Leo Tolstoy on the Law of Love

Leo Tolstoy on the Law of Love

"A Christian does not quarrel with any one,
does not attack any one, nor use violence against one;
on the contrary, he himself without murmuring bears violence;
but by this very relation to violence he not only frees himself,
but also the world from external power. "
Leo Tolstoy

" War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it
must try to stifle the voice of conscience within themselves."
Leo Tolstoy

"The evil committed by man not only weakens his soul
and deprives him of true happiness,
but more often than not
falls back on the one who commits it."
Leo Tolstoy

"Eventually institutional violence will disappear,
not as a result of external action,
but thanks only to the calls of conscience of men
who have awakened to the truth."
Leo Tolstoy

"Every man, in refusing to take part in military service
or to pay taxes to a government
which uses them for military purposes, is,
by this refusal, rendering a great service to God and man,
for he is thereby making use of the most efficacious means
of furthering the progressive movement of mankind
toward that better social order which it is striving after
and must eventually attain."
Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy, the son of Count Nicholas Tolstoy, was born on August 28, 1828 (September 9, 1828 in our Gregorian calendar) at the family estate Yasnaya Polyana where he spent most of his life about 100 miles south of Moscow. His mother died before he was two years old, and when he was about nine, his father and grandmother died. Leo was raised by aunts and tutors, and he followed his older brothers to the University of Kazan; wanting to become a diplomat he studied in the Department of Oriental Languages and strove to become a sophisticated gentleman of the world. In 1847 he began to manage his estate at Yasnaya Polyana while also pursuing the social life in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In his diary he formulated rules for living which he had great difficulty following. At age 23 he followed his older brother Nicholas into the army life in the Caucasus, and he fought in the Crimean War until 1856. During this period he struggled with a penchant for gambling, "fits of lust" and "criminal sloth." He criticized the army for lacking loyalty, courage, and dignity, and complained about the corporal punishment inflicted on the soldiers and about the incompetence of the generals. He was only 24 when he wrote in his diary that because war is unjust those who are involved in it must stifle their consciences. He began writing sketches on Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, short stories, and described the suffering of a civilized man amid the spontaneous lives of the natives in The Cossacks. He studied educational methods and started an experimental school for the local peasants. He formulated his progressive educational theories under the influence of Rousseau's writings and his travels in western Europe. When Leo was 34 he married Sonya who bore him thirteen children and assisted him in his literary career which in the next fifteen years produced two of the greatest novels ever written, War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

The epic War and Peace describes the lives of five aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars between Russia and France. His subtle psychological insights and realistic details create an entire world from various points of view. Tolstoy's own future views are foreshadowed by the esoteric philosophy of the Freemasons who initiate Pierre into their mysteries. He is exhorted to an active life of virtue, and although they endeavor to reform society, they renounce the use of violence. "Every violent reform deserves censure, for it quite fails to remedy evil while men remain what they are, and also because wisdom needs no violence." The answer lies in personal transformation which Pierre undergoes during the course of events. The moral evil of the war is summarized by Tolstoy in these words:

An event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.

Tolstoy does not lay the blame on the leaders and "great men" whom he believes are merely puppets of history, a history that is shaped by the millions of choices made by the countless individuals participating.

Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal aims, and feels with his whole being that he can do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance.

Thus, although man lives consciously for himself, the social unconscious of collective humanity exerts a greater influence depending on how high the man stands on the social ladder which in turn determines his power over others. This diagnosis was to lead to Tolstoy's twofold solution to the problem of a violent society-that is, the social solution of dismantling the political institutions which by their nature force their power on the people, and the individual solution of refusing to participate in institutions of violence from a sense of inner conscience. In Anna Karenina the Tolstoyan hero Levin declares, "The good of society is dependent upon scrupulous obedience of the moral law engraved in every human heart," and he also believes that "no one, therefore, should desire or advocate war, whatever generous aim it purports to serve."

