Old age must be respected—so all say, even the old. And the young willingly meet the demand. But in such spontaneous, even often emphatic respect, is there not something insulting to old age. Every young man, by his voluntary deference, seems to say: "And still the rising star shines brighter than the setting." And the old, accepting the respect, are well aware that they can count on nothing more. The young are attentive and respectful to the old only upon the express condition that the latter shall behave like old people, and stand aside from life. Let a real man try to follow Faust's example, and what a shindy there will be! The old, being as a rule helpless, are compelled to bow to public opinion and behave as if their only interests were the interests of righteousness, good name, and such-like Platonic attributes. Only a few go against the convention, and these are monsters and degenerates. We do not wish old men to have desires, so that life is arranged as if old men desired nothing. This, of course, is no great matter: even the young are compelled to be satisfied with less than nothing, in our system. We are not out to meddle with human rights. Our point is that science and philosophy take enforced appearances for reality. Grey hair is supposed to be a sure sign of victory over the passions. Hence, seeing that we must all come to grey hairs, therefore the ultimate business of man is to overcome the passions... On this granite foundation whole systems of philosophy are built. It is not worth while quarrelling with a custom—let us continue to pay respect to old age. But let us look in other directions for philosophic bases. It is time to open a free road to the passions even in the province of metaphysics.
Dostoevsky—advocatus diaboli.—Dostoevsky, like Nietzsche, disliked Protestantism, and tried every means of degrading it in the eyes of the world. As normally he was not over scrupulous, it is probable he never took the trouble to acquaint himself with Luther's teaching. His flair did not deceive him: the Protestant religion and morality was most unsuitable to him and his kind. But does this mean that it was to be calumniated, and judged, as Dostoevsky judged it, merely by the etymological meaning of a word? Protestant—a protester, one who only protests and has no positive content. A child's text-book of history will show the absurdity of the definition. Protestantism is, on the whole, the most positive, assertive creed of all the Christian religions. It certainly protested against Catholicism, but against the destructive tendencies in the latter, and in the name of positive ideals. Catholicism relied too much on its power and its spell, and most of all on the infallibility of its dogmas to which it offered millions of victims. To maim and mutilate a man ad majorem gloriam Dei was considered a perfectly proper thing in the Middle Ages, the period of bloom for Catholicism. At the risk of appearing paradoxical, I venture to assert that ideas have been invented only for the purpose of giving the right to mutilate people. The Middle Ages nourished a mysterious, incomprehensible hatred for everything normal, self-satisfied, complete. A young, healthy, handsome man, at peace with himself, aroused suspicion and hostility in a believing Catholic. His very appearance offended religion and confuted dogma. It was not necessary to examine him. Even though he went to church, and gave no sign of doubt, either in deed or word, yet he must be a heretic, to be converted at all cost. And we know the Catholic cost: privation, asceticism, mortification of the flesh. The most normal person, kept on a monastic régime, will lose his spiritual balance, and all those virtues which belong to a healthy spirit and a healthy body.
This was all Catholicism needed. It tried to obtain from people the extreme endeavour of their whole being. Ordinary, natural love, which found its satisfaction—this was sinful. Monks and priests were condemned to celibacy—hence monstrous and abnormal passions developed. Poverty was preached, and the most unheard-of greed appeared in the world, the more secret the stronger it became. Humility was essential—and out of bare-footed monks sprang despots who had no limits to their ambitions. Luther was the last man to understand the meaning and value of the tasks which Catholicism had set itself. What he saw in Rome was not the accidental outcome of this or the other historical circumstance, but a result of the age-long effort of generations that had striven to attribute to life as alarming and dangerous a nature as possible. The sincere, direct, rustic German monk was too simple-minded to make out what was going on in Rome. He thought there existed one truth, and that the essence of Catholicism lay in what seemed to him an exemplary, virtuous life. He went direct to his aim? What meaning can monasticism have? Why deprive a priest of family happiness? How accept the licentiousness of the pope's capital? The common sense of the normal German revolted against the absurdity of such a state of things—and Luther neither could nor would see any good where common sense was utterly forgotten. The violent oscillation of life resulting from the continuous quick passage from asceticism and blind faith to unbelief and freedom of the passions aroused a mystic horror in the honest monk and released the enormous powers in him necessary to start the great struggle.
