16 The Economic Question from the Moral Point of View

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
Thomas Nemeth (ed.)Vladimir Solov’ëv’s Justification of the Moral Good10.1007/978-3-319-12775-0_17

[361]Chapter 16 The Economic Question from the Moral Point of View

Thomas Nemeth 

Old Bridge, New Jersey, USA



Thomas Nemeth

E] In B, this, the 13th chapter, spans pp. 429–483.


Let us assume people and nations learned to appreciate the national peculiarities of others as they do their own. Furthermore, let us also assume the individual criminal elements were reformed as much as is possible through re-education and rational supervision, from which all vestiges of criminal savagery were completely eliminated. Even with such moral solutions to the national and criminal questions1 an important cause of both crime and hatred of other nationalities, namely, the economic cause, would still remain. What is the chief reason behind the American hatred of the Chinese? Certainly, it is owing neither to their hair nor their Confucian morality. Rather, the hatred stems from a dangerous rivalry in the material sphere. The reason Chinese workers in California are persecuted is the same as why Italians are beaten in the south of France, Switzerland and Brazil. These feelings, like that against the Jews—whatever their deepest reason may be—explicitly rest upon and find their obvious explanation2 in economic considerations. Additionally, crimes against individuals do not arise from, but for the most part are nourished and supported by, an environment of poverty, excessive physical work and the savagery that is inevitable in such an environment. For this reason even the most rational and humane penal system would in general have little impact3 on the characters of individual criminals. Certainly the negative impact4 of contemporary humanity’s economic conditions5 on national and criminal issues is a result of the fact that these conditions [362] in themselves are a moral ailment. Their abnormality is situated in the economic sphere itself. More and more, there appears here a hatred between social classes because of possessions, a hatred that threatens to become an open struggle6 to the death in many countries of Western Europe and America.

For someone adopting the moral point of view, it is just as impossible to share in this socio-economic hatred as it is in the hatred between nations and races. Yet at the same time it is impossible for this person to remain indifferent to the material position of one’s neighbors.7 The elementary moral feeling of pity, which received its highest sanction in the Gospels, demands that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty8 and provide warmth to those who are cold.9 This demand certainly does not lose any of its force when those who are hungry and cold number not just a few, but in the millions. If I alone cannot help these millions, and consequently am not obligated to do so, then I can and should help them along with others. My personal obligation becomes a collective one—not someone else’s, but my own. It becomes a broader obligation as a participant in the collective whole and its general task.10 The very fact of economic suffering shows that economic relations are not tied to the principle of the moral good as they should be. They are not morally organized. The entire pseudo-scientific school of economic anarchists and conservatives has rejected outright and still11 rejects, although without its earlier self-confidence,12 all ethical principles and any organization dealing with economic relations. Its dominance has contributed in no small degree to the emergence of revolutionary anarchism.13 On the other hand, the numerous varieties of socialism, not just the radical ones but also the conservative,14 more reveal the presence of the disease than they represent a real means to cure it.

The bankruptcy of orthodox (liberal or, more precisely, anarchistic)15 political economy is due to the fact that it separates in principle the economic sphere from the moral. The bankruptcy of any socialism is due to the fact that it more or less completely confuses, or incorrectly identifies these two different, though inseparable, spheres.


Any practical expression of something outside its proper connection or correlation to everything else is essentially immoral. So the claim that a particular, conditional, and therefore contingent activity by itself is an unconditionally independent and integral sphere of life is theoretically speaking false and practically speaking immoral. It can yield only suffering and sin.16

To see a human being as merely an economic actor17—a producer, an owner and a consumer of material goods—is a false and immoral point of view. The functions just mentioned by themselves have no18 significance for humans and do not express in any way our essence and dignity. Productive labor, the possession and utilization of its results represent one aspect of human life, one sphere of our activity, but the truly human concern19 is with how and why human beings act in this particular sphere.20 Just as a free play of chemical processes can take place only in a lifeless corpse whereas in a living body such processes are connected and determined by the organism’s goals,21 so the free play of economic factors and laws22 is possible only in a dead and decomposing society. In a living society with a future, the economic elements are connected and determined by moral goals. To proclaim “laissez faire, laissez passer,”23 is to say to a living society “Die and decompose!”

