Tolstoy's manifesto on the state, Christian anarchy, and pacifism.

Author:Higgs, Robert
Position:Etceteras ... - Report

Leo Tolstoy's book The Kingdom of God Is Within You, completed in 1893, was written in Russian, but the Russian censors forbade its publication in the author's native country. It circulated in unpublished form, however, and was almost immediately translated into other languages and published abroad. It had substantial influence on the course of history, perhaps most of all because of its influence in shaping Gandhi's views on nonviolent resistance to the state. Today, however, the book is not well known except to scholarly specialists and a small band of anarchists; for ordinary readers, it qualifies as a piece of esoterica. Although over the years I had been struck repeatedly by quotations from this work that I encountered on the Web, only recently did I get around to reading it in its entirety.

The book is odd in several respects. In a purely literary sense, it is by no means a masterpiece, as Tolstoy's great novels, written earlier in his life, are widely acclaimed to be. In places, it reads more like a set of notes for a book than a polished work. For example, it contains many very long block quotations, much unnecessary repetition, and a detailed, itemized synopsis at the beginning of each chapter. In the words of Constance Garnett, who translated the book into English in 1894, "Tolstoy disdains all attempt to captivate the reader ... and his style is often slipshod, involved, and diffuse" ([1894] 2005, xviii). However, Tolstoy's craftsmanship as a writer still shines in the brilliance of some of his formulations, especially in the second half of the book. The book is perhaps the most epigrammatic work I have ever read. One passage after another--sometimes two or three pages as a whole--cries out for quotation, so forceful and clear is the construction.

Odd, too, is Tolstoy's own curiously uneven command of different aspects of his subject.

In regard to the nature and operation of the state and the sociology of human interrelations in the sociopolitical order, his clear-eyed insights cut to the quick. He makes even an analyst such as James Buchanan ([1979] 1999), who often complained about people's "romantic" views of politics and the state, seem himself utterly romantic. Here in brief compass is Tolstoy's decidedly unromantic account of how governments are composed and how they sustain themselves, notwithstanding their essentially criminal nature:

Governments and the ruling classes no longer take their stand on right or even on the semblance of justice, but on a skillful organization carried to such a point of perfection by the aid of science that everyone is caught in the circle of violence and has no chance of escaping from it. This circle is made up now of four methods of working upon men, joined together like the links of a chain ring. The first and oldest method is intimidation. This consists in representing the existing state organization--whatever it may be, free republic or the most savage despotism--as something sacred and immutable, and therefore following any efforts to alter it with the cruelest punishments.... [O]nce [state] authority has come into certain hands, the police, open and secret, the administration and prosecutors, jailers and executioners of all kinds, do their work so zealously that there is no chance of overturning the government, however cruel and senseless it may be. The second method is corruption. It consists in plundering the industrious working people of their wealth by means of taxes and distributing it in satisfying the greed of officials, who are bound in return to support and keep up the oppression of the people. ... The third method is what I can only describe as hypnotizing the people.... This hypnotizing process is organized at the present in the most complex manner, and starting from their earliest childhood, continues to act on men till the day of their death. It begins in their earliest years in the compulsory schools.... In countries where there is a state religion, they teach the children the senseless blasphemies of the Church catechisms, together with the duty of obedience to their superiors. In republican states they teach them the savage superstition of patriotism and the same pretended obedience to the governing authorities. ... The patriotic superstition is encouraged by the creation, with money taken from the people, of national fetes, spectacles, monuments, and festivals to dispose men to attach importance to their own nation, and to the aggrandizement of the state and its rulers, and to feel antagonism and even hatred for other nations.... [U]nder every government without exception everything is kept back that might emancipate and everything encouraged that...

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