Tolstoy: Close, But No Cigar

Column by Jim Davies.

Exclusive to STR

I'd heard somewhere that Leo Tolstoy was an anarchist, so reckoned it was high time I read War and Peace. Thanks to, I was able to download both that and Anna Karenina and enjoy the pair of them on vacation rainy days. Having done so, I must dismiss the rumor; he was an extraordinary author and thinker, and upset Establishment clerics and scholars of his time and place wonderfully well, but he fell short of grasping that the source of evil is government, and that society could function nicely without any.
That, at least, is what I found in the book, written in 1869; he may have changed later in life. Wikipedia quotes Tolstoy as having said, shortly after witnessing a public execution in 1857, “The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens ... Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere.” And in War and Peace, Tolstoy reflects that experience in a highly moving, realistic account of another execution; yet although written twelve years later, his character who sees it makes no such forthright resolution. If he was indeed an anarchist, and given that War and Peace is his magnum opus and so his most widely read publication, that's a real pity.
My first impression was of the enormous size of War and Peace. The download was of 3.4 megabytes; by comparison, my copy of the delightful but lengthy Brontë romance Jane Eyre is only 1.1 MB. War and Peace is a single story, but is divided into 15 books, each with numerous bite-sized chapters, plus two epilogues for extra measure.
From his Russian perspective, Tolstoy tells the tale of the War of 1812; the big war, not the tiny squabble between the UK and the US in which the nation's capital was set ablaze. The one in Russia consumed the lives of 200,000 Russians and 380,000 Frenchmen, who invaded that year and captured Moscow, only to retreat after their “victory” and exit Russia after losing ninety five percent of their number, dead and captured. It is one of the most amazing military encounters in history and set an eerie precedent for the German invasion and defeat a century and a third later.
As a novel, War and Peace is masterly. With a total cast of hundreds, Tolstoy brilliantly follows the interweaving stories of a couple of dozen individuals and families, all Russian and mainly but not exclusively aristocratic, bringing the reader into the mind of each character with profound insight, empathy and pathos – male and female, young and old, rich and poor, in situations “normal,” exciting and tragic – especially, tragic. This was Russia, after all; there's a pessimistic flavor, a dark tone. I was impressed at the way he could not only paint each character in full detail, but credibly mature them over time – and the story covers a decade of time, 1805 through 1815. Thus, for example, Count Pierre Bezukhov (probably his alter ego) begins as an unattractive, dissolute, shallow young man, very tall and very fat, with little to commend his character; he ends up a deeply sincere and loving person happily married and benevolent to all. Such maturing is true to life, of course, but it's unusual in novels, except when they relate the growing up of a child.
His style had one feature that annoyed me: he knew how to build up tension, and kept it going over several chapters sometimes, but when eventually it was released, it was done quickly, and after a few lines he moved on to some fresh topic. It's as if there was a whole lot of foreplay but very little afterglow. It's a defect in my humble view, but as a critic, I'm far too late; Tolstoy died in 1910 as a universally acknowledged master of his craft.
As a novel, then, War and Peace deserves its top-shelf reputation. But it's not just a novel. Tolstoy was not a professional historian, so he used it to convey his view of history, and in so doing he reminded me strongly of Ayn Rand--another Russian – who also wrote a long novel, to convey to the public her radically new philosophy. It suggests to me that she took note of Tolstoy's technique and borrowed it. How else could she, a lowly immigrant waitress, hope to throw a “Hail Mary” over the heads of the established scholars of philosophy?
There's a difference: whereas Rand puts her lengthy explanations into the mouths of her heroes as speeches, Tolstoy takes a break from the tale and interposes a book about what the developing Napoleonic invasion means; then he gets back to the story. It's dramatic. He first does that in Book 9, Chapter 1 – worth fetching, from Gutenberg. There, Tolstoy revises history. I love revisionist historians, don't you?
Before reading War and Peace, I had a vague idea that Napoleon's army had invaded Russia so as to complete his conquest of Europe (except for that tiresome island nation to France's North) and that the defenders had scorched the earth in front of his army, even burning Moscow, the capital, so as to strand him without provisions. Then when he turned his starving army homewards, I thought it had perished in the Russian winter (of 1812-13) like Hitler's did in 1942-44. Turns out that, according to Tolstoy, I was a bit wrong.
He published War and Peace in 1869, and is scathing about all historians who wrote about this up to then. The Russian ones had praised the clever strategy of the Tsar as above, and the French ones had praised the bravery and vision of Napoleon and attributed this one failure to bad luck. Nonsense, says Tolstoy, and takes a saber to the lot of them. He says Napoleon invaded Russia mainly on a whim, not after forming a Grand Plan; and Tsar Alexander, far from directing his army to retreat 650 miles to Moscow in front of the French, scorching the earth as it went, repeatedly called for a battle to stop the advance, and appointed a new Supreme Commander (Kutuzov) when he didn't get one. Far from ordering Moscow burned, he wanted the army to defend it at all costs.
Kutuzov, however, continued the wiser policy and is credited with resisting both the Tsar and his own generals, who were likewise impatient, and so with carrying out the successful strategy. He did stop once (or twice, counting Smolensk) at Borodino outside the capital, for an epic battle that later inspired Tchaikovsky to write his “1812” symphony, but otherwise let the French grow weaker and weaker on their own. And no, after Moscow was evacuated and the intact Russian army passed though to its East, it caught fire because the occupying French soldiers settled themselves in all the best houses but were careless about their cooking; the city was built of wood, the summer was long and hot, and once a few fires began, there was no brigade to put them out. Finally, Moscow was not cleared of provisions before its government people and wealthy residents quit; they took their most valuable treasures but left behind ample supplies of food and some valuables – most of which the French looted and later tried to carry home, on a journey that devastated their numbers not primarily because of winter weather but from lack of food, desertions, and guerilla raids by small units of the Russian army, eager to help them depart.
