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The Kingdom of God is within you by Leo Tolstoy

Part 7 out of 7

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public opinion.

Such subjection to public opinion on the part of the
unintellectual does not assume an unnatural character till the
public opinion is split into two.

But there are times when a higher truth, revealed at first to a
few persons, gradually gains ground till it has taken hold of such
a number of persons that the old public opinion, founded on a
lower order of truths, begins to totter and the new is ready to
take its place, but has not yet been firmly established. It is
like the spring, this time of transition, when the old order of
ideas has not quite broken up and the new has not quite gained a
footing. Men begin to criticise their actions in the light of the
new truth, but in the meantime in practice, through inertia and
tradition, they continue to follow the principles which once
represented the highest point of rational consciousness, but are
now in flagrant contradiction with it.

Then men are in an abnormal, wavering condition, feeling the
necessity of following the new ideal, and yet not bold enough to
break with the old-established traditions.

Such is the attitude in regard to the truth of Christianity not
only of the men in the Toula train, but of the majority of men of
our times, alike of the higher and the lower orders.

Those of the ruling classes, having no longer any reasonable
justification for the profitable positions they occupy, are
forced, in order to keep them, to stifle their higher rational
faculty of loving, and to persuade themselves that their positions
are indispensable. And those of the lower classes, exhausted by
toil and brutalized of set purpose, are kept in a permanent
deception, practiced deliberately and continuously by the higher
classes upon them.

Only in this way can one explain the amazing contradictions with
which our life is full, and of which a striking example was
presented to me by the expedition I met on the 9th of September;
good, peaceful men, known to me personally, going with untroubled
tranquillity to perpetrate the most beastly, senseless, and vile
of crimes. Had not they some means of stifling their conscience,
not one of them would be capable of committing a hundredth part of
such a villainy.

It is not that they have not a conscience which forbids them from
acting thus, just as, even three or four hundred years ago, when
people burnt men at the stake and put them to the rack they had a
conscience which prohibited it; the conscience is there, but it
has been put to sleep--in those in command by what the
psychologists call auto-suggestion; in the soldiers, by the direct
conscious hypnotizing exerted by the higher classes.

Though asleep, the conscience is there, and in spite of the
hypnotism it is already speaking in them, and it may awake.

All these men are in a position like that of a man under
hypnotism, commanded to do something opposed to everything he
regards as good and rational, such as to kill his mother or his
child. The hypnotized subject feels himself bound to carry out
the suggestion--he thinks he cannot stop--but the nearer he gets
to the time and the place of the action, the more the benumbed
conscience begins to stir, to resist, and to try to awake. And no
one can say beforehand whether he will carry out the suggestion or
not; which will gain the upper hand, the rational conscience or
the irrational suggestion. It all depends on their relative

That is just the case with the men in the Toula train and in
general with everyone carrying out acts of state violence in our

There was a time when men who set out with the object of murder
and violence, to make an example, did not return till they had
carried out their object, and then, untroubled by doubts or
scruples, having calmly flogged men to death, they returned home
and caressed their children, laughed, amused themselves, and
enjoyed the peaceful pleasures of family life. In those days it
never struck the landowners and wealthy men who profited by these
crimes, that the privileges they enjoyed had any direct connection
with these atrocities. But now it is no longer so. Men know now,
or are not far from knowing, what they are doing and for what
object they do it. They can shut their eyes and force their
conscience to be still, but so long as their eyes are opened and
their conscience undulled, they must all--those who carry out and
those who profit by these crimes alike--see the import of them.
Sometimes they realize it only after the crime has been
perpetrated, sometimes they realize it just before its
perpetration. Thus those who commanded the recent acts of
violence in Nijni-Novgorod, Saratov, Orel, and the Yuzovsky
factory realized their significance only after their perpetration,
and now those who commanded and those who carried out these crimes
are ashamed before public opinion and their conscience. I have
talked to soldiers who had taken part in these crimes, and they
always studiously turned the conversation off the subject, and
when they spoke of it it was with horror and bewilderment. There
are cases, too, when men come to themselves just before the
perpetration of the crime. Thus I know the case of a sergeant-
major who had been beaten by two peasants during the repression of
disorder and had made a complaint. The next day, after seeing the
atrocities perpetrated on the other peasants, he entreated the
commander of his company to tear up his complaint and let off the
two peasants. I know cases when soldiers, commanded to fire, have
refused to obey, and I know many cases of officers who have
refused to command expeditions for torture and murder. So that
men sometimes come to their senses long before perpetrating the
suggested crime, sometimes at the very moment before perpetrating
it, sometimes only afterward.

The men traveling in the Toula train were going with the object of
killing and injuring their fellow-creatures, but none could tell
whether they would carry out their object or not. However obscure
his responsibility for the affair is to each, and however strong
the idea instilled into all of them that they are not men, but
governors, officials, officers, and soldiers, and as such beings
can violate every human duty, the nearer they approach the place
of the execution, the stronger their doubts as to its being right,
and this doubt will reach its highest point when the very moment
for carrying it out has come.

The governor, in spite of all the stupefying effect of his
surroundings, cannot help hesitating when the moment comes to give
final decisive command. He knows that the action of the Governor
of Orel has called down upon him the disapproval of the best
people, and he himself, influenced by the public opinion of the
circles in which he moves, has more than once expressed his
disapprobation of him. He knows that the prosecutor, who ought to
have come, flatly refused to have anything to do with it, because
he regarded it as disgraceful. He knows, too, that there may be
changes any day in the government, and that what was a ground for
advancement yesterday may be the cause of disgrace to-morrow. And
he knows that there is a press, if not in Russia, at least abroad,
which may report the affair and cover him with ignominy forever.
He is already conscious of a change in public opinion which
condemns what was formerly a duty. Moreover, he cannot feel fully
assured that his soldiers will at the last moment obey him. He is
wavering, and none can say beforehand what he will do.

All the officers and functionaries who accompany him experience in
greater or less degree the same emotions. In the depths of their
hearts they all know that what they are doing is shameful, that to
take part in it is a discredit and blemish in the eyes of some
people whose opinion they value. They know that after murdering
and torturing the defenseless, each of them will be ashamed to
face his betrothed or the woman he is courting. And besides, they
too, like the governor, are doubtful whether the soldiers'
obedience to orders can be reckoned on. What a contrast with the
confident air they all put on as they sauntered about the station
and platform! Inwardly they were not only in a state of suffering
but even of suspense. Indeed they only assumed this bold and
composed manner to conceal the wavering within. And this feeling
increased as they drew near the scene of action.

And imperceptible as it was, and strange as it seems to say so,
all that mass of lads, the soldiers, who seemed so submissive,
were in precisely the same condition.

These are not the soldiers of former days, who gave up the natural
life of industry and devoted their whole existence to debauchery,
plunder, and murder, like the Roman legionaries or the warriors of
the Thirty Years' War, or even the soldiers of more recent times
who served for twenty-five years in the army. They have mostly
been only lately taken from their families, and are full of the
recollections of the good, rational, natural life they have left
behind them.

All these lads, peasants for the most part, know what is the
business they have come about; they know that the landowners
always oppress their brothers the peasants, and that therefore it
is most likely the same thing here. Moreover, a majority of them
can now read, and the books they read are not all such as exalt a
military life; there are some which point out its immorality.
Among them are often free-thinking comrades--who have enlisted
voluntarily--or young officers of liberal ideas, and already the
first germ of doubt has been sown in regard to the unconditional
legitimacy and glory of their occupation.

