First edition: “Biblioteka warszawska”, 1920, t.1.
I know only too well the most spectacular part of great Vienna: Franzensring. This is the landscape I have most often seen for many years; a magnificent opera-like decoration erected within the real city, a sequence of edifices built contemporaneously yet pretending to date from a variety of ages. It is really lovely here in the spring and early autumn. The chestnut avenues of the Volks-Garten can be seen from behind the iron fence and further on two Renaissance domes of the Museums spring out of the pale city horizon; they are quite alike but, blurred by the city’s dust, they are visible at a different distance and seem distant and huge, resembling Rome or Venice. In turn, the white and elegant semi-circular colonnade of the new Burg – forming a background that sets off the greenness of chestnut trees – resembles Versailles and brings to mind the eighteenth century’s powdered etiquette. Only a few palace-shaped tenement houses with Renaissance porticos separate the learned Greekness of the Parliament from the Belgian Gothic of the enormous Town Hall with its fantastic towers, colossal cloisters and mighty walls, transformed here and here into stone lace, reminiscent of feudalism and the middle ages which they themselves have not witnessed and of which they have probably learned from a scholarly book, or from a Walter Scott romance. The City Hall’s cloisters give a view over the most magnificent miniature gothic model of a church – the one of which medieval stonemasons dreamt and which they never built, leaving their churches unfinished and thus more like a dream. The two spires of Wotivkirche look out from behind the Gothic cloisters as if they are elements of an intricate background of an old painting by Memling. In front of the Town Hall stretches a freely-designed Rathhauspark, surrounded by the Renaissance university, and directly opposite the Town Hall there is the Burgtheater that pretends to be some old-Roman form of the Antonin era; an educated person will find it hard to understand what is the purpose of an encounter between this theatrically-looking consul in a pompous gown and that armed knight from a medieval fairy tale as embodied by the Town Hall? It is better not to think about it; it is better to bask in the sun, walk the curiously trimmed paths of the town hall park and look at the scythes as they fly over the stone pools of water and the sparrows that bathe themselves close to the edge of the pool and then shake themselves dry.
Better still, you may indulge in a scientifically beneficial exercise of watching the trees and the flowers; just as the buildings give one a lesson of history and architecture, so do the plants from the town hall garden – brought here from all parts of the world and growing in spite of geography to make beautiful the square in front of the edifices that were erected in spite of history – give a useful instruction in botany. The shapes of leaves and flowers unknown in Europe until recently – of the Chinese, Persian, American provenance – can be seen here, giving you as inaccurate an idea of a Manchurian or Canadian forest as that of a Greek or medieval city. If you are not satisfied with a show of samples, you have to turn away from the Parliament and the Town Hall and look towards the city to see the tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral that stands out against the sky, mighty and rich with laces yet shapely and lofty. It will seem to you that the truth of history has finally spoken to you, that this tower soars towards the heaven propelled by prayers of countless generations and that it witnessed the Turkish siege and Sobieski’s relief mission. Yet let us not forget that this magnificent huge tower, in which every stone is vibrant with life, was built in our days to replace the original tower that had been demolished; that it is only a copy of the authentic corpse.
The multitude of people flowing each day through the streets and gardens are indifferent to those visual lessons of archaeology and botany nor do they share an aesthetician’s reservations; even the sun, the scent of flowers, the singing of birds will only perhaps be enjoyed by children unless they have something more important to do, such as rolling big wooden hoops along the paths, playing horses, painstakingly building hills of sand, in other words, doing what children of all estates have been doing for centuries, enjoying the games that Cain and Abel enjoyed with their sisters by the gates to the Paradise, as did the little Athenians and Romans, the young Negroes and the Chinese, the little kings, princesses and peasant children.
Immersed in that multitude, adults are too preoccupied with themselves to do anything else. These buildings, gardens do not belong to the passers-by; they belong to no one because the state is great and the city has a million of inhabitants – so an individual does not care about the great world in which we are living, he is not interested in how the world spins on the planetary tracks, he takes no enjoyment in the beautiful ellipse that the earth draws around the sun. It used to be different in Florence and in Athens, in Cracow and in Augsburg. In a small city, a privileged citizen would belong to an exclusive circle that added to his importance; he loved the city as if it belonged to him, just like the peasant loves not only his house, his garden, his field, but also his church and bell tower. A small town citizen was proud of the beauty of the trees and the walls; he enjoyed looking at the building and knew its every detail by heart; and he would not bear it if a public building was a clichéd decoration in which factory-made details would be repeated with an unbearable uniformity. In the past, the family, the community, the estate provided a framework into which man would be integrated, which gave him strength and which would teach him to love something else than just himself.
And what do these crowds care about Vienna? The city is just an illuminated decoration along which people move, blown in here from different parts of the world like grains of sand. Something has brought them here and something will sweep them out from here. For a few days, or weeks at most, after they arrival they admired the theatrical splendour of the capital; now it has lost the charm of novelty and they do not care anymore. If they praise Vienna, it is because the city is crowded and bustling and this is what a human being as a gregarious animal enjoys: tired by miserable selfishness, thoughts are drowned out by the external noise. An odd Viennese will praise and miss the capital when he later moves to live in some backwater place because, in Vienna, he can spend his time in bars and cafes, browse newspapers unthinkingly, watch mindless performances to drive away his cares and engage in pastimes that replace love in Babylon. Anyway, everyone is busy doing a job that earns him a living and gives a hope of profit. All people are equal; money is what differentiates them from each other. And so it is with money in mind that they come here, dreaming of riches. However, most often – almost always, in fact – they instead find a miserable place on a modern economic promenade on which they are constantly moving in circles and they become so enamoured to that sterile, unnatural circular movement that they learn to enjoy different but equally unnatural pastimes.
There is a causeway across the pond; on holidays, the rich man takes a ride in a carriage around the Prater, swallowing dust, making a show of himself, and staying in the garden for the sole purpose of not watching the nature. The poor does the same: he comes to the huge garden but it is not for the view of the trees. Instead, he takes a ride on an old-fashioned merry-go-round, straddling a wooden pony, or boards a mercilessly crowded city train to take him on a pointless tour of the capital, watching the tenement houses as the train passes by, or – and this is the most typical – sits on a bench in the Prater, turning his back on greenness and nature, swallowing dust and watching enviously as the rich pass by in their carriages, mindlessly riding at a walk along the alleys one after another, swallowing dust. And in the evening an indecent performance will provide entertainment. Yet worry about livelihood is what burdens them day after day, week after week, year after year.
I do not know how many years I have been looking at the crowds rushing across the city, looking for something and never finding rest, tormented by their self-love and anxiety, lost in the midst of urban sprawl and fake equality. A question is written on all the faces: what will happen to me tomorrow? What will tomorrow bring? And anxiety is paired by vanity. Everyone thinks that all eyes are on him. Look! There walks a young dandy – it is hard to tell from his attire if he is a journeyman or a student. He has a German cornflower, an anti-Semite white carnation or a Socialist red carnation in his buttonhole – not to manifest his convictions but to draw attention to himself. And he looks at all women as if they were his future victims, cursing the inevitable work that awaits him today. A nursemaid, a Swiss, is sitting on a garden bench, not paying attention to the children under her care, miserable and consumed by the thought of whether she will succeed in finding a husband who will rescue her from this miserable slavery? Elderly, well-dressed gentlemen whose lives have been seemingly successful are walking slowly, eying pretty women and worrying that their fortunes may turn tomorrow and they will not know what to do with their children raised in affluence and idleness. Ladies in exaggeratedly fashionable and ostentatiously expensive dresses that exude bad taste stroll in the garden, walking a small dog on a string, curious whether anyone is looking at them? In the corner of the street sits a wretched beggar, a human wreck, with a baby in her arms, and passers-by walk around her, propelled by a mysterious anxiety that such fate may befell them too one day. Everyone’s soul, everyone’s whole being is preoccupied with ‘I’. Never will these modern hearts resonate with ‘us’ – the ‘us’ by which man becomes powerful. And it is hard for me to understand why these human atoms – permanently miserable, eternally tormented and innumerable in countless cities – are born and grow, become old and die?
I have often, almost every day, for long months, been passing these crowds, which are always the same, on my way to the Parliament. The building is huge, like a little town, white and shapeless. It consists of two large, heavy and square brick cabinets that are connected by a Corinthian portico facing the Franzensring. The cabinets are marred by oblong windows reminiscent of a glass casing housing an anatomical collection and by huge chimneys that protrude pointlessly, ridiculously pretending to be Ionic columns with gilded heads.
The cabinets are fronted by porches that make mockery of the Athenian Erechtheion, resting on the female colossuses of botched masonry workmanship. The flat roof of the huge cabinets is lined by countless statues of no value, representing the naked gods and heroes of Greece who are doomed to spend long northern winters freezing in the company of urban cats and looking down upon people and horses pulling trams and carriages, even though the people and the horses are strangers to the gods, just like the gods are strangers to them. A colossal bronze group occupies the four corners of each cabinet with unbearable monotony and German accuracy, cast from a single mould, hovering high in the clouds above the city, standing witness to the lack of imagination and taste of the late learned Germanic generations. Each time it is a chariot with the winged goddess of victory and four galloping horses, always moving in exactly the same manner. These metallic figures are a pitiful sight: they are not a work of art but shoddy and expensive items of equipment. Each chariot heads in a different direction and all horses jump into the abyss, giving an impression that they are about to hurl down and shatter their Victoria on the prosaic cobblestones like a porcelain doll. This is probably an apt symbol of the multilinguistic parties in the Austrian parliament.
Adorned with a set of huge Corinthian columns, the façade on the side of the Franzensring is indeed impressive; and it would be even more splendid if the monumental stairs flowed down to the street. Yet the stairs were replaced – allegedly for the reason of climate and convenience – by a ramp accessed through the portico, and this ramp is so uncomfortable that nobody has ever driven, or even walked, on it. Together with the windows and chimneys of the building it serves only as an ugly testimony to the fact that a reasonable man should not erect a purely Greek building where the essential human needs are to be catered for, in our times and at the latitude of 48 degrees north.
Nobody knows, anyway, what is the relevance of the learned architecture that feigns the times of the despotic successors of Alexander the Great, and what the columns and the Greek gods have to do with a place where the deputes of a dozen or so nations of the Austrian Reich hold their conferences? Surely, the Greek and Roman historians whose classic images in stone have recently been put on the ramp know the answer. Thucydides, a serious Athenian, took the longest to be lured from the sculptor’s workshop and take his seat in front of the Parliament; wet and freezing, his colleagues had to wait long for his arrival. He said that he had listened enough to the empty babbling of demagogues and seen enough of the silly people’s assemblies during his lifetime. But finally he was persuaded to sit down in front of the portico. Since then, somehow, things have calmed down in the House, torn by conflicts at first; I do not know for sure but perhaps this is thanks to his wise counsel?
There is an empty pedestal in front of the ramp where the colossal Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom, so much sorely missed inside the building, is to take a stand one day.
This inadequate building cost thirty million guldens. It is mostly ugly, stuffy and uncomfortable inside. There is a spacious atrium with fabulously expensive columns and each column is made of a single piece of red marble; they all support a glass ceiling, which is a ridiculously preposterous exercise but the one that delights the common folk because of the huge amount of money it cost. The place abounds in mouldings and statues of sorts, which by their repetitive, factory-made monotony make mockery of the dignity of an artistic sculpture. There are frescoes seemingly like those painted by old Greeks: however, I find it difficult to believe that the most artistic of all nations in the world would ever be capable of executing such pompous, dead and soulless decorations. There are many expensive furbelows and costly ugliness but nothing can match the preposterousness of what is usually going on inside the building, in the amphitheatre room of the House of Commons, when the parliament is in session.
A stranger who has never seen the parliament and, having taken a seat at the gallery, looks for the first time at the gilded spaces of the House, will be sadly disappointed by the progress of proceedings, even though he has been warned, read and heard of the scandalous turn the matters tend to take here. Let us assume he has chanced upon a normal, or quiet, session. First he sees the tiny bald figures of mostly old men moving down there, blurred by the likeness of fog produced by volatile ashes and saturated with human breath. The hall, however, does not seem full: most of the parliamentarians are spending their time in the suffocating, low corridors filled with tobacco smoke, in the dining room, or in the reading room. The benches are empty: only here and there an odd lawmaker, tired, is taking a nap. Several deputies can be seen taking loudly downstairs on the semi-circular floor of the amphitheatre covered with a grey carpet. Staff members in navy livery, stenographers, junior officials are almost as numerous as the deputies in the House. Only two ministers are sitting on a long government bench, both bored to death.
Only the president, inevitably chained to his elevated position, is impatiently trying to listen to the speaker who can barely be heard.
For a discussion is taking place – from time to time there is even voting, with votes being cast by standing up. When the electric bell sounds to announce the approaching vote, the deputies suddenly start flowing in through the numerous doors of the amphitheatre, fill the benches, stand up or remain seated as instructed, and then flee, leaving the room empty. But if you ask most of these law-makers what the discussion is about and whether they are voting for or against, they will be surprised by the naivety of your question. They will shrug and say: ‘How would I know?’. Because the discussion is without a reasonable purpose and the vote is without a possible result; it is an empty comedy that somebody has staged to anger the government or to please voters in some dingy distant place where people want to read something about their deputy in a local newspaper.