How could he help protesting? And who was the denier, Luther, or the Rome which passed on from the keeping of the Divine Word to the arbitrary ordaining of all the mysteries of life? Luther might have forgiven the monks had they confined themselves to sophistries. But mediaeval monks had nothing in common with our philosophers. They did not look for world-conceptions in books, and logical tournaments amused them only moderately. They threw themselves into the deeps of life, they experimented on themselves and their neighbours. They passed from mortification to licentious bacchanalia. They feared nothing, spared nothing. In a word, the Rome against which Luther arose had undertaken to build Babylon again, not with stones, but with human souls. Luther, horrified, withdrew, and with him half Europe was withdrawn. That is his positive merit. And Dostoevsky attacked Lutheranism, and pitied the old catholicism and the breathless heights to which its "spiritual" children had risen. Wholesome morality and its support is not enough for Dostoevsky. All this is not "positive," it is only "protest." Whether I am believed or not, I will repeat that Vladimir Soloviov, who held that Dostoevsky was a prophet, is wrong, and that N. K. Mikhailovsky, who calls him a cruel talent and a grubber after buried treasure, is right. Dostoevsky grubs after buried treasure no doubt about that. And, therefore, it would be more becoming in the younger generation that still marches under the flag of pious idealism if, instead of choosing him as a spiritual leader, they avoided the old sorcerer, in whom only those gifted with great shortsightedness or lack of experience in life could fail to see the dangerous man.
It is boring and difficult to convince people, and after all, not necessary. It would be much better if every individual kept his own opinions. Unfortunately, it cannot be. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit the law of gravitation. Some people find it necessary to admit the origin of man from the monkey. In the empirical realm, however humiliating it may be, there are certain real, binding, universal truths against which no rebellion will avail. With what pleasure would we dare to a representative of science that fire does not burn, that rattlesnakes are not poisonous, that a fall from a high tower is perfectly agreeable, etc., etc., supposing he were obliged to prove to us the contrary. Unluckily the scientific person is free from the burden of proof: nature proves, and thoroughly. If nature, like metaphysics, set out to compel us through syllogisms or sermons to believe in her, how little she would get out of us. She is much more sagacious. Morality and logic she has left to Hegel and Spinoza, for herself she has taken a cudgel. Now then, try to argue against this! You will give in against your will. The cleverest of all the metaphysicians, Catholic inquisitors, imitated nature. They rarely tried the word, and trusted to the fire of faggots rather than of the heart. Had they only had more power, it would not be possible to find two people in the whole world disbelieving in the infallibility of the Pope. Metaphysical ideas, dreamily expecting to conquer the world by reasoned exposition, will never attain dominion. If they are bent on success, let them try more effective methods of convincing.
Evolution.—In recent years we see more and more change in the philosophies of writers and even of non-literary people. The old men are beside themselves—such shiftiness seems indecent. After all, convictions are not gloves. But the young carelessly pass on from one idea to another. Irresolute men are somewhat timid, and although they abandon their former convictions they do not declare the change openly. Others, however, plainly announce, as if it were nothing, how far they now are from the beliefs they held six months ago. One even publishes whole volumes relating how he passed on from one philosophy to another, and then to a third. People see nothing alarming in that kind of "evolution." They believe it is in the ordering of things. But not so at all! The readiness to leave off one set of convictions in order to assume another set shows complete indifference to convictions altogether. Not for nothing do the old sound the alarm. But to us who have fought so long against all kinds of constancy, the levity of the young is a pleasant sight. They will don materialism, positivism, Kantianism, spiritualism, and so on, one after the other, till they realise that all theories, ideas and ideals are as of little consequence as the hoopskirts and crinolines of our grandmothers. Then they will begin to live without ideals and pre-arranged purposes, without foresight, relying on chance and their own ready wit. This way, too, must be tried. Perhaps we shall do better by it... Anyhow, it will be more fun.
Strength of will.—Weakness and paralysis of the will, a very dangerous disease in our times, and in most other times, consists not in the absolute loss of desire, such as takes place in the very old, but in the loss of the capacity to translate desire into deed. A diseased will is often met in violently passionate men, so that the proverb—"Say I will not, not I cannot"—does not always hold good. Man often would, but cannot. And then the force of desire instead of moving to outward creation, works inwardly. This is justly considered the most dangerous effect of the weakening of the will. For inward working is destructive working. Man does not only, to put it scientifically, fail to adapt nature to his needs, but he loses his own power of adaptability to outward circumstances. The most ordinary doctor, or even anybody, decides that he has before him a pathological case which must be treated with care. The patient is of the same opinion, whilst he still hopes. But when the treatment has had no results, the doctor draws back and speaks of the inadequacy of his science.
Then what is the patient to retire upon? It is disgusting to speak of an incurable disease. So he begins to think, think, think—all the time about things of which nobody thinks. He is gradually forgotten, and gradually he forgets everything—but first of all, that widespread truth which asserts that no judgments are valid save those that are accepted and universal. Not that he disputes the truth: he forgets it, and there is none to remind him. To him all his judgments seem valid and important. Of course he cannot advance the principle: let all men turn from the external world into themselves. But why advance a principle at all? One can simply say: I am indifferent to the destinies of the external world. I do not want to move mountains or turn rivers aside or rearrange the map of Europe. I don't even want to go to the tobacconist to buy cigarettes. I don't want to do anything. I want to think that my inaction is the most important thing on earth, that any "disease" is better than health, and so on and so on without end. To what thoughts will not a man abandoned by medicine and doctors sink down! His judgments are not binding on us, that is as clear as day. But are they uninteresting? And is that paralysis, that weakness of will, a disease only?
