It was pitiful for a person born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble and hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and Church and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor king and Church and noble than a slave has to love and honor the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him! Why, dear me, ANY kind of royalty, howsoever modified, ANY kind of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably never find it out for yourself, and don't believe it when somebody else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thrones without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people that have always figured as its aristocracies -- a company of monarchs and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions... The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world for one object, and one only: to grovel before king and Church and noble; to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might be fed, work that they might play, drink misery to the dregs that they might be happy, go naked that they might wear silks and jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them, be familiar all their lives with the degrading language and postures of adulation that they might walk in pride and think themselves the gods of this world. And for all this, the thanks they got were cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they that they took even this sort of attention as an honor.
Wait, wait,' he began, interrupting Oblonsky. 'Aristocratism, you say. But allow me to ask, what makes up this aristocratism of Vronsky or whoever else it may be - such aristocratism that I can be scorned? You consider Vronsky an aristocrat, but I don't. A man whose father crept out of nothing by wiliness, whose mother, God knows who she didn't have liaisons with... No, excuse me, but I consider myself an aristocrat and people like myself, who can point to three or four honest generations in their families' past, who had a high degree of education (talent and intelligence are another thing), and who never lowered themselves before anyone, never depended on anyone, as my father lived, and my grandfather. And I know many like that. You find it mean that I count the trees in the forest, while you give away thirty thousand to Ryabinin; but you'll have rent coming in and I don't know what else, while I won't, and so I value what I've inherited and worked for... We're the aristocrats, and not someone who can only exist on hand-outs from the mighty of this world and can be bought for twenty kopecks. 'But who are you attacking? I agree with you,' said Stepan Arkadyich sincerely and cheerfully, though he felt Levin included him among those who could be bought for twenty kopecks.
Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth and which still has endless leisure to devote to nothing but banal enjoyments. All its great thoughts and passionate energy are things of the past, and nothing but a host of petty, gnawing vices now cling to it like worms to a corpse.
If, in looking at the lives of princes, courtiers, men of rank and fashion, we must perforce depict them as idle, profligate, and criminal, we must make allowances for the rich men's failings, and recollect that we, too, were very likely indolent and voluptuous, had we no motive for work, a mortal's natural taste for pleasure, and the daily temptation of a large income. What could a great peer, with a great castle and park, and a great fortune, do but be splendid and idle?