What Shall We Do? : Chapter 30
(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.)
• "Only by recognizing the land as just such an article of common possession as the sun and air will you be able, without bias and justly, to establish the ownership of land among all men, according to any of the existing projects or according to some new project composed or chosen by you in common." (From : "To the Working People," by Leo Tolstoy, Yasnaya P....)
• "...the dissemination of the truth in a society based on coercion was always hindered in one and the same manner, namely, those in power, feeling that the recognition of this truth would undermine their position, consciously or sometimes unconsciously perverted it by explanations and additions quite foreign to it, and also opposed it by open violence." (From : "A Letter to a Hindu: The Subjection of India- Its....)
• "It usually happens that when an idea which has been useful and even necessary in the past becomes superfluous, that idea, after a more or less prolonged struggle, yields its place to a new idea which was till then an ideal, but which thus becomes a present idea." (From : "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)
This doctrine had its commencement about half a century ago. Its chief founder was the French philosopher Comte. Comte, being a lover of systematic theory, and at the same time a man of religious tendency, was impressed by the then new physiological researches of Bichat; and he conceived the old idea, expressed in bygone days by Menenius Agrippa, that human societies, indeed all human-kind, may be regarded as one whole, An Organism, and men—as live particles of separate organs, each having his definite destination to fulfill in the service of the whole organism.
Comte was so fascinated by this idea that he founded his philosophical theory on it; and this theory so captivated him that he quite forgot that his point of departure was no more than a pretty comparison, suitable enough in a fable, but in no way justifiable as the foundation of a science. As it often happens, he took his pet hypothesis for an axiom, and so imagined that his whole theory was based upon the most firm and positive foundations.
According to his theory it appeared that, as mankind is an organism, therefore the knowledge of what man is and what his relation to the world ought to be, is only possible through the knowledge of the properties of this organism. And to be able to learn these properties man is fitted to make observations upon other lower organisms and to draw deductions from their lives.
Therefore, first, the true and exclusive method of science, according to Comte, is the inductive one, and science is only science when it has experiment for its basis. Secondly, the final aim and the summit of science becomes the new science concerning the imaginary organism of Mankind, or the organic being,—Mankind. This new hypothetic science is Sociology. From this view of science it generally turns out that all former knowledge was false, and that the whole history of mankind, in the sense of its self-consciousness, divides itself into three, or rather two, periods. First, the theological and metaphysical period, from the beginning of the world to Comte. And, secondly, the modern period of true science, positive science, beginning with Comte.
All this was very well, but there was one mistake in it, which was this: that all this edifice was built on the sand, on an arbitrary (and incorrect) assertion that mankind, collectively considered, was an organism.
This assertion is arbitrary because, if we are to acknowledge the existence of mankind as an organism, which is beyond observation, we might as well acknowledge the existence of the triple God and similar theological propositions.
It was incorrect, because to the idea of mankind, that is, of men, the definition of an organism was added, whereas man lacks the essential characteristics of an organism,—a center of sensation or consciousness. We call an elephant, as well as a bacterium, organisms, only because we suppose by analogy in these beings that there is unification of sensations, or consciousness. But human societies and mankind lack this essential; and therefore, however many other general character-signs we may find in mankind and in an organism,—without this, the assertion that man is an organism is incorrect.
But notwithstanding the arbitrariness and incorrectness of the fundamental proposition of Positive Philosophy, it was accepted by the so-called “Educated World” with great sympathy, because of that great fact, important for the crowd, that it afforded a justification of the existing order of things by recognizing the lawfulness of the existing division of labor; that is, of violence in mankind. It is remarkable in this respect that from the writings of Comte, composed of two parts,—a Positive Philosophy and a Positive Politics,—only the first part was accepted on new experimental principles by the learned world, that which justified the existing evil in human society. The second part, treating of the moral, altruistic duties, following from this recognition of mankind as an organism, was considered not only unimportant but even unscientific.
Here the same thing was repeated which occurred with the two parts of Kant's writings. The “Critique of Pure Reason,” was accepted by science; but the “Critique of Practical Reason,” that part which contains the essence of moral doctrine, was rejected. In the teaching of Comte, that was recognized to be scientific which humored the reigning evil.
But the Positive Philosophy accepted by the crowd, based on an arbitrary and incorrect supposition, was by itself too ill-grounded, and therefore too unsteady, and could not be sustained by itself.
And now, among the idle play of ideas of so-called “Men of Science,” there has appeared a similarly arbitrary and incorrect assertion, not at all new, to the effect that all living beings (that is, organisms), proceed one from another; not only one organism from another, but one organism from many; that during a very long period, a million of years, for instance, not only may a fish and a duck have proceeded from one and the same forefather, but also one organism might have proceeded from many separate ; so, for instance, out of a swarm of bees a single animal may proceed. This arbitrary and incorrect assertion was accepted by the learned world with still greater sympathy.
