What Shall We Do? : Chapter 29

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(1828 - 1910) ~ Father of Christian Anarchism : In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "People who take part in Government, or work under its direction, may deceive themselves or their sympathizers by making a show of struggling; but those against whom they struggle (the Government) know quite well, by the strength of the resistance experienced, that these people are not really pulling, but are only pretending to." (From : "A Letter to Russian Liberals," by Leo Tolstoy, Au....)
• "There are people (we ourselves are such) who realize that our Government is very bad, and who struggle against it." (From : "A Letter to Russian Liberals," by Leo Tolstoy, Au....)
• "It is necessary that men should understand things as they are, should call them by their right names, and should know that an army is an instrument for killing, and that the enrollment and management of an army -- the very things which Kings, Emperors, and Presidents occupy themselves with so self-confidently -- is a preparation for murder." (From : "'Thou Shalt Not Kill'," by Leo Tolstoy, August 8,....)


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Chapter 29


Christ teaches men in a new way, and this teaching is written down in the Gospels.

It is first persecuted, and not accepted. Then the fables of the fall of man, and of the first angel, are invented, and these fables are believed to be the teaching of Christ. The fables are absurd, they have no foundation whatever, but by virtue of them men are led to believe that they may continue to live in an evil way, and none the less consider themselves as saved by Christ. This conclusion is so agreeable to the mass of weak men who have no affection for moral effort, that the system is eagerly accepted, not only as true, but even as the Divine truth as revealed by God himself. And the invention becomes the groundwork on which for centuries theologians build their theories.

Then by degrees these learned men diverge by various channels into special systems of their own, and finally endeavor to overthrow each other's theories. They begin to feel there is something amiss, and cease to understand what they themselves are talking about. But the crowd still requires them to expound its favorite instruction; and thus the theologians, pretending both to understand and believe what they are saying, continue to dispense it.

In process of time, however, the conclusions drawn from theological conceptions cease to be necessary to the masses, who, then, peeping into the very sanctuaries of their augurs, discover them to be utterly void of those glorious and indubitable truths which the mysteries of theology had seemed to be, and see instead that there is nothing there but crude deception, and they marvel at their own blindness.

The same happened to philosophy, not in the sense of the wisdom of men like Confucius or Epictetus, but with professional philosophy which humored the instincts of the crowd of rich and idle people. Not long ago a moral philosophy was in fashion in the learned world, according to which it appeared that everything that is, is reasonable; that there is neither good nor evil; that man has not to struggle with evil, but has merely to manifest the spirit of the age, some in military service, some in courts of justice, and some on the violin.

Many and various were the expressions of human wisdom known to the men of the nineteenth century,—of Rousseau, Pascal, Lessing, and Spinoza; and all the wisdom of antiquity was expounded, but none of its systems laid hold of the crowd. We cannot say that Hegel's success was due to the harmony of his theory. We had no less harmonious theories from Descartes, Leibnitz, Fichte, and Schopenhauer.

There was only one reason for the fact that this doctrine became for a short time the belief of the civilized world, the same reason that caused the success of the theory of the fall and redemption of man; to wit, that the deductions of this philosophical theory humored the weak side of men's nature. It said, “All is reasonable, all is good; nobody is to blame for any thing.”

As at first with the church upon theological foundations, so also, with the philosophy of Hegel for a base, a Babel's tower was built (some who are behind the age are still sitting upon it); and here again was a confusion of tongues, men feeling that they themselves did not know of what they were talking, but were trying to conceal their ignorance and keep up their prestige before the crowd; and here again the masses found confirmation of their accepted teachings, and believed that whatever might seem to them bewildering and contradictory is as clear as day-light on philosophic altitudes. In the same way, the time came when this doctrine wore out and a new one replaced it. It had become useless, and the crowd peeped into the mysterious temples of the teachers, and saw there was nothing there—nor ever had been, but obscure and unmeaning words. I have seen this in my own day.