It is true that they have all passed through that terrible,
skillful education, elaborated through centuries, which kills all
initiative in a man, and that they are so trained to mechanical
obedience that at the word of command: "Fire!--All the line!--
Fire!" and so on, their guns will rise of themselves and the
habitual movements will be performed. But "Fire!" now does not
mean shooting into the sand for amusement, it means firing on
their broken-down, exploited fathers and brothers whom they see
there in the crowd, with women and children shouting and waving
their arms. Here they are--one with his scanty beard and patched
coat and plaited shoes of reed, just like the father left at home
in Kazan or Riazan province; one with gray beard and bent back,
leaning on a staff like the old grandfather; one, a young fellow
in boots and a red shirt, just as he was himself a year ago--he,
the soldier who must fire upon him. There, too, a woman in reed
shoes and PANYOVA, just like the mother left at home.

Is it possible they must fire on them? And no one knows what each
soldier will do at the last minute. The least word, the slightest
allusion would be enough to stop them.

At the last moment they will all find themselves in the position
of a hypnotized man to whom it has been suggested to chop a log,
who coming up to what has been indicated to him as a log, with the
ax already lifted to strike, sees that it is not a log but his
sleeping brother. He may perform the act that has been suggested
to him, and he may come to his senses at the moment of performing
it. In the same way all these men may come to themselves in time
or they may go on to the end.

If they do not come to themselves, the most fearful crime will be
committed, as in Orel, and then the hypnotic suggestion under
which they act will be strengthened in all other men. If they do
come to themselves, not only this terrible crime will not be
perpetrated, but many also who hear of the turn the affair has
taken will be emancipated from the hypnotic influence in which
they were held, or at least will be nearer being emancipated from

Even if a few only come to themselves, and boldly explain to the
others all the wickedness of such a crime, the influence of these
few may rouse the others to shake off the controlling suggestion,
and the atrocity will not be perpetrated.

More than that, if a few men, even of those who are not taking
part in the affair but are only present at the preparations for
it, or have heard of such things being done in the past, do not
remain indifferent but boldly and plainly express their
detestation of such crimes to those who have to execute them, and
point out to them all the senselessness, cruelty, and wickedness
of such acts, that alone will be productive of good.

That was what took place in the instance before us. It was enough
for a few men, some personally concerned in the affair and others
simply outsiders, to express their disapproval of floggings that
had taken place elsewhere, and their contempt and loathing for
those who had taken part in inflicting them, for a few persons in
the Toula case to express their repugnance to having any share in
it; for a lady traveling by the train, and a few other bystanders
at the station, to express to those who formed the expedition
their disgust at what they were doing; for one of the commanders
of a company, who was asked for troops for the restoration of
order, to reply that soldiers ought not to be butchers--and thanks
to these and a few other seemingly insignificant influences
brought to bear on these hypnotized men, the affair took a
completely different turn, and the troops, when they reached the
place, did not inflict any punishment, but contented themselves
with cutting down the forest and giving it to the landowner.

Had not a few persons had a clear consciousness that what they
were doing was wrong, and consequently influenced one another in
that direction, what was done at Orel would have taken place at
Toula. Had this consciousness been still stronger, and had the
influence exerted been therefore greater than it was, it might
well have been that the governor with his troops would not even
have ventured to cut down the forest and give it to the landowner.

Had that consciousness been stronger still, it might well have
been that the governor would not have ventured to go to the scene
of action at all; even that the minister would not have ventured
to form this decision or the Tzar to ratify it.

All depends, therefore, on the strength of the consciousness of
Christian truth on the part of each individual man.

And, therefore, one would have thought that the efforts of all men
of the present day who profess to wish to work for the welfare of
humanity would have been directed to strengthening this
consciousness of Christian truth in themselves and others.

But, strange to say, it is precisely those people who profess most
anxiety for the amelioration of human life, and are regarded as
the leaders of public opinion, who assert that there is no need to
do that, and that there are other more effective means for the
amelioration of men's condition. They affirm that the
amelioration of human life is effected not by the efforts of
individual men, to recognize and propagate the truth, but by the
gradual modification of the general conditions of life, and that
therefore the efforts of individuals should be directed to the
gradual modification of external conditions for the better. For
every advocacy of a truth inconsistent with the existing order by
an individual is, they maintain, not only useless but injurious,
since in provokes coercive measures on the part of the
authorities, restricting these individuals from continuing any
action useful to society. According to this doctrine all
modifications in human life are brought about by precisely the
same laws as in the life of the animals.

So that, according to this doctrine, all the founders of
religions, such as Moses and the prophets, Confucius, Lao-Tse,
Buddha, Christ, and others, preached their doctrines and their
followers accepted them, not because they loved the truth, but
because the political, social, and above all economic conditions
of the peoples among whom these religions arose were favorable for
their origination and development.

And therefore the chief efforts of the man who wishes to serve
society and improve the condition of humanity ought, according to
this doctrine, to be directed not to the elucidation and
propagation of truth, but to the improvement of the external
political, social, and above all economic conditions. And the
modification of these conditions is partly effected by serving the
government and introducing liberal and progressive principles into
it, partly in promoting the development of industry and the
propagation of socialistic ideas, and most of all by the diffusion
of science. According to this theory it is of no consequence
whether you profess the truth revealed to you, and therefore
realize it in your life, or at least refrain from committing
actions opposed to the truth, such as serving the government and
strengthening its authority when you regard it as injurious,
profiting by the capitalistic system when you regard it as wrong,
showing veneration for various ceremonies which you believe to be
degrading superstitions, giving support to the law when you
believe it to be founded on error, serving as a soldier, taking
oaths, and lying, and lowering yourself generally. It is useless
to refrain from all that; what is of use is not altering the
existing forms of life, but submitting to them against your own
convictions, introducing liberalism into the existing
institutions, promoting commerce, the propaganda of socialism, and
the triumphs of what is called science, and the diffusion of
education. According to this theory one can remain a landowner,
merchant, manufacturer, judge, official in government pay, officer
or soldier, and still be not only a humane man, but even a
socialist and revolutionist.

Hypocrisy, which had formerly only a religious basis in the
doctrine of original sin, the redemption, and the Church, has in
our day gained a new scientific basis and has consequently caught
in its nets all those who had reached too high a stage of
development to be able to find support in religious hypocrisy. So
that while in former days a man who professed the religion of the
Church could take part in all the crimes of the state, and profit
by them, and still regard himself as free from any taint of sin,
so long as he fulfilled the external observances of his creed,
nowadays all who do not believe in the Christianity of the Church,
find similar well-founded irrefutable reasons in science for
regarding themselves as blameless and even highly moral in spite
of their participation in the misdeeds of government and the
advantages they gain from them.

A rich landowner--not only in Russia, but in France, England,
Germany, or America--lives on the rents exacted; from the people
living on his land, and robs these generally poverty-stricken
people of all he can get from them. This man's right of property
in the land rests on the fact that at every effort on the part of
the oppressed people, without his consent, to make use of the land
he considers his, troops are called out to subject them to
punishment and murder. One would have thought that it was obvious
that a man living in this way was an evil, egoistic creature and
could not possibly consider himself a Christian or a liberal. One
would have supposed it evident that the first thing such a man
must do, if he wishes to approximate to Christianity or
liberalism, would be to cease to plunder and ruin men by means of
acts of state violence in support of his claim to the land. And
so it would be if it were not for the logic of hypocrisy, which
reasons that from a religious point of view possession or non-
possession of land is of no consequence for salvation, and from
the scientific point of view, giving up the ownership of land is a
useless individual renunciation, and that the welfare of mankind
is not promoted in that way, but by a gradual modification of
external forms. And so we see this man, without the least trouble
of mind or doubt that people will believe in his sincerity,
organizing an agricultural exhibition, or a temperance society, or
sending some soup and stockings by his wife or children to three
old women, and boldly in his family, in drawing rooms, in
committees, and in the press, advocating the Gospel or
humanitarian doctrine of love for one's neighbor in general and
the agricultural laboring population in particular whom he is
continually exploiting and oppressing. And other people who are
in the same position as he believe him, commend him, and solemnly
discuss with him measures for ameliorating the condition of the
working-class, on whose exploitation their whole life rests,
devising all kinds of possible methods for this, except the one
without which all improvement of their condition is impossible,
i. e., refraining from taking from them the land necessary for
their subsistence. (A striking example of this hypocrisy was the
solicitude displayed by the Russian landowners last year, their
efforts to combat the famine which they had caused, and by which
they profited, selling not only bread at the highest price, but
even potato haulm at five rubles the dessiatine (about 2 and four-
fifths acres) for fuel to the freezing peasants.)