The assertion was arbitrary, because no one has ever seen how one kind of organism is made from others; and therefore the hypothesis about the Origin of Species will always remain a mere supposition and never become an experimental fact.
The hypothesis was incorrect, because the solution of the problem of the Origin of Species by the theory of the laws of inheritance and accommodation during an infinitely long period, is not a solution of the problem at all, but the mere reiteration of the question in another form.
According to the solution of this problem by Moses (to oppose which is the object of Comte's theory), it appeared that the variety of the species of living beings proceeded from the will of God and his infinite omnipotence. According to the Theory of Evolution, it appears that the variety of species of living beings proceeded from themselves in consequence of the infinite variety of conditions of inheritance and environment in an infinite period of time.
The Theory of Evolution, speaking plainly, asserts only that (by chance) in an infinite period of time, anything you like may proceed from anything else you choose.
This is no answer to the question; it is simply the same question put differently: instead of Will is put Chance, and the co-efficient of the Infinite is transferred from Omnipotence to Time.
But this new assertion, enforced by Darwin's followers in an arbitrary and inaccurate spirit, maintained the first assertion of Comte, and therefore it became the Revelation for our time, and the foundation of all sciences, even that of the history of philosophy and religion; and besides, according to the naïve confession of Darwin himself, the idea was awakened in him by the law of Malthus; and therefore he pointed to the “Struggle for Existence” not only of men but of all living beings, as a fundamental law of every living thing, and this was exactly what was wanted by the crowd of idle people for their own justification.
Two unstable theories which could not stand on their own feet supported each other, and so received a show of stability. Both the theories bore in them a sense, precious to the crowd, that men are not to be blamed for the existing evil in human societies, that the existing order is what should be; and thus the new theory was accepted by the crowd in the sense wanted by them, with full confidence and unprecedented enthusiasm.
Thus the new scientific doctrine was founded upon two arbitrary and incorrect propositions, accepted in the same way that dogmas of faith are accepted. Both in matter and form this new doctrine is remarkably like the Church-Christian one. In matter, the similarity lies in the fact that in both doctrines alike a fantastical meaning is attached to really existing things, and this artificial meaning is taken as the object of our research.
In the Church-Christian doctrine, to Christ who did really exist, is attributed the fantastic conception of being God Himself, screened. In the Positive doctrine, to the really existing fact of live men is attributed the fantastical attributes of an organism.
In form, the similarity of these two doctrines is remarkable, since, in both cases, a theory emanating from one class of men is accepted as the only and infallible truth. In the Church-Christian doctrine, the Church's way of understanding God's revelation to men is regarded as the sacred and only true one. In the doctrine of Positivism, certain men's way of understanding science is regarded as absolutely correct and true.
As the Church-Christians regard the foundation of their church as the only origin of true knowledge of God, and only out of a kind of courtesy admit that former believers may also be regarded as having formed a church; so in precisely the same manner does Positive science, according to its own statement, place its origin in Comte: and its representatives, also only out of courtesy, admit the existence of previous science, and that only as regarding certain thinkers, as, for instance, Aristotle. Both the Church and Positive science altogether exclude the ideas of all the rest of mankind, and regard all knowledge outside their own as erroneous. The similarity persists. Just as to the support of the first advental theological dogmas of the Trinity and of the divinity of Christ comes the old—but newly-interpreted—dogmas of man's fall and of his redemption by the death of Christ, and out of these dogmas is developed popular Church teaching: so in our time, the old dogma of Evolution comes in with new importance to help the fundamental dogma of Comte concerning the organism of mankind; and from these two elements the popular scientific doctrine has been formed. As in one teaching, so in the other: the new dogma is necessary for the support of the old one, and becomes comprehensible only in connection with it. If to a believer in the Divinity of Christ, it is not clearly comprehensible why God should come down to earth, the doctrine of atonement explains it. If it is not quite clear to a believer in the Organism of Mankind why a collection of individuals may be counted as an organism, the dogma of Evolution is charged with the explanation. This dogma is needed to reconcile the contradictions and certainties of the first: mankind is an organism, and we see that it does not contain the chief characteristic of an organism; how must we account for it?
Here the dogma of evolution comes in, and explains, Mankind is an organism in a state of development. If you accept this, you may then consider mankind as such.
As to any man free from superstitions about the trinity and the Divinity of Christ, it is impossible even to understand the force and the meaning of the teaching of atonement, which meaning comes only through the acknowledgment of Christ as God Himself, so a man who is free from the Positive superstition cannot even understand wherein lies the interest of the theory of the Origin of Species and of Evolution; and this interest is explained only when we learn the fundamental dogma, that “Mankind is an Organism.” And as the subtleties of theology are only intelligible to those who believe in its fundamental dogmas, so also the subtleties of sociology, which now occupy the minds of all adherents of this recent and profound science, are intelligible only to believers. The doctrine of atonement is necessary to reconcile the contradiction between the first dogma and facts. God descended on earth to save men. But men are not saved. How then explain this? The dogma of atonement asserts “He saved those, who believed in atonement. If you believe in atonement, you are saved.”