The House is divided among more than twenty separate parties, more than twenty separate clubs, the smallest and least rational of which terrorise the bigger and more serious ones, terrorize the president and the government with their insolence, impertinence and the threat of ongoing scandal. Usually, speakers find audience only among the so-called political friends, that is members of their own party or club, who listen to them out of politeness, albeit reluctantly. The tiny black figure is standing down there, in the middle of the huge, dark array of chairs arranged in an amphitheatrical manner, and is gesticulating. It is the speaker. His words cannot be heard: they are lost in a huge hall that was not built with acoustics in mind. A small group of people is sitting in front of him, nodding, laughing and clapping from time to time, as if they were a hired claque of applauders from some provincial theatre. Nineteen twentieths of the House will not pay attention to the speaker at all. It is all the same to them whether a mill is milling or a colleague is talking – it is always a monotonous and unbearable noise.
And why would they listen to the speech anyway? Assuming an unlikely scenario that the speaker is talking sensibly and says something informative, his colleagues will learn about it from newspapers and will comfortably read the transcript of his speech. Even if they were listening and were persuaded by the speaker, this would not affect their vote which depends on the party’s instructions that have already been given. Therefore, the speaker knows perfectly well that the purpose of his speech is not to talk to them but to dictate an article for publication in the morning papers. Yet it is rather certain that the article itself will not be worth reading either; one can safety bet that this entire rhetorical exercise does not convey anything that would be new to anybody. The speech is a long string of clichés, empty like chaff, and each member of the House would talk the same rubbish if invited to speak in place of the speaker’s party. Such speakers follow each other and drivel on for hours and the House is not bothered to listen to them.
But suddenly there is a change of scene. The deputies are pouring into the hall from all sides like water flowing into the pond when the locks are open. They aggregate in a single place, sitting on the chairs and arms, a dense crowd occupying the space between the ministerial bench and the deputies’ benches. You may wonder what has happened? Well, a renowned speaker is about to take the floor. He is one of those who owe their prominence not to the fact that what they say makes sense or that they are knowledgeable. On the contrary, they owe it to their reputation for being boors, their propensity for scandal, their tendency to make preposterous and shocking statements and to do it so loudly that the entire House will hear them. Lured by the prospect of a show, a comedy, entertainment, the bored parliamentarians are swarming into the hall, like a moth to a flame, like an audience eager to attend a performance by a famous and indecent chansonnier.
The eager spectators will not be disappointed. The speakers delivers on the promise from the very start: it takes a few opening sentences to offend the whole party, the whole nationality. He is immediately applauded by his supporters and booed by several dozens of those he has offended. Screams of indignation, offensive epithets and violent noises are lasting for a good ten minutes. The president’s bell and his polite admonitions are barely audible and the unruly crowd eventually falls silent not because of the president’s intervention but because they become tired of screaming and, as a matter of fact, want the speaker to continue, confident that he would soon provide a new dose of entertainment to the House and the gallery. So, encouraged by his success, the tribune is relaunching his tirade with a salvo of bloody slanders aimed at prominent people who are absent from the parliament, accusing them of acts that are least likely in men in their position and repeating with a devious delight that they are thieves or at the very least cheats. His tirade is interrupted only by the frantic applause of his political friends. A shy voice of protest can barely be heard now and then; most of the listeners are happy to hear that prominent men are thieves or cheats. They do not believe those enunciations but, as they themselves are sometimes targets of boorish remarks in the House and are accused of similar crimes in papers and at rallies, they now take pleasure in the fact that prominent men are compared to them.
But, after the remarks of personal nature, the speaker is now proceeding to a more important matter: he is attacking the Catholic Church, the clergy, the dogmas of faith. Under the pretence of detecting wickedness among the priests, he is saying some of the lewdest things and, under the guise of fighting superstitions, he is blaspheming against the matters most holy to the believers. It is only now that a truly terrible uproar has arisen in the House, forcing the speaker to pause for a moment. Several members have rushed to the president, urging him with a furious indignation to take the floor from this fanatic of unbelief. Devoid of any authority, the poor president is politely asking the speaker in a trembling voice that he respect the religious feelings of his audience. These words have met with a great commotion. Threatening fists are raised against the president both on the right and the left: some are outraged by the mildness of his reaction while others cannot accept his intolerance that restrains the free exchange of words. The poor creature put in charge of debates has to suffer rude names that one would search for in vain in a dictionary.
The House is filled with screams, shrieks, barking even. The deputies are scoffing at each other and, standing close to each other, are waving their hands in a manner indicative of their intent to fight.
Nothing of the sort has happened! The law-makers have realised that if they exaggerate, they would be sent packing home – the semi-official newspapers are always mentioning this possibility – and that would be disastrous! The government could close the session, depriving the parliamentarians of their allowance for long months (and, after all, it would be a pity to forfeit twenty crowns a day). Even worse, the Parliament could be dissolved and then the mandate – won with so much effort and expense – would be lost. Even voters could become angry; the years of parliamentary idleness have already made them impatient and they demand resolutions, they expect work to be done. So the whole commotion comes to nothing.
In the past, not long time ago, things would take a different turn. There were Homeric times and there were battles like those in Troy. A professor would hit a councillor in the neck and a councillor would hit a professor in the stomach; some seriously wounded law-maker would take a refuge in the corridor, his collar all bloody. Or there would be venerable old men who would arrive in the House with rattles, pipes, drums and other children’s tools and give an hours-long concert. The bravest of the lawmakers would smash the baton, their own pulpits and those of their neighbours, or would hurl an inkwell at the president. Papers would be hurled at ministers, who were expelled from the hall and their chairs were overturned and broken. Very recently, some obscure electee of popular vote took the president’s chair and claimed that now he wielded the power of the state. There are known instances when the chair of the president of the House was taken by force, when knives were brandished, when ... but let me not continue with this enumeration.
Nowadays, alas, one has to make do with a more restrained form of entertainment; one even has a responsibility to adopt a budget. Sic transit gloria mundi. Maybe good times will come again – or maybe not. Yet there is one comfort left! It is still permissible to be very indecent and very funny.
A big, ugly but bright dining room where the restaurateur feeds the deputies and where the deputies spend long hours eating and chatting, is situated not far from the meeting hall. There are many tables covered with white tablecloths and a large buffet next to a small table set aside for the ministers. The buffet is manned an experienced but still quite handsome woman and her pretty, newly married daughter.
The lawmakers sometimes pass time talking with these ladies, joking with the younger one and listening to the older one’s complaints. The experienced lady, who some say is the oldest parliamentary in the House, complains about the fall of parliamentarism and pines for the old days of beautiful speeches and elegant debates. – Truth be told, – she adds – these were the times when only gentlemen were parliamentarians; when the Parliament was in session, there would be fifty or even hundred two horse-drawn carriages in front of the House. And now, what a rabble!
Right next to the government table stands a very large table, where my party is seated. Ours is the most important and numerous party in the House. We are one of the few parties that never provoke an outrage in the Parliament, never obstruct its work; on the contrary, we contribute to the parliamentary work. And our speakers have the privilege of being listened to by all colleagues, although they only talk sense and nothing else. An inscription on the door of the room says that only deputies are allowed to enter. Yet there are instances, albeit rare, that acquaintances illegally enter the sacred space of the dining room and sit at our table to talk to the nation’s elected representatives.
And so it happened that we were joined by an elderly landowner, a Mr Ignacy, and his nephew, a young doctor of law, Mr Kazimierz. Having come to Vienna, they desired to watch a parliamentary session; and they did and were quite scandalised. Mr Ignacy was the most vocal in expressing his feelings. He exclaimed:
– Upon my word, it’s a scandal and absurdity which should not be allowed to last any longer! This constitution has become ridiculous but it is eating us away. If things continue the way they are in the countryside, it will be unbearable. There are always elections, rallies, campaigns! Bamboozled, a peasant would only talk politics and not think how to earn a living. Even the most decent country people have now gone made; sometimes it is difficult to recognise a sensible peasant: instead of taking care of his land and livestock, he reads newspapers and comments on all matters! The autonomy and the constitution only cause the unnecessary costs: they are bringing ruin on us. Soon the last nobleman will be reduced to a beggar and the Jews alone will come to live in our manor houses; our country will be become the kingdom of Jerusalem. It is time to put an end to all this. If I were a government, I would break up the Parliament and rule on my own so there finally would be order. Otherwise democracy and socialism will get better of us and all will be lost!
One of the most serious deputies was sitting opposite Mr Ignacy. Apparently, he did not like his speech because he put aside his cup of tea and said:
– You country people are strange; your memory is curiously short. A great many people are still alive who remember what it was like before the parliament existed and your deputies were able to exert influence here in Vienna. At first, we were Germanised fiercely and it would be a folly to think that Germanisation is a foregone possibility in the future. Things would probably not to be turned upside down right away but the influence of the neighbouring ally, Prussia, the instinct of their bureaucracy inherited from their ancestors, the desire to provide the German youth with earning opportunities, the German chauvinism, so much awakened of late, and, last but not least, the pressure of the Austrian Hakata under the leadership of Schöner, would have a disastrous impact on us were it not counterbalanced by the activity of our Club, which is widely respected not only because it is the most numerous one but above all because it is the most serious party in the House, the one that cares most for the good of the state and without which no government could operate as long as there is the constitution and the parliament in Austria.
Are already forgotten the days when a young man in our country could only dream of becoming a clerk or janitor since all the offices were occupied by Germans and Czechs? Have we forgotten that we had neither railways nor even roads and the country lay fallow, exploited by strangers? What the country looked like thirty years ago and what does it look like today? How many schools, businesses and all kinds of institutions have been established, to what extent the gap that once separated us from the Western provinces of the monarchy has been breached? True, private estates became fragmented but it was inevitable and must not be blamed on the constitutional life. Yet it is unquestionable that every piece of land, every tenement house, gives a much greater income than ever before, that the prices of land and rent have risen tremendously, that our sons are able to earn a living and that new careers are opening up before us. True, we are overwhelmed by anxiety; the struggle for livelihood has become tougher than ever before and the blissful idleness of yore has come to an end, which we must not regret. Our needs, too, have grown bigger than in the past. It used to be that a peasant would suffer hunger before each new harvest and his children had no clothing other than a shirt, and it would now take a hero who does not care about his neighbours’ opinion to live so modestly and poorly as our fathers did; they could never afford a lifestyle that has become a commonplace today. Finally, let us not forget how powerful the scientific and artistic life has become in the country that once was Beotia or Abdera, in the country in which the intellectual backwardness used to be proverbial.
Now, I want to believe that the central government means well. It is certain that they do not and cannot know our country, that they misjudge our country, that everything goes wrong whenever they handle, in their German way, our affairs and relations. I will not offend anyone if I say that blood is thicker than water and that the German ministerial officials are more concerned about the provinces inhabited by Germans than about our country. If there was no parliament and if we were not here, we could not incessantly assert our needs, we could not explain and clarify our relations and our country would slowly fall into the state of neglect we know from the past; and whenever the central government, despite its best intentions, would become involved in our national affairs, it would irritate everybody and make things complicated simply because of its ignorance of our relations. Only then you would be right to grumble and tear your hair out – and then you would even be deprived of your favourite solace which you find in badmouthing your representatives.
You are a landlord and a conservative; you complain about the progress which is constantly brought on by the political and social democracy, which makes you feel less and less a master of your own property; you grumble about the ever-increasing public burdens that are eating away your income. I am a landlord and a conservative too, and what is troubling you has often troubled me as well. You, however, blame your woes on the parliament and the constitution and you seem to think that everything could change if the parliament was dispersed and the constitution was abolished, that the so-called good times would return under the thumb of absolute rule. Well, never mind the fact that none of us could not bear the return of those ‘good old days’, that we would not know what to do with ourselves, that only then would we really despair and go bankrupt. Look, however, at the world around you and answer the question whether it is possible to halt – not to say reverse – the necessary progress of democracy? When steam and electricity essentially transformed all the economic and social conditions of life, when you yourself travel to Vienna more often than your father did to Lwow, when your peasant neighbours seek their fortunes in the United States and in Brazil, from where they return with money and experience, when everything has to be paid for in cash and every fixed property is indebted and a substantial portion of your income is put into the pockets of some unknown shareholders of some bank, it is impossible for people to become attached to land, for the family and the commune to form a tight-knit, immovable organism like it used to be in the past, for the owner – often such only in title – of a larger piece of land to enjoy the highest social status. Today everyone is learning to read and write, everyone is meeting people from all corners of the world, everyone needs to read a newspaper (don’t you complain when you have no paper to go with your breakfast?), and everyone is hearing thousands of conflicting views on every matter; so why would people cherish the old, time-honoured traditions? Why would they refrain from any criticism as if it was a sin, why would they cherish the unchanging custom and listen humbly to the teachings and admonitions of elders in society? All this is impossible and, therefore, the progress of democracy will be unstoppable, regardless of the form of government. Let us not resist this progress; let us not fight it like a fish fights the current! Let us be reasonable and face the truth! Or at least let us look deep into our conscience and we will see clearly that we must not oppose the necessary democratic development of society, even if it was personally inconvenient for us. You yourself would certainly not do it, even if you could.
Every government in the world acts in a democratic spirit and in this respect there is no significant difference between the monarchy and the commonwealth, between the constitutional rule and the absolute rule; ultimately, all states aspire to gradually obliterate social differences, to make education equal for all, to fairly distribute civil rights and obligations. All of them are increasingly imposing taxes on wealthy classes and spend the money so raised on public projects, which benefit mostly the poor. All of them sometimes even deprive the rich of a portion of their property either by imposing progressive taxes or by expropriation, as was the case with serfdom, with propitiation, with railroads, and as soon may be the case with coalmines.