Or take a merchant whose whole trade--like all trade indeed--is
founded on a series of trickery, by means of which, profiting by
the ignorance or need of others, he buys goods below their value
and sells them again above their value. One would have fancied it
obvious that a man whose whole occupation was based on what in his
own language is called swindling, if it is done under other
conditions, ought to be ashamed of his position, and could not any
way, while he continues a merchant, profess himself a Christian or
a liberal.

But the sophistry of hypocrisy reasons that the merchant can pass
for a virtuous man without giving up his pernicious course of
action; a religious man need only have faith and a liberal man
need only promote the modification of external conditions--the
progress of industry. And so we see the merchant (who often goes
further and commits acts of direct dishonesty, selling adulterated
goods, using false weights and measures, and trading in products
injurious to health, such as alcohol and opium) boldly regarding
himself and being regarded by others, so long as he does not
directly deceive his colleagues in business, as a pattern of
probity and virtue. And if he spends a thousandth part of his
stolen wealth on some public institution, a hospital or museum or
school, then he is even regarded as the benefactor of the people
on the exploitation and corruption of whom his whole prosperity
has been founded: if he sacrifices, too, a portion of his ill-
gotten gains on a Church and the poor, then he is an exemplary

A manufacturer is a man whose whole income consists of value
squeezed out of the workmen, and whose whole occupation is based
on forced, unnatural labor, exhausting whole generations of men.
It would seem obvious that if this man professes any Christian or
liberal principles, he must first of all give up ruining human
lives for his own profit. But by the existing theory he is
promoting industry, and he ought not to abandon his pursuit. It
would even be injuring society for him to do so. And so we see
this man, the harsh slave-driver of thousands of men, building
almshouses with little gardens two yards square for the workmen
broken down in toiling for him, and a bank, and a poorhouse, and a
hospital--fully persuaded that he has amply expiated in this way
for all the human lives morally and physically ruined by him--and
calmly going on with his business, taking pride in it.

Any civil, religious, or military official in government employ,
who serves the state from vanity, or, as is most often the case,
simply for the sake of the pay wrung from the harassed and
toilworn working classes (all taxes, however raised, always fall
on labor), if he, as is very seldom the case, does not directly
rob the government in the usual way, considers himself, and is
considered by his fellows, as a most useful and virtuous member of

A judge or a public prosecutor knows that through his sentence or
his prosecution hundreds or thousands of poor wretches are at once
torn from their families and thrown into prison, where they may go
out of their minds, kill themselves with pieces of broken glass,
or starve themselves; he knows that they have wives and mothers
and children, disgraced and made miserable by separation from
them, vainly begging for pardon for them or some alleviation of
their sentence, and this judge or this prosecutor is so hardened
in his hypocrisy that he and his fellows and his wife and his
household are all fully convinced that he may be a most exemplary
man. According to the metaphysics of hypocrisy it is held that he
is doing a work of public utility. And this man who has ruined
hundreds, thousands of men, who curse him and are driven to
desperation by his action, goes to mass, a smile of shining
benevolence on his smooth face, in perfect faith in good and in
God, listens to the Gospel, caresses his children, preaches moral
principles to them, and is moved by imaginary sufferings.

All these men and those who depend on them, their wives, tutors,
children, cooks, actors, jockeys, and so on, are living on the
blood which by one means or another, through one set of blood-
suckers or another, is drawn out of the working class, and every
day their pleasures cost hundreds or thousands of days of labor.
They see the sufferings and privations of these laborers and their
children, their aged, their wives, and their sick, they know the
punishments inflicted on those who resist this organized plunder,
and far from decreasing, far from concealing their luxury, they
insolently display it before these oppressed laborers who hate
them, as though intentionally provoking them with the pomp of
their parks and palaces, their theaters, hunts, and races. At the
same time they continue to persuade themselves and others that
they are all much concerned about the welfare of these working
classes, whom they have always trampled under their feet, and on
Sundays, richly dressed, they drive in sumptuous carriages to the
houses of God built in very mockery of Christianity, and there
listen to men, trained to this work of deception, who in white
neckties or in brocaded vestments, according to their
denomination, preach the love for their neighbor which they all
gainsay in their lives. And these people have so entered into
their part that they seriously believe that they really are what
they pretend to be.

The universal hypocrisy has so entered into the flesh and blood of
all classes of our modern society, it has reached such a pitch
that nothing in that way can rouse indignation. Hypocrisy in the
Greek means "acting," and acting--playing a part--is always
possible. The representatives of Christ give their blessing to
the ranks of murderers holding their guns loaded against their
brothers; "for prayer" priests, ministers of various Christian
sects are always present, as indispensably as the hangman, at
executions, and sanction by their presence the compatibility of
murder with Christianity (a clergyman assisted at the attempt at
murder by electricity in America)--but such facts cause no one any

There was recently held at Petersburg an international exhibition
of instruments of torture, handcuffs, models of solitary cells,
that is to say instruments of torture worse than knouts or rods,
and sensitive ladies and gentlemen went and amused themselves by
looking at them.

No one is surprised that together with its recognition of liberty,
equality, and fraternity, liberal science should prove the
necessity of war, punishment, customs, the censure, the regulation
of prostitution, the exclusion of cheap foreign laborers, the
hindrance of emigration, the justifiableness of colonization,
based on poisoning and destroying whole races of men called
savages, and so on.

People talk of the time when all men shall profess what is called
Christianity (that is, various professions of faith hostile to one
another), when all shall be well-fed and clothed, when all shall
be united from one end of the world to the other by telegraphs and
telephones, and be able to communicate by balloons, when all the
working classes are permeated by socialistic doctrines, when the
Trades Unions possess so many millions of members and so many
millions of rubles, when everyone is educated and all can read
newspapers and learn all the sciences.

But what good or useful thing can come of all these improvements,
if men do not speak and act in accordance with what they believe
to be the truth?

The condition of men is the result of their disunion. Their
disunion results from their not following the truth which is one,
but falsehoods which are many. The sole means of uniting men is
their union in the truth. And therefore the more sincerely men
strive toward the truth, the nearer they get to unity.

But how can men be united in the truth or even approximate to it,
if they do not even express the truth they know, but hold that
there is no need to do so, and pretend to regard as truth what
they believe to be false?

And therefore no improvement is possible so long as men are
hypocritical and hide the truth from themselves, so long as they
do not recognize that their union and therefore their welfare is
only possible in the truth, and do not put the recognition and
profession of the truth revealed to them higher than everything

All the material improvements that religious and scientific men
can dream of may be accomplished; all men may accept Christianity,
and all the reforms desired by the Bellamys may be brought about
with every possible addition and improvement, but if the hypocrisy
which rules nowadays still exists, if men do not profess the truth
they know, but continue to feign belief in what they do not
believe and veneration for what they do not respect, their
condition will remain the same, or even grow worse and worse. The
more men are freed from privation; the more telegraphs,
telephones, books, papers, and journals there are; the more means
there will be of diffusing inconsistent lies and hypocrisies, and
the more disunited and consequently miserable will men become,
which indeed is what we see actually taking place.

