Friday, March 2, 2018

Stepan Arkadyevitch

Stepan Arkadyevitch took in and read a liberal paper,
not an extreme one, but one advocating the views held by
the majority. And in spite of the fact that science, art, and politics had no special interest for him, he firmly held
those views on all these subjects which were held by the
majority and by his paper, and he only changed them
when the majority changed them—or, more strictly
speaking, he did not change them, but they imperceptibly
changed of themselves within him.

Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political
opinions or his views; these political opinions and views
had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose
the shapes of his hat and coat, but simply took those that
were being worn. And for him, living in a certain
society—owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years
of discretion, for some degree of mental activity—to have
views was just as indispensable as to have a hat. If there
was a reason for his preferring liberal to conservative
views, which were held also by many of his circle, it arose
not from his considering liberalism more rational, but
from its being in closer accordance with his manner of life.
The liberal party said that in Russia everything is wrong,
and certainly Stepan Arkadyevitch had many debts and
was decidedly short of money. The liberal party said that
marriage is an institution quite out of date, and that it
needs reconstruction; and family life certainly afforded
Stepan Arkadyevitch little gratification, and forced him
into lying and hypocrisy, which was so repulsive to his
nature. The liberal party said, or rather allowed it to be
understood, that religion is only a curb to keep in check
the barbarous classes of the people; and Stepan
Arkadyevitch could not get through even a short service
without his legs aching from standing up, and could never
make out what was the object of all the terrible and highflown language about another world when life might be so
very amusing in this world. And with all this, Stepan
Arkadyevitch, who liked a joke, was fond of puzzling a
plain man by saying that if he prided himself on his origin,
he ought not to stop at Rurik and disown the first founder
of his family—the monkey. And so Liberalism had
become a habit of Stepan Arkadyevitch’s, and he liked his
newspaper, as he did his cigar after dinner, for the slight
fog it diffused in his brain.

He read the leading article, in which it was maintained that it was quite senseless in our day to raise an outcry that radicalism was threatening to swallow up all conservative elements, and that the
government ought to take measures to crush the
revolutionary hydra; that, on the contrary, ‘in our opinion
the danger lies not in that fantastic revolutionary hydra,
but in the obstinacy of traditionalism clogging progress,’
etc., etc. He read another article, too, a financial one,
which alluded to Bentham and Mill, and dropped some
innuendoes reflecting on the ministry. With his
characteristic quickwittedness he caught the drift of each
innuendo, divined whence it came, at whom and on what
ground it was aimed, and that afforded him, as it always
did, a certain satisfaction.

--Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy.

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