Nonetheless, Kutuzov's strategy has an important lesson for anarchists pressed to explain how a zero-government society would defend itself; and it's disappointing that Tolstoy failed, in War and Peace, to point it out. In fact, he so deeply supposed that government will remain forever that he never once visualized doing without one.
Napoleon occupied the capital expecting to take it over and administer it – first the city, then the nation it led. This is what he had done successfully throughout Europe. But this time, when he got there, there was no there, there.
There was nobody to carry out his orders, except his own soldiers; and most of those were busy relaxing, looting, eating, drinking and whoring.
So after a few weeks when the food stores had been depleted and Russian farmers showed themselves curiously reluctant to bring fresh supplies to feed them, he had few options but to declare victory and lead his soldiers home again.
In essence, that's exactly how an anarchist society would deal with potential invaders, and I say “potential” because invaders don't suddenly appear from nowhere; governments make plans, and calculate likely gains and losses, and make war only if the former greatly exceed the latter. Knowing in advance that there is no intact government to subdue and direct, that calculus will tell them to go rampage somewhere else; and the example of Moscow in 1812 is right before their eyes.
Tolstoy does come tantalizingly close to understanding one aspect of government and war. In that same chapter, he notes that Napoleon could easily have been dissuaded from his invasion of Russia by any of several simple factors – one of which was “had all his sergeants objected to serving a second term, then also there could have been no war.” What's this? “What if they gave a war, and nobody came?” a century and a half before its time? Evidently, Napoleon's NCOs were under no compulsion to remain for a further tour of duty. They might very well have gone home to rest on their laurels. The fate of 95% of their comrades was sealed when they all chose, individually, not to do so. Ultimately, governments depend entirely on the support of their victims; withdraw it, they collapse.
In War and Peace, the author comes close to an anarchist understanding in one other way; in the second epilogue, he takes time to probe the nature of power, and of free will and how it relates to what he calls the “Law of Inevitability.” Once again, however, it seems to me he misses the point even when looking at it almost head-on.
That second epilogue left me confused, and I suspect Tolstoy was himself confused when writing it, so let's deal first with that supposed Law. He reasons that freedom is not real. We may think we are making a choice in unfettered freedom, but it's actually an illusion because the choice is really determined by countless millions of events that preceded it. We might take the example of the NCOs in Napoleon's invading army; they chose to stay for another tour, and it seemed a free choice, but actually (Tolstoy would say) their choice was determined by the pay offered, the high morale of their comrades, the precedent of victory and glory elsewhere, and the uncertain prospect of employment back home. All those factors were external to the individuals making the choice, so it was... inevitable.
Nonsense. Each one who chose to join the invasion could equally have considered the morality (the adverse effect on his self-respect) of going on yet another rampage of destruction and murder, and of the suffering he would help cause. He might have done just what Tolstoy is said to have done as above in 1857 and repudiated the State and all its bloodthirsty works; he was not compelled by law to continue in the army, so there was not even a need to disobey orders. For all practical purposes the choice was free, and while obviously all choices take account of external factors that no one person can control, the choices made are in no way inevitable. Tolstoy tried to solve a non-existent problem.
His other main reflection there is upon the nature of power. Several times, he asks “What is power?” and attempts answers. Again, he comes close to something useful, but again manages somehow to miss the obvious.
Tolstoy does perceive that there is an interdependency between ruler and ruled; that, for example, Napoleon could not have simply ordered “invade!” at the start of the Russian campaign, unless there had been a hierarchy of command already willing to follow his lead, a hierarchy that took years to build up, while the young Corsican was proving he had the skill to lead units of an army. Tolstoy names the question “What is power” as the “most essential of history” and answers it (Epilogue 2, chapter 5) as follows: “Power is the collective will of the people transferred to one person. Under what condition is the will of the people delegated to one person? On condition that that person expresses the will of the whole people. That is, power is power: in other words, power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand.”
That close, he came! If only he'd asked the question a different way, he could have grasped so very much more. Of what power consists is plain to anyone who has has said “no” to a government bureau-rat; and Tolstoy had just been busy writing over three megabytes of history about the obscenity of government power in war. Had he asked instead from where government acquires power, and whether it is ever valid in some sense, he might well have seen that the answers respectively are “nowhere” and “no.”
Having realized that power has no valid source at all, Tolstoy might then have realized that the whole problem is government itself, as an irrational, chaos-causing, blood-spattered, power-intoxicated, evil-creating, lie-spouting fraud that has no valid place in human society – and set about figuring how to scrap it altogether. As far as I saw in War and Peace, he never considered that possibility; the world had to wait another century, and look in a different continent, to discover thinking that clear. Tolstoy evidently assumed that government was a permanent fixture, like the weather, so had to struggle with the impossible task of how its power can be limited or channeled to something beneficial. He didn't exactly give up the struggle to abolish the State – he never even began it.
There are many like him, today. None of them have anything close to his excuse.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"