Simply talk to the officials working here in ministerial offices. Surely, all of the younger ones are stout democrats – and I will not do them harm if I say that they are all tinged with socialism. This is not surprising; in fact, I would be surprised if it was otherwise. They grew up in our times, they have listened to the same lectures, they have read the same books that are used in the modern education of youth, and they are, therefore, firmly convinced that all people are equal and have the same rights before God and nature, and therefore all poverty is an evil, perhaps the necessary one but still a great evil done to people. Such an official usually does not have any inherited property and owes his status to his work and education. For this reason, he is inclined to view those who are rich by heritage as social parasites, as monuments of an obsolete and unfair order of things. He himself is living on state funds and would consider it natural if everybody did so too, as advocated by socialists. If his attitude to parliamentarism is that of reluctance, this is mainly because he regards the parliament as a brake on the progress of democracy, and he does not understand that an inconvenient parliament, or an inconvenient chaotic public debate in general, are a great school of life for bureaucrats. People who began to serve in a government office in the capital right after graduating from the university, whose fathers often spent their entire life in office, are inclined to geometrically construct the world and believe that an extremely complex society can be ruled by means of simple bookish formulas. Eager to proceed quickly with reforms, they may bring about the most severe of defeats and complications. All these diverse interests and aspirations of society come to light in the public life of constitutional states: here all the petty self-interests are clashing with each other and the consequence of that friction is that the downward movement of society towards an increasingly greater democracy is arrested and there is no risk of derailing or crashing because no momentum is gained, changes are slow and the individual lives are not painfully dislocated or crushed. In Western Europe, almost every parliament, even the most democratic one, is in fact a true guardian of conservatism today.
Even if upper classes and elders in Austria prevented absolutism from sliding erratically and carelessly towards extreme democracy and national socialism, towards which the European states are only slowly and prudently striving, carefully avoiding rocks and whirlpools in the river of history; even if the government of bureaucracy proved to be sensible, even then the absolutist coup d’état and the temporary momentum of parliamentary bodies would lead to a dangerous salto mortale towards extreme democracy. Perhaps it would be easy to divulge into absolutism. However, everywhere in Western Europe, and therefore also in Austria, society is so accustomed to discussion and criticism, to rallies and parliaments, that a long non-parliamentary rule would be impossible and a government that has forcibly suspended the constitution would be able to face the new parliament without fearing for its safety or at least its freedom only if it adopted an incomparably more democratic constitution. Therefore, the coup d’état you wish for could only lead to the emergence of radically popular institutions – which is not something you wish.
Having heard this answer, Mr Ignacy panted a few times, evidently displeased with what he had heard. Yet not being a parliamentarian, he did not know how to riposte. Instead, the young Kazimierz spoke:
– An would it not be better if a full, essential democracy was introduced? The insecurity and incompleteness of today’s social system are the reason of today’s unease. Every organism in a transitional period undergoes a severe and feverish crisis; in a social organism, the symptoms of such crisis include chaotic and constant struggling, impotence and reduced morality. Only democracy can be the ultimate goal to which we strive; let us then reach that goal once and for all and then we will get rid of the querulous and unworthy forms of public life, of the struggle of various egoisms that obscures the historical horizon. Personal egoism will no longer be able to look after its own interests, class egoism will no longer engage in unworthy wrestling as there will be no more room for classes, national egoisms will also fall silent in the face of huge social tasks, and last but not least, everybody will feel obliged to act in a serious and patriotic manner in public matters, as all people will be aware of the senatorial, royal even, dignity that democracy bestows on every citizen.
The same seasoned and experienced politician who had earlier responded to Mr Ignacy, now stroked his handlebar moustache and said:
– I am not sure if I understood you. If by the total victory of democracy you mean the establishment of a parliament elected by popular, equal and direct vote, I will tell you that such parliaments exist in most of the countries in Europe and that, alas, the relations in those countries do not differ much from our relations, whose existence we bemoan; foreign parliaments, even the parliament of the already politically democratic France, are not much different from the House that has scandalised you so much. Anyway, I cannot fathom why popular vote would cause such a miraculous change? This would be tantamount to putting the fate of the state, and partly also that of society, in the hands of the masses and to thwarting the political influence of the enlightened and sufficiently well-to-do classes. Those masses, this huge majority of the population, are poor and therefore dissatisfied. Those people will always feel humiliated even if they have the same right to vote as a prince, a banker or a university professor. These are narrow-minded people who will always treat parochial matters as incomparably more important than the most serious political matters, of which they have no understanding. These are people without education, accustomed to trivial quarrels, who will always gladly give their vote to any loudmouth, as they will regard rudeness and garrulousness of their electee as a measure of his parliamentarian ability, unless, by some good luck, they give the mandate to some local wealthy benefactor because of the personal trust they put in him, and thereby their vote will be neither aristocratic nor democratic.
You are probably aware of the outcome of popular vote in one of our largest cities. At one of the elections, people elected a melodramatic socialist, similar to an Italian bandit in appearance, who promised that hackney drivers would be earning five guldens per hour and that people would be riding for free. Needless to say, he did not deliver on this promise. He lost the next election. Instead, people elected a tabloid journalist who was telling Poles that he was a Pole, Ruthenians that he was a Ruthenian, Germans that he was a German; he might as well have told Jews that he was a Jew. Similar elections are taking place in larger cities everywhere in the world.
Common education will not help here. In the countryside, where people do not read many newspapers and do not listen to many speeches, they are able to resist demagogues for some time and elect reasonable, peaceful candidates. Schools will not teach people politics; they will not learn how to distinguish intricate political lies spread by countless newspapers, pamphlets and books from the truth, which is, unfortunately, not an attractive topic to write about. The art of reading will only make it easier for voters to be deceived by those whose real purpose is not to educate them make but to make use of them for their own ends. He who has the noblest of intentions and wants to win over the people in order to realise those intentions will not find it easy to make the people understand a noble yet distant purpose. If he does not content himself with their slow and solid education and the essential help he renders to them selflessly but he aspires to kindle a sense of passion in them, it is certain that the people will fall prey to another agitator, who will be more ruthless and will only awaken envy and hate in them.
What I understand the least is how, after the victory of democracy, you expect to quell quarrels among the nations or nationalities?
After all, it is the progress of democracy that has intensified those quarrels in an unprecedented way. In one part of Europe, it gave rise to new nationalities, and this movement whereby each group of people who speak a separate dialect wishes to be a separate nation is spreading to France and Spain, wherever the nation state cannot boast of great victories. Since the people have learned that they are equal to the well-to-do and enlightened classes, they demand that their language be equal to the language of the enlightened classes, graced by works of literature and science, and they are all the more eager to proclaim their separate nationality as it affords them an opportunity to hate those who are richer and more enlightened than themselves. Elsewhere, for example in Germany and England, the desire to fight and patronise others in a bawdy fashion, which is a feature of every simplicity, fuels the people to brag chauvinistically, to desire to conquer other nations, to eat them alive if they could.
As it is easier to incite a crowd to hate someone than to love an idea, political democracy would soon lead to a civil war or, at the very least, to a mad chaos everywhere if it was not, in fact, a hypocrisy and lie, if it did not hide a plutocracy, a government of the financiers and of the agitators confusing the people in all possible ways, hiding behind the scenes, not openly responsible for anything and ruling by means of a government they themselves have set up and the opposition they have paid for.
If you are thinking about the ultimate victory of social democracy, let me tell you that I cannot imagine it, unless the history comes to an end and human nature is fundamentally changed. Even if the socialist programme was fully successful in some place, which I do not believe to be possible, different inequalities will arise among people: there will be those more rational and therefore more powerful, there will be those more stupid and therefore weaker. There will again be an aristocracy and, in opposition to it, a democracy and the two will yet again be at loggerheads.
In fact, socialist utopias, which have been constantly recurring since antiquity, sometimes rejected by the noblest, sometimes invented by ambitious demagogues, have always been based on unsurpassed ideals with their postulates of universal equality and happiness of all people. The human pursuit of this goal is the essence of history and this pursuit alone gives unity to history, makes it the subject of an essential science rather than a bundle of loose, and often sad and distasteful, stories.
As long as there is history, humanity will pursue that goal – and it will never reach it! And I will admit that, being unable to imagine a humanity and a society that will exist when history comes to an end, when nothing else will be happening, I prefer to be silent on this subject.
Meanwhile, as long as history exists, the progress will be twofold. There is a time when the leaders of society raise higher than the initial ideas and predominate over the crowd, producing an aristocracy that rules and educates the masses. Then another time comes: the crowd starts hating such inequality and fights to assert the equality of its rights, rising above its former level but not reaching the level of its leaders. And then the democratic times come, like those in which we are living, the times of work and of universal mediocrity, in which any superiority is hated and in which all greatness is thereby forbidden, if not under the penalty of death and imprisonment, then at least under the penalty of unpopularity and persecution.
The deputy ended his speech. Kazimierz’s face turned red; he was apparently hurt by the words that insulted his most sacred youthful beliefs. Although he felt great respect for the venerable politician, he could not resist exclaiming:
– But, sir! The democracies of the past produced the greatest men, were the most glorious and gave us the immortal examples of heroism. We cherish the names of ancient Athens and medieval Florence, which were true democracies as well as parents of our civilization. We have inherited from them the most sublime works of thought, the finest literature, the unparalleled art.
A university professor was seated next to us. He was a brilliant historian who allowed himself to be elected to the Council of the State but regretted his decision, as he had a reasonable view on all matters; in the parliament, he occupied himself with the matters of education and not with politics. A great friend of young people and an expert on the matters of youth, he apparently did not wish for the discussion on democracy to continue because he turned our attention to another subject by saying:
– Well, Mr Kazimierz! If you read Thucydides or Machiavel, you would find that not all things in Athens and in Florence were as beautiful as we see them from a distance. What is only certain is that they gave us an unparalleled literature and art. And I propose that we go tomorrow to commune with the artists of ancient Greece.
– And how do we go about it? – I asked, a little surprised.
– You too do not know that? – the professor said. – This is strange that nobody knows about it. Vienna is so busy with the entertainment and the theatre that no one talks about the monuments brought here from Asia Minor. The Austrian scientific expedition excavated at Ephesus the most magnificent Greek statues. If they had been brought to Berlin, or to Paris, or at the very least to Munich or Dresden, the whole world would have been talking about it. Here in Vienna, these masterpieces have been buried in the Temple of Theseus in the Volksgarten, and the city cares about everything else – about singers and acrobats – but not about those treasures. But we, out of spite, will go there tomorrow morning to have a chat with these ancient Greeks.
Kazimierz and I gladly accepted the professor’s offer, and Kazimierz said he would bring his friends along.
Next day I and the professor went to visit the Volksgarten. The sun was shining brightly; nannies and their charges had already populated the shadowy chestnut alleys, a number of more mature visitors were strolling in the shadows, and several students occupied garden benches, busy reading. Everything bloomed and the scent was wonderful; the dark crowns of old chestnut trees were adorned with white flowers and the lilacs formed a purple wreath around a green, oblong lawn that was free of any trees and lit brightly by the sun. The lawn was enlivened in the middle by a tangle of bright flowers and at the top of it there was a beautiful white marble monument of Grillparzer. The monumental walls of the Museums could be seen rising in the background, and scythes and grey pigeons were patrolling the lawn.
Kazimierz was already waiting for us; he has brought with him only one companion, Henryk, a doctor of philosophy, as young as himself and equally well educated but having a distinctly different view of the world. Kazimierz made himself known to us as a democrat, like almost all youth of the nineteenth century used to be, whereas Henryk was a follower of Nietzsche and a believer in the aristocracy of the Übermensch. At the same time, as a philosopher, he had a questioning attitude towards all matters. He told us from the start that he did not understand how it was possible that the monuments of Ephesus that we were about to see were actually masterpieces if there was no publicity about them, whereas it was customary in our times that matters worth knowing would become known to the whole globe within a matter of a day.
The professor politely replied that since he, by chance, happened to be an authority on the subject of sculpture and art in general and since he had a good look at the sculptures, he was in a position to vouch that they were indeed very beautiful even if not known widely to the world.
I added by way of an explanation: – Young gentlemen, you have often heard, and above all, you have read that, in the past, beauty and merit were recognised in the old, ignorant, aristocratic society only if a gifted man had the good luck to come under the care of a lordly patron, without whom he would have died of starvation and fell into oblivion together with his works. They say and write that the skills of a courtier then mattered more than talent and even genius. It is claimed that today, in a democratic and universally enlightened society, every merit will be immediately recognised. Grillparzer, whose stone effigy can be seen seated behind the lawn, in the white light, a book in hand, beautifully sculpted after his death, is the best evidence that this is not true, just as most of the things that are incessantly printed today, and in which the reader deposits his trust, are not true. The Austrian government did not care about his fame. He was inconvenient to the Prussian government because he did not partake in the fight against the Church or served any party. Therefore, he was not popularised and enjoyed no fame in his lifetime. Fame came to him after his death, but his example shows that great talents, geniuses even, could live in the nineteenth century, and perhaps live today, thinking, writing, creating, and yet they will disappear into oblivion. They will not meet a publisher who has connections with the press, they will not go into the service of any party; perhaps their writings will remain in manuscript and their paintings will never leave their studio and even if they are circulated in the world, they will not be recognised by the world. Today’s countless audience, the reading democracy that deals admiration and fame, is busy earning livelihood and will only give a cursory look at the work of spirit. Their power is untold; they come from all corners of the world and there is such a multitude of them that even an expert will be at a loss how to tell them apart. How would such a numerous audience find its way in this forest? It will satisfy itself with a flat farce, a vivid eccentricity, a scandal or a flattery; anyway, it will believe in the praise published by the press or promulgated by the coterie. The success of a literary work, or a work of art, does not today depend on its value but on the author’s deft bragging; the success is enjoyed by those who are able to gain favour with an influential coterie and exploit it for their own ends.