All these material reforms may be realized, but the position of
humanity will not be improved. But only let each man, according
to his powers, at once realize in his life the truth he knows, or
at least cease to support the falsehoods he is supporting in the
place of the truth, and at once, in this year 1893, we should see
such reforms as we do not dare to hope for within a century--the
emancipation of men and the reign of truth upon earth.

Not without good reason was Christ's only harsh and threatening
reproof directed against hypocrites and hypocrisy. It is not
theft nor robbery nor murder nor fornication, but falsehood, the
special falsehood of hypocrisy, which corrupts men, brutalizes
them and makes them vindictive, destroys all distinction between
right and wrong in their conscience, deprives them of what is the
true meaning of all real human life, and debars them from all
progress toward perfection.

Those who do evil through ignorance of the truth provoke sympathy
with their victims and repugnance for their actions, they do harm
only to those they attack; but those who know the truth and do
evil masked by hypocrisy, injure themselves and their victims, and
thousands of other men as well who are led astray by the falsehood
with which the wrongdoing is disguised.

Thieves, robbers, murderers, and cheats, who commit crimes
recognized by themselves and everyone else as evil, serve as an
example of what ought not to be done, and deter others from
similar crimes. But those who commit the same thefts, robberies,
murders, and other crimes, disguising them under all kinds of
religious or scientific or humanitarian justifications, as all
landowners, merchants, manufacturers, and government officials do,
provoke others to imitation, and so do harm not only to those who
are directly the victims of their crimes, but to thousands and
millions of men whom they corrupt by obliterating their sense of
the distinction between right and wrong.

A single fortune gained by trading in goods necessary to the
people or in goods pernicious in their effects, or by financial
speculations, or by acquiring land at a low price the value of
which is increased by the needs of the population, or by an
industry ruinous to the health and life of those employed in it,
or by military or civil service of the state, or by any employment
which trades on men's evil instincts--a single fortune acquired in
any of these ways, not only with the sanction, but even with the
approbation of the leading men in society, and masked with an
ostentation of philanthropy, corrupts men incomparably more than
millions of thefts and robberies committed against the recognized
forms of law and punishable as crimes.

A single execution carried out by prosperous educated men
uninfluenced by passion, with the approbation and assistance of
Christian ministers, and represented as something necessary and
even just, is infinitely more corrupting and brutalizing to men
than thousands of murders committed by uneducated working people
under the influence of passion. An execution such as was proposed
by Joukovsky, which would produce even a sentiment of religious
emotion in the spectators, would be one of the most perverting
actions imaginable. (SEE vol. iv. of the works of Joukovsky.)

Every war, even the most humanely conducted, with all its ordinary
consequences, the destruction of harvests, robberies, the license
and debauchery, and the murder with the justifications of its
necessity and justice, the exaltation and glorification of
military exploits, the worship of the flag, the patriotic
sentiments, the feigned solicitude for the wounded, and so on,
does more in one year to pervert men's minds than thousands of
robberies, murders, and arsons perpetrated during hundreds of
years by individual men under the influence of passion.

The luxurious expenditure of a single respectable and so-called
honorable family, even within the conventional limits, consuming
as it does the produce of as many days of labor as would suffice
to provide for thousands living in privation near, does more to
pervert men's minds than thousands of the violent orgies of coarse
tradespeople, officers, and workmen of drunken and debauched
habits, who smash up glasses and crockery for amusement.

One solemn religious procession, one service, one sermon from the
altar-steps or the pulpit, in which the preacher does not believe,
produces incomparably more evil than thousands of swindling
tricks, adulteration of food, and so on.

We talk of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. But the hypocrisy of
our society far surpasses the comparatively innocent hypocrisy of
the Pharisees. They had at least an external religious law, the
fulfillment of which hindered them from seeing their obligations
to their neighbors. Moreover, these obligations were not nearly
so clearly defined in their day. Nowadays we have no such
religious law to exonerate us from our duties to our neighbors (I
am not speaking now of the coarse and ignorant persons who still
fancy their sins can be absolved by confession to a priest or by
the absolution of the Pope). On the contrary, the law of the
Gospel which we all profess in one form or another directly
defines these duties. Besides, the duties which had then been
only vaguely and mystically expressed by a few prophets have now
been so clearly formulated, have become such truisms, that they
are repeated even by schoolboys and journalists. And so it would
seem that men of to-day cannot pretend that they do not know these

A man of the modern world who profits by the order of things based
on violence, and at the same time protests that he loves his
neighbor and does not observe what he is doing in his daily life
to his neighbor, is like a brigand who has spent his life in
robbing men, and who, caught at last, knife in hand, in the very
act of striking his shrieking victim, should declare that he had
no idea that what he was doing was disagreeable to the man he had
robbed and was prepared to murder. Just as this robber and
murderer could not deny what was evident to everyone, so it would
seem that a man living upon the privations of the oppressed
classes cannot persuade himself and others that he desires the
welfare of those he plunders, and that he does not know how the
advantages he enjoys are obtained.

It is impossible to convince ourselves that we do not know that
there are a hundred thousand men in prison in Russia alone to
guarantee the security of our property and tranquillity, and that
we do not know of the law tribunals in which we take part, and
which, at our initiative, condemn those who have attacked our
property or our security to prison, exile, or forced labor,
whereby men no worse than those who condemn them are ruined and
corrupted; or that we do not know that we only possess all that we
do possess because it has been acquired and is defended for us by
murder and violence.

We cannot pretend that we do not see the armed policeman who
marches up and down beneath our windows to guarantee our security
while we eat our luxurious dinner, or look at the new piece at the
theater, or that we are unaware of the existence of the soldiers
who will make their appearance with guns and cartridges directly
our property is attacked.

We know very well that we are only allowed to go on eating our
dinner, to finish seeing the new play, or to enjoy to the end the
ball, the Christmas fete, the promenade, the races or, the hunt,
thanks to the policeman's revolver or the soldier's rifle, which
will shoot down the famished outcast who has been robbed of his
share, and who looks round the corner with covetous eyes at our
pleasures, ready to interrupt them instantly, were not the
policeman and the soldier there prepared to run up at our first
call for help.

And therefore just as a brigand caught in broad daylight in the
act cannot persuade us that he did not lift his knife in order to
rob his victim of his purse, and had no thought of killing him, we
too, it would seem, cannot persuade ourselves or others that the
soldiers and policemen around us are not to guard us, but only for
defense against foreign foes, and to regulate traffic and fêtes
and reviews; we cannot persuade ourselves and others that we do
not know that men do not like dying of hunger, bereft of the right
to gain their subsistence from the earth on which they live; that
they do not like working underground, in the water, or in stifling
heat, for ten to fourteen hours a day, at night in factories to
manufacture objects for our pleasure. One would imagine it
impossible to deny what is so obvious. Yet it is denied.

Still, there are, among the rich, especially among the young, and
among women, persons whom I am glad to meet more and more
frequently, who, when they are shown in what way and at what cost
their pleasures are purchased, do not try to conceal the truth,
but hiding their heads in their hands, cry: "Ah! don't speak of
that. If it is so, life is impossible." But though there are
such sincere people who even though they cannot renounce their
fault, at least see it, the vast majority of the men of the modern
world have so entered into the parts they play in their hypocrisy
that they boldly deny what is staring everyone in the face.

