What To Do?, Leo Tolstoy
What To Do?
Leo Tolstoy
9:22 h Ideas Lvl 7.59
Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He received nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906 and for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902, and 1909. What To Do? Thoughts Evoked by the Census of Moscow was published in 1887. Although Leo Tolstoy was regarded as a Christian anarchist and not a socialist, his ideas and works still influenced socialist thinkers throughout history. He held an unromantic view of governments as being essentially violent forces held together by intimidation from state authority, corruption on behalf of officials, and the indoctrination of people from a young age. In regard to his view of economics, he advocated for a return to subsistence agriculture. In his view, a simplified economy would afford a lesser need for the exchange of goods, and as such, factories and cities – the centers of industry – would become obsolete.

What to Do?

Thoughts Evoked by the Census of Moscow

Leo Tolstoy

Article on the Census in Moscow [1882]

The object of a census is scientific. A census is asociological investigation. And the object of the scienceof sociology is the happiness of the people. This scienceand its methods differ sharply from all other sciences.

Its peculiarity lies in this, that sociological investigationsare not conducted by learned men in their cabinets, observatoriesand laboratories, but by two thousand people from thecommunity. A second peculiarity is this, that theinvestigations of other sciences are not conducted on livingpeople, but here living people are the subjects. A thirdpeculiarity is, that the aim of every other science is simplyknowledge, while here it is the good of the people. One manmay investigate a nebula, but for the investigation of Moscow,two thousand persons are necessary. The object of the studyof nebulæ is merely that we may know about nebulæ;the object of the study of inhabitants is that sociological lawsmay be deduced, and that, on the foundation of these laws, abetter life for the people may be established. It makes nodifference to the nebula whether it is studied or not, and it haswaited long, and is ready to wait a great while longer; but it isnot a matter of indifference to the inhabitants of Moscow,especially to those unfortunates who constitute the mostinteresting subjects of the science of sociology.

The census-taker enters a night lodging-house; in the basementhe finds a man dying of hunger, and he politely inquires hisprofession, his name, his native place, the character of hisoccupation, and after a little hesitation as to whether he is tobe entered in the list as alive, he writes him in and goes hisway.

And thus will the two thousand young men proceed. Thisis not as it should be.

Science does its work, and the community, summoned in thepersons of these two thousand young men to aid science, must doits work. A statistician drawing his deductions fromfigures may feel indifferent towards people, but wecensus-takers, who see these people and who have no scientificprepossessions, cannot conduct ourselves towards them in aninhuman manner. Science fulfils its task, and its work isfor its objects and in the distant future, both useful andnecessary to us. For men of science, we can calmly say,that in 1882 there were so many beggars, so many prostitutes, andso many uncared-for children. Science may say this withcomposure and with pride, because it knows that the confirmationof this fact conduces to the elucidation of the laws ofsociology, and that the elucidation of the laws of sociologyleads to a better constitution of society. But what if we,the unscientific people, say: “You are perishing in vice,you are dying of hunger, you are pining away, and killing eachother; so do not grieve about this; when you shall have allperished, and hundreds of thousands more like you, then,possibly, science may be able to arrange everything in anexcellent manner.” For men of science, the census hasits interest; and for us also, it possesses an interest of awholly different significance. The interest andsignificance of the census for the community lie in this, that itfurnishes it with a mirror into which, willy nilly, the wholecommunity, and each one of us, gaze.

The figures and deductions will be the mirror. It ispossible to refrain from reading them, as it is possible to turnaway from the looking-glass. It is possible to glancecursorily at both figures and mirror, and it is also possible toscrutinize them narrowly. To go about in connection withthe census as thousands of people are now about to do, is toscrutinize one’s self closely in the mirror.

What does this census, that is about to be made, mean for uspeople of Moscow, who are not men of science? It means twothings. In the first place, this, that we may learn withcertainty, that among us tens of thousands who live in ease,there dwell tens of thousands of people who lack bread, clothingand shelter; in the second place, this, that our brothers andsons will go and view this and will calmly set down according tothe schedules, how many have died of hunger and cold.

