Transcribed from the 1887 Tomas Y. Crowell “What to do?” edition by David Price, email email@example.com
ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SCIENCE AND ART—FROM “WHAT TO DO?”
ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SCIENCE AND ART.
. . .  The justification of all persons who have freed themselves from toil is now founded on experimental, positive science. The scientific theory is as follows:—
“For the study of the laws of life of human societies, there exists but one indubitable method,—the positive, experimental, critical method
“Only sociology, founded on biology, founded on all the positive sciences, can give us the laws of humanity. Humanity, or human communities, are the organisms already prepared, or still in process of formation, and which are subservient to all the laws of the evolution of organisms.
“One of the chief of these laws is the variation of destination among the portions of the organs. Some people command, others obey. If some have in superabundance, and others in want, this arises not from the will of God, not because the empire is a form of manifestation of personality, but because in societies, as in organisms, division of labor becomes indispensable for life as a whole. Some people perform the muscular labor in societies; others, the mental labor.”
Upon this doctrine is founded the prevailing justification of our time.
Not long ago, their reigned in the learned, cultivated world, a moral philosophy, according to which it appeared that every thing which exists is reasonable; that there is no such thing as evil or good; and that it is unnecessary for man to war against evil, but that it is only necessary for him to display intelligence,—one man in the military service, another in the judicial, another on the violin. There have been many and varied expressions of human wisdom, and these phenomena were known to the men of the nineteenth century. The wisdom of Rousseau and of Lessing, and Spinoza and Bruno, and all the wisdom of antiquity; but no one man’s wisdom overrode the crowd. It was impossible to say even this,—that Hegel’s success was the result of the symmetry of this theory. There were other equally symmetrical theories,—those of Descartes, Leibnitz, Fichte, Schopenhauer. There was but one reason why this doctrine won for itself, for a season, the belief of the whole world; and this reason was, that the deductions of that philosophy winked at people’s weaknesses. These deductions were summed up in this,—that every thing was reasonable, every thing good; and that no one was to blame.
When I began my career, Hegelianism was the foundation of every thing. It was floating in the air; it was expressed in newspaper and periodical articles, in historical and judicial lectures, in novels, in treatises, in art, in sermons, in conversation. The man who was not acquainted with Hegal had no right to speak. Any one who desired to understand the truth studied Hegel. Every thing rested on him. And all at once the forties passed, and there was nothing left of him. There was not even a hint of him, any more than if he had never existed. And the most amazing thing of all was, that Hegelianism did not fall because some one overthrew it or destroyed it. No! It was the same then as now, but all at once it appeared that it was of no use whatever to the learned and cultivated world.
There was a time when the Hegelian wise men triumphantly instructed the masses; and the crowd, understanding nothing, blindly believed in every thing, finding confirmation in the fact that it was on hand; and they believed that what seemed to them muddy and contradictory there on the heights of philosophy was all as clear as the day. But that time has gone by. That theory is worn out: a new theory has presented itself in its stead. The old one has become useless; and the crowd has looked into the secret sanctuaries of the high priests, and has seen that there is nothing there, and that there has been nothing there, save very obscure and senseless words. This has taken place within my memory.
“But this arises,” people of the present science will say, “from the fact that all that was the raving of the theological and metaphysical period; but now there exists positive, critical science, which does not deceive, since it is all founded on induction and experiment. Now our erections are not shaky, as they formerly were, and only in our path lies the solution of all the problems of humanity.”
But the old teachers said precisely the same, and they were no fools; and we know that there were people of great intelligence among them. And precisely thus, within my memory, and with no less confidence, with no less recognition on the part of the crowd of so-called cultivated people, spoke the Hegelians. And neither were our Herzens, our Stankevitches, or our Byelinskys fools. But whence arose that marvellous manifestation, that sensible people should preach with the greatest assurance, and that the crowd should accept with devotion, such unfounded and unsupportable teachings? There is but one reason,—that the teachings thus inculcated justified people in their evil life.
A very poor English writer, whose works are all forgotten, and recognized as the most insignificant of the insignificant, writes a treatise on population, in which he devises a fictitious law concerning the increase of population disproportionate to the means of subsistence. This fictitious law, this writer encompasses with mathematical formulæ founded on nothing whatever; and then he launches it on the world. From the frivolity and the stupidity of this hypothesis, one would suppose that it would not attract the attention of any one, and that it would sink into oblivion, like all the works of the same author which followed it; but it turned out quite otherwise. The hack-writer who penned this treatise instantly becomes a scientific authority, and maintains himself upon that height for nearly half a century. Malthus! The Malthusian theory,—the law of the increase of the population in geometrical, and of the means of subsistence in arithmetical proportion, and the wise and natural means of restricting the population,—all these have become scientific, indubitable truths, which have not been confirmed, but which have been employed as axioms, for the erection of false theories. In this manner have learned and cultivated people proceeded; and among the herd of idle persons, there sprung up a pious trust in the great laws expounded by Malthus. How did this come to pass? It would seem as though they were scientific deductions, which had nothing in common with the instincts of the masses. But this can only appear so for the man who believes that science, like the Church, is something self-contained, liable to no errors, and not simply the imaginings of weak and erring folk, who merely substitute the imposing word “science,” in place of the thoughts and words of the people, for the sake of impressiveness.
All that was necessary was to make practical deductions from the theory of Malthus, in order to perceive that this theory was of the most human sort, with the best defined of objects. The deductions directly arising from this theory were the following: The wretched condition of the laboring classes was such in accordance with an unalterable law, which does not depend upon men; and, if any one is to blame in this matter, it is the hungry laboring classes themselves. Why