"All that is unjust," they say; "no one forces the people to work
for the landowners and manufacturers. That is an affair of free
contract. Great properties and fortunes are necessary, because
they provide and organize work for the working classes. And labor
in the factories and workshops is not at all the terrible thing
you make it out to be. Even if there are some abuses in
factories, the government and the public are taking steps to
obviate them and to make the labor of the factory workers much
easier, and even agreeable. The working classes are accustomed to
physical labor, and are, so far, fit for nothing else. The
poverty of the people is not the result of private property in
land, nor of capitalistic oppression, but of other causes: it is
the result of the ignorance, brutality, and intemperance of the
people. And we men in authority who are striving against this
impoverishment of the people by wise legislation, we capitalists
who are combating it by the extension of useful inventions, we
clergymen by religious instruction, and we liberals by the
formation of trades unions, and the diffusion of education, are in
this way increasing the prosperity of the people without changing
our own positions. We do not want all to be as poor as the poor;
we want all to be as rich as the rich. As for the assertion that
men are ill treated and murdered to force them to work for the
profit of the rich, that is a sophism. The army is only called
out against the mob, when the people, in ignorance of their own
interests, make disturbances and destroy the tranquillity
necessary for the public welfare. In the same way, too, it is
necessary to keep in restraint the malefactors for whom the
prisons and gallows are established. We ourselves wish to
suppress these forms of punishment and are working in that

Hypocrisy in our day is supported on two sides: by false religion
and by false science. And it has reached such proportions that if
we were not living in its midst, we could not believe that men
could attain such a pitch of self-deception. Men of the present
day have come into such an extraordinary condition, their hearts
are so hardened, that seeing they see not, hearing they do not
hear, and understand not.

Men have long been living in antagonism to their conscience. If
it were not for hypocrisy they could not go on living such a life.
This social organization in opposition to their conscience only
continues to exist because it is disguised by hypocrisy.

And the greater the divergence between actual life and men's
conscience, the greater the extension of hypocrisy. But even
hypocrisy has its limits. And it seems to me that we have reached
those limits in the present day.

Every man of the present day with the Christian principles
assimilated involuntarily in his conscience, finds himself in
precisely the position of a man asleep who dreams that he is
obliged to do something which even in his dream he knows he ought
not to do. He knows this in the depths of his conscience, and all
the same he seems unable to change his position; he cannot stop
and cease doing what he ought not to do. And just as in a dream,
his position becoming more and more painful, at last reaches such
a pitch of intensity that he begins sometimes to doubt the reality
of what is passing and makes a moral effort to shake off the
nightmare which is oppressing him.

This is just the condition of the average man of our Christian
society. He feels that all that he does himself and that is done
around him is something absurd, hideous, impossible, and opposed
to his conscience; he feels that his position is becoming more and
more unendurable and reaching a crisis of intensity.

It is not possible that we modern men, with the Christian sense of
human dignity and equality permeating us soul and body, with our
need for peaceful association and unity between nations, should
really go on living in such a way that every joy, every
gratification we have is bought by the sufferings, by the lives of
our brother men, and moreover, that we should be every instant
within a hair's-breadth of falling on one another, nation against
nation, like wild beasts, mercilessly destroying men's lives and
labor, only because some benighted diplomatist or ruler says or
writes some stupidity to another equally benighted diplomatist or

It is impossible. Yet every man of our day sees that this is so
and awaits the calamity. And the situation becomes more and more

And as the man who is dreaming does not believe that what appears
to him can be truly the reality and tries to wake up to the actual
real world again, so the average man of modern days cannot in the
bottom of his heart believe that the awful position in which he is
placed and which is growing worse and worse can be the reality,
and tries to wake up to a true, real life, as it exists in his

And just as the dreamer need only make a moral effort and ask
himself, "Isn't it a dream?" and the situation which seemed to him
so hopeless will instantly disappear, and he will wake up to
peaceful and happy reality, so the man of the modern world need
only make a moral effort to doubt the reality presented to him by
his own hypocrisy and the general hypocrisy around him, and to ask
himself, "Isn't it all a delusion?" and he will at once, like the
dreamer awakened, feel himself transported from an imaginary and
dreadful world to the true, calm, and happy reality.

And to do this a man need accomplish no great feats or exploits.
He need only make a moral effort.

But can a man make this effort?

According to the existing theory so essential to support
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 his actions are conditioned by previously
existing causes. And whatever the man may do there are always
some causes or other through which he does these or those acts,
and therefore man cannot be free and change his life," say the
champions of the metaphysics of hypocrisy. And they would be
perfectly right if man were a creature without conscience and
incapable of moving toward the truth; that is to say, if after
recognizing a new truth, man always remained at the same stage of
moral development. But man is a creature with a conscience and
capable of attaining a higher and higher degree of truth. And
therefore even if man is not free as regards performing these or
those acts because there exists a previous cause for every act,
the very causes of his acts, consisting as they do for the man of
conscience of the recognition of this or that truth, are within
his own control.

So that though man may not be free as regards the performance of
his actions, he is free as regards the foundation on which they
are performed. Just as the mechanician who is not free to modify
the movement of his locomotive when it is in motion, is free to
regulate the machine beforehand so as to determine what the
movement is to be.

Whatever the conscious man does, he acts just as he does, and not
otherwise, only because he recognizes that to act as he is acting
is in accord with the truth, or because he has recognized it at
some previous time, and is now only through inertia, through
habit, acting in accordance with his previous recognition of

In any case, the cause of his action is not to be found in any
given previous fact, but in the consciousness of a given relation
to truth, and the consequent recognition of this or that fact as a
sufficient basis for action.

Whether a man eats or does not eat, works or rests, runs risks or
avoids them, if he has a conscience he acts thus only because he
considers it right and rational, because he considers that to act
thus is in harmony with truth, or else because he has made this
reflection in the past.

The recognition or non-recognition of a certain truth depends not
on external causes, but on certain other causes within the man
himself. So that at times under external conditions apparently
very favorable for the recognition of truth, one man will not
recognize it, and another, on the contrary, under the most
unfavorable conditions will, without apparent cause, recognize it.
As it is said in the Gospel, "No man can come unto me, except the
Father which hath sent me draw him." That is to say, the
recognition of truth, which is the cause of all the manifestations
of human life, does not depend on external phenomena, but on
certain inner spiritual characteristics of the man which escape
our observation.

And therefore man, though not free in his acts, always feels
himself free in what is the motive of his acts--the recognition or
non-recognition of truth. And he feels himself independent not
only of facts external to his own personality, but even of his own

Thus a man who under the influence of passion has committed an act
contrary to the truth he recognizes, remains none the less free to
recognize it or not to recognize it; that is, he can by refusing
to recognize the truth regard his action as necessary and
justifiable, or he may recognize the truth and regard his act as
wrong and censure himself for it.

Thus a gambler or a drunkard who does not resist temptation and
yields to his passion is still free to recognize gambling and
drunkenness as wrong or to regard them as a harmless pastime. In
the first case even if he does not at once get over his passion,
he gets the more free from it the more sincerely he recognizes the
truth about it; in the second case he will be strengthened in his
vice and will deprive himself of every possibility of shaking it

In the same way a man who has made his escape alone from a house
on fire, not having had the courage to save his friend, remains
free, recognizing the truth that a man ought to save the life of
another even at the risk of his own, to regard his action as bad
and to censure himself for it, or, not recognizing this truth, to
regard his action as natural and necessary and to justify it to
himself. In the first case, if he recognizes the truth in spite
of his departure from it, he prepares for himself in the future a
whole series of acts of self-sacrifice necessarily flowing from
this recognition of the truth; in the second case, a whole series
of egoistic acts.

Not that a man is always free to recognize or to refuse to
recognize every truth. There are truths which he has recognized
long before or which have been handed down to him by education and
tradition and accepted by him on faith, and to follow these truths
has become a habit, a second nature with him; and there are
truths, only vaguely, as it were distantly, apprehended by him.
The man is not free to refuse to recognize the first, nor to
recognize the second class of truths. But there are truths of a
third kind, which have not yet become an unconscious motive of
action, but yet have been revealed so clearly to him that he
cannot pass them by, and is inevitably obliged to do one thing or
the other, to recognize or not to recognize them. And it is in
regard to these truths that the man's freedom manifests itself.