The professor did not protest when he had heard my words; on the contrary, he nodded approvingly and added: – No coterie has so far taken interest in the statues of Ephesus, which is why they are unknown. But I am not concerned about their fate: a coterie of scholars will soon take care of them and they will find their way into the books of art history. The sculptures will be rated at two stars in Bädeker.
I said: – I do not doubt that. Few people take interest in old art; they study it out of interest rather than out of desire to seek wealth or elevation. The society at large does not care about old art. Even the vanity of artists cannot awaken a passionate struggle in this regard; they may sometimes protest that their works are more beautiful but they know that there will always be lovers of old art and that the admiration for Leonardo’s or Rembrandt’s painting or for Shakespeare’s or Calderon’s drama will not do harm to the success of new works. The partiality in this regard can only be awakened by patriotism and the claim it lays to the perfection of national schools – but even the argument of partiality does not apply to the works of the ancients. The audience will then certainly rely on the judgment of experts and the experts will surely appreciate these masterpieces for what they are. Every tourist will want to look at them and, even though they will understand nothing, they will praise them, not wishing to make a boor of themselves.
Likewise, small groups of scholars dispassionately study various scientific issues that are incomprehensible to people at large; the indifferent public will believe in the infallibility of their judgment and will accept that judgment unanimously. Science remains aristocratic and its gravity is still uncompromised – but only insofar as it concerns matters beyond the interest and concern of the general public. The gravity of science is compromised as soon as it concerns matters that provoke human emotions, or at the very least vanity. Huge popularity is gained today by hypotheses, even the most curious and unreasonable ones, that are touted by sects, parties or governments, whereas brilliant and genuine ideas that cannot be transformed into political weapons are lost without a trace among the obscure flood of writings and lectures. The history of the nineteenth century is an eloquent testimony to the truth of my words. There has been no philosopher who would be more incomprehensible and chimeric than Hegel. But, as he claimed that the Prussian monarchy was the highest revelation of the deity, the Prussian government made sure that his incomprehensible philosophy enjoyed an incredible popularity for some time. August Comte was hailed as a genius as long as he published works that questioned the truth of any religion because the mighty enemies of the Church provided him with publicity. However, once he published a mystically religious book, it was pronounced to be silly and nobody read the book. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the battle of Masonry with Christianity, and specifically the Catholic Church, with Masons popularising Darwinism, which they hoped would undermine Christianity Even the inaccessible and mostly mercilessly dull research of Indologists, Egyptologists and Assyriologists had for some time captured the imagination of the general public. People believed in the preposterous claim that the Indian civilization had lasted for several million years and the distasteful and misleading Sanskrit writings were compared with the masterpieces of the antiquity because it was hoped that the history of the ancient East could be used to disprove the Bible and overthrown Christianity. The whole thing was further livened up when the Church began to defend the Bible using the evidence that was used to disprove it.
Henryk smiled and added: – But you will admit that the matters of religion and the matters concerning the mystery of existence will elicit more interest among the public, without any machinations on anyone’s part, than a study of the nature of some curved line or the Merovingian genealogy.
As we talked, we reached the building that was a poor imitation of the Theseus Temple in Athens. Children were playing under a poorly executed likeness of a Doric Colonnade; the servant sold us the admission tickets, took our canes and let us in. We saw in front of us a long, whitewashed, lighted hall where the Ephesian excavations were displayed. A huge bronze statue, fully preserved, stood in the middle; smaller marble and bronze items – statues, bas-reliefs, heads without torsos or torsos without heads, busts – were arranged sideways. The impression was that of a fine temple to art but it was only when the professor eloquently explained the whole thing to us that the sculptures took on a curious and unparalleled life and beauty which became the more intense the longer we admired at least some of the masterpieces.
The professor said eagerly: – Look first at this relief depicting some battle. It is not beautiful but it is very interesting because it stands witness to the most ancient times, the middle ages of antiquity. It dates from the sixth century before Christ when, similarly to the fourteenth century after Christ, the middle ages were still in full swing. The armoured knights, like those you can see here, still defended the aristocratic order of the world with their fighting prowess. Their strength and indifference to death and wounds, as well as their desire for romantic adventures, made them an object of admiration and fear. It was believed that they came from the gods and that their power over the people was of divine origin. They, together with a pious ascetic, were alone considered beautiful and good in a society driven by religious convictions. For this reason, a devout and modest stonemason made a motionless icon for the faithful to admire during a worship, or a still shapeless image of adventurous warriors like the ones you see here. The imagination of a simple man loved magnitude; it was stirred by swords, by all things strange and by monsters. The sculptor was already capable of carving a killed naked body, which can be seen here lying huddled on the ground, but human and animal members are so intertwined that they bring to mind an elusively bizarre dream.
Prosperous cities emerged in the knightly world: never mind if they were called Athens or Florence. And with them arose a sense of social order, a respect for truth, an admiration for beauty alike to that intended by God and not that dreamt of after a rich feast. Wealthy knightly families still ruled the citizens; yet their interest lied in public affairs rather than in vain adventures. They consulted with the people whom they commanded and their superiority stemmed from their intellect and their more exquisite custom. The society was still thoroughly religious, less enamoured to wonders and more interested in searching for a divine ideal. A master in the court of Pericles or the Medicis thought of himself as a priest of divine beauty which he wanted to demonstrate to human eyes. That is how a masterpiece like this statue of Persephone, the goddess of death and immortality, was created. Carved simply, dressed in robes, the statue still has something primeval in it and yet it miraculously shines with truth and life. It brings to mind Phidias’ bas-reliefs of the Parthenon with its simplicity, truth, perfect beauty and the wonderfully spiritual expression, and we are all the more impressed by the subtle colours that resemble but do not imitate life. This divine girl, perfectly beautiful in body and spirit, is longing for a better beauty, for the fullness of the good, for the radiant immortality of the glorified God. You could put this statue today on the altar and people would pray to it, thinking that the girl is a saint, a Christian heavenly manifestation. Bellini and Botticelli painted similarly immaculate and pious images two thousand years later.
Yet the light of civilization would not shine for much longer over the pious art. The reason soon got the upper hand over the faith in the ideal; the subtle people – seasoned veterans of political struggle, led by magnates who were fighting with each other no longer by means of armed force but by means of cunning speech and betrayal – lost the reverence for matters of secular and spiritual gravity and looked for entertainment in public debates. They became excessively proud, condemning the best men to exile or death. They were no longer willing to bear the public burdens and would trust the duty of armed service to the mercenaries. In spite of the admonition of Demosthenes or Savonarola, they were evolving towards a comfortable Macedonian or Spanish captivity. The magnates were withdrawing from the male audience of public life, from the markets spoiled by the hideous jealousy of fierce demagogues. They retreated to their increasingly magnificent palaces, surrounded by scholars and writers, seeking glory and exaltation from the public display of increasingly subtle works of art. It was how the world’s most perfect art come into being in the days of Philip of Macedon and then again in the days of Ferdinand the Catholic, first in Greece (famous for sculpture) and centuries later in Italy (where painting was predominant). This great bronze statue, in which sweat is wiped from a naked body with a small, blunt sickle, is a masterpiece of that art. This is perhaps the most beautiful of ancient bronze statues excavated to date; a work of the school of Praxiteles, it is wondered whether it should not be attributed to the master himself. The statue appears to be breathing and moving; it is an expression of the perfect ideal of male body. The face is noble but this nobility is of purely human, earthly, nature. Perhaps an equally perfect is the marble statue of Artemis that can be seen in the corner over there; she is shooting a bow and although she has no head, hands or legs, we are enraptured by the harmony of her naked female body. And here again we can see the bust of some royal; a lively, individual portrait of a man of no beauty and of sharp mind, attributed to Scopas himself, astonishes the viewer with the realistic premonition that the royal authority will soon dominate the free commonwealths.
And indeed it did dominate! Such domination was necessary in order to create a powerful order, to spread civilization over vast spaces and over plural peoples, first Greeks and then Italians, to teach the rights and duties of civic life and the rules of intricate art and profound science. The artists and experts sought pleasure in the intricately beautiful execution of old masterpieces, in their pleasant delight and dramatic pathos. Just look at those two bas-reliefs on which beautiful cupids, as if dreamt by Correggio, are playing. These lovely marble children, the most beautiful ones that ever came from a sculptor’s hand, the real, playful, winged boys can be seen daringly chasing a lion and then loading the carcass on the cart; they make you feel like laughing and kissing them. And here, look at Hermes’ dramatic head: it looks as if it was taken from Domenichino’s canvas! The god has just killed his enemy Argus and is still seething with a magnificent wrath.
The kings were seated majestically on their thrones, surrounded by royal splendour; courtly etiquette was accompanied by the magnificent Rubenesque baroque. In the third century before Christ and in the seventeenth century after Christ, courtly sculptors took pleasure in the theatrical magnificence of the body, in the softness of the pompous muscles shown here on this male torso that most likely came from the Pergamon school, in the delightful, healthy plumpness of children’s bodies, like the one that can be seen in this finely wrought, yet less beautiful, sculpture of a baby defending the hen from the hawk. The marble came to life under the chisel of an ancient sculptor and now has been clumsily affixed with one leg.
The kings and courtiers became effeminate. They listened to idylls and operas and watched ballets both in the Alexandria of the Ptolemies and in the Paris of the Louises, spending more time in the bedroom with mistresses than on the battlefield. They turned into a fashionable, exclusive, effeminate aristocracy, living off the inheritance of their belligerent ancestors, scornfully looking down on the people, making ridicule of their faith and taking pleasure in boudoir art. Look at this beautifully executed miniature bronze group, depicting Heracles fighting the centaur! If you did not know that this was an ancient work from the Alexandrian era, you would be excused to believe that this is a witty work of a clever Frenchman, destined for the rooms of some voltarianist marquis. The body of the demigod is marvellously alive: you can feel he is about to deal the beast, held by the hoof, a deadly blow with a mace. But there is something comical about the defeated monster, about the centaur’s fear. It is evident that the sculptor did not believe in the myth and that he turned the heroic adventure into a joke.
The middle classes of numerous countries and countless enlightened and civilised nations, well versed in the history of ancient commonwealths, accustomed to extolling the old republican virtue, delighted with the display of the power of younger, even more aristocratic nations that ruled themselves and not yielded passively to the rule of the court and bureaucracy – the Romans in the ancient times and the English in the modern times – were overcome by longing for some all-encompassing democracy that would not exist in this or that city but would spread to the whole nations or groups of nations; and so they embarked on a revolutionary venture. We all know what that venture looked liked towards the end of the eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century; and here we have in front of us a marble head of a poet with a shaved face, an ancient dreamer who enthusiastically welcomed the ventures of Aratus or Philopoemen, the proclamation of the return of Greek liberty by the Romans, the reforms of the Greeks, or the Marius revolution; he suffered during his lifetime and dreamed of a future that never came – because he desired a combination of freedom, administrative centralisation and democracy, whereas freedom tends to be aristocratic and relishes in an autonomic disorder; because he thought that if he succeeded in stimulating the people to raise a revolt against the ruling authority and in inspiring some indefinite hopes for a future paradisal and universal happiness, he would be later able to make the people follow the leadership of the enlightened and prosperous classes. Meanwhile, the people wanted to exploit the fruits of a great revolutionary turmoil to their own advantage; they hated all forms of social superiority and preferred equality over freedom; they disdained the ideal of lofty civil virtues and craved freedom, if only for the enjoyment of shouting at rallies and hurling accusations at those richer than them; above all, they craved bread and circuses, and recognised Julius Caesar as their commander; they proclaimed the return of the golden age when Augustus established a centralist, cosmopolitan, bureaucratic, law-based absolute rule; they approved enthusiastically when Nero was cutting the heads of senators and scholars, trampled on the old law that kept passions in check, blasphemed against the gods and virtues, and entertained the rabble with an utter atrocity. The enlightened ones humbly retreated to their homes to write books lamenting the fall of society, or they sought comfort in an art incomprehensible to the rabble, trying to make it even more incomprehensible, enjoying their own decadence, learned archaism and dilettantish eccentricities that are commonly known today as secession.
We admired at the wonderful excavations, listened to the professors’ eloquent disquisition and, having come out of the temple, we sat down on the garden bench in the shadow of the flowering chestnuts.
Then Kazimierz said: – We have seen things that are indeed beautiful and I will admit that I had no idea – although, truth be told, I have never been either to Italy or to Greece – that the sculpture could have such a potent effect. However, I am wondering at some of the arguments in your lecture, Professor. You constantly compared antiquity with the Christian times; you spoke as if the same epochs were repeating themselves regularly, as if history was trapped in some vicious circle from which there is no escape, as if everything in the world kept on repeating itself, as if we were returning to the times of the Roman Caesars, as if we should fear the emergence of Neros and in the near future maybe also the fall of the civilization, the attack of barbarians, the return of feudal brutality, anarchic violence and obscure prejudice. Did I understand you well?