And both these things are very bad.

All cry out upon the instability of our social organization,about the exceptional situation, about revolutionarytendencies. Where lies the root of all this? To whatdo the revolutionists point? To poverty, to inequality inthe distribution of wealth. To what do the conservativespoint? To the decline in moral principle. If theopinion of the revolutionists is correct, what must bedone? Poverty and the inequality of wealth must belessened. How is this to be effected? The rich mustshare with the poor. If the opinion of the conservatives iscorrect, that the whole evil arises from the decline in moralprinciple, what can be more immoral and vicious than theconsciously indifferent survey of popular sufferings, with thesole object of cataloguing them? What must be done? To the census we must add the work of affectionate intercourse ofthe idle and cultivated rich, with the oppressed andunenlightened poor.

Science will do its work, let us perform ours also. Letus do this. In the first place, let all of us who areoccupied with the census, superintendents and census-takers, makeit perfectly clear to ourselves what we are to investigate andwhy. It is the people, and the object is that they may behappy. Whatever may be one’s view of life, every onewill agree that there is nothing more important than human life,and that there is no more weighty task than to remove theobstacles to the development of this life, and to assist it.

This idea, that the relations of men to poverty are at thefoundation of all popular suffering, is expressed in the Gospelswith striking harshness, but at the same time, with decision andclearness for all.

“He who has clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visitedthe prisoner, that man has clothed Me, fed Me, visited Me,”that is, has done the deed for that which is the most importantthing in the world.

However a man may look upon things, every one knows that thisis more important than all else on earth.

And this must not be forgotten, and we must not permit anyother consideration to veil from us the most weighty fact of ourexistence. Let us inscribe, and reckon, but let us notforget that if we encounter a man who is hungry and withoutclothes, it is of more moment to succor him than to make allpossible investigations, than to discover all possiblesciences. Perish the whole census if we may but feed an oldwoman. The census will be longer and more difficult, but wecannot pass by people in the poorer quarters and merely note themdown without taking any heed of them and without endeavoring,according to the measure of our strength and moral sensitiveness,to aid them. This in the first place. In the second,this is what must be done: All of us, who are to take part in thecensus, must refrain from irritation because we are annoyed; letus understand that this census is very useful for us; that ifthis is not cure, it is at least an effort to study the disease,for which we should be thankful; that we must seize thisoccasion, and, in connection with it, we must seek to recover ourhealth, in some small degree. Let all of us, then, who areconnected with the census, endeavor to take advantage of thissolitary opportunity in ten years to purify ourselves somewhat;let us not strive against, but assist the census, and assist itespecially in this sense, that it may not have merely the harshcharacter of the investigation of a hopelessly sick person, butmay have the character of healing and restoration tohealth. For the occasion is unique: eighty energetic,cultivated men, having under their orders two thousand young menof the same stamp, are to make their way over the whole ofMoscow, and not leave a single man in Moscow with whom they havenot entered into personal relations. All the wounds ofsociety, the wounds of poverty, of vice, of ignorance — allwill be laid bare. Is there not something re-assuring inthis? The census-takers will go about Moscow, they will setdown in their lists, without distinction, those insolent withprosperity, the satisfied, the calm, those who are on the way toruin, and those who are ruined, and the curtain will fall. The census-takers, our sons and brothers, these young men willbehold all this. They will say: “Yes, our life isvery terrible and incurable,” and with this admission theywill live on like the rest of us, awaiting a remedy for the evilfrom this or that extraneous force. But those who areperishing will go on dying, in their ruin, and those on the roadto ruin will continue in their course. No, let us rathergrasp the idea that science has its task, and that we, on theoccasion of this census, have our task, and let us not allow thecurtain once lifted to be dropped, but let us profit by theopportunity in order to remove the immense evil of the separationexisting between us and the poor, and to establish intercourseand the work of redressing the evil of unhappiness and ignorance,and our still greater misfortune, — the indifference andaimlessness of our life.

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