Every man during his life finds himself in regard to truth in the
position of a man walking in the darkness with light thrown before
him by the lantern he carries. He does not see what is not yet
lighted up by the lantern; he does not see what he has passed
which is hidden in the darkness; but at every stage of his journey
he sees what is lighted up by the lantern, and he can always
choose one side or the other of the road.

There are always unseen truths not yet revealed to the man's
intellectual vision, and there are other truths outlived,
forgotten, and assimilated by him, and there are also certain
truths that rise up before the light of his reason and require his
recognition. And it is in the recognition or non-recognition of
these truths that what we call his freedom is manifested.

All the difficulty and seeming insolubility of the question of the
freedom of man results from those who tried to solve the question
imagining man as stationary in his relation to the truth.

Man is certainly not free if we imagine him stationary, and if we
forget that the life of a man and of humanity is nothing but a
continual movement from darkness into light, from a lower stage of
truth to a higher, from a truth more alloyed with errors to a
truth more purified from them.

Man would not be free if he knew no truth at all, and in the same
way he would not be free and would not even have any idea of
freedom if the whole truth which was to guide him in life had been
revealed once for all to him in all its purity without any
admixture of error.

But man is not stationary in regard to truth, but every individual
man as he passes through life, and humanity as a whole in the same
way, is continually learning to know a greater and greater degree
of truth, and growing more and more free from error.

And therefore men are in a threefold relation to truth. Some
truths have been so assimilated by them that they have become the
unconscious basis of action, others are only just on the point of
being revealed to him, and a third class, though not yet
assimilated by him, have been revealed to him with sufficient
clearness to force him to decide either to recognize them or to
refuse to recognize them.

These, then, are the truths which man is free to recognize or to
refuse to recognize.

The liberty of man does not consist in the power of acting
independently of the progress of life and the influences arising
from it, but in the capacity for recognizing and acknowledging the
truth revealed to him, and becoming the free and joyful
participator in the eternal and infinite work of God, the life of
the world; or on the other hand for refusing to recognize the
truth, and so being a miserable and reluctant slave dragged
whither he has no desire to go.

Truth not only points out the way along which human life ought to
move, but reveals also the only way along which it can move. And
therefore all men must willingly or unwillingly move along the way
of truth, some spontaneously accomplishing the task set them in
life, others submitting involuntarily to the law of life. Man's
freedom lies in the power of this choice.

This freedom within these narrow limits seems so insignificant to
men that they do not notice it. Some--the determinists--consider
this amount of freedom so trifling that they do not recognize it
at all. Others--the champions of complete free will--keep their
eyes fixed on their hypothetical free will and neglect this which
seemed to them such a trivial degree of freedom.

This freedom, confined between the limits of complete ignorance of
the truth and a recognition of a part of the truth, seems hardly
freedom at all, especially since, whether a man is willing or
unwilling to recognize the truth revealed to him, he will be
inevitably forced to carry it out in life.

A horse harnessed with others to a cart is not free to refrain
from moving the cart. If he does not move forward the cart will
knock him down and go on dragging him with it, whether he will or
not. But the horse is free to drag the cart himself or to be
dragged with it. And so it is with man.

Whether this is a great or small degree of freedom in comparison
with the fantastic liberty we should like to have, it is the only
freedom that really exists, and in it consists the only happiness
attainable by man.

And more than that, this freedom is the sole means of
accomplishing the divine work of the life of the world.

According to Christ's doctrine, the man who sees the significance
of life in the domain in which it is not free, in the domain of
effects, that is, of acts, has not the true life. According to
the Christian doctrine, that man is living in the truth who has
transported his life to the domain in which it is free--the domain
of causes, that is, the knowledge and recognition, the profession
and realization in life of revealed truth.

Devoting his life to works of the flesh, a man busies himself with
actions depending on temporary causes outside himself. He himself
does nothing really, he merely seems to be doing something. In
reality all the acts which seem to be his are the work of a higher
power, and he is not the creator of his own life, but the slave of
it. Devoting his life to the recognition and fulfillment of the
truth revealed to him, he identifies himself with the source of
universal life and accomplishes acts not personal, and dependent
on conditions of space and time, but acts unconditioned by
previous causes, acts which constitute the causes of everything
else, and have an infinite, unlimited significance.

"The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it
by force." (Matt. xi. 12.)

It is this violent effort to rise above external conditions to the
recognition and realization of truth by which the kingdom of
heaven is taken, and it is this effort of violence which must and
can be made in our times.

Men need only understand this, they need only cease to trouble
themselves about the general external conditions in which they are
not free, and devote one-hundredth part of the energy they waste
on those material things to that in which they are free, to the
recognition and realization of the truth which is before them, and
to the liberation of themselves and others from deception and
hypocrisy, and, without effort or conflict, there would be an end
at once of the false organization of life which makes men
miserable, and threatens them with worse calamities in the future.
And then the kingdom of God would be realized, or at least that
first stage of it for which men are ready now by the degree of
development of their conscience.

Just as a single shock may be sufficient, when a liquid is
saturated with some salt, to precipitate it at once in crystals, a
slight effort may be perhaps all that is needed now that the truth
already revealed to men may gain a mastery over hundreds,
thousands, millions of men, that a public opinion consistent with
conscience may be established, and through this change of public
opinion the whole order of life may be transformed. And it
depends upon us to make this effort.

Let each of us only try to understand and accept the Christian
truth which in the most varied forms surrounds us on all sides and
forces itself upon us; let us only cease from lying and pretending
that we do not see this truth or wish to realize it, at least in
what it demands from us above all else; only let us accept and
boldly profess the truth to which we are called, and we should
find at once that hundreds, thousands, millions of men are in the
same position as we, that they see the truth as we do, and dread
as we do to stand alone in recognizing it, and like us are only
waiting for others to recognize it also.

Only let men cease to be hypocrites, and they would at once see
that this cruel social organization, which holds them in bondage,
and is represented to them as something stable, necessary, and
ordained of God, is already tottering and is only propped up by
the falsehood of hypocrisy, with which we, and others like us,
support it.

But if this is so, if it is true that it depends on us to break
down the existing organization of life, have we the right to
destroy it, without knowing clearly what we shall set up in its
place? What will become of human society when the existing order
of things is at an end?

"What shall we find the other side of the walls of the world we
are abandoning?

"Fear will come upon us--a void, a vast emptiness, freedom--how
are we to go forward not knowing whither, how face loss, not
seeing hope of gain? . . . If Columbus had reasoned thus he
would never have weighed anchor. It was madness to set off
upon the ocean, not knowing the route, on the ocean on which no
one had sailed, to sail toward a land whose existence was
doubtful. By this madness he discovered a new world.
Doubtless if the peoples of the world could simply transfer
themselves from one furnished mansion to another and better
one--it would make it much easier; but unluckily there is no
one to get humanity's new dwelling ready for it. The future is
even worse than the ocean--there is nothing there--it will be
what men and circumstances make it.

"If you are content with the old world, try to preserve it, it
is very sick and cannot hold out much longer. But if you
cannot bear to live in everlasting dissonance between your
beliefs and your life, thinking one thing and doing another,
get out of the mediaeval whited sepulchers, and face your
fears. I know very well it is not easy.

"It is not a little thing to cut one's self off from all to
which a man has been accustomed from his birth, with which he
has grown up to maturity. Men are ready for tremendous
sacrifices, but not for those which life demands of them. Are
they ready to sacrifice modern civilization, their manner of
life, their religion, the received conventional morality?