Of course, underlying the entire economic sphere is something simple and unavoidable, something that does not follow from the moral principle by itself—the need to work in order to support one’s existence. There is not now nor has there ever been such a brutish time in the life of humanity when this simple material24 necessity was not complicated by a moral issue. Necessity forces a half-animal savage to earn his livelihood, but while doing so he can either think of himself alone or he can also include the needs of his spouse and children. If the hunt proves to be unsuccessful, he can share his sparse prey with them, remaining half-starved himself. Or he can keep everything for himself, leaving them to the mercy of fate. Or finally, he can kill them in order to eat their flesh. Whichever [364] course of action he chooses, however, hardly a single orthodox practitioner of the science would see25 here the inevitable effect of the “laws” of political economics.

Although the need to work in order to earn a livelihood is actually something unavoidable, independent of the human will, it serves merely as a stimulus to get us to be active. One’s further course of activity is determined by psychological and ethical factors, and not at all by those of an economic nature. When the structure of society reaches a certain degree of complexity not only the fruits of work and the manner of using them—not only “distribution” but also “consumption”—but work itself is undertaken for reasons other than life’s necessities. These reasons may have nothing to do with physical force or need—to mention, for example, just the most common, the passion for possessions and a thirst for pleasures. Not only is there is no economic law that determines the degree of greed and lust in all people, but there is no law dictating that these passions be, in general, inescapably inherent in human beings and necessarily motivating them to act. This means, then, that since these mental dispositions determine economic activities and relations, the latter are not rooted in the economic sphere and are not necessarily subject to any “laws of economics.”26

Let us take the most elementary and least disputed of the so-called laws of economics , namely, that according to which the price of goods is determined by27 the relationship between supply and demand . This law states that the more a particular item is demanded and the less of it available, the more expensive it is and vice versa.28

Let us imagine, however, a rich but charitable commodities trader, who having a constant supply of some necessary consumable, nonetheless, decides that despite a rising demand for it he will not increase his prices or even lowers the prices in order to benefit his needy neighbors. Such an act would violate29 the alleged “law” of economics. Yet despite the novelty of his action, certainly no one would find it impossible or supernatural.30

Let us further assume that if the matter depended solely on the good will of particular individuals, we could look at these magnanimous motives in the economic sphere [365] as a quantité négligeable and construct everything on the firm foundation of self-interest . However, we know that in every society a general necessary function of government is to limit private self-interest. We know many historical examples in which the government, exercising this function, eliminated from the ordinary and natural order—as seen from the viewpoint of self-interest—this ordinary and natural character.31 It even transformed what earlier was ordinary into something simply impossible and what was earlier exceptional into, in effect, a universal necessity. So, for example, for two and a half centuries landowners in Russia who freed their entire peasant communities and supplied them with parcels of land were the rarest and most unusual exception. The usual order, or “law,” between32 the landowners and the peasants was that the latter were the property of the former together with the land. However, with remarkable speed and thoroughness the good will of the government transformed what was previously a general33 law into a practically impossible illegality, and what earlier was a rare exception was made an unconditionally obligatory rule allowing no exceptions. Likewise, the exceptional case of the commodities trader who fails to raise the price of necessary goods in the face of a strong demand is transformed into a general rule as soon as the government finds it necessary to regulate34 the price of goods. This direct violation of a pseudo “law” becomes a real law, albeit a positive or state law instead of a “natural” one.

Despite all the differences between the two conceptions of a law of nature and a positive, or state, law , it should be noted that, although the latter is a human handiwork, it is likened to the former in that it has an incontestable force permitting no unexpected35 exceptions within the range of its applicability.36 However, the pseudo-economic laws never have such a sense and can at any moment be violated with impunity and revoked by a person’s moral will. [366] By virtue of the 1861 law, not a single landowner in Russia can now buy or sell a peasant except in his dreams. On the other hand, though, contrary to the “law” of supply and demand, nothing prevents a landlord even when awake from lowering the rent of his apartments out of pure philanthropy. That very few take advantage of doing so demonstrates not the power of economics but only the weak virtue of these people. For as soon as this lack of personal philanthropy is compensated by the demand of a state law, prices immediately drop and the “iron” necessity of economic laws becomes at once as fragile as glass. This obvious truth is recognized at present by writers who are quite far from any form of socialism, such as, for example, Laveleye.37 Even earlier John Stuart Mill, who sought to preserve the character of political economics as an exact science while at the same time avoiding too obvious a contradiction with reality, proposed38 the following compromise. Assuming that the economic distribution of the products of labor depends upon the human will and can be subject to its moral intentions, Mill insisted that production is entirely subject to economic laws that have in this sphere the force of natural laws, as if production does not take place under the same general conditions and does not depend on the same human forces and actors as distribution.39 Furthermore, this anti-scientific, scholastic distinction had no success and was rejected equally by both sides between which Mill intended40 to occupy a middle position.41