– Indeed, – replied the professor – scrutinising the classical antiquity, and knowing the history of modern nations, I came to a belief long time ago that everything was repeating itself if we just overlooked the countless details and only looked at the times from a general perspective. I could speak broadly on the subject; I pointed out how similar periods of art were repeated twice, accompanying similar periods of life of societies and nations. Let it suffice for today: I have no time for a long conversation and I am not certain whether you gentlemen would not be bored by my arguments. But since you ask whether you have understood me correctly, let me say just this. Ancient times, just like modern ones, were subject to the continuing expansion of democracy; and by this I do not mean political democracy that stands for universal voting or a republican form of government because such democracy occurs accidentally in history where it is a form of government which is necessary or desirable and passes away when it becomes impossible again. What I mean is social and intellectual democracy, that is the situation where an ever-increasing number of people are increasingly at the forefront of history, increasingly attract the attention of governments, increasingly crave for prosperity, increasingly demand education, and as they gradually achieve what they have sought, they are increasingly equal to those who are in charge of society. As democracy progresses, a superior, more enlightened and wealthier person ceases to regard a poor simple man as someone of another species, inferior to himself; he recognises him as a human being, he cares for his well-being or, at least, is considerate towards him, whereas the simple man is increasingly unwilling to acknowledge the rule of social mores, wants to judge for himself, imposes on others what he considers his own opinion, whereas in fact he often does so at the instigation of a flatterer of the crowd. Just as it shaped the ancient history, so is the progress of such democracy now shaping the modern history of European nations, and each phase of that development is accompanied by similar phenomena in all areas of the political and social life of nations. Judging from what happened in the past, I expect that the times are coming when democracy in Western Europe will annihilate everything and only governments that are explicitly absolute, or seemingly constitutional but in fact personal and dictatorial, will be able to sustain the order desired by all and, at the same time, carry out, without excessive shocks, great social reforms that are required by the further progress of democracy.
– And then – Kazimierz asked – will the wheel turn and will we return to the point where we were at the times of the Huns and the Goths? Will the barbarians and medieval benightedness come back?
The professor replied: – I am not a prophet and I cannot predict such distant future. Modern civilization will come to an end one day but this is a distant future and no one knows how the course of events will mask the fact that the times of the Goths and the Huns have returned and some new Middle Ages have set in. Anyway, this is a subject I could long talk about. But let me say this: the fact that the wheel of history is spinning around its axis does not mean that it does not move; on the contrary, it is moving forward in a clearly marked direction. The life of nations and of the entire civilizations can rightly be compared to the lives of individuals and human generations. After all, everything in the world is going round in circles yet, at the same time, moving forward. Morning, afternoon, evening, night and morning again come after each other – and yet the seasons change. The same seasons repeat themselves, yet the human life goes on, year by year: childhood is followed by youth, youth by manhood, old age and death. A yesterday’s child raises children – and then takes care of grandchildren; a yesterday’s bride marries off her daughter. And yet the history of nations progresses as human life takes its monotonous course. Civilizations rise and fall while humanity is continually progressing towards its goal.
- And what is that goal? – Kazimierz asked again.
– I do not know the ultimate goal – said the professor. – But I know that the path towards that goal leads through ever greater democracy. The history of the Christian world is incomparably more democratic than the ancient history because the history of the ancient world ended with the arrival of Christianity which proclaimed the equality and fraternity of all nations and all people, and propelled the world forward into the reality where slavery became impossible and equality before the law was bound to become a necessity one day. Christianity will continue to support the development of democracy until the idea of an essential fraternity of people and nations is realised.
The professor said goodbye to us and as the weather was fine, I persuaded the two young men, Henryk and Kazimierz, to go with me by electric tram to Schönbrunn. The hour was still young and as it was a weekday, the cars were not overcrowded; we could sit together comfortably and talk freely.
Henryk, a supporter of Nietzsche, was annoyed by the professor’s words: he could not stand them. It was not long before he exclaimed:
– Damn this professor and his democracy! He wants to convince us that mankind must necessarily sink low, just like lead must fall to the ground when it slips out of your hand. That is indeed a fine idea that we all become, at best, tram conductors or sweep the streets like that old citizen over there, who, dressed in rags, a broom in hand, is performing the municipal functions that are so necessary in democracy! He desires that the future generations enjoy themselves gossiping over cheap beer and smoking cheap tobacco; that our grandchildren, without exception, go to public gatherings to listen to gibberish and demonstrate; that they serve as simple soldiers and get hit in the face by non-commissioned officers; that they wipe people’s shoes and then look humbly into their eyes, get some change to buy themselves a beer and kiss the benefactor’s hand, or that they stand all day long behind the counter, sell pork fat and cheat customers on weight; and that they dream of a career of a cashier at an inferior restaurant where after twenty years of serving guests’ whims and fancies they would accumulate enough money to buy a tenement house when they are old. He wants that our daughters spoil their hands by doing laundry or lose their sight by sewing at night and then listen to the drunken bragging of their husbands after they return from a tavern, that they let boys pinch their cheeks when they are young and have to carry water or lime when they are old; he wants perhaps that they get married for a trial period, as is the custom of the dear folk here, that they learn in childhood all the things a girl should not be aware of, that they wash windows in the city and sleep in an open barn in summer; that the ideal they all aspire to is a ballerina jiggling her legs in front of binoculars of a thousand men and receiving gifts of diamonds from an old Jewish banker, who she pretends to be in love with and whom she cheats with with the lieutenant’s postillion! I like such a learned democrat! A sublime ideal for him is that all people lose their independence and character, forsake their ancestors and perhaps replace one day their first and family names with numbers.
They are to be like sheep fed and sheared in a large sheepfold of public welfare – and they will be sheared by a swindler pretending to be an executor of the law or perhaps a priest of the deity who loves both the loser and the bravest of men. When such a democrat has a vision of a perfect historical future, he sees in front of himself people who are quite similar to one another as if they came from the same mould. Everyone has big, protruding ears, the nose split open, the mouth cut from ear to ear, with yellow teeth inside. And then the form of dream changes and the democrat can see that people of the future are like bundles loaded by an impersonal state into a freight train of social equality!
Kazimierz blushed with anger listening to his friend’s speech and answered him brusquely:
– And what you surely want is that all the people in the future – or at least your descendants – are counts or princes, wear glasses even though their vision is good, dress expensively, spend hours tying a tie in front of the looking glass, ride their own horses around the city, eat oysters and Strasbourg pâté, drink champagne without bothering where to take money from to pay a bill, sleep all day long and stay up at night, playing baccarat at a club or entertaining themselves with actresses behind the scenes, going into debt without any restraint and then forging promissory notes, or at best, marrying rich women and keeping a mistress with the wife’s money. You want all the women, or at least your granddaughters, to be helpless puppets, chatting in French and playing mindlessly the piano, travelling to the baths, not knowing the human truth, not having a compassion for the millions of neighbours; their whole world is confined to the drawing room and the humanity is limited for them to the circle of rich idlers; they are pious by fashion and proclaim God to be a guardian of their comfort and privileges; when they are young, they love fashionable dresses and spend on them a fortune that would be sufficient to save a dozen poor girls from disrepute; when they are old, the become intriguers who caress a dog to comfort him but enjoy themselves by sowing discontent and unhappiness among acquaintances. You want the young generations to grow up in the homes of wealthy parents in the belief that it is their duty to be idle and ignorant, that work, learning and serious though would be a humiliating exercise for them; you want them to stupidly squander the fortune they have not earned and then to continue having a good time and holding the idea of merit in contempt, being a flunkey of a millionaire Jew, the usurer of aristocratic vice, which only when coupled with his shameless greediness will form a true monstrosity. This is what you want. I congratulate you, aristocrat!
Having listened to his friend’s tirade, Henryk sprang to his feet impatiently. He exclaimed:
– But everything that you have just described, which I despise as much as you do, is not aristocracy. In fact, it has nothing in common with aristocracy. This is a nefarious plutocracy, an opposite of true aristocracy; it is an ulcer that forms on the body of democracy as soon as it gets rid of all aristocratic – or, to use the Polish word, noble – elements. What is your democracy? How does it demonstrate itself? How does it work? First and foremost, it hates all superiority, humiliates all that is noble, places everything under the common denominator of inferiority and wickedness. Such democracy was represented by the royalty of Louis XIV and Philip II: it feared people’s independence and generosity that were the hallmarks of true nobility; it recognised people who were eager to bow and scrape and wait humbly for the king’s beckoning, those for whom it was the greatest honour to pass slippers or a nightgown to the king or to offer their own wife as the king’s mistress; it persuaded the world that the careless prodigality of people going into debt in order to live miserably in lifeless salons, dress like a parrot, bow and jiggle like a learned ape, eat and drink all that is unhealthy, cover the colour of the body with paint, conceal the colour of hair under a plaster of powder, turn a human figure into some fashionable scarecrow, transfigure a great master, a chief into a pathetic lackey – that all this was the sign of social superiority. Then the revolution arrived and moved a notch further, steadily following the same path. Even if greatness and merit are not explicitly prohibited in today’s democracy, there is no significant reward for them, which is basically tantamount to such prohibition. Even you, a democrat, must understand that if people are to act in a meritorious way, they must be rewarded with authority and respect, not only for themselves, but also for their descendants as long as they do not become unworthy of their ancestors and squander their honour for unworthy profit. In today’s democracy, a stupid watchman and a thief’s son have the same rights and the same say on the affairs of the state as a scholar who has devoted his whole life to studying books, as a son of a fallen hero who was raised in the tradition of honour and sacrifice and in contempt for worldly things. There is only one thing that ensures superiority, authority, respect and significance in society, only one thing that makes everybody bow to an old man and seek friendship with his children and relationships with his family, one thing that may make the life of descendants easier: property, however acquired, even if inherited from a thief or a traitor, so long as people know about it. And so in democracy, people, forsaking their honour and regarding sacrifice as foolishness, are only interested in the accumulation of wealth and make every pretence to be wealthy by indulging in the most absurd of luxuries and excesses simply to lend verisimilitude to their wealth, which is today a substitute for both their own and their ancestors’ merit.
Having listened, Kazimierz said a little more calmly: – If you deny that society today is aristocratic and if you refuse to call today’s ‘elites’ and rich men aristocrats even if they have noble titles and are descendants of the heroes of yore, let me also stipulate, by the same or perhaps even better measure, that today’s plutocracy – because I admit that we live in a plutocratic society – is not essentially a democracy. I will say just like you did: it has nothing to do with the ideal I cherish! We have gone astray in our search of a true democracy. In a true democracy, people who now regard themselves as an elite, whereas in fact they are the scum of the earth, will be despised. Respect and influence on public affairs will be afforded only to people of merit, whom a universally educated society will surely be able to identify. There will be no ridiculous posers who immediately boast of their wickedness and merit of their ancestors; wealthy parents will not bring their children up as oafs capable only of enjoying themselves but incapable of happiness; all people will know that their position, their dignity, their importance will depend only on their own personal work and merit, on their usefulness to society; in this way, a selfless virtue and sacrifice may even be motivated by selfishness.
– You have presented a utopian picture, my dear Kazimierz – Henryk said. – And your biggest error is that in order for this course of events to be probable, human nature would need to undergo a radical, impossible transformation through the eradication of the most powerful of instincts, the highest passions that have so far been typical of man. The arrival of your perfect democracy is as probable as that people will someday grow swallow wings like those we see on the old paintings of angels. Ha! Perhaps, someday homo sapiens will turn into another, more perfect species of a two-handed animal; but for that to happen – through the struggle for survival and sexual selection – we need a very long period of time, perhaps even a million years. Meanwhile, people will be very clever, very cunning and very malicious animals; they will be incurable egoists who cannot think of anything else than pleasure and profit and only pretend that they are noble and capable of thinking of something else, for example merit, society, all things beautiful and good! Among the multitude of a hundred thousand deceitful and mean people perhaps one hero will be born who will be enamoured to the idea of virtue and action and will despise all the things that are desired by others. Through natural heredity, and perhaps also through upbringing, he will pass to his offspring at least some of his virtues; this will be an aristocrat and the founder of an aristocratic dynasty. However, unless he conquers the rotten human flock, unless he is recognised as inaccessibly superior, he will soon be torn apart by the vile crowd, by the democracy that hates all the heroes just like cawing crows hate an eagle. You may impose laws, declare equality and demand merit, but there still will be villains who will feign obedience to you and will even use legal acts as a noose that will be put around the necks of those more virtuous ones, whereas they themselves will evade the law, seek their own profits, care only about their bellies and brag vainly. They will bite each other like hungry rats and the end will always be the same: the most wicked ones will prevail as the democratic law will not allow the noble to reign. Lies and villainy, mutual exploitation and the hideous plutocracy will be omnipresent! The whole history stands witness to that. Show me somewhere in the world, at some point in the past or today, a democracy that would not be transformed into a rule of egoists who are fortified by perversity. The harshest laws prohibiting luxury and ostensible wealth would not be a remedy. In the peasants’ communist democracy, the lex agraria never acted as a deterrent to prevent the caste of merciless peasant usurers from tormenting the population. Bribery ruled over Athens, ancient Rome and Florence, the latter being ultimately bought by the Medici moneylenders. Despite the terror of the Jacobins who praised the Spartan virtue, despite the confiscation of the Convention and the rule of the busy guillotine, the revolutionary France fell into the hands of dishonest financiers and is today captive to the Jewish billionaires, whereas the United States are ruled by a shameless corporation of brazen capitalists. Show me a single democracy that would be ruled by the dictates of virtue and merit and I will surrender my weapons, put on a Phrygian cap and shout at the top of my voice: Liberté, égalite, fraternité!