Death and metaphysics.—A superficial observer knows that the best things in life are hard to attain. Some psychologists even consider that the chief beauty of the highest things consists in their unattainability. This is surely not true—yet there is a grain in it. The roads to good things are dangerous to travel. Is it because nature is so much poorer than we imagine, so she must lock up her blessings, or is there some greater meaning in it, that we have not guessed? For the fact is, the more alluring an end we have in view, the more risks and horrors we must undertake to get there. May we not also make a contrary suggestion: that behind every danger something good is hidden, and that therefore danger serves as an indication, a mark to guide us onwards, not as a warning, as we are taught to believe. To decide this would be to decide that behind death, the greatest of dangers must lie the most promising things. It is as well not to speculate further. We had best stop lest we quarrel even with metaphysics. Traditional metaphysics has always been able to illumine our temporal existence with the reflected beams of eternity. Let us follow the example. Let us make no attempt to know the absolute. If you have discovered a comforting hypothesis, even in the upper transcendental air, drag it quickly to earth where labouring men forever await even an imaginary relief from their lot. We must make use of everything, even of death, to serve the ends of this life of ours.
The future.—A clever, reasonable boy, accustomed to trust his common sense, read in a book for children a description of a shipwreck which occurred just as the passengers were eating their sweets at dessert. He was astonished to learn that everyone, women and children as well, who could give no assistance whatever in saving the ship, left their dessert and rushed on deck with wailing and tears. Why wail, why rush about, why be stupidly agitated? The crew knew their business and would do all that could be done. If you are going to perish, perish you will, no matter how you scream, it seemed to the boy that if he had been on the ship he would just have gone on eating his sweets to the last moment. Justice should be done to this judicious and irreproachable opinion. There remained only a few minutes to live—would it not have been better to enjoy them? The logic is perfect, worthy of Aristotle. And it was found impossible to prove to the boy that he would have left his sweets, even his favourite sweets, under the same circumstances, and rushed and screamed with the rest. Hence a moral—do not decide about the future. To-day common sense is uppermost, and sweets are your highest law. But tomorrow you will get rid of normality and sense, you will link on with nonsense and absurdity, and probably you will even get a taste for bitters. What do you think?
A priori synthetic judgments.—Kant, as we know, found in mathematics and the natural sciences a priori synthetic judgments. Was he right or wrong? Are the judgments he indicated a priori or a posteriori? Anyhow, one thing is certain: they are not accepted as absolutely, but only as relatively indisputable. In metaphysics, where the only curious and important truths are hidden, the case is different. Kant was compelled to admit that just where metaphysics begin the capacity of our human reason to judge a priori ends. But since we cannot dispense with metaphysical judgments, he proposed to substitute for them postulates. At the same time he admitted the optimistic presupposition that in the domain of the transcendental we shall find all that we miss in the world of phenomena. So that, because he could not invent a truly scientific metaphysics, he contrived to present us with a nonscientific sort. Which is to say, after many round-about journeys he brings his readers along the opposite way right back to the very spot from which he led them off. Surely non-scientific metaphysics existed before Kant: the mediaeval philosophers had plenty of phantasies and speculations, all supported by "moral" proofs. If Kant wanted to reform metaphysics, he should have got rid of its favourite method of obtaining truths through inferential "conclusions."
Men are greedy, they want to learn much, and get their knowledge cheap. So they think that every truth they have paid for with experience and loss of energy entitles them to a few more truths gratis: or, in philosophic language, a priori, by deduction. They are not ashamed to speculate with a gift that has been given them. Instead of looking, listening, touching, seeking, they want to infer and conclude. Certainly if they could wring any secret out of nature, no matter by what means, cunning, impudence, fraud, we would forgive them—conquerors are not judged. But nothing comes of their "conclusions" save metaphysical systems and empty prattle. It is surely time to give up conclusions, and get truth a posteriori, as did Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoevsky; that is, every time you want to know anything, go and look and find out. And if one is lazy, or horrified at a new experiment, let him train himself to look on ultimate questions with indifference, as the positivists do. But moral, ontological and such like arguments!— really, it is disgusting to talk about them. Every new experiment is interesting; but our conclusions, i.e., synthetic judgments a priori, are mostly pompous lies, not worth the scrap of paper on which they are recorded.