Of course, human freedom —either on the individual or the societal level—from the alleged natural laws of the material-economic order is not directly connected in any way with the metaphysical question of freedom of the will. In arguing, for example, that the St. Petersburg landlord is free from a law that supposedly determines rents42 by the relation of supply to demand, I do not mean that any of these landlords, no matter what they are like in themselves, can now lower the rents of their apartments in spite of an increased demand for them. I stand only for the obvious truth that if the moral convictions are sufficiently strong [367] in a given individual, be they privately and even more so governmentally held,43 no alleged economic necessity prevents this person from subordinating material considerations to moral ones in this or that case.44 Hence, it logically follows that in this sphere there are no natural laws that act independently of the will of the given individuals. I do not deny the regularity of human actions. I only object to that special sort of material-economic regularity, conceived 100 years ago, that supposedly holds independently of the general conditions that motivate us psychologically and morally. Everything that exists in the objects and phenomena of the economic sphere originates, on the one hand, from external nature and accordingly is subject to material necessity (to mechanical, chemical and biological laws) and, on the other hand, is determined by human action, which is subject to psychological and moral necessity. Since it is impossible to find in the objects and phenomena of the economic sphere any sort of causality other than natural and human, there is not and cannot be another special independent necessity and regularity in that sphere.

Legislation by the state regulates economic relations in the moral sense in pursuit of the common good , and it successfully supplements the insufficiency of moral motivation in particular individuals. This, however, does not prejudge the question of the extent to which and in what form such regulation is desirable in the future. It is only without question that the facts themselves concerning state interference in the economic sphere (for example, the legislative regulation of prices45) indisputably show that a given set of economic relationships do not themselves express any natural necessity. For it is clear that the laws of nature cannot be rescinded by state laws.


The subordination of material interests and relations in human society to certain special economic laws that function on their own is a mere fabrication of bad metaphysics46 that has not the slightest foundation in reality. Therefore, the general demand of reason and conscience remains in force, that this [368] sphere be subordinate to the highest moral principle, that the economic life of society be organized towards the realization of the moral good.

There are no independent economic laws, no economic47 necessities, and there cannot be any. For the phenomena of the economic order are conceivable only as human actions, of moral beings who are capable of subordinating all their actions to the motives of the pure moral good.48 There is one independent and unconditional law for human beings as such, and it is the moral law. There is one necessity, and it is moral necessity . The peculiar and independent nature of economic relations lies not in the fact that it has its unavoidable laws, but in the fact that, owing to the essence of its relationships, it presents a special and peculiar field for applying the unique moral law. In the same way, the Earth is different from the other planets not by the fact that it has some original49 light source of its own (which in reality it does not), but only by the fact that owing to its place in the solar system it receives and reflects the single, common light of the sun in a certain special way.

This truth collides with and crushes not only the theories of academic economists but also the aspirations of the socialists, who at first glance appear to be opposed to them. In their critique of the existing economic order, in their rants against the inequality of wealth and against the selfishness and inhumanity of the wealthy classes, the socialists, as it were, take the moral point of view and are inspired by a moral sense of pity towards those who toil and carry a heavy burden. However, if we turn to the positive side of their position, we will see that it happens to have at first an ambiguous attitude and then turns directly into a hostile one towards the moral principle.

The most profound basis of socialism is that first expressed in the remarkable doctrine of Saint Simon’s disciples, who proclaimed as their motto the restoration (rehabilitation) of matter in the life of humanity.50 Certainly, matter has rights, and the less these are respected in principle the more they make themselves known in practice. However, what are these rights? They can be understood not only in different but also in directly contradictory ways. The sphere of material relations (more proximally, economic ones) [369] has a right to become the object of a human moral action. It has a right to have the highest spiritual principle realized or embodied in it. Matter has a right to spiritualization. Such is the first sense of this principle—the quite true sense and that is of the greatest importance. It would be unfair to claim that this sense is completely foreign to the original socialist systems. However, they neither dwelled on it nor developed it. This glimmer of a higher awareness quite soon turned out to be only a deceptive light over the swamp of carnal passions that gradually swallowed up so many noble and inspired souls.51