The similarity between these two doctrines holds good yet further. Being founded on dogmas accepted by faith, these doctrines neither question nor analyze their own principles, which, on the other hand, are used as starting-points for the most extraordinary theories. The preachers of these call themselves, in Theology, sanctified; in Positive knowledge, scientific; in both cases, infallible. And at the same time, they conceive the most peremptory, incredible, and unfounded assertions, which they give forth with the greatest pomp and seriousness, and which are with equal pomp and seriousness contradicted in all their details by others who do not agree, and yet who equally recognize the fundamental dogmas.
The Basil the Great of scientific doctrine, Herbert Spencer, in one of his first writings expresses these doctrines thus: Societies and organisms, says he, are alike in the following points: First, in that, being conceived as small aggregates, they imperceptibly grow in mass, so that some of them become ten thousand times bigger than their originals.
Thirdly, in that, though in their early undeveloped period there does not exist among them any dependence of particles upon one another, these particles by and by acquire a mutual dependence, which at last becomes so strong that the activity and the life of each part is possible only with the activity and the lives of all others.
Fourthly, in this, that the life and the development of society is more independent and longer than the life and the development of every unit which goes to form it, and which is separately born and growing and acting and multiplying and dying while the political body formed of such continues to live one generation after another, developing in mass, in perfection of structure, and in functional activity.
Then follow the points of difference between organisms and societies, and it is demonstrated that these differences are only seeming ones, and that organisms and societies are quite similar.
To an impartial man the question at once arises, What are you speaking about, then? Why is mankind an organism or something similar? You say that societies are similar to organisms according to these four points; but even this comparison is incorrect. You take only a few characteristics of an organism, and you then apply them to human societies. You produce four points of similarity, then you take the points of difference which you say are only seemingly so, and you conclude that human societies may be considered as organisms. But this is nothing else than an idle play of dialectics. On this ground we may consider as an organism everything we choose. I take the first thing which comes to my mind,—a forest, as it is planted in a field and grows up: first beginning as a small aggregate and imperceptibly increasing in mass. Secondly, “In the beginning the structure of an organism is simple, then the complexity increases,” and so on. This is the case with the forest: at first there are only birch-trees, then hazel, and so on; first all the trees grow straight, and afterwards they interlace their branches. Thirdly, “The dependence of the parts increases so that the life of each part depends upon the lives and activities of all the others”: it is exactly the same with the forest; the nut-tree keeps the trunks warm (if you hew it down, the other trees will be frozen in winter), the underwood keeps off wind, the seed-trees continue the species, the tall and leafy ones give shadow, and the life of each tree depends upon that of the rest. Fourthly, “Separate parts may die, but the whole organism continues to live.” Separate trees perish, but the forest continues in life and growth.
The same holds good with the example so often brought by the defenders of the scientific doctrine. Cut off an arm,—the arm will die: we may say remove a tree from the shadow and the ground of a forest, it will die.
Another remarkable similarity between this scientific doctrine and the Church-Christian one,—and any other theory founded upon propositions which are accepted through faith,—lies in their mutual capacity of being proof against logic.
Having demonstrated that by this theory a forest may be considered as an organism, you think you have proved to the followers of the theory the incorrectness of their definition? Not at all. Their definition of an organism is so loose and plastic that they can apply it to everything they like.
Yes, they will say, you may consider the forest, too, as an organism. A forest is a mutual co-operation of the individuals who do not destroy each other; an aggregate: its parts can also pass into a closer relationship, and by differentiation and integration it may become an organism.
Then you will say, that in that case, the birds too and the insects, and the herbs of this forest, which mutually co-operate and do not destroy each other, may be considered, with the trees, to be an organism. They would agree to this, too. According to their theory, we may consider as an organism every collection of living beings which mutually co-operate, and do not destroy one another. You can establish a connection and co-operation between everything you like, and, according to evolution, you can assert that from anything may proceed anything else you like, if a long enough period is granted.
To those who believe in the Trinity, it is impossible to prove that it does not exist. But one can show them that their assertion is not based on knowledge, but is an assertion of faith, and that if they assert that there are three Gods, I have an equal right to assert that there are 17½ Gods. One may say the same thing with yet better ground to the followers of Positive and Evolutional science. On the basis of this science one could undertake to prove anything one liked. And the strangest thing of all is, that this same Positive science regards the scientific method as a condition of true knowledge, and that it has itself defined the elements of the scientific method. It professes that common sense is the scientific method. And yet common sense itself discloses the fallacies of the doctrine at every step. The moment those who occupied the position of saints felt there was no longer anything sacred in them, that they are cursed like the Pope and our own Synod, they immediately called themselves not merely sacred, but “most sacred.” The moment science felt that it had given up common sense, it called itself The Science of Reason, The Only Really Scientific Science.
From : Gutenberg.org
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