“Must I be moral because Kant tells me of a categoric imperative, of a mysterious command which comes to me from the depths of my own being and bids me be moral? But why should this ‘categoric imperative’ exercise a greater authority over my actions than that other imperative, which at times may command me to get drunk. A word, nothing but a word, like the words ‘Providence,’ or ‘Destiny,’ invented to conceal our ignorance.
“Or perhaps I am to be moral to oblige Bentham, who wants me to believe that I shall be happier if I drown to save a passerby who has fallen into the river than if I watched him drown?
“Or perhaps because such has been my education? Because my mother taught me morality? Shall I then go and kneel down in a church, honor the Queen, bow before the judge I know for a scoundrel, simply because our mothers, our good ignorant mothers, have taught us such a pack of nonsense? “I am prejudiced, — like everyone else. I will try to rid myself of prejudice! Even though immorality be distasteful, I will yet force myself to be immoral, as when I was a boy I forced myself to give up fearing the dark, the churchyard, ghosts and dead people — all of which I had been taught to fear.
“It will be immoral to snap a weapon abused by religion; I will do it, were it only to protect against the hypocrisy imposed on us in the name of a word to which the name morality has been given!”
Such was the way in which the youth of Russia reasoned when they broke with old-world prejudices, and unfurled this banner of nihilist or rather of anarchist philosophy: to bend the knee to no authority whatsoever, however respected; to accept no principle so long as it is unestablished by reason.
Need we add, that after pitching into the waste-paper basket the teachings of their fathers, and burning all systems of morality, the nihilist youth developed in their midst a nucleus of moral customs, infinitely superior to anything that their fathers had practiced under the control of the “Gospel,” of the “Conscience,” of the “Categoric Imperative,” or of the “Recognized Advantage” of the utilitarian. “