Another and more common sense given to the proposed idea of the rights of matter justifies the factual collapse of the Saint-Simonist school and raises it to a principle:52 The material life of humanity is not just a special sphere of activity or of the application of moral principles. Our material life has in us and for us its own, quite independent material principle, which has the same rights, namely the principle of instinct or passion and must be given its full53 scope in order that the normal social order will naturally follow from the mutual completion and alternation of personal passions and interests (Fourier’s basic idea).54 With this, there is neither the possibility nor the necessity for the “normal” order to be moral. Alienation from higher, spiritual interests becomes necessary as soon as the material aspect of human life is recognized as having a special independent and fundamental significance.55 One cannot serve two masters, and socialism naturally accords dominance to a principle under the banner of which the entire movement appeared, namely, the material principle. The sphere of economic relations is entirely subordinate to this principle, and it, in turn, is recognized as the principal, the definitive and the sole real sphere in human life. The intrinsic56 difference between socialism and the bourgeois economics hostile to it disappears at this point.

In truth,57 if the present state of the civilized world is morally abnormal, the blame for this belongs not on this or that institution58 in itself but on the general understanding and direction of life in contemporary society. By virtue of this feature, the main concern is becoming all [370] the more material wealth, and the social order itself is being transformed decisively into a plutocracy. Our social immorality lies not in personal or hereditary59 property, not in the division of labor and60 capital, and not in the inequality of possessions, but simply in a plutocracy which is a perversion of the proper social order. This plutocracy elevates the lower and essentially subordinate sphere—the economic—to the highest and decisive level relegating everything else to serve as a means and instrument for material benefit.61 Socialism , however, also leads to this perversion, only from another direction. From the standpoint of the plutocracy a normal person is above all a capitalist and only then, per acccidens, a citizen, a family man or woman, an educated person, a member of some religious organization. Likewise, from the socialist point of view all other interests surely lose their significance and are placed on the back-burner, if they do not completely disappear before the economic interest. Also, the (naturally) lower material sphere of life, viz., industrial activity, becomes62 decisively predominant enveloping everything else. Even in its most idealistic forms, socialism from the start makes the moral63 perfection of society directly and entirely dependent on its economic system and wants to achieve a moral transformation or rebirth exclusively by means of an economic revolution. This fact clearly shows that in essence socialism too is based on the supremacy of the material interest just as the petty-bourgeois rule that is hostile to it. Both sides have one and the same motto: “Man lives on bread alone.”64 If from the plutocratic standpoint the worth of an individual is dependent on the amount of one’s material possessions, on the owning and acquisition of things, then for the consistent socialist this same person has worth only as a producer of material prosperity. In both cases, the human being is taken as an economic agent in abstraction from the other aspects of one’s existence. In both cases, economic prosperity is seen as the ultimate goal and the supreme good. The struggle between the two hostile camps is not over a difference of principle, i.e., not over the content of contending principles, but only over how far the same principle is implemented. The material [371] interest of the capitalist minority concerns some, whereas others are concerned with the material interest of the working majority. To the extent that this majority, the working class itself, begins to care only about its material interest,65 it turns out to be obviously just as selfish as its opponents and loses all of its moral advantage.66 In a certain respect, socialism thereby implements the principle of material interest more consistently and more completely than the opposing side. Although sincerely67 devoted only to its economic interest, the plutocrat ascribes to it a lower value and assumes the existence of other principles in life together with their corresponding independent institutions, such as the state and the church. In its pure form, socialism decisively rejects all of this. The human being for it is only a producer and a consumer. Human society is only an economic union, a union of workers, each society having its own master without any other essential differences. On the one hand, the predominance of material interests—of commercial, industrial and financial elements—constitutes the distinctive trait of the rule of the bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie. On the other hand, consistent socialism, which seeks ultimately to limit the life of humanity to these lower interests alone,68 is not in any way the antithesis but only the most extreme expression, the final conclusion, of a one-sided bourgeois civilization.