General rules.—People go to philosophers for general principles. And since philosophers are human, they are kept busy supplying the market with general principles. But what sense is there in them? None at all. Nature demands individual creative activity from us. Men won't understand this, so they wait forever for the ultimate truths from philosophy. which they will never get. Why should not every grown-up person be a creator, live in his own way at his own risk and have his own experience? Children and raw youths must go in leading strings. But adult people who want to feel the reins should be despised. They are cowards, and slothful: afraid to try, they eternally go to the wise for advice. And the wise do not hesitate to take the responsibility for the lives of others. They invent general rules, as if they had access to the sources of knowledge. What foolery! The wise are no wiser than the stupid—they have only more conceit and effrontery. Every intelligent man laughs in his soul at "bookish" views. And are not books the work of the wise? They are often extremely interesting—but only in so far as they do not contain general rules. Woe to him who would build up his life according to Hegel, Schopenhauer, Tolstoy, Schiller, or Dostoevsky. He must read them, but he must have sense, a mind of his own to live with. Those who have tried to live according to theories from books have found this out. At the best, their efforts produced banality. There is no alternative. Whether man likes or not he will at last have to realise that clichés are worthless, and that he must live from himself. There are no all-binding, universal judgments—let us manage with non-binding, non-universal ones. Only professors will suffer for it...
Metaphysical consolations. —Metaphysics mercilessly persecutes all eudaemonistic doctrines, seeing in them a sort of laesio majestatis of human dignity. Our dignity forbids us to place human happiness in the highest goal. Suppose it is so? But why then invent consolations, even metaphysical ones? Why give to such a "pure" ideal concept as metaphysics such a coarse "sensual" partner as consolation?—sensual in the Kantian meaning of the word. Metaphysics had much better associate herself with proud disconsolation. Consolation brings calm and ease, even quiet gratification to the soul. But surely, if metaphysics condescend to accept any assistance whatever, she must scorn all earthly gratifications, leave them to wingless positivism and materialism. What are joys and pains to metaphysics?—she is one thing, they another. Yet all of a sudden metaphysicians begin to shout about consolations. Evidently there is a misunderstanding here, and a big one. The more you pierce to the ultimate ends of the "infinite" metaphysical problems, the more finite they reveal themselves. Metaphysicians only look out for some new boon—I nearly said pleasure. Voltaire said that if there was no God, then He should be invented. We explain these words by the great Frenchman's extreme positivism. But the form only is positive, the content is purely metaphysical. All that a metaphysician wants to do is to convince himself that God exists. No matter whether he is mistaken or not, he has found a consolation. It is impossible for him to see that his belief in a certain fact does not make that fact veritable. The whole question is whether there does exist a supreme, conscious First Cause, or whether we are slaves to the laws of dead necessity. But what does the metaphysician care about this real question! Having declared himself the avowed enemy of eudaemonism, he next seeks consolation, nothing but consolation. To doubt his right to be consoled drives him to fury and madness. He is prepared to support his convictions by every means—ranging from righteous indignation to fists, It is obviously futile to try to enlighten such a creature. Once a man cares nothing for God, and seeks only to make the best of his life, you will not tear away his attention from the immediate moment. But perhaps there is a God, and neither Voltaire nor the metaphysicians have any need to invent Him. The metaphysicians never saw that an avowed disbelief in God does not prove the non-existence of God, but just the opposite; it is a surer sign of faith than ever belief is. Unfortunate metaphysicians! They might have found their greatest consolation here, and fists and moral indignation and other forms of chastisement to which they have been driven might have been spared us.
Practical advice.—People who read much must always keep it in mind that life is one thing, literature another. Not that authors invariably lie. I declare that there are writers who rarely and most reluctantly lie. But one must know how to read, and that isn't easy. Out of a hundred bookreaders ninety-nine have no idea what they are reading about. It is a common belief, for example, that any writer who sings of suffering must be ready at all times to open his arms to the weary and heavy-laden. This is what his readers feel when they read his books. Then when they approach him with their woes, and find that he runs away without looking back at them, they are filled with indignation and talk of the discrepancy between word and deed. Whereas the fact is, the singer has more than enough woes of his own, and he sings them because he can't get rid of them. L’uccello canta nella gabbia, non di gioia ma di rabbia, says the Italian proverb: "The bird sings in the cage, not from joy but from rage." It is impossible to love sufferers, particularly hopeless sufferers, and whoever says otherwise is a deliberate liar. "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." But you remember what the Jews said about Him: "He speaks as one having authority!" And if Jesus had been unable, or had not possessed the right, to answer this skeptical taunt, He would have had to renounce His words. We common mortals have neither divine powers nor divine rights, we can only love our neighbours whilst they still have hope, and any pretence of going beyond this is empty swagger. Ask him who sings of suffering for nothing but his songs. Rather think of alleviating his burden than of requiring alleviation from him. Surely not—for ever should we ask any poet to sob and look upon tears. I will end with another Italian saying: Non è un si triste cane che non meni la coda... "No dog so wretched that doesn't wag his tail sometimes."