It is folly to claim that the nobility always takes its origin from violence and conquest, that religions of noble nations always stem from an unworthy fraud in which the fraudsters themselves do not believe. Do you not realise that when families which, by biological design, are more perfect, who are the sons of gods, the heroes, the supermen, appear among the commoners, when noble giants stand up among the crowd of whitish dwarves, they will rule over the rabble without rape and betrayal, just as man has power over cattle? They will reign and their rule will make them the nation’s benefactors. They will transform the human flock into a nation, teaching them how to work properly, building homes for them, instructing them how to till the soil, establishing courts to dissolve the perennial monkish quarrels. As great hunters before the Lord, they will exterminate beasts of prey, as warriors they will chase away the predatory human neighbour and will force the cannibalistic savages, who have previously preyed on the nation, to work for the good of that nation. Decrepit people, who used to live like animals, hiding in caves, will come out into the world of God and bow to their benefactors whom they will see as supernatural beings; from there onwards, they will serve them voluntarily, doing day-to-day work tasks that are mindless, hard and tedious but safe, listening willingly to orders, graciously accepting punishments imposed on them, breeding and growing. And when it is necessary to risk one’s life or health, where mental effort is required, the natural leaders of the people will come into the fore. They will believe in their superiority, in their superhuman origins, just as one believes in the evident truth. Hovering high above the earth, their spirit will be preoccupied with matters going beyond the question of comfort, food and sleep; they will have sightings of heavenly beauty and they will welcome immortal gods and their ancestors, those who legitimised their rule over the nation, in the figures that appear before their eyes. For the glory of these gods they will create songs and works of art, and later also philosophy, to explore boldly an eternally uncharted world. They will establish splendid rites, build temples, carve statues and paint the images of the immortal, eternally young and beautiful; they will write poems and books, full of wisdoms which only they can understand. And it is not their fault if the ignorant rabble imitates them, just like an ape mimics human actions, turning all those sublime and divine matters – religion and art, virtue and wisdom – into dead, soulless, Chinese-made objects, full of absurd formulas and superstition!
Our interesting discourse then came to an end, as we reached our destination and had to get off the tram car.
Having eaten lunch in a pavement cafe, we went straight to the imperial menagerie; we spent a great deal of time in an excellent birdhouse, admiring the creative generosity of nature that painted the small and nimble bodies of birds with such a variety of colours in the countries loved by the sun and put so varied voices and notes into their small beaks. We then stopped briefly in front of huge elephants and giraffes with an extremely long neck. We admired for a bit longer the majestic power of long-maned lions and the predatory beauty of tigers. We walked over to a cage full of mischievous apes, where we spend the most time. I know there are people who are hostile to apes: they are disgusted by these human-like rogues, live caricatures that look like some botched sketches of man, lewd manikins and which, like all things that have gone wrong, are definitely ugly. They are humiliated by the sight of animals that have hands, ears and, above all, eyes alike those we have, in which one can see human, inferior desires; that move and act in a way reminiscent of human passions and quirks. They feel that these apes indeed resemble us and that nature makes mockery of us through them. So they turn away with abomination and resentment from apes as if they caused personal offence to them. In contrast, I am of the same opinion as children: I enjoy watching apes play mischievously and I am glad that I am a bit more worthy than an ordinary ape – though, in fact, my worth is not very high. I also admire the incredible agility of these creatures, in comparison to which the daring feats of circus acrobats strike one as strained acts of pedantry. They jump recklessly, hang by one arm on a thin pole, sit comfortably on a rod above the abyss and it does not occur to them that what they are doing is bold and daring. In their fabulous gymnastics they are as natural as our children when they are running on the ground, constantly playing tricks and mischiefs. They are grabbing each other by the tail, punching each other in the face, as if they were deputies from the extreme left side of the Viennese parliament.
A caretaker arrived and threw fruits and nuts to the apes through the bars of the cage. The quadrupedal nation rushed to the floor of the cage, murmuring, nattering, shouting hoarsely; they had forgotten about the vain play and were excited to eat – quite like people who spend most of their life thinking how to fill their bellies. One ape selfishly pushed away the other; they were beating each other and snatching food from their mouths, squealing and purring as they ate. The ape mother did not indulge her babies, eating greedily herself. The baby apes were stealthily snatching nuts from between their mother’s legs and each ape was cramming more food into its mouth than it could eat.
– Look, Kazimierz! – Henry exclaimed. – Look and enjoy! Here you have a vision of your future democracy. This is what people will look like when they get rid of all superiority!
There was also a large baboon in the cage; he was sitting on a dry branch and it seemed that he looked down with scorn on the despicable fight for food. He was cradling a little ape with his hind legs; unaware of the apparent honour bestowed on it, the ape was squeaking, trying to break free from his hold and rush to pick up the nuts. These pleas were in vain: the baboon would not let it go. With his front legs, he was combing through the fur of his subject, looking for something and voluntarily taking care of the little ape. He was hunting for insects and the reason for his magnanimity was that insects bred on the body of a fellow ape were regarded as the highest delicacy. Suddenly, the baboon became tired of hunting the insects and contemptuously threw his captive to the ground. They he jumped down and rushed to the nuts: gnawing his teeth, he made a threatening motion that send the apes scurrying away, screaming with fear. The big baboon was left alone and took all the food for himself.
– Look, Henryk! – Kazimierz exclaimed. – Look and admire! Here is your superman, your aristocrat, an innate master of the rabble, he who is not constrained by the laws of morality!
We finally left the menagerie and went to the section of the garden where the magnificent palm house, a mighty, tall palace of glass and iron, was located. This side of the park was maintained informally in a so-called English style; a democracy of evenly trimmed grass that formed a plush green blanket was overshadowed by a proud aristocracy of the trees. The trees formed beautifully rounded clusters and here and there a large, purple blotch of a beech could be seen reflected against the greenery.
We sat in the shade on the bench and I picked up the conversation. I said: – On our way here you were arguing about democracy and aristocracy. Indeed, you almost got into a fight. None of you were won over by the arguments of the other and the dispute has remained unresolved, as is usually the case with similar discussions. This may be because both aristocracy and democracy have their advantages and disadvantages and it is impossible to conclude definitively that one is superior in relation to the other. Each of them can be useful or even necessary at one time but damaging or impossible at another time. Perhaps it would be more useful if we probed the question: when does society naturally turn democratic and when does it turn aristocratic? And how these transformations can be explained?
– Do you mean – Henryk interrupted – that we are to identify the forces of nature that make democracy the ultimate winner? Why, with the passage of time, are magnificent mountains levelled into monotonous plains? Why is it that the things small and meagre will always eventually defeat and devour the things lofty and beautiful, just like rust will eat away iron?
I asked, surprised: – And you are saying this, Henryk? Have you also been convinced of the necessary victory of democracy?
Henryk answered: – It is difficult to deny what is obvious: democracy is flooding the entire land. It has been swelling uncontrollably for centuries. The reasons for this turn of events should probably not be sought in the laws of mathematics or astronomy. This is not so because it is written in the stars. We also err when looking for answers to social phenomena in meteorological laws because the nature of climates and seasonality have been the same for many centuries whereas historical events and social relations are evolving constantly. In order to think soberly and truly scientifically, one must look for the causes of historical developments in human nature. We must think of it as our propensity towards horizontal mediocrity; mankind is thus constantly sliding towards a despicable level at which it is not worth living. We are so inclined towards slavish wickedness that the effort of rising above that level is contrary to human nature and exhausting. Sooner or later after that effort, it is inevitable that we revert to our ordinary human level. At the same time, it must be assumed that the conditions under which heroic individuals come into being and pass their properties to their offspring are becoming increasingly rare and, therefore, with the so-called advances of civilization, the old families of demigods are doomed to extinction whereas the new ones cannot be born.
It is right to examine the matter from a physiological or natural point of view. A noble race of humans can only be born in certain climates, probably on the lofty plateaus of warm zones, and probably only in scarcely-populated areas where food is abundant, which frees one from the overwhelming worry about bread; it can only be born in the company of tough shepherds who are in constant contact with nature and are exposed to various adventures and risks. When, in these increasingly rare circumstances, a unique family of noble people emerges, it will rule over the surrounding tribes and soon enough over the entire world; however, once that family possessed the power, it will be unable to preserve its properties for an indefinite number of generations. Two scenarios are possible. If nobles take non-noble wives, their race will become ignoble and soon enough there will only be workhorses in the human stable and there will be no reason to distinguish between those fit for plough and those fit for saddle. Or, as is often the case, noble families, rightly guided by an instinct of self-preservation, will form a closed caste within which they will only marry and breed. This will, however, lead to overbreeding, a phenomenon well-known to horse breeders. It will not happen right away but after many generations: the breed will become overly noble; it will retain its sensitivity and external nobility but will lose its strength and endurance. Increasingly effeminate, it will no longer be able to maintain its rule and will succumb to the first rebellion of the commoners, who will relentlessly torment the defeated nobility, giving vent to their animal instincts. And the comfort in which the subsequent generations of the nobility will live will only accelerate the crisis, bringing extinction to the nobler race of men.
This may be also psychologically justified, as Plato did in his Republic. A nobleman is born, ruling himself and others, and he starts a noble family. Surrounded by sycophants, unaware of his father’s efforts, his son will believe that ruling is a gift of heaven, which does not have to be earned and deserved continually. Idolising himself, he will become unbearable for the people around him and, ultimately, for himself too and will be bringing up his children in aloof loneliness. The grandson will regard his nobility as slavery; fleeing from loneliness, he will fraternise with the commoners. Accustomed to having all his whims gratified immediately, he will lose the strength and constancy of will and will mingle with the commoners. A democracy will thus arrive, which will be of his own making and will give way to a variety of uncontrollable urges. The world will be saved from anarchy only through slavery, common to the nobility and to the commoners, that will no longer be imposed by the rule of a hero but will arise under the yoke of a written legal statute.
Henryk finished presenting his case. Kazimierz replied as follows: – You have presented a pessimistic theory, which you fashionably dressed up in, let’s say, a Secession style. However, you relied on very old motifs, as it was already antiquity that, just like you, looked for the golden age of heroes in the past and anticipated some sort of leaden mud, devoid of bravery and virtue, in the future. However, it erred, just as you do, because I believe that the present times are better and happier not only than the times of empty, primeval robberies, so praised by you, but even than the era of classical statesmen and thinkers. If you want to know what these loudly extolled heroic times looked like, go to Asia or to Central Africa, where they are still in full swing. I doubt whether you will be able to stand it there for a long time and it will not be bragging if I say that you will find more – or at least a lot of – science and more valour in the world today. Blessing what you curse, I will look for another explanation of the need for democratic progress, and instead of physiology and individual psychology I will rely on political economy and on what they call today ‘sociology’. I will not follow in the footsteps of Plato and will not visit brilliant lands above the clouds in which he lived when he was writing his Republic; I will be rather inspired by clear-headed Aristotle who stated in his Politics important reasons why progressive societies are heading towards an ever fuller democracy and why it can be rightly said that democratic development always accompanies, and to some extent is a measure of, social progress.
Society as a whole never suddenly emerges from the state of primordial darkness and primordial poverty; only some families, of which there are few at first, acquire more wealth and, together with it, more education, giving rise to a primeval aristocracy at the dawn of the civilization. They usually owe their well-being to warfare, that is always violence and sometimes also betrayal. However, it is not my intention do deny that they owe their success to their apparent superiority and that this superiority increases as those families become more educated and produce art, science, jurisprudence, poetry – in a word, all that is called civilization. I am no longer irritated by your aristocratic paradoxes, so I admit that these families seem to the commoners under their rule as superior beings that partake in the superhuman nature of gods. While the means by which they established their rule would rightly seem to us today criminal, their superiority tends to be beneficial for the barbarians, if only for the opportunity it affords to them to live a life that is more fitting for human being, but above all because the rule of law established by them and the example they give make it possible for other members of the nation to be increasingly prosperous, educate themselves and turn barbarism into civilization. As wealthy and enlightened families multiply, the primary aristocracy must give way to the relative democracy because all wealthy and enlightened families will desire a share in power. If the earlier aristocracy chooses to resist the necessary change, if it does not wish to expand the ruling circles, it will become harmful and will itself be guilty if it succumbs to a bloody revolution because it would not allow a peaceful evolution. As the relative number of wealthy and enlightened families in the nation increases again, whether due to internal prosperity or as a result of widening the borders, yesterday’s democracy will become today’s aristocracy and will have to give way to a new, broader democracy; and the history of the nation will evolve along these lines until the absolute democracy arrives, granting equal rights and an equal share in power to all the people in the country.
Democratic developments are accelerated by yet another factor. Education is not only becoming increasingly widespread, but it is also more and more advanced, increasing the ability to produce abstract concepts, giving rise to a sense of justice and legality, decreasing admiration for brutal strength and treacherous cunning. Instead, science and love for your neighbours, demonstrated through deeds, are becoming universally admired. The nations are thus coming close to each other: once alien and hateful, tribes are merging into great states, ruled by the common and democratic law, whereas local legends and superstitions are being replaced by a common religion, illuminating the universal human fraternity. When such ideas are born, they will never perish; a cataclysm may wipe away a civilization that has adopted them but they will remain its inheritance that will pass to the future societies. Ancient Rome and ancient Greece both perished and while a new aristocratic order emerged in Europe, the poverty that followed in the wake of the Migration Period was such that the new nations embraced Christianity and the Roman law; as a consequence, they never had an absolute caste system and when they became enlightened and enriched, they immediately built a modern, broader democracy. Civilizational achievements that have passed a certain mark will never vanish and the democratic progress is the law that governs not only the history of the particular historical nations but also the development of the human race as a whole.
