Christian Anarchism and Tolstoy

I believe that Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy is one of the writers who beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Today I will share some quotations from his writings on the Bible and politics.

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 38.

Tolstoy recognizes that no one of us is or can be perfect, but he views the true Christian as someone who is progressing, that is, moving in the right direction and thus converging toward the perfection of which we all fall short.

But we all know how our laws are made. We have all been behind the scenes, we know that they are the product of covetousness, trickery, and party struggles; that there is not and cannot be any real justice in them.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 90.

This quotation really reflects the mindset of Tolstoy. He thinks that the law, as they call it, is the fig leaf with which the ruling class covers its naked oppression and plunder.

But history shows that from Caesar to Napoleon, and from Napoleon to Bismarck, government is in its essence always a force acting in violation of justice, and that it cannot be otherwise.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 111.

Nothing can oblige a man to do what he does not choose except physical force, or the threat of it, that is — deprivation of freedom, blows, imprisonment, or threats — easily carried out — of such punishments. This is what [state] authority consists of and always has consisted of. . . . All state obligations, payment of taxes, fulfillment of state duties, and submission to punishments, exile, fines, etc., to which people appear to submit voluntarily are always based on bodily violence of the threat of it.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 126-127.

Most arguments against anarchism consist of expressing fears about what might happen without the state while disregarding what has already happened and continues to happen with no end in sight in state-dominated societies. It is almost shocking how often people denounce or dismiss individualist anarchism on the grounds that it is a utopian doctrine. In any event, individualist anarchists do not believe that people are angels; on the contrary. Which is why they oppose the imposed rule of a diabolical gang of disreputable wretches who fancy themselves fit to possess and wield a monopoly of violent power over their fellows. The individualist anarchists recognize the folly of destroying the people’s liberties and natural rights at the outset as an allegedly necessary means of protecting them.

The governments of our day — all of them, the most despotic and the liberal alike — have become what Herzen so well called ‘Ghenghis Khan with the telegraph’; that is to say, organizations of violence based on no principle but the grossest tyranny, and at the same time taking advantage of all the means invented by science for the peaceful collective social activity of free and equal men, used by them to enslave and oppress their fellows.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 146.

More than a century after Tolstoy penned these words, we might alter Herzen’s phrase to “Genghis Khan with NSA surveillance technology.”

For a Christian the oath of allegiance to any government whatever — the very act which is regarded as the foundation of the existence of a state — is a direct renunciation of Christianity. For the man who promises unconditional obedience in the future to laws, made or to be made, by that very promise is in the most positive manner renouncing Christianity, which means obeying in every circumstance of life only the divine law of love he recognizes within him.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 162.

He basically asks: “Where’s the living in accordance with the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount? Given that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he asks “Why are Christians serving in the military? Why are they organizing groups to promote certain candidates for electoral office or to oppose certain candidates? Why are they promoting the passage of certain laws or the repeal of others,? Are not all of these actions aimed at empowering, influencing, or controlling earthly kingdoms?”

Christianity in its true sense puts an end to government. So it was understood at its very commencement; it was for that cause that Christ was crucified. . . . [N]o honest and serious-minded man . . . can help seeing the incompatibility of true Christianity — the doctrine of meekness, forgiveness of injuries, and love — with government, with its pomp, acts of violence, executions, and wars. The profession of true Christianity not only excludes the possibility of recognizing government, but even destroys its very foundations.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 182.

Why do men, who call themselves learned, dedicate whole lifetimes to making theories to prove that violence employed by authority against the people is not violence at all, but a special right?

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 242.

Rulers always try to implicate as many citizens as possible in all the crimes committed in their support. . . . [I]n the state organization the responsibility for the crimes committed is so hidden away that men will commit the most atrocious acts without seeing their responsibility for them. . . . The state is so organized that wherever a man is placed in the social scale, his irresponsibility is the same.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 243-44.

He basically says that the state is the greatest criminal organization ever devised. Moreover, he thinks that government officials who carry out the crimes are more likely to be rewarded than punished. So few people recognize the state as the greatest of all organized-crime gangs demonstrates the power of habit — of long-established institutions — and the state’s constant, well-organized, and lavishly funded efforts to bamboozle its subjects, the better to conceal its true nature, conduct, and consequences.

Not without good reason was Christ’s only harsh and threatening reproof directed against hypocrites and hypocrisy. It is not theft nor robbery nor murder nor fornication, but falsehood, the special falsehood of hypocrisy, which corrupts men, brutalizes them and makes them vindictive, destroys all distinction between right and wrong in their conscience, deprives them of what is the true meaning of all real human life, and debars them from all progress toward perfection.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 261.

Every war, even the most humanely conducted, with all its ordinary consequences, the destruction of harvests, robberies, the license and debauchery, and the murder with the justifications of its necessity and justice, the exaltation and glorification of military exploits, the worship of the flag, the patriotic sentiments, the feigned solicitude for the wounded, and so on, does more in one year to pervert men’s minds than thousands of robberies, murders, and arsons perpetrated during hundreds of years by individual men under the influence of passion.

Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You, trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005, 262.

Professors of law and of political philosophy, in particular, leap immediately to mind.

The name of the book comes from Luke 17:20-21 – “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” For this reason, I tend to see Tolstoy as the father of “modern” Christian anarchism. I believe that when he saw all these political Christians doing what they do he could not help thinking that they have misunderstood Jesus’s teachings. After the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated Leo Tolstoy in 1901, he responded: “I believe in God, whom I understand as Spirit, as Love, as the Source of all. I believe He is in me and I in Him.” The same attitude that got Christ crucified. In this regard I’m simply describing his view here, neither criticizing it nor praising it. To expand, however, I do believe that Tolstoy’s criticism of the churches was too sweeping. Notwithstanding the many sins of institutionalized Christianity through the ages, the history of the Church is not simply an unmitigated record of corruption and hypocrisy; far from it. Besides, there also lots of Christian anarchist movements in nowadays. For example, The Catholic Worker Movement identifies itself as anarchist. They voluntarily live below poverty level to avoid paying taxes and refuse to apply for 501(c3) status for their charitable institutions. One can see this movement as the case of “modern” Christian anarchism.

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