"Are we ready to give up all the results we have attained with
such effort, results of which we have been boasting for three
centuries; to give up every convenience and charm of our
existence, to prefer savage youth to the senile decay of
civilization, to pull down the palace raised for us by our
ancestors only for the pleasure of having a hand in the
founding of a new house, which will doubtless be built long
after we are gone?" (Herzen, vol. v. p. 55.)

Thus wrote almost half a century ago the Russian writer, who with
prophetic insight saw clearly then, what even the most
unreflecting man sees to-day, the impossibility, that is, of life
continuing on its old basis, and the necessity of establishing new
forms of life.

It is clear now from the very simplest, most commonplace point of
view, that it is madness to remain under the roof of a building
which cannot support its weight, and that we must leave it. And
indeed it is difficult to imagine a position more wretched than
that of the Christian world to-day, with its nations armed against
one another, with its constantly increasing taxation to maintain
its armies, with the hatred of the working class for the rich ever
growing more intense, with the Damocles sword of war forever
hanging over the heads of all, ready every instant to fall,
certain to fall sooner or later.

Hardly could any revolution be more disastrous for the great mass
of the population than the present order or rather disorder of our
life, with its daily sacrifices to exhausting and unnatural toil,
to poverty, drunkenness, and profligacy, with all the horrors of
the war that is at hand, which will swallow up in one year more
victims than all the revolutions of the century.

What will become of humanity if each of us performs the duty God
demands of us through the conscience implanted within us? Will
not harm come if, being wholly in the power of a master, I carry
out, in the workshop erected and directed by him, the orders he
gives me, strange though they may seem to me who do not know the
Master's final aims?

But it is not even this question "What will happen?" that agitates
men when they hesitate to fulfill the Master's will. They are
troubled by the question how to live without those habitual
conditions of life which we call civilization, culture, art, and
science. We feel ourselves all the burdensomeness of life as it
is; we see also that this organization of life must inevitably be
our ruin, if it continues. At the same time we want the
conditions of our life which arise out of this organization--our
civilization, culture, art, and science--to remain intact. It is
as though a man, living in an old house and suffering from cold
and all sorts of inconvenience in it, knowing, too, that it is on
the point of falling to pieces, should consent to its being
rebuilt, but only on the condition that he should not be required
to leave it: a condition which is equivalent to refusing to have
it rebuilt at all.

"But what if I leave the house and give up every convenience for a
time, and the new house is not built, or is built on a different
plan so that I do not find in it the comforts to which I am
accustomed?" But seeing that the materials and the builders are
here, there is every likelihood that the new house will on the
contrary be better built than the old one. And at the same time,
there is not only the likelihood but the certainty that the old
house will fall down and crush those who remain within it.
Whether the old habitual conditions of life are supported, or
whether they are abolished and altogether new and better
conditions arise; in any case, there is no doubt we shall be
forced to leave the old forms of life which have become impossible
and fatal, and must go forward to meet the future.

"Civilization, art, science, culture, will disappear!"

Yes, but all these we know are only various manifestations of
truth, and the change that is before us is only to be made for the
sake of a closer attainment and realization of truth. How then
can the manifestations of truth disappear through our realizing
it? These manifestations will be different, higher, better, but
they will not cease to be. Only what is false in them will be
destroyed; all the truth there was in them will only be stronger
and more flourishing.

Take thought, oh, men, and have faith in the Gospel, in whose
teaching is your happiness. If you do not take thought, you will
perish just as the men perished, slain by Pilate, or crushed by
the tower of Siloam; as millions of men have perished, slayers and
slain, executing and executed, torturers and tortured alike, and
as the man foolishly perished, who filled his granaries full and
made ready for a long life and died the very night that he planned
to begin his life. Take thought and have faith in the Gospel,
Christ said eighteen hundred years ago, and he says it with even
greater force now that the calamities foretold by him have come to
pass, and the senselessness of our life has reached the furthest
point of suffering and madness.

Nowadays, after so many centuries of fruitless efforts to make our
life secure by the pagan organization of life, it must be evident
to everyone that all efforts in that direction only introduce
fresh dangers into personal and social life, and do not render it
more secure in any way.

Whatever names we dignify ourselves with, whatever uniforms we
wear, whatever priests we anoint ourselves before, however many
millions we possess, however many guards are stationed along our
road, however many policemen guard our wealth, however many so-
called criminals, revolutionists, and anarchists we punish,
whatever exploits we have performed, whatever states we may have
founded, fortresses and towers we may have erected--from Babel to
the Eiffel Tower--there are two inevitable conditions of life,
confronting all of us, which destroy its whole meaning; (1) death,
which may at any moment pounce upon each of us; and (2) the
transitoriness of all our works, which so soon pass away and leave
no trace. Whatever we may do--found companies, build palaces and
monuments, write songs and poems--it is all not for long time.
Soon it passes away, leaving no trace. And therefore, however we
may conceal it from ourselves, we cannot help seeing that the
significance of our life cannot lie in our personal fleshly
existence, the prey of incurable suffering and inevitable death,
nor in any social institution or organization. Whoever you may be
who are reading these lines, think of your position and of your
duties--not of your position as landowner, merchant, judge,
emperor, president, minister, priest, soldier, which has been
temporarily allotted you by men, and not of the imaginary duties
laid on you by those positions, but of your real positions in
eternity as a creature who at the will of Someone has been called
out of unconsciousness after an eternity of non-existence to which
you may return at any moment at his will. Think of your duties--
not your supposed duties as a landowner to your estate, as a
merchant to your business, as emperor, minister, or official to
the state, but of your real duties, the duties that follow from
your real position as a being called into life and endowed with
reason and love.

Are you doing what he demands of you who has sent you into the
world, and to whom you will soon return? Are you doing what he
wills? Are you doing his will, when as landowner or manufacturer
you rob the poor of the fruits of their toil, basing your life on
this plunder of the workers, or when, as judge or governor, you
ill treat men, sentence them to execution, or when as soldiers you
prepare for war, kill and plunder?

You will say that the world is so made that this is inevitable,
and that you do not do this of your own free will, but because you
are forced to do so. But can it be that you have such a strong
aversion to men's sufferings, ill treatment, and murder, that you
have such an intense need of love and co-operation with your
fellows that you see clearly that only by the recognition of the
equality of all, and by mutual services, can the greatest possible
happiness be realized; that your head and your heart, the faith
you profess, and even science itself tell you the same thing, and
yet that in spite of it all you can be forced by some confused and
complicated reasoning to act in direct opposition to all this;
that as landowner or capitalist you are bound to base your whole
life on the oppression of the people; that as emperor or president
you are to command armies, that is, to be the head and commander
of murderers; or that as government official you are forced to
take from the poor their last pence for rich men to profit and
share them among themselves; or that as judge or juryman you could
be forced to sentence erring men to ill treatment and death
because the truth was not revealed to them, or above all, for that
is the basis of all the evil, that you could be forced to become a
soldier, and renouncing your free will and your human sentiments,
could undertake to kill anyone at the command of other men?

It cannot be.

Even if you are told that all this is necessary for the
maintenance of the existing order of things, and that this social
order with its pauperism, famines, prisons, gallows, armies, and
wars is necessary to society; that still greater disasters would
ensue if this organization were destroyed; all that is said only
by those who profit by this organization, while those who suffer
from it--and they are ten times as numerous--think and say quite
the contrary. And at the bottom of your heart you know yourself
that it is not true, that the existing organization has outlived
its time, and must inevitably be reconstructed on new principles,
and that consequently there is no obligation upon you to sacrifice
your sentiments of humanity to support it.