In his Confession Tolstoy describes the spiritual crisis he had in 1879 when he contemplated suicide. He explains how literary minds fall away from traditional religion only to get lost in an aesthetic nihilism. Neither science nor theology satisfied his quest for meaning in life, but living a simple and good life to benefit others awakened in him a feeling of faith in God that reasoning could not find. He returned to religion, but after a while he left the dogma and ritual of the church behind to explore for himself the original teachings of Christ especially as presented in the Sermon on the Mount. He made his own translation, harmony, and summary of the gospels and expounded their precepts in his writings for the rest of his life. He was particularly moved by the command not to resist him that is evil but to love your enemies. With this foundation he criticized the hypocrisy of Christian societies which practiced violence in warfare and criminal executions. He felt that the three causes of war in his time were the unequal distribution of property, the military establishment, and false and deceptive religion. In What I Believe he contrasted the teachings of Jesus to the dogma and practices of the Orthodox Church. In What Shall We Do Then? Tolstoy presented his observations of the slums in Moscow and analyzed the causes of poverty. In deciding what to do he suggests three things:

1) not to lie to oneself or be afraid of the truth,
2) to renounce one's sense of righteousness, prerogatives, and privileges, and

3) to labor with one's whole being to support oneself and others.

In 1891 a severe famine occurred in Russia, and visiting a friend in Ryazan Province, Tolstoy was moved to work in relief efforts, although his pleas for help were attacked by government officials. In 1897 he published What is Art? propounding that in good art the soul of the artist infects his audience by means of sympathetic feelings, and he hailed religious art which flows from the love of God and man as the highest art. True art encourages peaceful co-existence of people not by the external means of courts, police, and institutions, but "through the free and joyous activity of men. Art should remove violence." Art can teach people how to feel for other people and recognize the universal brotherhood of humanity so that the kingdom of love may be established.

Near the close of the century about 12, 000 Dukhobors were being persecuted in Russia because they refused to serve in the army since it is against Christian teachings. The persecutions had depleted their resources so that they did not have the funds to migrate to America. Tolstoy rapidly completed his novel Resurrection and turned the considerable sum of money he received from it over to the Dukhobors and along with other donations, particularly from English and American Quakers, they were able to move to Canada.

Tolstoy had adopted a new life-style after his conversion, giving all his property to his wife and living almost like a peasant. He gave up smoking and drinking and became a vegetarian. He worked in the fields, cleaned his own room and made his own boots. Because of his radical ideas he was excommunicated by the church. Finally after conflicts between his wife and the leading Tolstoyan disciple Chertkov the old man left his home at the age of 82 and died shortly after starting on this pilgrimage as a religious hermit.

Tolstoy's major book on nonviolence and the way to peace is The Kingdom of God is Within You which was completed in 1893. He begins by surveying the non-resistants in America such as the Quakers, William Lloyd Garrison, and Adin Ballou who dedicated their lives to these principles. He recounts how some people in Russia refused to do military service because of religious convictions. Tolstoy explains how not resisting evil with evil is the way to eliminate evil altogether.

It alone makes it possible to tear the evil out by the root, both out of one's own heart and out of the neighbor's heart. This doctrine forbids doing that by which evil is perpetuated and multiplied. He who attacks another and insults him, engenders in another the sentiment of hatred, the root of all evil. To offend another, because he offended us, for the specious reason of removing an evil, means to repeat an evil deed, both against him and against ourselves.

Tolstoy responds to five typical criticisms of non-resistance. First, some assert that violence does not contradict Christ's teachings, believing that government is not bound by the admonitions toward humility, forgiveness, and love of enemies; they simply quote Biblical passages to their liking and ignore the essence of the teachings. Second, people feel that turning the other cheek and giving up one's shirt is too high a moral demand for this world, and that if force were not used to stop evildoers they would destroy all the good people; however, this argument destroys the Christian teachings because true Christians do not wish to judge evil-doers, nor do they consider themselves capable of judging accurately, nor would they be willing to execute punishment. The third argument is that although one ought not to defend oneself he ought to defend his neighbors; this still contradicts Christ's teaching because Jesus did not allow his disciples to defend him and because the violence used to defend against threatened violence may be even worse since we never know what will result beforehand. Fourth, theologians and defenders of the church and state consider violations of non resistance as accidental and even justifiable under certain circumstances such as wars and executions; yet they do not try to justify the breaking of other commandments such as against fornication, and one reason why people ignore non-resistance is because church preachers do not recognize it. The fifth device is merely to ignore the question and criticize non-resistants for being one-sided or extremists; these people are the hardest to reach, because they are not willing to discuss the issue and assume they are right without any logical justification whatsoever, being under a kind of "hypnotic suggestion."