When Kazimierz fell silent, I joined the conversation and said: – This is interesting what you have said, gentlemen. Henryk expressed some new and daring views whereas Kazimierz aptly applied the old and rational science of Aristotle to our system of thought. I have listened to both of you with great attention. However, I cannot but raise a certain charge against Kazimierz, which may also apply to Henryk. When they spoke of aristocracy and democracy, the ancients always thought of the political forms of government and their great theories referred to these forms of government and their sequence. Both of you invoked the ancients, Plato and Aristotle, who were so great and wise that to this day they are invoked in every profound speculative discussion. As a result, I had an impression that both of you were also thinking about the political forms of government; in that case, I must be very sceptical of your arguments.
First of all, it does not at all follow from history that democracy is the ultimate and most durable form of government. Democracies have never lasted more than a few centuries; the nations, both civilized and barbaric, are usually monarchically ruled and apart from the monarchy, only collegial aristocracies such as Spartan, Roman, Venetian and English ones, created large states and managed to maintain them for a prolonged period of time. Democracy seems to be a natural form of government only for very small, poor and isolated states, which would directly disprove Kazimierz’s main line of argument. In a larger society, or even just a rich one, it will last a few centuries, no longer, and then will surrender to an internal, but most typically external, enemy. The affairs of a larger state are so complex by nature that the exercise of government may only be entrusted to very skilled and bright men who have been groomed to govern, whereas democratic rule rests in the hands of those who find it difficult to reach consensus and who continually think about trifle matters, private interests, and are thus completely incapable of managing the grand affairs of the state and of anticipating risks faced by the state. They tighten the purse strings on the military, they do not trust their own diplomacy and ultimately they will be subjugated under foreign rule. That was the fate of Athens and Florence. Democracy may also be only a lie and a pretence, with the government being actually exercised by men who are behind the scenes. In such case, it may happen that a democratic state engages in some grand politics but since such politics gives rise to serious risks, the nation will renounce its favourite appearances and will place its trust in a man who will lead the nation – that is how a monarchy will come into being! It happened so in Rome at the times of Julius Caesar and Augustus, the members of the ruling aristocracy who became popular.
But never mind it – I admit that I do not give much weight to these arguments and in fact I believe that there may once be a number of geniuses capable of making a democracy the most powerful state in the world for a prolonged period of time. What is more important is that I cannot accept today’s favourite method of deducing the sequence of historical events from so-called general causes – whether natural, psychological or sociological ones. The methods used in the study of uniform events associated with inorganic nature cannot be applied to history for the simple reason that history is shaped by so many infinitely varied and unforeseeable influences. The fortunes of nations are determined by where a genius is born and where a fool is born – and this is not something that can be foretold. The most important political developments are driven by a fortunate or unfortunate idea which nobody knows where it comes from and which cannot be anticipated. A sudden change of weather or a simple coincidence will decide the outcome of a battle and the battle will decide the fate of the world. If Louis XVI had been a genius, he would have eradicated poverty in France, had great external victories, the French Revolution would not have arisen and the absolute monarchy would have continued in France and throughout the continent until this day. Had Marie Antoinette had not indulged her whims, dismissing the rational Turgot and appointing the utopian Necker, the French Revolution would also not have come into being and France would have been peacefully transformed into a constitutionally aristocratic monarchy similar to the English one. Had Napoleon not been gifted with an incomparable genius, the coalition would have earlier restored the throne to the Bourbons and if he had won the battle at Leipzig, he would have consolidated aristocratic absolutism across Europe’s mainland that would have probably lasted to this day. And from what so-called general cause can these developments be derived?
Kazimierz listened intently to me and said: – I did not mean only political democracy; I was thinking mostly about social democracy. I do not attach much importance to the political forms of government; I am convinced that, in a poor and ignorant country, political democracy is doomed to be a lie and a vain pretence and that a rich and enlightened nation will have a strong influence on its fortunes under the absolute monarchy and even in an aristocratically ruled country, such as England. Generally, I agree with those who disregard the so-called political history of nations; the course of such history indeed depends on coincidental developments but the changes of dynasties, the struggles of the parties, the revolutions and coups, the wars, the changes of borders and conquests are only episodic phenomena. They may be visible and loud, capable of igniting a boyish imagination and occupying a historian in a youthful nation, but they have no significant influence on the historical development of societies, which is the only subject worthy of attention among mature generations. I would compare such events to stones that are thrown into a deep river: they will momentarily muddy the water but will not reverse the flow of the river. Had Turgot prevented the bloody revolution in France and endowed his homeland with an apparently aristocratic constitution, or had the Bonaparte dynasty ruled France for a century in an absolute yet peaceful manner, the course of the French history would not have changed significantly unless we look at it as a childish novel, full of extraordinary adventures. Science would have followed its course by questioning old sanctities, inventions would have transformed the face of the earth; education and wealth would have increased and spread, just as it had happened; the rich bourgeoisie would have necessarily played the most important role in the court of a constitutional king or an absolute emperor, and every government, whether royal or imperial, would have been busy today handling the workers’ cause, as today’s republican government is doing; and the fourth estate would have surely fought today to have its rights recognised and its wishes pandered to. The truth of my words is confirmed by the history and the present condition of all other European states that did not execute their kings, murder their nobility, change their dynasties or proclaim a commonwealth. General causes, which have the least possible impact on the course of political events, are continuously influencing the necessary inner development of societies and change the face of the earth without bothering about these childish events.
Kazimierz finished and I said: – Do you really believe what you have said? You are a lawyer so you know perfectly well that an improper law, established by people, and therefore as a result of a political coincidence, may completely distort society, bringing about its disruption and collapse, whereas a wise law may give powerful momentum to social progress? Do you think that France would indeed look as it does now if the Napoleonic Code did not abolish the right of primogeniture; and Napoleon pondered for a long time before agreeing to that. Do you think that the vast Muslim East would look as it does now if Muhammad did not allow polygamy? And he would not have done it if he had not survived his first wife, Kadish, who henpecked him. There is a grain of truth in the well-known paradox that the history would have taken a different course if Cleopatra’s nose had been differently shaped. You underestimate the importance of wars, claiming that it does not matter who wins and who loses a battle. But has it not occurred to you that a mere coincidence could have turned the Battle of Vienna into Sobieski’s defeat and then a muezzin’s call to prayer would have been heard from the dome of St. Peter’s and probably also from the towers of Notre-Dame? Are you saying that the progress of science and wealth would have then taken the same course as it did? No! Europe would not have differed at all from Asia Minor as it used to be a hundred years ago. Even today some causes, not the general ones you are talking about but some unpredictable and unknown ones, could lead to a situation where a new Genghis Khan would be installed on the Chinese throne or some terrible Muhammad would be awakened among the hungry working masses in Europe and these great men would reduce our whole civilization, all our wealth and all our education to ashes. Even the peaceful progress of civilization depends on unknown causes, on what we call a coincidence. But, pray tell me, why so many brilliant painters were born in Italy at the time of the Renaissance? And so many fantastic poets lived in England under the reign of Elisabeth? Tell me: would our civilization have been our civilization, would we have been thinking and feeling in the same way as we do now if they had not existed?
Kazimierz looked at me with a mixture of puzzlement and impatience. He said: – I do not know what to say to you. It is not easy to find arguments. But if what you are saying is true, it is not worth exploring, not worth discussing, not worth thinking, as we are all at the mercy of blind, foolish fortune!
– Now let us have some coffee! – Henryk said. We all agreed and went to a milk parlour adjacent to the park where we had delicious coffee al fresco.
The sun was already setting when we reached the gloriette erected on the hill opposite the palace. The beautiful, light and shapely arcades of the gloriette were somewhat marred by partial glazing, but nevertheless the magnificent edifice stood out nicely against the background of the already darkening green sky. We sat down on the stone stairs and as we faced the palace, our gaze lowered to the lawn arranged into large symmetrical shapes, then stopped at the pools filled with glassy, calm water in which an even calmer, immensely deep evening sky was reflected, as were the stone figures of Baroque, mythological deities that surrounded the pools, and finally reached a great flat square, in the centre of which stood a huge, formally majestic palace, looking as if it was an incarnation of the absolute monarchy of Maria Theresa. This great plain in front of the palace was flanked by huge walls of greenery formed by ancient elm trees and the white patches of statues pretending to be antique were reflected against those walls. The rows of trees in the hollow were casting deep, long shadows on the paths and lawns, and the rays of the setting sun gave a majestic look and an eerily heavenly charm to that conventionally arranged nature, infusing it with some powerful life that stood witness to eternity. The purple, dark blue, white and golden clouds were gleaming over the palace. The semblance of immense windows to the immeasurable palaces of God that put the pride of earthly rulers to shame could be seen here and there amidst the clouds; these windows led the eye to the infinite depth of the green sky, which the imagination populated with swarms of angels looking down to the earth – yet not to look at the inferior, sinful and mortal human tribe with its trifle victories and fierce fights, but to admire the work of the creator that adorned the earth with an exquisitely beautiful layer of the lush and peaceful vegetation, the waters murmuring quietly or roaring along the designated course, and the lights flowing from the heaven to the earth that miraculously transformed both the vegetation and the waters. The perfect angels were looking down on the earth from the heaven but did not see or care about us or think of us, the earthly ants. We were looking at the earth and the sky; we did not see the angels with our senses, we did not think of them in a practical and schooled manner but we felt the presence of perfect, unblemished beings; their powerful ecstatic singing resonated in our souls and we were overwhelmed by the admiration for the beauty of God’s creation that lifts man above the misery of his selfish life.
After a long and strangely blissful spell of silence I said: – You were embittered by my words when I told you that the reliance on so-called general causes, established through reasonable thinking, was not sufficient to explain the progress of history. You said that if this was the case, it was pointless to think and act or even to live; you were indignant to hear that an unpredictable accident could change the whole course of history. Yet you should have been delighted. For if it is true that history is evolving towards the better good and no accidental event can alter its course, although the mechanical and blind sequence of events may have wiped out the entire human civilization a thousand times over, although the civilization would have long ago become ossified and fallen into the shameful impotence of the type exemplified by China if there had been no such accidental phenomena which we call ‘great men’ – if all of this is true, as is most certainly the case, you have all the more reason to believe that the goal of history is the happiness and virtue of all people and that this goal will be reached. Confident in the knowledge that you are destined to be the executioners of the most splendid oeuvre, you should let the holy flame of youthful zeal burn even more brightly in your hearts; you should give up all petty self-interests and seek the ultimate happiness in the work that will result in the creation of the highest masterpiece.
Having heard these words, which I uttered almost involuntarily, the two young men looked at me with astonishment and Kazimierz said sincerely: – I do not understand you. I do not understand at all what you have said.
I gathered my thoughts in a more orderly manner and I continued:
– We are delighted by nature: nothing can match the magnificent beauty of the heavenly clouds, of the earthly waters and of the lights radiating between the sky and the earth. Perhaps a university student, or an aspiring scholar, when asked whether he could reasonably explain that glow and beauty, would smile at the naivety of the question and reply that this is the matter of the application of the simplest principles of optics and meteorology. The behaviour of a mature scholar, who has explored the unexplained secrets of his science, would be altogether different. If he heard our conversation, he would know what the question was about and he would answer categorically: ‘I cannot explain it!’ – He would tell us that he knows certain formulas of recurring phenomena, the so-called physical laws, the imprint of which can be seen on the glory unveiling before our eyes, but that these laws are insufficient to explain the delightful phenomenon that repeats itself almost every evening. The very multitude of extraordinary beings and events, interacting with each other in nature, makes a ridicule of him who dares to predict with certainty tomorrow’s weather; and most importantly, we keep on discovering the existence of forces, or of the laws of nature, that were unknown beforehand; for example, only recently have we learned about the different rays of so-called weightless matter. A prudent person will know that things unknown to us in nature go far beyond the narrow confines of our miserable knowledge and that the operation of forces of which we have no clue may at any time bring about extraordinary phenomena, prevent those ordinary ones from occurring and disprove all our expectations – and even to annihilate the planet. Still, we believe that we will be watching wonderfully beautiful sunsets for all our lifetime. You will understand my reasoning when you consider the growth and development of every tree, every plant, every organism. When we plant an acorn, we expect that an oak tree will grow from it and that it will once have a bony bark, beautifully cut leaves, splendid branches; in other words, we hope that some vegetable majesty typical of oaks will emerge and that the young plant that will sprout from acorns will grow to reveal the ideal of an oak. Does it seem to you perhaps that the growth and development of an oak tree can be explained by general laws that also apply elsewhere? Say, gentlemen, do you think so?
– Of course – Kazimierz said – who would not know that the general laws apply that are the same for the development of each oak tree?
– But – I said – please tell me what these laws are? You are silent, gentlemen, you are pondering my question. Somehow it is not easy to come up with an answer. These are not the laws of physics because the overall gravity of matter, its inertia and its compactness are of secondary importance when the tree grows towards the sky and develops its intricate shapes; nor are these the laws of chemistry because the elements are not usually combined in the way they are in an oak tree, where their combinations are different in the trunk, in the leaf and in the acorns. If you want to identify the laws applicable to an oak tree, you just have to describe its development, specify the times at which it sprouts a leaf or a flower or fruit, at which place and how. You will describe the development of an oak tree but you will not explain it by means of any laws applicable elsewhere. The laws of physics and chemistry are present in an oak tree, too, but they have no impact on its development. What is more, the laws governing the development of related trees, such as beech, hornbeam or walnut, do not also apply to the development of an oak tree; if they did, this would be a beech, hornbeam or walnut and not an oak.