When I began life, Hegelianism was the order of the day; it was in the very air you breathed; it found its expression in newspapers and magazines, in lectures on history and on law, in novels, in tracts, in art, in sermons, in conversation. A man who did not know Hegel had no right to open his mouth; those who desired to learn the truth were studying Hegel,—every thing pointed to him; and lo! forty years have elapsed and nothing is left of him; there is no remembrance of him; all is as though he had never existed. And the most remarkable of all is, that just as false Christianity, so also Hegelianism has fallen, not because someone refuted or overthrew it; no, it is now as it was before, but both have only become no longer necessary for the learned, educated world.

If at the present time we speak to any man of modern culture about the fall of the angel, of Adam, about atonement, he does not argue or deny;—he simply asks, amazed, “What angel? Adam? What for? What atonement? What is all this to me?”

So also with Hegelianism. No one of our day will argue its theses. He will only inquire, “What Spirit?” “Where did it come from?” “With what purpose?” “What good will it do me?” Not very long ago the sages of Hegelianism were solemnly teaching the crowd; and the crowd, understanding nothing, blindly believed all, finding the confirmation of what suited them, and thinking that what seemed to them to be not quite clear or even contradictory, was clearer than day on the heights of philosophy: but time went on, the theory was worn out, a new one appeared in its place, the former one was no longer demanded, and again the crowd looked into the mysterious temples of the augurs and saw there was nothing there, and that nothing had ever been there but words, very dark and meaningless.

This happened within my memory. These things happened, we are told, because they were ravings of the theological and metaphysical period, but now we have a critical, positive science which will not deceive us, because it is based upon induction and experience; now our knowledge is no longer uncertain as it formerly was, and it is only by following it that one can find the answer to all the questions of life.

But this is exactly what was said by the old teachers, and they certainly were no fools, and we know that among them were men of immense intellect; and within my memory the disciples of Hegel said exactly the same thing, with no less assurance and no less acknowledgment on the side of the crowd of so-called educated people. And such men as our Herzen, Stankievich, Bylinsky, were no fools either. But why, then, has this wonderful thing happened, that clever men preached with the greatest assurance and the crowd accepted with veneration, only groundless and meaningless doctrines? The reason is only that these doctrines justified men in their bad mode of living.

A very commonplace English writer, whose books are now almost forgotten and recognized as the emptiest of all empty ones, wrote a tract upon population, in which he invented an imaginary law that the means of living do not increase with the increase of population. This sham law the author dressed out with the formulæ of mathematics which have no foundation whatever, and published it. Judged by the lightness of mind and the want of talent displayed in this treatise we might have supposed that it would have passed unnoticed and been forgotten as all other writings of the same author have been; but it turned out quite differently. The author who wrote it became at once a scientific authority, and has maintained this position for nearly half a century. Malthus! The Malthusian theory,—the law of the increase of population in geometrical progression, and the increase of means of living in arithmetical progression, and the natural and prudent means of restraining the increase of population,—all these became scientific, undoubted truths which have never been verified, but, accepted as axioms, have served for further deductions.

Thus learned and educated men were deceived; whereas in the crowd of idle men there was a blind and religious trust in the great laws discovered by Malthus. How did this happen? These statements seem to be scientific deductions which have nothing in common with the instincts of the crowd.

But they are only sacred to those who believe science to be something self-existent and infallible, like the Church, and not merely the thoughts of weak men liable to mistakes, who only for importance' sake call their own thoughts and words by a pompous word, science. It was only necessary to draw practical conclusions from the Malthusian theory in order to see that it was quite a human one with very determinate aims.

The deductions which were directly drawn from this theory were the following: The miserable condition of working-people does not come from the cruelty, egotism, and unreasonableness of rich and powerful men, but it exists according to an unchangeable law which does not depend upon man, and, if anybody is to blame, it is the starving working-people themselves: why do these fools come into the world when they know that they will not have enough to eat? and therefore the wealthy and powerful classes are not at all to blame for any thing, and they may quietly continue to live as they have done.

This conclusion, being pleasant to the crowd of idle men, induced the learned dons to overlook the incorrectness and total arbitrariness of the deductions; and the crowd of educated, i.e., idle people, instinctively guessing to what these deductions led, greeted the theory with delight, set upon it the seal of truth, and cherished it during half a century. The reason for all this was, that these doctrines justified men in their bad mode of life.