The socialists and their apparent opponents—the plutocrats—unwittingly shake each others’ hands on the most essential point. Out of self-interest, a plutocracy subjugates the nation’s masses using them for its own benefit, seeing them only as a labor force, only as producers of material wealth. Socialism protests against such “exploitation,” but this protest is superficial, lacking as it does a principled foundation. For socialism ultimately69 sees the human being as only (or, in any case, above all)70 an economic agent, and as such there is nothing that in essence should be done to protect a person from any exploitation. On the other hand, the exceptional importance that today’s petty-bourgeois regime attaches to material wealth naturally encourages the direct producers of this [372] wealth—the working classes—to demand an equal share of these goods, which, without them, would not exist and which they were taught to look upon as the most important thing in life. In this way, the ruling classes themselves by their practical materialism71 and their subjugation of the working classes arouse and justify the latter’s socialistic aspirations. When the fear of a social revolution is aroused in the plutocrats their appeal to ideal principles turns out to be a useless game. The hastily affixed masks of morality and religion do not deceive the nation’s masses, who sense quite well what their masters truly worship,72, 73 and having learnt this form of worship from their masters the workers naturally want to be part of it, but as priests and not victims.

The two hostile parties are mutually responsible for the other and cannot escape a vicious circle as long as they do not recognize and accept the factually simple and indubitable thesis they have forgotten, namely, that human worth, and consequently human society, is, in essence, not determined by economic relationships, that the human being is not above all a producer of material goods or market values, but is something of much more importance. Consequently, society too is something more than an economic union.74


In order to truly solve the so-called “social question,” we should recognize, above all, that the norm of economic relations is not contained in these relationships themselves, but that they apply to a special sphere of the general moral norm. The triadic75 moral principle, which determines our proper attitude towards God, people and material nature, is entirely and wholly applicable in the economic sphere. Moreover, owing to a special76 property of this sphere the final member of the moral trinity—our relation to material nature or to the Earth (in the broad sense of the word)—is of special importance. This third relation can have a moral character only in combination with the first two but is dependent on them in their normal condition.

In terms of its content, the sphere of economic relations exhaustively includes the general concepts of production (work and capital), distribution of property and the exchange of values. Let us turn to these basic concepts from the moral point of view beginning with the most basic of them, namely, the concept of work . We know that material necessity provides the first jolt to work, but for a person who recognizes the unconditionally perfect principle of reality, the will of God, above oneself, every necessity is an expression of that will. Viewed in this way, work is a commandment from God. It requires that we expend effort (by the sweat of one’s brow77) to cultivate the land, i.e., to process material nature. For whom? First of all,78 for oneself and for one’s neighbors. This answer, though clear at the most elementary stages of our moral condition, retains, of course, its strength with our further development, the concept of “neighbor” alone expands in scope. At first, my neighbors are only those with whom I am related by blood or have a personal relationship. At the end, this includes everyone. The most talented representative of economic individualism, Bastiat,79 in defending the principle of “everyone for himself,” avoids the reproach of egoism by pointing to the economic harmony by which everyone caring only for oneself (or for themselves) unwittingly, owing to the very nature of social relations, works for the benefit of all. In this way, one’s self-interest in fact [374] harmonizes with the common interest. In any case, though, this would be only a natural harmony, one by which, for example, certain insects thinking only of sweet food for themselves unwittingly contribute to the fertilization of plants by passing pollen from plant to plant.

Such harmony certainly says something about the wisdom of the Creator, but it does not turn insects into moral creatures. A human being is a moral creature, and for this reason natural solidarity is insufficient for us. We must not only work for everyone, participate in our common concerns but even know and want to participate. A person who refuses to recognize this truth in principle will feel its actual force in financial crashes and economic crises. Surely, the perpetrators and victims of these anomalies are precisely those who work for themselves. Why does the natural harmony neither reconcile their interests nor improve their well-being? The natural connection of economic relations is inadequate to make those who work for themselves work at the same time for everyone. They need to be consciously directed to the common good.