Kazimierz spoke again: – What you are saying is so evidently true and so widely known that we do not think about it and it is not a matter of interest to science. But I do not know what all this has to do with the necessary progress of democracy in the course of human history? I said: – I’ll tell you right away and you’ll understand. The laws of chemistry and physics apply partially everywhere where there is a body. They apply also to an oak and may put an end to its life by an external event such as fire, lightning, storm or the strike of the axe. However, these laws do not suffice to explain the life of the oak and its proper development. It grows because God raises an oak tree from acorns according to the ideal of an oak, because He makes the boughs, leaves and acorns grow at the time and place that are necessary in order to realise the ideal of an oak. The history of the world is similar: it is a separate whole that also aspires to be a manifestation of an ideal, but this time the ideal is not of an individual, and hence subordinate, type. The life of the world that makes up the content of history broadly understood consists of an incessant pursuit of the ultimate and total fulfilment of the divine will. Do not try to explain the content of history by means of the so-called general laws that are derived from elsewhere rather than deducted from the course of history of our earth; those that do not find proof in the history alone. You will not explain the development of any organism by means of the so-called general laws governing the matter unless that development is intentionally structured according to the will of God to produce an organism of the particular type. You will struggle in vain to explain the course of history by means of the so-called general laws of physiology, psychology or even political economy and political statics, to which you have given the barbarian name of sociology. The laws of physiology apply wherever there are organisms; the laws of psychology apply wherever there are people and, to a certain extent, also where there are animals; the laws of economics and politics apply wherever there are societies and states. All these laws, along with the laws of physics and chemistry, apply to history as well, because everything is happening in the course of history, though not everything that is happening merits a historian’s attention. However, none of these laws will explain the course of history. Divine Providence governs history in the same way as it directs the development of an oak tree and the progress of clouds that can be seen billowing in the west. The ultimate goal towards which the life of a tree strives, by God’s unforeseeable and unchanging design, is the beauty of the old tree conforming to its ideal and the production of seed from which new generations of trees will grow. And the tree will reach that goal for the sole reason that its development is not the result of the blind and unpredictable play of dead matter but is the result of the omnipotent will of God that strives incessantly to reach the intended goal. The purpose of the history of the world is to give rise to universal happiness and supreme beauty in human beings, in the human society as a whole and in the entirety of nature controlled by humanity; in a word, the purpose is to establish the kingdom of God. The history of the world strives towards that goal with all the more certainty given the fact that its progress is not the result of the chaos of physiological, psychological, economic and political forces that go round in circles and thwart each other, but is the result of the fulfilment of God’s design. Before man appeared on the earth, before a rational eye could see and admire the mute creation, the earth was a grey, hazy mass of land surrounded by a shallow sea. The waters were parting, the mountains were forming, the rivers were cutting their picturesque valleys, the primordial vegetation covered the earth, and the clouds were letting in the first golden rays of the sun. Live beings, at first formless and ghastly and then increasingly well-formed and endowed with an ever more perfect organism capable of a fuller and less dumb life, were born and perished; today’s flora and fauna were forming slowly, turning the earth into a dwelling worthy of man. And finally man was born: there appeared the most beautiful and perfect sensual creature, whose perfect body you have seen in the bronze form of an ancient Greek athlete of Ephesus, enjoying the sight of this beauty as the image of God’s fulfilled purpose. For nothing will gladden the heart more, nothing will elate and satisfy the spirit more than the sight of perfection which is the complete fulfilment of God’s design. However, no physiological laws will explain the transformation of the earth and the creation, succession and refinement of animals and plants. The mind has for centuries been devising hypotheses to explain the miracle of the development of universal creations by means of forces known to us from elsewhere, the so-called universal and general laws of nature. But since no one witnessed the emergence of a new species of organisms, each hypothesis must assume an event which is impossible today and, being self-contradictory in its rationalism, it is rejected as an explanation of the development of the earth’s nature and inhabitants. This development can be understood insofar as we will believe that just as the splendid majesty of the boughs and the production of new acorns are the destiny of the oak, so the beauty of today’s nature and the rise of man were the destiny of the earth and that the earth strove to fulfil that destiny by producing, by God’s orders, the lands and the seas, the mountains and the valleys, the various animals and plants, just as the oak produces and shreds the successive generations of leaves.
In the Theseus temple, you were fascinated by the sight of the athlete’s statue representing the perfect sensual beauty of a youthful body, but your delight was even higher when you saw the statuette of Persephone, which emanated with a different, higher spiritual beauty. The whole process of bodily creation, crowned by the emergence of a marvellously perfect human organism, is only a means to an end, which is the emergence of a spirit that alone knows itself. We can see that a conscious, thinking and feeling spirit, endowed with a moral will, stems, in a way, from the perfect order of sensual things but that the emergence and life of that spirit are governed by the laws so unknown to the matter that he who wants to explain the existence of the spirit by means of those laws will always be perplexed at the sight of a mystery that can never be solved in this way. The spirit exists for itself and alone knows itself; the sensual world exists only for the spirit and is only a vision of the spirit; as such, it is only a means to an end, the end being the spirit. The life of the spirit consists of striving for its own perfection, omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresent love. The more a man knows, the more he can do, and, most of all, the more he loves, the closer he is to perfection, the more beautiful and happier he is. Therefore, the ultimate goal of all creation is the spiritual perfection that will make man similar to the Father in heaven. As the oak strives to demonstrate the majesty of its boughs and produce acorns, so does the history aims, by God’s command, to produce the greatest fruit of all – a perfect man with a divine spirit, and the ultimate masterpiece, a hundred times more beautiful than anything the eye has seen – a perfect mankind. As the will of God, in order to be fulfilled, puts out leaves and boughs of the oak tree at the right time and in the right place, in the manner that cannot be explained by reference to the general laws of chemistry and physics, so does the same omnipotent will give birth, at the right time and in the right place in the course of history, to the multiple brave nations, great men, mighty or mad ideas that always lead towards the realisation of the same goal. He who wants to understand the life of an oak should not think solely of physics and chemistry but should learn the idea of an oak, the realisation of which is the purpose of that plant’s life. Similarly, he who wants to understand history and acquire historical wisdom will find that physiology and psychology, economics and political statistics are not sufficient; instead, he must first of all understand the purpose pursued by history, the historical idea, the thought of God that manifests itself in every historical event and is evidenced by the past of the earth and by our conscience. And he who will understand that purpose and will come to know the omnipotent hand leading the human race towards its realisation will not be terrified by the sight of a transient victory of historical injustice, will not have doubts regardless of what pressure, even the most terrible one, is applied to him, because he will know that the progress of humanity is not guided by a blind play of psychological and political laws; on the contrary, it is the manifested will of the Omnipotent that is leading the mankind towards a true and perfect democracy.
Henryk looked at me with a sceptical smile and said with irony in his voice: – So now you have put God into our dialogue to make him the most powerful of democrats and you have made the world exist for the sole purpose that Kazimierz’s dreams are satisfied and democracy ultimately wins after overcoming incredible and countless obstacles that make up the content of history – the content which only now I find difficult to understand?
I replied: – The goal of all existence can only be the production of spiritual perfection and the goal of earthly existence can only be the combination of that perfection with the greatest carnal health, the highest sensual beauty, as is bound to happen – according to religious dogmas – in the kingdom of God after the resurrection of the flesh. And I believe you will not deny it, as you have expressed the same thought, only in different words, claiming that the purpose and end of all things is to produce a superman, that is a god in human form. This matter can be considered from a religious or philosophical point of view and such considerations may serve as a basis for the exploration of metaphysics and the formation of views on the world and human knowledge. But if we engaged in such considerations, a year would not be enough to reach an end. I am now considering the matter solely from a historical standpoint and I argue from that standpoint that just as the rise of man was the goal towards which everything aspired in the paleontological era in the planet’s history and just as that aspiration was the only goal of the pre-human history of the earth, so does a universal history that has been unfolding in human times is aimed at producing a society in which all men will be wise, in which all will have a sanctified will by which they will invincibly control their passions, and in which all will feel a passionate love for other people and for the supreme good. And then a true democracy will arrive and no distorted democracy will exist because there will not be any rabble; there will not be any true aristocracy because no one will be better than the already mature mankind; but also there will be no masters because no one will wish harm on anyone. This is an ideal goal which is still far beyond our grasp or perhaps there will never come a time when gods in human form, free of all misery, immaculately beautiful in body and spirit, will alone populate the earth. Yet history is constantly evolving towards that goal and that evolution will never change, deviate or stop, because such is the will of God, by which solely all creation exists.
While Henryk is an aristocrat of a new design, he is not conservative in the sense that he feels obliged to show respect to the elders. He observes the rules of politeness but he does not hesitate to question the words of an elder. And I will honestly say that I appreciate his openness because it makes the conversation easier for me and I always know what he thinks when we talk. And now he has also expressed his sincere opinion on my arguments without paying attention to my grey hair and without bothering that what he said could offend another elderly man.
He said: – Your arguments would surprise me if they were expressed by a younger man and I cannot say that they have edified me. You want us to believe that God is involved in even the minutest of earthly affairs, that we should rely on him blindly, with some Turkish fatalism, renouncing any self-reliance, and that he will guide us, through his omnipotence, to some earthly, unimaginable paradise, or rather that we will never reach that paradise but he will nevertheless be leading us along an unbearably laborious and thorny path of life, perhaps enjoying the fact that mankind will continuously, and always in vain, be craving for some eternally impossible illusion. You want to humiliate us completely and turn us into slaves who place a childlike trust in the alleged omnipotence of God. Yet, at the same time, you tell us to believe that God is probably unable to put his designs into prompt execution, as it took him millions of years to form, process and adapt the matter, as he had to sacrifice whole families of botched animals before he succeeded in creating his masterpiece – the human race. And what a failure it is, this masterpiece of his: the vast majority of people are ugly, evil and unhappy, and the inept God requires again the sea of tears and blood, countless crimes, misery, and suffering in order to reach a point in history in which people will be slightly more beautiful and better than today, which is not to say that they will be perfectly beautiful and good. If God had been indeed omnipotent and perfect, he would have created right away an eternally happy swarm of holy and flawless people and he would not have needed the cruel toy called existence.
I said at that point: – With this last word you have answered yourself, young man! Perfection cannot exist because existence is a continuous change whereas perfection is invariable. He who quarrels with God about those gaps in perfection, which are called ugliness and sin and which are the necessary causes of all suffering, he will quarrel with himself about his willingness to live and rejoice in everything that brings delight, healing the body or elevating the soul. Neither you nor mankind will ever be perfect because he who has reached perfection will no longer be capable of change and thus will no longer exist; endowed with omnipotence, omniscience and all-encompassing love, he will have to go beyond the trap of time and space and embrace eternity and immensity in which everything is right now and right here! And such is only God; for God and perfection, towards which the universe is striving longingly, are one and the same: timeless, non-worldly, non-existent at present and yet the source of all existence. Suffering, which is inseparable from existence, is the feeling that we have not reached perfection – and there is no desire other than the search for perfection. This desire, through which everything is what it is, is called the will of God. Every organism fulfils the will of God by developing according to its design and striving for its own perfection, whereas the universe seeks to produce man and humanity in the likeness of God. In our sensual body we feel an organic rush towards perfection of a human form. We enjoy that rush as a desire for sensual life and we suffer pain whenever it is obstructed. But there is yet another rush that takes control of our spiritual life – which is the only truly human life by virtue of its spirituality – and forces us to improve ourselves and to strengthen the reason, will and love within us. This rush is called conscience and we always listen to it. It makes us believe in the reality of the outside world, though we have no arguments that we could use to fend off the lies of a sceptical sophist who claims that the world and other people in our world are our delusion and that we are alone in the world. We do not believe him because we have to know the truth, overcome the truth, love our neighbours, equal to one another. When we sin, we also listen to our conscience; we seek knowledge, power and love but the path we have chosen is wrong and, disappointed, we suffer. But when we find a grand path leading to our ultimate goal, we realise that in order to perfect ourselves, we need to perfect others, strive for their happiness, combat their misery and illness which do not allow the thought to roam freely through the realms of knowledge and beauty; we must teach others, disperse the darkness among the rabble, arouse love and virtue in others. And that work requires that you forsake yourself and be ready for sacrifice; that you be humble and remember that you will err as you are not perfect; that you be understanding and not forget that mortal people are capable of distorting every single thing; that you trust God and believe that the only reason why the world exists is that it is constantly striving for perfection and is becoming increasingly better and more beautiful and that, therefore, history is endlessly striving towards a true democracy; this is why people, having mastered the nature, are increasingly effective in eradicating privation, why education is spreading among people and why it teaches them universal brotherhood, wipes off memories of past violence and makes new depravity increasingly difficult. Apply yourself to that work and be aware that your life is meant to be a constant effort, insofar as you can bear it, for the sake of all – your family, community, country. In doing so, do not be patronising towards others, do not expect vain glory – you will thus perfect yourself, experience happiness and be better than the selfish masses, thereby becoming a true aristocrat and a superman.
Henryk replied:– I can hardly agree with you: the case you argued ended with a sermon that followed the pattern of hackneyed plebeian morality, to which people have been subscribing from times immemorial as if it was inseparable from the miserable existence of mankind. And we, the young, who want to be truly superior, can only believe in paradoxes that are inaccessible to the crowd.
Our conversation thus ended. Meanwhile, the sun went down, the shadows of the darkness covered the magnificent park and the stars came out in the sapphire sky.
 See the February issue, p. 290.