If a patient fulfills all the orders of a sensible doctor, we say he behaves wisely. If he wantonly neglects his treatment, we say he acts stupidly. If a healthy person wished to inoculate himself with some dangerous disease—say phthisis—we should say he was mad, and forcibly restrain him. To such an extent are we convinced that disease is evil, health good. Well—on what is our conviction based? At a glance the question seems absurd. But then at a glance people would absolutely refuse to doubt the fixity of the earth, at a glance an ordinary person would giggle if he was shown the problem of the relation between the real world and the ideal. Who knows what would seem amenable to discussion to the ordinary person? The philosopher has no right to appeal to the ordinary person. The philosopher must doubt and doubt and doubt, and question when nobody questions, and risk making a laughing-stock of himself. If common sense were enough to settle all problems, we should have known everything long ago. So that—why do we value health more than sickness? Or even further—which is better, health or sickness? If we will drop the utilitarian point of view—and all are agreed that this has no place in philosophy—then we shall see at once that we have no grounds whatever for preferring health and sickness. We have invented neither the one nor the other. We found them both in the world along with us. Why then do we, who know so little about it, take upon ourselves to judge which are nature's successes, which her failures?
Health is agreeable—sickness disagreeable. But this consideration is unworthy of a philosopher: otherwise why be a philosopher, why distinguish oneself from the herd? The philosopher invented morality, which has at its disposal various pure ideas that have no relation to empirical life. Then let us go further. Reason should have a supply of pure ideas also. Let Reason judge in her own independent way, without conforming to conventional ideas. When she has no other resort, let her proceed by the method of negation: everything that common sense asserts, I, Reason, declare to be false. So—common sense says sickness is bad, reason therefore asserts that sickness is the highest boon. Such Reason we should call autonomous, law-unto-itself. Like a real monarch, it is guided only by its own will. Let all considerations point in favour of health, Reason must remain inexorable and keep her stand till we are all brought to obedience. She must praise suffering, deformity, failure, hopelessness. At every step she must fight common sense and utilitarianism, until mankind is brought under. Is she afraid of rebellion? Must she in the last issue, like morality, adapt herself to the inclinations of the mob?
Experience and Science.—As we are well aware, science does not, nay cannot, admit experience in all its extent. She throws overboard an enormous quantity of individual facts, regarding them as the ballast of our human vessel. She takes note only of such phenomena as alternate constantly and with a certain regularity. Best of all she likes those phenomena which can be artificially provoked, when, so to speak, experiment is possible. She explains the rotation of the earth and succession of the seasons since a regular recurrence is observable, and she demonstrates thunder and lightning with a spark from an electric machine. In a word, in so far as a regular alternation of phenomena is observable, so far extends the realm of science. But what about those individual phenomena which do not recur, and which cannot be artificially provoked? If all men were blind, and one for a moment recovered his sight and opened his eyes on God's world, science would reject his evidence. Yet the evidence of one seeing man is worth that of a million blind. Sudden enlightenments are possible in our life—even if they endure only for a few seconds. Must they be passed over in silence because they are not normal and cannot be provoked?—or treated poetically, as beautiful fictions? Science insists on it. She declares that no judgments are true except such as can be verified by all and everyone. She exceeds her bounds. Experience is wider than scientific experiment, and individual phenomena mean much more to us than the constantly recurrent.
Science is useful—but she need not pretend to truth. She cannot know what truth is, she can only accumulate universal laws. Whereas there are, and always have been, non-scientific ways of searching for truth, ways which lead, if not to the innermost secrets, yet to the threshold. These roads, however, we have let fall into ruin whilst we followed our modern methodologies, so now we dare not even think of them. What gives us the right to assert that astrologers, alchemists, diviners, and sorcerers who passed the long nights alone with their thoughts, wasted their time in vain? As for the philosopher's stone, that was merely a plausible excuse invented to satisfy the uninitiated. Could an alchemist dare to confess openly that all his efforts were towards no useful or utilitarian end? He had to guard against importunate curiosity and impertinent authority in outsiders. So he lied, now frightening, now alluring the mob through its cupidity. But certainly he had his own important work to do: and it had only one fault, that it was purely personal to him. And about personal matters it is considered correct to keep silent...
