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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/429

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413
EDITOR'S TABLE.

tion, they will find the amplest evidence of the frightful havoc wrought hy the abridgment of individual freedom and the seizure of private property in the form of taxes for public purposes. If it be said that Russia is an autocracy, and can not therefore furnish instruction to a democracy like the United States, the answer is easy, if not obvious. Despotism, like gravitation, is the same all over the world. It makes no difference in the long run whether a law abridging freedom issues from the palace of a czar or from the legislative halls of a popular assembly. The individual objecting to it is obliged to regulate his life, not in accordance with his own notions, but in accordance with the notions of some one else. It makes no difference, either, whether taxation is imposed by an imperial edict or by a legislative vote. The citizens that have to bear it against their will contribute money for purposes that some one else only approves of. The only difference between Russia and the United States is that this kind of despotism has been carried to much greater lengths in one country than in the other. If, therefore, we can find out what the effect has been in Russia, we will be able to predict what the effect will be in the United States.

As every person familiar with Russia knows, the black-earth region is one of the richest and most productive in the world. It ought to be inhabited by one of the wealthiest and happiest of peoples. Yet such is not the case. According to Count Tolstoi, who contributed recently a letter to the London Times on the subject, the inhabitants are among the poorest and most miserable in the world. They are in a state of chronic starvation. They are obliged to content themselves with nearly a third less food than is sufficient to maintain normal health. The physical effect of this insufficiency of food is a decrease in vitality, a diminished stature, and a check to the growth of population. It is proved, first, by the failure of the peasants of the region to meet the requirements for military service, and, second, by the statistics of population, which show that the increase of births over deaths has fallen from the maximum reached twenty years ago to zero.

But the mental effects of the destitution wrought by the robberies of the Government are more distressing even than the physical. It gives birth to a stolidity and despair that tend to paralyze all effort toward betterment. The people subjected to it come to feel that there is no use of making any struggle beyond the maintenance of mere existence. Whatever they get in excess of this requirement will be taken from them. "A peasant," says Tolstoi, illustrating this fact, "feels that his position as an agriculturalist is bad, but he believes that it can not be improved; and, consequently, adapting himself to this hopeless position, he no longer fights against it, but lives and acts only in so far as he is stored by the instinct of self-preservation. Moreover, the very wretchedness of his condition increases still more his depression of spirit. The lower the economic condition of a population sinks, like a weight on a lever, the more difficult it becomes to raise it again; the peasants feel this, and, as it were, throw away the helve after the hatchet. 'Why should we trouble ourselves?' they say. 'We sha'n't get fat. If we can only keep alive.'"

The fruits of this mental state are as palpable as those of the lack of food. They are to be found in every direction. In manners, habits, and customs the peasants are hopelessly conservative. They belong, not to the nineteenth century, but to the ninth. Instead of adopting new and improved