Saturday, November 23, 2013

 

Quotable: The Law of Love and the Law of Violence

Below are some excerpts from "The Law of Love and the Law of Violence" by Leo Tolstoy as translated of Mary Koutouzow Tolstoy (Rudolph Field, 1948) and transcribed and edited by nonresistance.org. I think the translation by Jane Kentish in A Confession and Other Religious Writings (Penguin, 1987) is superior but I don't have access to an electronic version of that text.

 Nothing should be more natural than that the working class should thus express itself [by rejecting government--VFPD]. But most of them continue their existence as martyrs in the police service, in financial offices, and in the regiments. Others, the minority, try to free themselves from oppression by revolt and by committing violence in their turn on those who oppress them, or, in other words, try to quench fire with fire and thus increase the violence from which they are suffering.

Why do men act so irrationally? It is because the long duration of the lie has caused them to lose all notion of the bond that exists between their servitude and their participation in violence.

Why do they not see this bond? Because they no longer have faith, and without faith, men are guided only by interest. In fact, he who is guided by interest alone cannot do otherwise than deceive or be deceived. [p. 16]


The Christian revelation was the doctrine of human equality, of the fatherhood of God, of the brotherhood of man. It struck at the very basis of that monstrous tyranny that then oppressed the civilized world; it struck at the fetters of the captive, at the bonds of the slave, at that monstrous injustice which allowed a class to revel on the proceeds of labor, while those who did the labor fared scantily. That is the reason why early Christianity was persecuted. And when they could no longer hold it down, then the privileged classes adopted and perverted the new faith, and it became, in its very triumph, not the pure Christianity of the early days, but a Christianity that, to a very great extent, was the servitor of the privileged classes. [This text appears in the epigraph to chap. 10 in the Kentish translation (although this is not the same version she uses); it does not appear at all in M. K. Tolstoy's translation. The text comes from "Thy Kingdom Come" (1889) by Henry George.]


Do not think that Church Christianity was an incomplete, one-sided, formal view of Christianity, but nevertheless Christianity. Do not think this: for Church Christianity is the enemy of true Christianity and stands in relation to true Christianity as a criminal caught in the act. It must either destroy itself, or continue to commit new crimes. [This text appears in the epigraph to chap. 10 in the Kentish translation; it does not appear at all in M. K. Tolstoy's translation. According to notes in the Kentish edition, Leo Tolstoy is quoting himself from another work.]


The social conditions of life can only be improved by people exercising self-restraint.

It is said that one swallow does not make a summer, but can it be that because one swallow does not make a summer another swallow, sensing and anticipating summer, must not fly? If every blade of grass waited similarly summer would never occur. And it is the same with establishing the Kingdom of God: we must not think about whether we are the first or the thousandth swallow. [This text appears in the epigraph to chap. 13 in the Kentish translation; it does not appear at all in M. K. Tolstoy's translation.]


The Christian can ignore the laws established by the State because he has no need of them for himself, or for others; he considers that human life is better assured by the law of love professed by him than by the law of violence that one wants to impose on him … Having recognized the efficacy of the law of love, he does not consider the law of violence obligatory, and he denounces the other as the most horrible of mistakes ...

The profession of true Christianity, which includes the precept of nonresistance to evil by violence, relieves those faithful to this doctrine from any external authority. Much better, it gives them the possibility of obtaining better conditions in life, those that men seek vainly by changing its external forms. In reality, these forms change only after the modifications that have arisen in men's consciences, and in the measure in which this conscience has evolved.

It was not the orders of a government that abolished the murder of children, tortures, or slavery, but the universal conscience that caused these orders. Since the evolution of conscience determines the changes in the modes of life, the contrary, as well, should happen (or so they say). As it is more agreeable and easier to modify external forms (because the results are more apparent), this activity is preferred to the one whose aim is to modify conscience. That is why one is more frequently occupied with the foundation, rather than with the form.
[pp. 29-30]


A man who continues to live in error sees the incarnation of power in certain sacred institutions, which are the indispensable organs of the social body. The man who awakens to the truth sees this assumed by men sunk in error and who attribute to it a fantastic importance having no possible justification, and who accomplish their will by force.

For those with insight, these lost people, bribed as often as not, resemble brigands who hold up travelers on the high roads. For anyone who has awakened to the truth, the entity called the State does not exist, and therefore there is not the slightest justification, for him, for the acts of violence committed in the name of the State. And any participation in these acts is impossible for him.


To sum up, State violence will disappear, not with the aid of external means, but thanks only to the calls of conscience of men who have awakened to the truth.
[From the epigraph to chap. 15]


We are quite accustomed to find ways of managing other people's lives, and these methods do not seem odd to us. They would be unnecessary, however, if men were religious and free. They are, in fact, the result of despotism and of the domination of one or a few over many. This error is harmful, not only because it causes suffering to those who feel the oppression of despots, but even more so because their consciences no longer warn them of the necessity of bettering their condition. But only this conscience can have an effect on one's fellow being.

Not only has one man not the right to dispose of a great number, but a great number have not the right to dispose of a single man. (V. Tchertkov,
Daily Reading, November 22nd) [From the epigraph to chap. 16]


The superstition that causes one to think that he can tell in advance how society will be organized in the future has its origin in the desire of the transgressors to justify their conduct, and in the desire of the victims to explain and lighten the weight of the constraint. The former persuade themselves and others that they know the way to make life take the form that they consider the best. The latter, who undergo such constraint that they do not feel strong enough to free themselves, have the same conviction, for it permits them to give a certain excuse for their position.

The history of nations ought to destroy this superstition entirely.
  [p. 35]


... our idea of our social organization, founded on violence, is so impressed upon us that we do not perceive all the crimes that they commit each day in the name of the public good. We see only the rare violent attempts of those who are called murderers, burglars, or thieves.

"He is a murderer, he is a thief, he does not observe the rule of not doing to others what you would not have them do to you," say the same people who go on killing in war, who force nations to prepare for carnage, and who steal from and despoil their own as well as foreign nations. [p. 37]


Men already see the ignominy of the spy and executioner, and are beginning to see that of the police, detectives, and even to a certain degree, of military men. But they do not yet see it of the judge, the minister, the sovereign, chiefs of parties, or revolutionaries. And yet the work of the latter is as vile and as contrary to human nature, or even worse, than the work of the executioner or the spy, because it is more hypocritical.

Understand then, all of you, especially the young, that to want to impose an imaginary state of government on others by violence is not only a vulgar superstition, but even a criminal work. Understand that this work, far from assuring the good of men, is only a lie, a more or less unconscious hypocrisy, and is always hiding the lowest passions.


Understand it, you, men of tomorrow, and stop looking for an illusionary happiness by participating in the administration of the State by judicial institutions, by instruction, and by all kinds of parties that have the good of the masses as an aim. Pay attention to only one thing, that which you need the most, that which is the most accessible, and that which gives the most happiness to us and to everyone: the increase of love in us by the suppression of vices and passions that keep it from manifesting itself.
[pp. 39-40]

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