Astonishing fact! As a rule a man hesitates over trifles. But it does sometimes occur that a moment arrives when he is filled with unheard-of courage and resolution in his judgments. He is ready to stand up for his opinions against all the world, dead or living. Whence such sudden surety, what does it mean? Rationally we can discover no foundation for it. If a lover has got into his head that his beloved is the fairest woman on earth, worth the whole of life to him; if one who has been insulted feels that his offender is the basest wretch, deserving torture and death; if a would-be Columbus persuades himself that America is the only goal for his ambition—who will convince such men that their opinions, shared by none but themselves, are false or unjustifiable? And for whose sake will they renounce their tenets? For the sake of objective truth? that is, for the pleasure of the assurance that all men after them will repeat their judgment for truth? They don't care. Let Don Quixote run broadcast with drawn sword, proving the beauty of Dulcinea or the impending horror of windmills. As a matter of fact, he and the German philosophers with him have a vague idea, a kind of presentiment, that their giants are but mill-sails, and that their ideal on the whole is but a common girl driving swine to pasture. To defy such deadly doubt they take to the sword or to argument, and do not rest until they have succeeded in stopping the mouth of everybody. When from all lips they hear the praise of Dulcinea they say: yes, she is beautiful, and she never drove pigs. When the world beholds their windmilling exploits with amazement they are filled with triumph; sheep are not sheep, mills are not mills, as you might imagine; they are knights and cyclops.
This is called a proven all-binding, universal truth. The support of the mob is a necessary condition of the existence of modern philosophy and its knights of the woeful countenance. Scientific philosophy wearies for a new Cervantes who will put a stop to its paving the ways to truth by dint of argument. All opinions have a right to exist, and if we speak of privilege, then preference should be given to such as are most run down to-day; namely, to such opinions as cannot be verified and which are, for that selfsame reason, universal. Once, long ago "man invented speech in order to express his real relation to the universe." So he may be heard, even though the relation he wishes to express be unique, not to be verified by any other individual. To attempt to verify it by observations and experiments is strictly forbidden. If the habit of "objective verification" has destroyed your native receptivity to such an extent that your eyes and ears are gone, and you must rely only on the evidence of instruments or objects not subject to your will, then, of course, nothing is left you but to stick to the belief that science is perfect knowledge. But if your eyes live and your ear is sensitive—throw away instruments and apparatuses, forget methodology and scientific Don-Quixotism, and try to trust yourself. What harm is there in not having universal judgments or truths? How will it hurt you to see sheep as sheep? It is a step forward. You will learn not to s&e with everybody's eyes, but to see as none other sees. You will learn not to meditate, but to conjure up and call forth with words alien to all but yourself an unknown beauty and an unheard-of power.
Not for nothing, I repeat, did astrologers and alchemists scorn the experimental method—which, by the way, far from being anything new or particularly modern, is as old as the hills. Animals experiment, though they do not compose treatises on inductive logic or pride themselves on their reasoning powers. A cow who has burnt her mouth in her trough will come up cautiously next time to feed. Every experimenter is the same—only he systematises. But animals can often trust to instinct when experience is lacking. And have we humans got sufficient experience? Can experience give us what we want most? If so, let science and craftsmanship serve our everyday need, let even philosophy, also eager to serve, go on finding universal truths. But beyond craft, science, and philosophy there is another region of knowledge. Through all the ages men, each one at his own risk, have sought to penetrate into this region. Shall we, men of the twentieth century, voluntarily renounce our supreme powers and rights, and because public opinion demands it, occupy ourselves exclusively with discovering useful information? Or, in order not to appear mean or poverty-stricken in our own eyes, shall we accept in place of the philosopher's stone our modern metaphysics, which muffles her dread of actuality in postulates, absolutes, and such-like apparently transcendental paraphernalia?
The Russian Spirit.—It will easily be admitted that the distinguishing qualities of Russian literature, and of Russian art in general, are simplicity, truthfulness, and complete lack of rhetorical ornament. Whether it be to our credit or to our discredit is not for me to judge, but one thing seems certain: that our simplicity and truthfulness are due to our relatively scanty culture. Whilst European thinkers have for centuries been beating their brains over insoluble problems, we have only just begun to try our powers. We have no failures behind us. The fathers of the profoundest Russian writers were either landowners, dividing their time between extravagant amusement and State service, or peasants whose drudgery left them no time for idle curiosity. Such being the case, how can we know whether human knowledge has any limits? And if we don't know, it seems to us it is only because we haven't tried to find out. Other people's experience is not ours. We are not bound by their conclusions. Indeed, what do we know of the experience of others, save what we gather, very vaguely and fragmentarily and unreliably, from books? It is natural for us to believe the best, till the contrary is proved to us. Any attempt to deprive us of our belief meets with the most energetic resistance.