To propose selfishness or self-interest to be the fundamental reason to work means to eliminate the significance of work itself as a universal commandment, to make it into something fortuitous.80 If I work only for my own welfare and for that of my family, then (from this point of view) once I have the opportunity to achieve this welfare apart from working the only reason81 to work is lost. If it should turn out that an entire class or group of people can prosper through theft, fraud and the exploitation of the work of others, how could we in principle oppose this from the point of view of unrestrained selfishness? Where is the natural harmony that eliminates such misuses? Where was this natural harmony in the long centuries when slavery, feudalism and serfdom reigned? Or was it that the bloody internecine wars that abolished feudalism in Europe and slavery in America were just an expression, though just a little late, of the natural harmony? However, if this is the case, it is unclear in what way this harmony is different from disharmony and how the unrestrained guillotine is better than the constraints of state socialism. If natural harmony, seriously understood, proves to be unable to prevent the economic misuses of [375] unrestrained selfishness among individuals or classes but must resort to restrictions on this freedom in the name of a higher82 truth, then is it permissible and noble to appeal to justice only as a last resort and to put it at the end and not at the beginning of the social system? Not only is it impermissible and ignoble, but it is also useless. For such a morality ex machina has no power that is either imposing or captivating. No one will believe it; no one will heed it.83 Naked force alone will remain—today applied one way, tomorrow another.

The principle of individualistic84 freedom of interests, when adopted by the powerful, does not make them work harder but engenders the ancient practice of slavery , the medieval seigniorial law and contemporary economic servitude, or plutocracy. This principle, when adopted by the masses, who as the majority are powerful, does not make them more amenable to work, but creates only the ground for envious resentment85 out of which arise the anarchists’ bombs. If he were alive today, Bastiat, who gladly expressed his thoughts in the form of popular dialogues, might himself have played a major role in a conversation such as this:

Anarchist: Out of a special benevolent feeling for you, Mr. Bastiat, I warn you to go somewhere far away, for I intend right now to blow up this place on account of the presence in it of tyrants and exploiters.

Bastiat: What a terrible situation! But just consider that you are ultimately compromising the principle of human freedom!

Anarchist: On the contrary, we are realizing it.

Bastiat: Who filled you with these infernal ideas?

Anarchist: You did.

Bastiat: What improbable slander!

Anarchist: No, it is completely true. We are your students. Have you not shown that the root of all evil is the intervention of public authority into the free play of individual interests? Do you not relentlessly condemn any intended organization of labor, any compulsory social order? And what is condemned as evil must be destroyed. We translate your words into deeds and spare you from the dirty work.

Bastiat: I fought only state [376] intervention in economic life and the artificial organization of labor invented by the socialists.

Anarchist: We have nothing to do with the socialists. If they phantasize, so much the worse for them. We are not phantasizing. We are simply opposed to one organization alone, the one that actually exists, and it is called the social order. These cities and factories, stock exchanges and academies, the administration, the police, the army and the church. Did they all really spring from the ground? Are they not really products of an artificial organization? So, by your own argument all of them are evil and must be destroyed….

Bastiat: Even if this is true, they should not in any case be destroyed through violence and disasters.

Anarchist: And what is a disaster? You have perfectly explained that from apparent disasters an actual common good arises. In every instance, you have cleverly distinguished the unimportant, which is seen, from the important, which is not seen. In the present instance, what we see are flying sardine boxes, destroyed buildings, mutilated corpses. These are seen, but they are unimportant. What is not seen and what is singularly important is the future of humanity, which will have no “interference” and no “organization” after the extermination of those people, institutions and classes that could interfere and organize. You preached the principle of anarchy, and we will in fact create an anarchy.

Bastiat: Gendarme, gendarme! Quickly arrest this man before he blows up all of us. Why are you waiting? What are you pondering?

Gendarme: I am pondering over something. Adopting the point of view of the free individual, which I have taken after reading your eloquent arguments, the question is which course of action is more advantageous, what is in my best interest. Do I take this young man by the collar or do I as quickly as possible join with him to form a natural harmony of interests ?86 , 87


Contrary to this imaginary economic harmony, the evidence forces us to admit that in basing one’s private, material interest as the goal of work we come not to the common good but only to common dissension and destruction. On the contrary, the idea of a common good in its [377] true, moral sense, i.e., the good for all and for each of us and not just for the majority—the idea of such a good posed as the principle and goal of work—includes the satisfaction of every personal interest within its proper bounds.

If, from the moral point of view, each person—whether one be a farmer, a writer or a banker88—must work consciously desiring thereby to contribute to the common benefit, if one must see work as an obligation to fulfill the will of God and serve the universal well-being of everyone, then this obligation, as universal, presupposes that everyone must therefore regard and treat this person not merely as an instrument but also as the object or goal of a common activity. Society too has an obligation to recognize and to protect the right of each person independently to a decent human existence for oneself and one’s family. A decent existence is possible with voluntary poverty, as St. Francis preached and as is lived by our wandering pilgrims. However, this is rendered impossible with the kind of work that entirely reduces the significance of a human being to playing the role of a simple instrument for the production or transfer of material wealth. Here is an example.