Tolstoy delineates the following five ideals and commandments of Christ expressed in the Sermon on the Mount:

1) have no ill-will against anyone, but love all; don't even offend with a word;
2) complete chastity, even in thought;
3) live only in the present and don't worry about the future; don't swear and don't promise;
4) never use violence nor repay evil with evil, but suffer insult and give up possessions;
5) love our enemies and those who hate us by treating them as ourselves.

For Tolstoy these commandments are to be practiced now, and they will be followed by higher ones on the path to perfection. These teachings transcend the social conception of life which may be limited by exclusive love of one's family, tribe, nation, race, or even humanity. These and socialistic brotherhoods are based on the love of personality, but the Christian love ever expands because it is based on the love of God.

Tolstoy points out the contradiction of the military in a society which professes itself to be Christian - believing in the brotherhood of men and being prepared for hostility and murder - "of being at the same time a Christian and a gladiator." Tolstoy finds three prevalent attitudes to war. Those who consider it accidental and propose diplomatic and international solutions. Others deplore the horrors of war but believe that it is inevitable; these are the pessimistic writers who describe how terrible life is but offer no real solution. The third group has lost its conscience and justifies wars as part of natural evolution and the survival of the fittest. For Tolstoy even the first group which organizes societies and diplomatic methods to resolve conflicts is rather like trying to catch a bird by putting salt on his tail; the salt can only be used if the bird is as good as caught anyway. Thus international agreements will only be effective when men have decided to renounce the use of weapons. Therefore the critical step is to refuse to participate in or support military forces. Tolstoy compares the advantages and disadvantages for a person to submit or not to submit to military service and summarizes the advantages in these words:

For him who has not refused, the advantages will consist in this, that, having submitted to all the humiliations and having executed all the cruelties demanded of him, he may, if he is not killed, receive red, golden, tin-foil decorations over his fool's garments, and he may at best command hundreds of thousands of just such bestialized men as himself, and be called a field-marshall, and receive a lot of money.

But the advantages of him who refuses will consist in this, that he will retain his human dignity, will earn the respect of good men, and, above all else, will know without fail that he is doing God's work, and so an incontestable good to men.

How, then, does society make soldiers of its men? by intimidation, bribery, hypnotization, and segregation from civilian society. Observing the stirrings of revolutionary movements Tolstoy correctly predicts that the communists and socialists will put even the economic sphere under the control of the government. The Christian solution of nonviolence must be used if men are ever to free themselves from enslavement to violent institutions. Those who follow a merely social concept of life do not refuse to submit, and many fight and kill in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity. However, the true Christian is liberated from social powers because he lives "the divine law of love, which is implanted in the soul of every man and is brought into consciousness by Christ." Although he may suffer external violence or physical imprisonment, the Christian is free (not a slave of sin) and therefore is not compelled by external threats. Freedom is not found in external things but in the inward liberation of choosing what is loving. Tolstoy cites cases where conscientious Christians refused to submit to military service and to swear such an oath or refused to pay taxes; he observes that they are more effective with peaceful disobedience than are the socialists, communists, and anarchists with their bombs, riots, and revolutions, for governments know how to handle external threats. Force can fight force, but love and peace have a subtle power all their own. He concludes, "The governments feel their indefensibleness and weakness, and the men of the Christian consciousness are awakening from their lethargy and are beginning to feel their strength.