The most skeptical Russian hides a hope at the bottom of his soul. Hence our fearlessness of the truth, realistic truth which so stunned European critics. Realism was invented in the West, established there as a theory. But in the West, to counteract it, were invented numberless other palliating theories whose business it was to soften down the disconsolate conclusions of Realism. There in Europe they have the être suprême, the deus sive natura, Hegel's absolute, Kant's postulates, English utilitarianism, progress, humanitarianism, hundreds of philosophic and sociological theories in which even extreme realists can so cleverly dish up what they call life, that life, or realism, ceases to be life or reality altogether.
The Westerner is self-reliant. He knows that if he doesn't help himself nobody will help him. So he directs all his thoughts to making the best of his opportunities. A limited time is granted him. If he can't get to the end of his song within the time-limit, the song must remain unsung. Fate will not give him one minute's grace for the unbeaten bars. Therefore as an experienced musician he adapts himself superbly. Not a second is wasted. The tempo must not drag for an instant, or he is lost. The tempo is everything, and it exacts facility and quickness of movement. During a few short beats the artist must produce many notes, and produce them so as to leave the impression that he was not hurried, that he had all the time in the world at his disposal. Moreover, each note must be complete, accomplished, have its fullness and its value. Native talent alone will not suffice for this. Experience is necessary, tradition, training, and inherited instinct. Carpe diem—the European has been living up to the motto for two thousand years. But if we Russians are convinced of anything, it is that we have time enough and to spare. To count days, much less hours and minutes—find me the Russian who could demean himself to such a bourgeois occupation. We look round, we stretch ourselves, we rub our eyes, we want first of all to decide what we shall do, and how we shall do it, before we can begin to live in earnest. We don't choose to decide anyhow, nor at second-hand, from fragments of other people's information. It must be from our own experience, with our own brains, that we judge. We admit no traditions. In no literature has there been such a determined struggle with tradition as in ours. We have wanted to reexamine everything, restate everything. I won't deny that our courage is drawn from our quite uncultured confidence in our own powers. Belinsky, a half-baked undergraduate, deriving his knowledge of European philosophy at third hand, began a quarrel with the universe over the long-forgotten victims of Philip II and the Inquisition. In that quarrel is the sense and essence of all creative Russian literature. Dostoevsky, towards his end, raised the same storm and the same question over the little tear of an unfortunate child.
A Russian believes he can do anything, hence he is afraid of nothing. He paints life in the gloomiest colors—and were you to ask him: How can you accept such a life? how can you reconcile yourself with such horrors of reality as have been described by all your writers, from Pushkin to Chekhov? he would answer in the words of Dmitri Karamazov: I do not accept life. This answer seems at first sight absurd. Since life is here, impossible not to accept it. But there is a sub-meaning in the reply, a lingering belief in the possibility of a final triumph over evil." In the strength of this belief the Russian goes forth to meet his enemy—he does not hide from him. Our sectarians immolate themselves. Tolstoyans and votaries of the various sects that crop up so plentifully in Russia go in among the people, they go, God knows to what lengths, destroying their own lives and the lives of others. Writers do not lag behind sectarians. They, too, refuse to be prudent, to count the cost or the hours. Minutes, seconds, time-beats, all this is so insignificant as to be invisible to the naked eye. We wish to draw with a generous hand from fathomless eternity, and all that is limited we leave to European bourgeoisie. With few exceptions Russian writers really despise the pettiness of the West. Even those who have admired Europe most have done so because they failed most completely to understand her. They did not want to understand her. That is why we have always taken over European ideas in such fantastic forms. Take the sixties for example. With its loud ideas of sobriety and modest outlook, it was a most drunken period. Those who awaited the New Messiah and the Second Advent read Darwin and dissected frogs.
It is the same to-day. We allow ourselves the greatest luxury that man can dream of—sincerity, truthfulness—as if we were spiritual Croesuses, as if we had plenty of everything, could afford to let everything be seen, ashamed of nothing. But even Croesuses, the greatest sovereigns of the world, did not consider they had the right to tell the truth at all times. Even kings have to pretend—think of diplomacy. Whereas, we think we may speak the truth, and the truth only, that any lie which obscures our true substance is a crime; since our true substance is the world's finest treasure, its finest reality... Tell this to a European, and it will seem a joke to him, even if he can grasp it at all. A European uses all his powers of intellect and talent, all his knowledge and his art for the purpose of concealing his real self and all that really affects him—for that the natural is ugly and repulsive, no one in Europe will dispute for a moment. Not only the fine arts, but science and philosophy in Europe tell lies instinctively, by lying they justify their existence. First and last, a European student presents you with a finished theory. Well, and what does all the "finish" and the completeness signify? It merely means that none of our western neighbours will end his speech before the last reassuring word is said; he will never let nature have the last word; so he rounds off his synthesis. With him, ornament and rhetoric is a sine qua non of creative utterance, the only remedy against all ills. In philosophy reigns theodicy, in science, the law of sequence. Even Kant could not avoid declamation, even with him the last word is "moral necessity." Thus there lies before us the choice between the artistic and accomplished lie of old, cultured Europe, a lie which is the outcome of a thousand years of hard and bitter effort, and the artless, sincere simplicity of young, uncultured Russia.
