“I’ll tell you, then,” he said with heat, “I imagine the mainspring of all our actions is, after all, self-interest. Now in the local institutions I, as a nobleman, see nothing that could conduce to my prosperity, and the roads are not better and could not be better; my horses carry me well enough over bad ones. Doctors and dispensaries are no use to me. An arbitrator of disputes is no use to me. I never appeal to him, and never shall appeal to him. The schools are no good to me, but positively harmful, as I told you. For me the district institutions simply mean the liability to pay fourpence halfpenny for every three acres, to drive into the town, sleep with bugs, and listen to all sorts of idiocy and loathsomeness, and self-interest offers me no inducement.”
“Excuse me,” Sergey Ivanovitch interposed with a smile, “self-interest did not induce us to work for the emancipation of the serfs, but we did work for it.”
“No!” Konstantin Levin broke in with still greater heat; “the emancipation of the serfs was a different matter. There self-interest did come in. One longed to throw off that yoke that crushed us, all decent people among us. But to be a town councilor and discuss how many dustmen are needed, and how chimneys shall be constructed in the town in which I don’t live—to serve on a jury and try a peasant who’s stolen a flitch of bacon, and listen for six hours at a stretch to all sorts of jabber from the counsel for the defense and the prosecution, and the president cross-examining my old half-witted Alioshka, ’Do you admit, prisoner in the dock, the fact of the removal of the bacon?’ ‘Eh?’”
Konstantin Levin had warmed to his subject, and began mimicking the president and the half-witted Alioshka: it seemed to him that it was all to the point.
But Sergey Ivanovitch shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, what do you mean to say, then?”
“I simply mean to say that those rights that touch me...my interest, I shall always defend to the best of my ability; that when they made raids on us students, and the police read our letters, I was ready to defend those rights to the utmost, to defend my rights to education and freedom. I can understand compulsory military service, which affects my children, my brothers, and myself, I am ready to deliberate on what concerns me; but deliberating on how to spend forty thousand roubles of district council money, or judging the half-witted Alioshka—I don’t understand, and I can’t do it.”
Konstantin Levin spoke as though the floodgates of his speech had burst open. Sergey Ivanovitch smiled.
“But tomorrow it’ll be your turn to be tried; would it have suited your tastes better to be tried in the old criminal tribunal?”
“I’m not going to be tried. I shan’t murder anybody, and I’ve no need of it. Well, I tell you what,” he went on, flying off again to a subject quite beside the point, “our district self-government and all the rest of it—it’s just like the birch branches we stick in the ground on Trinity Day, for instance, to look like a copse which has grown up of itself in Europe, and I can’t gush over these birch branches and believe in them.”