Those who try to rule with violence are obviously breaking the golden rule and are morally inferior to those who prefer suffering violence to doing violence. The state tries to justify its violence with the assumption that it prevents violence, but Tolstoy holds that if the government stopped all its violence then the total amount of violence would decrease. Since it is the bad or morally inferior who do violence, the government has placed itself among the bad. Violence will never cease due to the threat of violence but only when people become good and refrain from it altogether. Thus society improves as more and more people renounce the cruelty of violence. Violence distorts public opinion as to what is right and obscures people's recognition of the true spiritual forces of humanity. When public opinion condemns violence, then using violence in government becomes less desirable and those holding positions tend to use less violence. Inevitably people will eventually see the uselessness, silliness, and indecency of violence, and weapons will no longer be employed. The kingdom of God will come as we live by the light within us.

In the last fifteen years of his life Tolstoy wrote numerous articles and letters promoting the philosophy of nonviolence and the technique of civil disobedience. He expressed his gratitude to several American writers who especially influenced him, namely, Garrison, Parker, Emerson, Ballou, and Thoreau. He repeated the basic principle that murder is wrong and that killing one's fellow human beings in any circumstances is murder. Thus the simple truth is that war and executions are murder, even though people try to justify them. The essential solution to war is for people to realize what it really is and call it by its right name. "It should be understood that an army is an instrument of murder, that the recruiting and drilling of armies which Kings, Emperors, and Presidents carry on with so much self-assurance are preparations for murder." Therefore a Christian cannot be a soldier, that is, a murderer, and a man with any sense will not enslave himself to a master whose business is killing. The way to end war, then, is for those who recognize that it is wrong to refrain from fighting and even to cease supporting warlike governments by refusing to pay their taxes. Those who are not hypnotized into the wrongdoing must refuse; those who do follow reason, conscience, and God will always attain the best results for themselves and for the world. They say something like this:

What you tell us about the danger threatening us, and about your anxiety to guard us against it, is a fraud. All the states are assuring us that they desire peace, and yet at the same time all are arming themselves against the others. Moreover, according to that law, which you yourselves recognize, all men are brothers, and it makes no difference whether one belongs to this state or to that; therefore the idea of our being attacked by other nations, with which you try to frighten us, has no terror for us; we regard it as a matter of no importance. The essential thing, however, is that the law given to us by God and recognized even by you who are requiring us to participate in killing, distinctly forbids, not killing only, but also every kind of violence. Therefore we cannot, and will not, take part in your preparations for murder, we will give no money for the purpose, and we will not attend the meetings arranged by you with the object of perverting men's minds and consciences, and transforming them into instruments of violence, obedient to any bad man who may choose to make use of them.

Now the real struggle is between those who use violence and those who refuse to be violent. Thus Tolstoy urges both officers and soldiers to resign. He exposes the cruel punishments the army uses to turn men into less than animals, into machines, which perform deeds most repulsive to human nature. He exhorts men to obey God rather than the shameful commands of men.

We must learn to see through the perverted rationalizations that governments use to justify war. Tolstoy particularly warns against the dangerous sentiment of patriotism which he defines as "the preference for one's own country or nation above the country or nation of any one else" and finds it aptly illustrated in the German patriotic song, Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles. This sentiment he regards as immoral because it violates the golden rule by trying to benefit oneself at the expense of others. In patriotism Tolstoy sees "a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power." Patriotism must inevitably yield to universal brotherhood. Tolstoy proposes that the most important changes in the life of humanity are not brought about by armies nor machines nor exhibitions nor labor unions nor revolutions nor inventions but by a change in public opinion. We need only to stop Iying to ourselves and realize that "strength is not in force but in truth." Oppressive governments fear the clear expression of thought more than anything else; spiritual force is free and always accessible in the depths of human consciousness. We must learn to use the consciousness of truth by expressing what we know is right. By expressing the truth the new public opinion will become enlightened. This truth is found in our consciences and is given to us by God. Christ gave us his peace, but it is up to us to bring it into realization.