They are nearer the end, we are nearer the beginning. And which is nearer the truth? And can there be a question of voluntary, free choice? Probably neither the old age of Europe nor the youth of Russia can give us the truth we seek. But does such a thing as ultimate truth exist? Is not the very conception of truth, the very assumption of the possibility of truth, merely an outcome of our limited experience, a fruit of limitation? We decide a priori that one thing must be possible, another impossible, and from our arbitrary assumptions we proceed to deduce the body of truth. Each one judges in his own way, according to his powers and the conditions of his existence. The timid, scared man worries after order, that will give him a day of peace and quiet, youth dreams of beauty and brilliance, old age doesn't want to think of anything, having lost the faculty for hope. And so it goes on, ad infinitum. And this is called truth, truths! Every man thinks that his own experience covers the whole range of life. And, therefore, the only men who turn out to be at all in the right are empiricists and positivists. There can be no question of truth once we tear ourselves away from the actual conditions of life.
Our confident truthfulness, like European rhetoric, turns out to be "beyond truth and falsehood." The young East and old West alike suffer from the restrictions imposed by truth—but the former ignores the restrictions, whilst the latter adapts itself to them. After all, it comes to pretty much the same in the end. Is not clever rhetoric as delightful as truthfulness? Each is equally life. Only we find unendurable a rhetoric which poses as truth, and a truthfulness which would appear cultured. Such a masquerade would try to make us believe that truth, which is only limitedness, has a real objective existence. Which is offensive. Until the contrary is proved, we need to think that only one assertion has or can have any objective reality: that nothing on earth is impossible. Every time somebody wants to force us to admit that there are other, more limited and limiting truths, we must resist with every means we can lay hands on. We do not hesitate even to make use of morality and logic, both of which we have abused so often. But why not use them!
When a man is at his last resources, he does not care what weapons he picks up.
Nur fur Schwindelfreie.—To be proper, I ought to finish with a moral. I ought to say to the reader that in spite of all I have said, or perhaps because of all I have said—for in conclusions, as you are aware, "in spite of" is always interchangeable with "because of" particularly if the conclusion be drawn from many scattered data—well then, because of all I have said, hope is not lost. Every destruction leads to construction, sweet rest follows labour, dawn follows the darkest hour, and so on and so on and so on—all the banalities with which a writer reconciles his reader. But it is never too late for reconciliation, and it is often too early. So why not postpone the moral for a few years—even a few dozen years, God granting us the length of life? Why make the inevitable "conclusion" at the end of every book? I am almost certain that sooner or later I can promise the reader all his heart desires. But not yet. He may, of course, dispense with my consolations. What do promises matter, anyhow? especially when neither reader nor writer can fulfill them. But if there is no escape, if a writer is finally obliged to admit in everybody's hearing that the secret desires of poor mankind may yet be realised, let us at least give the wretched writer a respite, let him postpone his confession till old age—usque ad infinitum...
Meanwhile our motto "Nur für Schwindelfreie." There are in the Alps narrow, precipitous paths where only mountaineers may go, who feel no giddiness. Giddy-free! "Only for the giddy-free," it says on the noticeboard. He who is subject to giddiness takes a broad, safe road, or sits away below and admires the snowy summits. Is it inevitably necessary to mount up? Beyond the snow-line are no fat pastures nor gold fields. They say that up there is to be found the clue to the eternal mystery—but they say so many things. We can't believe everything. He who is tired of the valleys, loves climbing, and is not afraid to look down a precipice, and, most of all, has nothing left in life but the "metaphysical craving," he will certainly climb to the summits without asking what awaits him there. He does not fear, he longs for giddiness. But he will hardly call people after him: he doesn't want just anybody for a companion. In such a case companions are not wanted at all, much less those tender-footed ones who are used to every convenience, roads, street lamps, guide-posts, careful maps which mark every change in the road ahead. They will not help, only hinder. They will prove superfluous, heavy ballast, which may not be thrown overboard. Fuss over them, console them, promise them! Who would be bothered? Is it not better to go one's way alone, and not only to refrain from enticing others to follow, but frighten them off as much as possible, exaggerate every danger and difficulty? In order that conscience may not prick too hard—we who love high altitudes love a quiet conscience—let us find a justification for their inactivity. Let us tell them they are the best, the worthiest of people, really the salt of the earth. Let us pay them every possible mark of respect. But since they are subject to giddiness, they had better stay down. The upper Alpine ways, as any guide will tell you, are nur für Schwindelfreie.