Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Karamazov Brothers (“Liberty”)

The world has celebrated liberty… and what is it that we see in this liberty of theirs? Nothing but slavery and suicide! For the world says: “You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most illustrious and the richest amongst you. Do not be afraid to satisfy them, nay, multiply them.” Such is the present-day teaching of the world, and it is in this that they see freedom. And so, what comes of this right to multiply one’s needs? Isolation and spiritual suicide for the rich, envy and murder for the poor, for though rights have been granted, the means of material gratification have not yet been prescribed. We are assured that the longer time goes on, the closer the world draws towards fraternal communion, when distances will be bridged and thoughts transmitted through the air. Alas, put no faith in such a union of men. By interpreting freedom as the multiplication and immediate gratification of needs, people distort their own nature, for they engender in themselves a multitude of pointless and foolish desires, habits, and incongruous stratagems. Their lives are motivated only by mutual envy, sensuality, and ostentation. To give dinner-parties, to travel, to have carriages, titles, and slavishly devoted servants is considered such a necessity that people will sacrifice their lives, honor, and sense of humanity to acquire them, and if they cannot, they will even commit suicide. We see the same thing among those who are not rich, but in the case of the poor they drown their unsatisfied needs and envy in drink. But soon they will drink blood instead of wine, for that is what they are being led on to. I ask you: are such men free? I once knew a “fighter for a cause” who told me that when he was deprived of tobacco in prison he was in such agony that he nearly betrayed his “cause” just to get some tobacco. And people like him say: “I shall go and fight for mankind.” But where will he go and what is he capable of? A short burst of activity, perhaps – but he will not be able to sustain it for long. And so it is not surprising that instead of being free, people have become enslaved, and instead of serving the cause of brotherly love and human harmony, they have… fallen into disharmony and isolation. So the idea of service to mankind… grows ever weaker in the world, and truly it is now treated almost with derision. For how can a man shake off his habits? What can become of him if he is so bound to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and the world at large means nothing to him. We have reached a stage at which we have surrounded ourselves with more things, but have less joy.”

– Book VI: The Russian Monk, Chapter III: Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima


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