Is not the same cause at the bottom of the self-assurance of men of the new positive, critical, experimental science, and of the reverent regard of the crowd to what they preach? At first it seems strange that the theory of evolution (like the theory of atonement in theology, it serves for the majority of men as a popular expression of the new teaching) should justify men in their false lives, and it would seem that the scientific theory has only to do with facts, and does nothing but observe facts. But it only seems so.

It had been so with theological teaching; theology seemed to be occupied only with doctrines and to have nothing to do with the lives of men. It had been so with philosophy, which also seemed to be occupied only with facts.

It had been so with the teaching of Hegel on a large scale, and with the theory of Malthus on a small one. Hegelianism seemed to be occupied merely with its logical constructions and to have nothing to do with the lives of men; and the theory of Malthus seemed to be occupied exclusively with statistics.

But it only seemed so.

Modern science also claims to be occupied exclusively with facts: it studies facts.

But what facts? Why some facts and not others?

The disciples of the modern science are very fond of saying with a solemn assurance, “We study facts alone,” imagining that these words have some meaning.

To study facts alone is quite impossible, because the number of facts which may be objects of our study, are, in the strict sense of the word, countless.

Before beginning to study facts, one must have some theory according to which the facts are studied; that is, determining which shall be selected from the countless number of facts. And this theory indeed exists and is even very definitely expressed, though many of the agents of modern science ignore it; that is, do not want to know it, or really do not know it;—sometimes pretend not to know it.

Thus matters stood before with all most important beliefs.

The basis of each is always given in theory; and so-called learned men seek only further deductions from the various bases given to them, though sometimes they ignore even these.

But a fundamental theory must always be present, and so it is also now. Modern science selects its facts on the ground of a determinate theory, which sometimes it knows, sometimes does not wish to know, sometimes really does not know; but which exists. The theory is this: Mankind is an undying organism, having each his special calling for the service of the whole. As the cells, growing into an organism, divide among themselves the labor of the struggle for existence of the whole organism, increase one capacity, and diminish another, and all together form an organ in order better to satisfy the wants of the whole organism; and as among social animals,—ants and bees,—the individuals divide the labor among themselves (queen-bees lay eggs, drone-bees fecundate, working-bees labor for the life of the whole),—so also in mankind and in human societies there take place the same differentiation and integration of the parts. And therefore, in order to find the law of man's life, we must study the laws of the lives and development of organisms. And in these we find the following laws: That each phenomenon is followed by more than one consequence. The failure of uniformity. The law of uniformity and diversity; and so on.

All this seems to be very innocent, but we need only draw deductions from these observations of facts in order to see at once to what they are tending. These facts lead to one thing,—the acknowledgment of humanity or human society as an organism, and hence to the acknowledgment of the division of activities in human society as organic, that is necessary; and as there exist in human societies many cruelties and vises, therefore these phenomena must not be considered as cruelties and vises, but must be accepted as inevitable facts confirming a general law—i.e., that of “division of labor.” Moral philosophy used also to justify every cruelty and wickedness; but there it became philosophical, and therefore incorrect. According to science, however, the same thing turns out to be scientific, and therefore unquestionable.

How can we help accepting such a fine theory! We need only look at human society merely as something to be observed, and we may quietly devour the labor of perishing men, calming ourselves with the idea that our activity as a dancing-master, a lawyer, a doctor, a philosopher, an actor, an investigator of the theory of mediumism and of forms of atoms, and so on, is a functional activity of the organism of mankind and therefore there can be no question whether it is just that I should continue to live doing only what is pleasant, just as there can be no question whether the division of labor between a mental and a muscular cell is fair or not. How can we help accepting such a nice theory which enables us afterwards to put our consciences into our pockets forever, and live a completely unbridled, animal life, feeling under our feet a firm, scientific support? And it is upon this new belief that the justification of idleness and the cruelty of men is built.

From : Gutenberg.org


November 30, 1903 :
Chapter 29 -- Publication.

February 19, 2017 16:23:13 :
Chapter 29 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

May 28, 2017 15:35:52 :
Chapter 29 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.


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