Aolib.comFragment of Photochrom print of the front of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany (ca. 1897)

On the Significance of Science and Art »

By graf Leo Tolstoy

The service of the people by science and art will only be performed when people, dwelling in the midst of the common folk, and, like the common folk, putting forward no demands, claiming no rights, shall offer to the common folk their scientific and artistic services; the acceptance or rejection of which shall depend wholly on the will of the common folk.

It is said that the activity of science and art has aided in the forward march of mankind,–meaning by this activity, that which is now called by that name; which is the same as saying that an unskilled banging of oars on a vessel that is floating with the tide, which merely hinders the progress of the vessel, is assisting the movement of the ship. It only retards it. The so—called division of labor, which has become in our day the condition of activity of men of science and art, was, and has remained, the chief cause of the tardy forward movement of mankind.

The proofs of this lie in that confession of all men of science, that the gains of science and art are inaccessible to the laboring masses, in consequence of the faulty distribution of riches. The irregularity of this distribution does not decrease in proportion to the progress of science and art, but only increases. Men of art and science assume an air of deep pity for this unfortunate circumstance which does not depend upon them. But this unfortunate circumstance is produced by themselves; for this irregular distribution of wealth flows solely from the theory of the division of labor.

Science maintains the division of labor as a unalterable law; it sees that the distribution of wealth, founded on the division of labor, is wrong and ruinous; and it affirms that its activity, which recognizes the division of labor, will lead people to bliss. The result is, that some people make use of the labor of others; but that, if they shall make use of the labor of others for a very long period of time, and in still larger measure, then this wrongful distribution of wealth, i.e., the use of the labor of others, will come to an end.

Men stand beside a constantly swelling spring of water, and are occupied with the problem of diverting it to one side, away from the thirsty people, and they assert that they are producing this water, and that soon enough will be collected for all. But this water which has flowed, and which still flows unceasingly, and nourishes all mankind, not only is not the result of the activity of the men who, standing at its source, turn it aside, but this water flows and gushes out, in spite of the efforts of these men to obstruct its flow.

There have always existed a true science, and a true art; but true science and art are not such because they called themselves by that name. It always seems to those who claim at any given period to be the representatives of science and art, that they have performed, and are performing, and–most of all–that they will presently perform, the most amazing marvels, and that beside them there never has been and there is not any science or any art. Thus it seemed to the sophists, the scholastics, the alchemists, the cabalists, the talmudists; and thus it seems to our own scientific science, and to our art for the sake of art.


“But art,–science! You repudiate art and science; that is, you repudiate that by which mankind lives!” People are constantly making this–it is not a reply–to me, and they employ this mode of reception in order to reject my deductions without examining into them. “He repudiates science and art, he wants to send people back again into a savage state; so what is the use of listening to him and of talking to him?” But this is unjust. I not only do not repudiate art and science, but, in the name of that which is true art and true science, I say that which I do say; merely in order that mankind may emerge from that savage state into which it will speedily fall, thanks to the erroneous teaching of our time,–only for this purpose do I say that which I say.

Art and science are as indispensable as food and drink and clothing,–more indispensable even; but they become so, not because we decide that what we designate as art and science are indispensable, but simply because they really are indispensable to people.

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