Above all, even if you allow that this organization is necessary,
why do you believe it to be your duty to maintain it at the cost
of your best feelings? Who has made you the nurse in charge of
this sick and moribund organization? Not society nor the state
nor anyone; no one has asked you to undertake this; you who fill
your position of landowner, merchant, tzar, priest, or soldier
know very well that you occupy that position by no means with the
unselfish aim of maintaining the organization of life necessary to
men's happiness, but simply in your own interests, to satisfy your
own covetousness or vanity or ambition or indolence or cowardice.
If you did not desire that position, you would not be doing your
utmost to retain it. Try the experiment of ceasing to commit the
cruel, treacherous, and base actions that you are constantly
committing in order to retain your position, and you will lose it
at once. Try the simple experiment, as a government official, of
giving up lying, and refusing to take a part in executions and
acts of violence; as a priest, of giving up deception; as a
soldier, of giving up murder; as landowner or manufacturer, of
giving up defending your property by fraud and force; and you will
at once lose the position which you pretend is forced upon you,
and which seems burdensome to you.

A man cannot be placed against his will in a situation opposed to
his conscience.

If you find yourself in such a position it is not because it is
necessary to anyone whatever, but simply because you wish it. And
therefore knowing that your position is repugnant to your heart
and your head, and to your faith, and even to the science in which
you believe, you cannot help reflecting upon the question whether
in retaining it, and above all trying to justify it, you are doing
what you ought to do.

You might risk making a mistake if you had time to see and
retrieve your fault, and if you ran the risk for something of some
value. But when you know beyond all doubt that you may disappear
any minute, without the least possibility either for yourself or
those you draw after you into your error, of retrieving the
mistake, when you know that whatever you may do in the external
organization of life it will all disappear as quickly and surely
as you will yourself, and will leave no trace behind, it is clear
that you have no reasonable ground for running the risk of such a
fearful mistake.

It would be perfectly simple and clear if you did not by your
hypocrisy disguise the truth which has so unmistakably been
revealed to us.

Share all that you have with others, do not heap up riches, do not
steal, do not cause suffering, do not kill, do not unto others
what you would not they should do unto you, all that has been said
not eighteen hundred, but five thousand years ago, and there could
be no doubt of the truth of this law if it were not for hypocrisy.
Except for hypocrisy men could not have failed, if not to put the
law in practice, at least to recognize it, and admit that it is
wrong not to put it in practice.

But you will say that there is the public good to be considered,
and that on that account one must not and ought not to conform to
these principles; for the public good one may commit acts of
violence and murder. It is better for one man to die than that
the whole people perish, you will say like Caiaphas, and you sign
the sentence of death of one man, of a second, and a third; you
load your gun against this man who is to perish for the public
good, you imprison him, you take his possessions. You say that
you commit these acts of cruelty because you are a part of the
society and of the state; that it is your duty to serve them, and
as landowner, judge, emperor, or soldier to conform to their laws.
But besides belonging to the state and having duties created by
that position, you belong also to eternity and to God, who also
lays duties upon you. And just as your duties to your family and
to society are subordinate to your superior duties to the state,
in the same way the latter must necessarily be subordinated to the
duties dictated to you by the eternal life and by God. And just
as it would be senseless to pull up the telegraph posts for fuel
for a family or society and thus to increase its welfare at the
expense of public interests, in the same way it is senseless to do
violence, to execute, and to murder to increase the welfare of the
nation, because that is at the expense of the interests of

Your duties as a citizen cannot but be subordinated to the
superior obligations of the eternal life of God, and cannot be in
opposition to them. As Christ's disciples said eighteen centuries
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).

It is asserted that, in order that the unstable order of things,
established in one corner of the world for a few men, may not be
destroyed, you ought to commit acts of violence which destroy the
eternal and immutable order established by God and by reason. Can
that possibly be?

And therefore you cannot but reflect on your position as
landowner, manufacturer, judge, emperor, president, minister,
priest, and soldier, which is bound up with violence, deception,
and murder, and recognize its unlawfulness.

I do not say that if you are a landowner you are bound to give up
your lands immediately to the poor; if a capitalist or
manufacturer, your money to your workpeople; or that if you are
Tzar, minister, official, judge, or general, you are bound to
renounce immediately the advantages of your position; or if a
soldier, on whom all the system of violence is based, to refuse
immediately to obey in spite of all the dangers of

If you do so, you will be doing the best thing possible. But it
may happen, and it is most likely, that you will not have the
strength to do so. You have relations, a family, subordinates and
superiors; you are under an influence so powerful that you cannot
shake it off; but you can always recognize the truth and refuse to
tell a lie about it. You need not declare that you are remaining
a landowner, manufacturer, merchant, artist, or writer because it
is useful to mankind; that you are governor, prosecutor, or tzar,
not because it is agreeable to you, because you are used to it,
but for the public good; that you continue to be a soldier, not
from fear of punishment, but because you consider the army
necessary to society. You can always avoid lying in this way to
yourself and to others, and you ought to do so; because the one
aim of your life ought to be to purify yourself from falsehood and
to confess the truth. And you need only do that and your
situation will change directly of itself.

There is one thing, and only one thing, in which it is granted to
you to be free in life, all else being beyond your power: that is
to recognize and profess the truth.

And yet simply from the fact that other men as misguided and as
pitiful creatures as yourself have made you soldier, tzar,
landowner, capitalist, priest, or general, you undertake to commit
acts of violence obviously opposed to your reason and your heart,
to base your existence on the misfortunes of others, and above
all, instead of filling the one duty of your life, recognizing and
professing the truth, you feign not to recognize it and disguise
it from yourself and others.

And what are the conditions in which you are doing this? You who
may die any instant, you sign sentences of death, you declare war,
you take part in it, you judge, you punish, you plunder the
working people, you live luxuriously in the midst of the poor, and
teach weak men who have confidence in you that this must be so,
that the duty of men is to do this, and yet it may happen at the
moment when you are acting thus that a bacterium or a bull may
attack you and you will fall and die, losing forever the chance of
repairing the harm you have done to others, and above all to
yourself, in uselessly wasting a life which has been given you
only once in eternity, without having accomplished the only thing
you ought to have done.

However commonplace and out of date it may seem to us, however
confused we may be by hypocrisy and by the hypnotic suggestion
which results from it, nothing can destroy the certainty of this
simple and clearly defined truth. No external conditions can
guarantee our life, which is attended with inevitable sufferings
and infallibly terminated by death, and which consequently can
have no significance except in the constant accomplishment of what
is demanded by the Power which has placed us in life with a sole
certain guide--the rational conscience.

That is why that Power cannot require of us what is irrational and
impossible: the organization of our temporary external life, the
life of society or of the state. That Power demands of us only
what is reasonable, certain, and possible: to serve the kingdom of
God, that is, to contribute to the establishment of the greatest
possible union between all living beings--a union possible only in
the truth; and to recognize and to profess the revealed truth,
which is always in our power.

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and
all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. vi. 33.)

The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to
the establishment of the kingdom of God, which can only be done by
the recognition and profession of the truth by every man.

"The kingdom of God cometh not with outward show; neither shall
they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is
within you." (Luke xvii. 20, 21.)


[Transcribists note: This translation contains what seems to my
early 21st Century perception as mistakes, both in typography and
in standardness of language. I have left issues of standard
language uncorrected, and have only fixed typographical errors
in which the word was nearly unrecognizable, but clear from context.

An example: "...those who have seized power AUD who keep it..." was
changed to: "...those who have seized power AND who keep it...".

Another example: where he meant "village" the book has "vilage";
I left such misspellings as is.

In some cases, missing punctuation in a series was corrected, where
every other member of the series is punctuated: 1. 2. 3 4.
If I had a doubt, nothing was changed.

I indented paragraphs, for clarity, when Tolstoy quotes large blocks
of text from other authors. However, often Tolsoy interspersed
quoted material with his commentary [as when talking about the author
Farrar]. I was not able to separate these for fear of editing the

Italics were represented here, with the substitution of capital

Translations for long passages of French follow in the footnotes.

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