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November 11, 2009

Leo Tolstoy – the Kingdom of God and Peace Essays.

Filed under: book, non violence — Tags: — neosurya @ 18:30

The students of humanities, arts, and similar subjects must be a harried lot. They are made to read authors like Tolstoy, but the reality of life shows a very different picture, and must be quite hard on the “true followers”. Nevertheless, Tolstoy’s writings carry several lessons; even Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence was based in part on Tolstoy’s writings  with the aptly named Tolstoy Farm being the first place where Satyagraha was practiced.

I just finished reading “The Kingdom of God and Peace Essays”. The first part of this book is “The Kingdom of God is Within You” (first published 1893), followed by  five essays written/spoken between 1894 and 1909. The book makes for very difficult reading. It is very dense and Tolstoy goes all over the place in each of his pages. There is a wealth of philosophical explanations and guidance in the book if the reader does not get lost in the narration. The first line itself is quite interesting:

From the very foundation of Christianity the doctrine of not resisting evil by violence has been professed and still is professed, by a minority of men.

He explains how many people consider Christs’ teachings to be impractical, given the violence in society. He makes a case that it is indeed possible to be non-violent, but that firmly entrenched beliefs of the Church and other organizations would not let common people believe in non-violence.

Quite difficult matters can be explained even to a slow-witted man, if only he has not already adopted a wrong opinion about them; but the simplest things cannot be made clear even to a very intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he already knows, and knows indubitably, the truth of the matter under consideration.

The Christian teaching seems to men of our world to be just such a doctrine, long and indubitably known by everybody in its minutest details, and which cannot be otherwise understood than as it has been.

In the first chapter, he quotes from “The Net of Faith”, the work of a 15th century Czech author by the name of Helchitsky:

“Christ, by means of his disciples, would have caught all the world in his net of faith, but the greater fish broke the net and escaped out of it, and all the rest have slipped through the holes made by the greater fish, so that the net has remained quite empty. The greater fish who broke the net are the rulers, emperors,  popes, kings, who have not renounced power, and instead of true Christianity have put on what is simply a mask of it.”


The Christian, according to Helchitsky’s reasoning, not only cannot be a ruler or a soldier; he cannot take any part in government or in trade, or even be a landowner; he can only be an artisan or a husbandman.
This book is one of the few works attacking official Christianity that has escaped being burned. All such so-called heretical works were burned at the stake, together with their authors, so that there are few ancient works exposing the errors of official Christianity.

He also says that people must even oppose Government service if it goes against non-violence.

There are some people, who, without any definite reasoning about it, conclude straightway that the responsibility of government measures rests entirely on those who resolve on them, or that the 10 governments and sovereigns decide the question of what is good or bad for their subjects, and the duty of the subjects is merely to obey.

Q. May he kill or maim him in self-defense?
A. No.
Q. May he go with a complaint to the judge that he who has wronged him may be punished?
A. No. What he does through others, he is in reality doing himself.
Q. Can he fight in conflict with foreign enemies or disturbers of the peace?
A. Certainly not. He cannot take any part in war or in preparations for war. He cannot make use of
a deadly weapon. He cannot oppose injury to injury, whether he is alone or with others, either in person
or through other people.
Q. Can he voluntarily vote or furnish soldiers for the government?
A. He can do nothing of that kind if he wishes to be faithful to Christ’s law.
Q. Can he voluntarily give money to aid a government resting on military force, capital punishment,
and violence in general?
A. No, unless the money is destined for some special object, right in itself, and good both in aim
and means.
Q. Can he pay taxes to such a government?
A. No. He ought not voluntarily to pay taxes, but he ought not to resist the collecting of taxes. A
tax is levied by the government, and is exacted independently of the will of the subject. It is impossible
to resist it without having recourse to violence of some kind. Since the Christian cannot employ
violence, he is obliged to offer his property at once to the loss by violence inflicted on it by the
Q. Can a Christian give a vote at elections, or take part in government or law business?
A. No. Participation in election, government, or law business is participation in government by

Of course, if he opposed all of these, there is no doubt that he was very much against people joining the army. He also says that Governments steadfastly try to ensure that people are dependent on the state, by providing something like “social service” for the citizenry. In return, Govts ask people to pay for this dependence by serving in the armed forces. He gave a powerful example from the diary of one “Nicholas Myravyov of Kars”, written about an event in 1818:

“Tiflis, October 2, 1818. In the morning the commandant told me that five peasants belonging to a landowner in the Tamboff government had lately been sent to Georgia. These men had been sent for soldiers, but they would not serve; they had been flogged several times and made to run the gauntlet, but they would submit readily to the crudest tortures, and even to death, rather than serve. ‘Let us go,’ they said, ‘and leave us alone; we will not hurt anyone; all men are equal, and the Czar is a man like us; why should we pay him tribute; why should I expose my life to danger to kill in battle some man who has done me no harm? You can cut us to pieces and we will not be soldiers. He who has compassion on us will give us charity, but as for the government rations, we have not had them and we do not want to have them.’ These were the words of those peasants, who declare that there are numbers like them in Russia. They brought them four times before the Committee of Government Ministers, and at last decided to lay the matter before the Czar, who gave orders that they should be taken to Georgia for correction, and commanded the commander-in-chief to send him a report every month of their gradual success in bringing these peasants to a better mind.”

I found one line to be particularly interesting “He who has compassion on us will give us charity, but as for the government rations, we have not had them and we do not want to have them.”. Statements like these if accepted by large numbers of people, have huge implications (This line of thought falls in the general area of “anarchism“). Tolstoy further commented on some of the things done by Governments of his time (1880’s):

To begin with, they have recourse to every means of coercion used in our times to ‘correct’ the culprit and bring him to ‘a better mind,’ and these measures are carried out with the greatest secrecy. I know that in the case of one man who declined to serve in 1884 in Moscow, the official correspondence on the subject had two months after his refusal accumulated into a big folio, and was kept absolutely secret among the Ministry.

The remaining chapters of this book are equally intense. The book I read was a version by Rupa Publishers. The translation in this version appears to contribute to some of the dense reading in this book. The original book (Translated by Constance Garnett) makes for easier reading and it is also available as pdf.


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