My interest in Vladimir Solovyev was piqued upon reading on Wikipedia that Dostoevsky’s Alyosha Karamazov was partially inspired by the Russian philospher. For Christmas George gave me his Transformations of Eros. So far I have read Janko Lavrin’s Introduction which provides an overview of Solovyev’s thought: “Solovyev’s entire work can best be defined as a continuous endeavour to reconcile philosophic, religious, and scientific thought in an organic synthesis.” I do not wish to critique him at this point, as others have done, but to point out positives or at least connections. Firstly I note the similarity between his thought on the connectedness of mankind and Charles Dickens’.
[O]ur final conduct should be determined by the norm of the highest good as represented by Christ and by that love which alone can weld mankind into one organic whole. For in the same way as the spirit of man can find its perfect expression only in a perfect physical organism, the spirit of God can be expressed only through the most perfect social body. The creation of such a body should be the aim of true Christianity. In a social body of this kind no man could be used as a means, because all its members would realize the absolute worth and significance of each individual. In other words, “Christianity has revealed to us our absolute dignity, the unconditioned worth of the inner being, or of the soul of man.. This unconditional worth imposes upon us as unconditional duty – to realize the good in the whole of our life both personal and collective. We know for certain that this task is impossible for the individual taken separately or in isolation, and that it can only be realized if the individual life finds its completion in the universal historical life of humanity.” (from the Introduction)
Now Jacob Marley from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the duty of mankind,
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”
Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”
Scrooge trembled more and more.
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”
Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.
“Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”
“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house — mark me! — in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”
It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his breeches pockets. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.
“You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,” Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.
“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.
“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time!”
“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”
“You travel fast?” said Scrooge.
“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.
“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Scrooge.
The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.
“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”
Instead of interpreting the above as a social guilt trip, I believe focus can instead be trained on gaining awareness of others by connecting with them as equals, while not dispelling hierarchies. The problem I have with “social programs” is in taking too much responsibility for others which can lead to burn-out and enabling. We must stay aware of our own responsibilities and at least seek a charitable understanding of others.