Earth And Heaven
by Lev Shestov
The word justice is on all men's lips. But do men indeed so highly prize justice as one would think, who believed all that has been said and is still being said concerning it? More than this, is it so highly appreciated by its sworn advocates and panegyrists - poets, philosophers, moralists, theologians - even by the best of them, the most sincere and gifted? I doubt it, I doubt it deeply. Glance at the works of any wise man, whether of the modern or the ancient world. Justice, if we understand it as the equality of all living men before the laws of creation - and how else can we understand it? - never occupied any one's attention. Plato never once asked Destiny why she created Thersites contemptible and Patroclus noble. Plato argues that men should be just, but never once dares to arraign the gods for their injustice. If we listen to his discourses, a suspicion will steal into our souls that justice is a virtue for mortals, while the immortals have virtues of their own which have nothing in common with justice. And here is the last trial of earthly virtue. We do not know whether the human soul is mortal or immortal. Some, we know, believe in immortality, others laugh at the belief. If it were proved that they were both in the wrong, and that men's destinies after death are as unequal as they are in life: the successful, the chosen take up their abode in heaven, the others remain to rot in the grave and perish with their mortal clay. (It is true that such an admission is made by our Russian prophet, the priest of love and justice, Dostoevsky, in his Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.) Now, if it should turn out that Dostoevsky is really immortal, while his innumerable disciples and admirers, the huge mass of grey humanity which is spoken of in The Grand Inquisitor, end their lives in death as they began them with birth, would Dostoevsky himself (whom I have named deliberately as the most passionate defender of the ideal of justice, though there have been yet more fervent and passionate and remarkable defenders of justice on earth whom I ought perhaps to name, were it not that I would avoid speaking lightly of sacred things - let him who finds Dostoevsky small, himself choose another) - would Dostoevsky reconcile himself to such an injustice, would he rise in revolt beyond the grave against the injustice, or would he forget his poor brethren when he occupied the place prepared for him? It is hard to judge a priori: a posteriori one would imagine that he would forget.
And between Dostoevsky and a small provincial author the gulf is colossal; the injustice of the inequality cries out to heaven. Nevertheless we take no heed, we live on and do not cry, or if we do, we cry very rarely, and then, to tell the truth, it is hard to say certainly why we cry. Is it because we would draw the attention of the indifferent heaven, or is it because there are many amateurs of lamentation among our neighbours, like the pilgrim woman in Ostrovsky's Storm, who passionately loved to hear a good howl? All these considerations will seem particularly important to those who, like myself at the present moment - I cannot speak for to-morrow - share Dostoevsky's notion that even if there is immortality, then it is certainly not for everybody but for the few. Moreover, I follow Dostoevsky further and admit that they alone will rise from the dead who on the existing hypotheses should expect the worse fate after death. The first here will be the first still, there, while of the last not even a memory will remain. And no one will be found to champion those who have perished: a Dostoevsky, a Tolstoi, and all the other 'first' who succeed in entering heaven will be engaged in business incomparably more important.
So continue, if you will, to take thought for the just arrangement of the world, and, after the fashion of Plato, to make the teaching of justice the foundation of philosophy.
End of Earth And Heaven by Lev Shestov