Here’s another excerpt from Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection. The protagonist, Nekhludov, has been following a troop of prisoners who are being marched to Siberia. The first day of the march is in terrible heat and five of the prisoners die of heat stroke (this is based on an actual case, as Tolstoy mentions in a footnote). Nekhludov sees two of the bodies being carried away.
He runs into his sister later at the train station and says “what things I have seen today! …Two convicts have been murdered.”
“Murdered. They were made to march in this heat and two of them died of sunstroke.”
“But why — murdered? Who murdered them?” asked Natasha.
“Whoever it was that compelled them to march,” said Nekhludov…
Afterwards, Nekhludov reflects:
Yes, they were murdered.…
“Most terrible of all,” he thought, “was that the man has been murdered — but no one knows by whom. Yet it is murder — there is no doubt of that. He was led out with the others, on Maslennikov’s instructions. Maslennikov probably made out the usual order, putting his stupid, florid signature on some formal document with a printed heading, and naturally he won’t consider himself responsible. The prison doctor is even less to blame. He did his duty carefully, he picked out the ones who were not strong, and couldn’t have been expected to foresee the terrific heat or that the gang was going to be taken out so late in the day, or that they were going to be so closely packed together. What about the inspector? — but he was only obeying orders to send off a certain number of exiles and convicts of both sexes on a given day. Nor can the officer commanding the escort be blamed, for his duty lay in accepting a certain number and dispatching a certain number. He led them off according to instructions, and he couldn’t have known that those two robust-looking men were going to fall and die. Nobody is to blame, and yet the men are dead — killed by the very people who cannot be held to blame for their deaths.
“And all this,” said Nekhludov to himself, “is because of these governors, inspectors, police officers, and policemen consider that there are circumstances when man owes no humanity to man. Every one of them — Maslennikov, the inspector, the officer of the escort — if he had not been a governor, an inspector, an officer, would have thought twenty times before sending people off in such a press and in such heat; they would have stopped twenty times on the way if they had noticed a man getting faint and gasping for breath; they would have led him apart from the others, allowed him to rest in the shade, given him water, and then, if anything had happened, they would have shown some pity. But they — they did nothing like that, they even prevented others from helping: and this was only because their eyes were set not on human beings and their duty toward them but on the duties and responsibilities of their office, which they placed above their duty to men. That is the whole truth of the matter.
“If a man has admitted, be it for a single hour or in a single instance, that there can be something more important than the love he owes his fellow men, he may commit every conceivable crime and yet consider himself innocent.”
A flash summer storm passes, distracting him from his thoughts for a while. He tries to recover his train of thought:
“Ah, yes, I remember — I was thinking that the inspector, the officer of the escort, and all the others are for the greater part gentle and kind: it is their calling that makes them cruel.”
He remembered the indifference of Maslennikov when he was told what was going on in the prison, the severity of the inspector, the harshness of the officer of the escort when he was refusing places on the carts to the people who asked for them, and would pay no heed to the woman on the train who was in child labor. Evidently the reason why all these people were so invulnerable, so immune from pity, was simply that they were officials. “As officials, they can no more be filled with pity than this paved ground can absorb the rain from heaven,” he thought, as he looked at the sides of the cutting paved with stones of many colors, down which the rainwater was streaming, instead of soaking into the earth. “It may be necessary to pave the cutting, but it is sad to think that so much soil must be made barren when it might yield grain, grass, shrubs, and trees. And it is the same maong men,” he thought; “it is possible that governors, inspectors, and policemen may be useful, but it is terrible to see men lose the quality that distinguishes them from beasts — pity and love for one another.
“This is what it comes to,” he went on. “These men accept as law something that is not a law, and they do not accept the eternal, immutable law that God Himself has written in man’s heart. That is why I am so unhappy in their presence,” he thought. “They frighten me, and they are indeed terrible. More terrible than brigands. After all, a brigand may be open to pity, but these men are not. They are as safe from pity as these stones are from vegetation. That is what makes them so terrible. Pugachev and Razin are considered terrible — but these men are a thousand times worse. Suppose a problem in psychology was set: What can be done to persuade the men of our time — Christians, humanitarians or, simply, kindhearted people — into committing the most abominable crimes with no feeling of guilt? There could be only one way: to do precisely what is being done now, namely, to make them governors, inspectors, officers, policemen, and so forth; which means, first, that they must be convinced of the existence of a kind of organization called ‘government service,’ allowing men to be treated like inanimate objects and banning thereby all human brotherly relations with them; and secondly, that the people entering this ‘government service’ must be so unified that the responsibility for their dealings with men would never fall on any one of them individually. [emphasis mine — ♇] Otherwise it would be impossible in our times for human beings to countenance such cruel deeds as those I have witnessed today. It all comes from the fact that men think there are circumstances when they may treat their fellow beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist.…”
As this excerpt illustrates, Resurrection functions largely as a vehicle for explaining and promoting Tolstoy’s philosophy (though this excerpt is more expository than the norm). I thought it worked pretty well as a story, but I think it would most appeal to people who like what they read in Tolstoy’s essays on Christian Anarchism, and are curious as to how those more abstract ideas look when they’re represented in the more flesh-and-blood lives of characters in a story.
The section I put in boldface above is heartbreaking, since it serves as a prophecy of what did in fact happen in the following decades, particularly in Russia.