reading this very long – but important concluding chapter in Tolstoy’s book. What does your conscience tell you?