Sergey Ivanovitch merely shrugged his shoulders, as though to express his wonder how the birch branches had come into their argument at that point, though he did really understand at once what his brother meant.
“Excuse me, but you know one really can’t argue in that way,” he observed.
But Konstantin Levin wanted to justify himself for the failing, of which he was conscious, of lack of zeal for the public welfare, and he went on.
“I imagine,” he said, “that no sort of activity is likely to be lasting if it is not founded on self-interest, that’s a universal principle, a philosophical principle,” he said, repeating the word “philosophical” with determination, as though wishing to show that he had as much right as any one else to talk of philosophy.
Sergey Ivanovitch smiled. “He too has a philosophy of his own at the service of his natural tendencies,” he thought.
“Come, you’d better let philosophy alone,” he said. “The chief problem of the philosophy of all ages consists just in finding the indispensable connection which exists between individual and social interests. But that’s not to the point; what is to the point is a correction I must make in your comparison. The birches are not simply stuck in, but some are sown and some are planted, and one must deal carefully with them. It’s only those peoples that have an intuitive sense of what’s of importance and significance in their institutions, and know how to value them, that have a future before them—it’s only those peoples that one can truly call historical.”
And Sergey Ivanovitch carried the subject into the regions of philosophical history where Konstantin Levin could not follow him, and showed him all the incorrectness of his view.
“As for your dislike of it, excuse my saying so, that’s simply our Russian sloth and old serf-owner’s ways, and I’m convinced that in you it’s a temporary error and will pass.”
Konstantin was silent. He felt himself vanquished on all sides, but he felt at the same time that what he wanted to say was unintelligible to his brother. Only he could not make up his mind whether it was unintelligible because he was not capable of expressing his meaning clearly, or because his brother would not or could not understand him. But he did not pursue the speculation, and without replying, he fell to musing on a quite different and personal matter.
Sergey Ivanovitch wound up the last line, untied the horse, and they drove off.
The personal matter that absorbed Levin during his conversation with his brother was this. Once in a previous year he had gone to look at the mowing, and being made very angry by the bailiff he had recourse to his favorite means for regaining his temper,— he took a scythe from a peasant and began mowing.