“We look at the kriuchniks89 working. Those miserable, half-naked Tatars are stripped of their strength. It is painful to see how quickly their backs straighten under the weight of 130 to 650 pounds (I am not exaggerating the last figure). This horribly hard work pays 5 rubles per 16,000 pounds. A kriuchnik can earn at most one ruble per day, working like an ox and always taxing his strength. Few can endure more than 10 years of such hard work and these two-legged beasts of burden become crippled or paralytic” (Novoe vremja, 7356).90 Those who have not seen the Volga “kriuchniks” certainly have seen in large hotels the porters who panting and straining drag extremely heavy trunks to the fourth or fifth floor. And this in the age of machines and all sorts of refinements! The obvious incongruity of this strikes no one: arriving at the hotel with luggage, the guest gets in the elevator even though the climb up the stairs would be a useful exercise. Meanwhile, the things that it would seem the elevator car was designed to carry are loaded [378] onto the back of a porter who in this way turns out to be not even an instrument of another person, but the instrument of things, an instrument of an instrument!91

Work that is exclusively and crudely mechanical and demands excessive muscular power is incompatible with human dignity. Likewise, so is work that even though not heavy and not humiliating yet consumes all the time and all the energy of the worker so that the few hours of interruption must be devoted to physical rest leaving neither time nor energy for thought and reflection on the ideal and spiritual order.92 In addition to hours of rest, there certainly are entire rest days, for example Sundays and other holidays. However, the exhausting and boring physical work that consumes all weekdays creates as a natural reaction a need for revelry and to unwind on holidays, which are devoted to doing just that.

“Let us not dwell, however, on the impression that individual observable facts create in us, even though they are numerous. Let us turn to the statistics, and ask to what extent does one’s salary meet the necessary needs of the worker? Leaving aside the actual salary figures in various kinds of work, the quality of food, and the size of one’s home, our concern is only with the life expectancy of people in various occupations. We get the following answers to this question: shoemakers live on average 49 years, printers 48.3 years, tailors 46.6, carpenters 44.7, blacksmiths 41.8, a lathe operator 41.6 and stone masons 33. The average life of bureaucrats, capitalists, clergy and merchants is 60–69 years.93 If we take into account the data on mortality in relation to the size of dwellings and the rent in various parts of the city, we will find [379] that in the areas inhabited by the poor—primarily the working class—with low rent the mortality rate is much higher than in those parts of the city with a relatively large number of wealthy inhabitants. Villarmé determined this relationship for Paris in the 1820s. He calculated that during the 5 years from 1822–1826 in the 2nd arrondissement with an average annual rent for an apartment of 605 francs there was one death per 71 inhabitants, whereas in the 12th arrondissement with an average rent of 148 francs the death rate was one per 44 inhabitants. We have similar data for many other cities including St. Petersburg.”94 We can draw the following conclusion from this: “Whoever does not regard the worker to be an instrument of production but recognizes him, as indeed every person, to be a free individual, an end in itself, cannot consider the average life span of 40 years to be normal, not when those from wealthier classes live on average to 60–70 years. Any downward deviation from such longevity that cannot be explained by the peculiarities of the given occupations must be attributed solely to excessive work and an insufficient income to cover the most essential needs and the minimal hygienic requirements of food, shelter and clothing.”95

The unconditional significance of a person is based, as we know, on his innate reason and will, which make possible his infinite perfecting or, to use the expression of the Church Fathers , deification (θεωσις).96 This possibility does not become a reality for us immediately in one complete act, because otherwise we would already be equal to God, which is not the case. This inner potentiality is becoming ever more a reality, but it requires specific97 conditions be met in reality. An ordinary person, left on an uninhabited island for many years or in a state of absolute solitary confinement not only loses the chance to improve intellectually and morally but also, as is well known regresses towards an explicit bestiality. Thus, in essence, even if a person, entirely [380] absorbed in physical labor, does not fall into complete savagery, one cannot in any case think about98 actively realizing one’s highest human potential. So, the moral point of view demands that everyone have not only the means of subsistence (i.e., food, clothing, and shelter from the heat and the elements) and adequate physical rest but also leisure time to be used for increasing his spiritual perfection. This and only this is unconditionally demanded for every peasant and worker. Anything more than this is from the devil.99

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