Justice

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Justice

Keep the Banner Flying

April 3, 2020 by

In this excerpt from his novel The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky questions the value of self-reliance and calls rather for acts of solidarity and love. Though spoken by an unlikely messenger – the character speaking is haunted by an unconfessed murder – these words ring true for the situation we find ourselves in today.

“That life is heaven,” he said to me suddenly, “that I have long been thinking about.” And all at once he added, “Indeed, I think of nothing else.” He looked at me and smiled. “I am more convinced of it than you are. I will tell you later why.’’

I listened to him and thought that he evidently wanted to tell me something. “Heaven,” he went on, “lies hidden within all of us—here it lies hidden in me now, and if I will it, it will be revealed to me tomorrow and for all time.” I looked at him; he was speaking with great emotion and gazing mysteriously at me, as if he were questioning me.

sunset 

“And that we are all responsible to all for all, apart from our own sins—you were quite right in thinking that, and it is wonderful how you could comprehend it in all its significance at once. And in very truth, as soon as men understand that, the Kingdom of Heaven will be for them not a dream, but a living reality.”

“And when,” I cried out to him bitterly, “when will that come to pass? And will it ever come to pass? Is it not simply a dream of ours?”

“What, you don’t believe it!” he said. “You preach it and don’t believe it yourself. Believe me, this dream, as you call it, will come to pass without doubt; it will come, but not now, for every process has its law. It’s a spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to recreate it afresh, men must turn into another path psychologically. Until you have really become in actual fact a brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all. Everyone will think his share too small, and they will be always envying, complaining, and attacking one another. You ask when it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go through the period of isolation.”

“What do you mean by isolation?” I asked him.

“Why, the isolation that prevails everywhere—above all in our age—yet has not fully developed; it has not reached its limit. For everyone strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but in self-destruction, for instead of self-realization he ends by arriving at complete solitude. In our age all of mankind has split up into units; they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof from the rest, hides himself, and hides what he has. He ends by being repelled by others and repelling them. He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, ‘How strong I am now and how secure,’ and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in men and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and the privileges that he has won for himself. Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they have separated themselves from one another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light. And then the sign of the Son of Man will be seen in the heavens…But until then we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes, even if he has to do it alone and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example and so draw men’s souls out of their solitude and spur them to some act of brotherly love, so that the great idea may not die.”


Excerpted from The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from His Works.

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