The heroes in this struggle for peace are the martyrs who have died for refusing to do violence or who have been locked up in prisons. Many were little known; yet the spiritual power of their actions can influence consciences of countless people. Tolstoy prophesies that war must disappear, and he sees many signs of its demise. "These signs are such as the helpless position of governments, which more and more increase their armaments; the multiplication of taxation and the discontent of the nations; the extreme degree of efficiency with which deadly weapons are constructed; the activity of congresses and societies of peace; but above all, the refusals of individuals to take military service." All of these indicators are much more pronounced now than they were in the last century. Just as slavery was recognized as wrong in the nineteenth century and was eventually eradicated, so too war is now being considered a useless, wicked, harmful madness which must also be eliminated. Those who are persecuted for the sake of peace and justice gradually awaken the consciences of their persecutors, not by coercive force but by love and persuasion. By renouncing violence the non-resistance principle recognizes the freedom of every individual to make his own decisions. By love and rational persuasion humanity can truly progress toward a better way of life. Tolstoy elucidates three ways we can know how to act. First, the collective wisdom of mankind advises us to act toward others as we would have them act toward us. Second, we can use our reason to see that if people acted in this way it would be best for everyone. Third, by listening to our hearts we know by intuition that the loving action leads to happiness.

Tolstoy's last book was The Law of Love and the Law of Violence. He begins the preface, "The only reason why I am writing this is because, knowing the one means of salvation for Christian humanity, from its physical suffering as well as from the moral corruption in which it is sunk, 1, who am on the edge of the grave, cannot be silent." He could see the increasing conflicts between revolutionaries and governments, between oppressed nations and their oppressors, state against state and West against East, but few are aware of the remedies to these problems. Tolstoy observes that animalistic man is unhappy and that evil weakens the soul and usually rebounds. Force does not keep people social, and cruelty and lies must eventually be replaced by Christ's law of love. "It is this law of love and its recognition as a rule of conduct in all our relations with friends, enemies and offenders which must inevitably bring about the complete transformation of the existing order of things, not only among Christian nations, but among all the peoples of the globe." This obviously rules out violence. Although reason is often used to justify sin, the horrors of wars are much worse than the motives and justifications for them ever consider. Governments really use violence so that a minority may continue to exploit a majority by maintaining the established "order." The majority allows themselves to be exploited, because they are deceived and because they have no faith in God but are manipulated by considerations of self-interest. Tolstoy reiterates the need to refuse military service and describes the joy experienced by some of those he saw in prison. Although conditions in the world seem to be reaching a point where there seems to be no solution, the supreme law of love is still the way to salvation. Conscience has been the moving impulse behind the gradual evolution and recognition of human rights. The type of political or social system, whether to preserve a monarchy or a republic or replace it with a socialist or communist regime, if the method is violent, they cannot but fail until the supreme law of love is universally practiced, for love transcends all the social systems. We are free and happy according to how closely we follow the supreme law of life which is love; when everyone observes the law of love, union will be realized without effort. These ideas Tolstoy wanted to convey before he died, that by perfecting our love toward our fellow man we free ourselves from illusions.

At the end of his life Tolstoy corresponded with Mohandas Gandhi concerning the way of love and non-resistance. Two months before his death he wrote to Gandhi, "Socialism, communism, anarchism, the Salvation Army, the growth of crime, unemployment among the population, the growth of the insane luxury of the rich and the destitution of the poor, the terrible growth in the number of suicides-all these things are signs of this internal contradiction which ought to and must be solved - and, of course, solved in the sense of recognizing the law of love and renouncing all violence." He praised Gandhi's work in South Africa and reported about refusals to do military service in Russia. "However insignificant may be the number of your people who practice non-resistance and of our people in Russia who refuse military service, both can boldly say that God is with them. And God is more powerful than men." Thus the baton of peace and nonviolence passed to a humble Indian thousands of miles away whose use of the peace philosophy and nonviolent technique on a mass scale was to astound the world.

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