Suverans2's picture

An anarchist who is a citizen of a STATE is like an atheist who is a member of a CHURCH.

Mark Davis's picture

That was an enjoyable read Jim, thanks.

The difference, Suverans2, is that the state will claim a person in their "jurisdiction" is a citizen without asking the person and also use violence to enforce that claim. An atheist would not choose to become a member of a church nor would a church make a claim backed by violence to be a member on the person of anybody, much less an atheist. Unless, of course, the church has become a state.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Mark Davis,

The STATE may claim, (i.e. those calling themselves "the STATE"), may presume, that one is a citizen, but only until the presumption is rebutted – according to their own law.

    Stabit praesumptio donec probetur in contrarium. A presumption will stand good until the contrary is proved. Hob. 297. ~ Maxim of law from Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), page 1403

And, using violence to enforce a claim does not validate, or sanction, the claim – again, not even in their own law.

    Actus me invito factus, non est meus actus. An act done by me against my will, is not my act. ~ Maxim of law from Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), page 36

Those would have been handy excuses for me to say, "I didn't choose to become a member of the STATE", but unfortunately the truth of the matter was that I could choose to "withdraw from membership" in the STATE, which is what I have done. But I am not an "anarchist", I am simply self-governing, and my law is the law of nature, the natural law of the human world.

    "Secession means the right to stay put, on one’s own property, and either to shift alliance to another political entity, or to set up shop as a sovereign on one’s own account." ~ Walter Block

Yes, Mark, the agents of the STATE may taze me, beat me, torture me, incarcerate me, and, perhaps, even murder me, but they cannot ever honestly say that I consented to be a member of their gang.

    "Sooner or later you’ve got to stand your ground whether anybody else does or not. That is what liberty is all about." ~ Michael Badnarik


Samarami's picture

I'm aware this argument is going to come across as "mini-statish", but I'll try to rectify that on down the line. And I'm taking into consideration where you quote Badnarik's "stand your ground" mantra and appreciate the valor of one who will stand up against all odds.

Your statement:

    "...And, using violence to enforce a claim does not validate, or sanction, the claim – again, not even in their own law..."

Using a biker analogy: I hear bikers chant about "bikers' rights". I tell 'em it ain't gonna matter about laws or "rights" or city or state ordinances or anything else -- some of those dung-heads are not going to see you. So if you're not careful and out of their way and lit up like a firetruck, you're going to get hit, and if you get hit it's likely you will not survive, and a dead biker has no "rights".

You know and I know that vultures claiming to be "state" are past-masters at circumventing "..their own law.." Beclouding, dissimulation, and obfuscation are their stocks-in-trade: assassinations, incarcerations without trial or habeus corpus, tax "fines" -- not a problem for predators of "government". And it ain't gettin' any better as time develops.

    "...The STATE may claim, (i.e. those calling themselves "the STATE"), may presume, that one is a citizen, but only until the presumption is rebutted – according to their own law..."

(emphasis mine -sam)

Are you advocating a specific act of "filing" using those buzzards' forms or formats? At one of their bureaucratic compounds?


Suverans2's picture

G'day Sam,

Sorry to take so long answering, but I just now read your reply.

You asked, "Are you advocating a specific act of "filing" using those buzzards' forms or formats? At one of their bureaucratic compounds?"

Not just, no, Sam, but, HELL NO!!!

Here is what I wrote, in context.

    The STATE may claim, (i.e. those calling themselves "the STATE"), may presume, that one is a citizen, but only until the presumption is rebutted – according to their own law.
      Stabit praesumptio donec probetur in contrarium. A presumption will stand good until the contrary is proved. Hob. 297. ~ Maxim of law from Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), page 1403

I was simply validating that even in their own law the presumption is destroyed when the contrary is proven.

And, if the law provides no peaceful remedy, Sam, we are all wasting our time here; "pass the ammunition".

Samarami's picture

OK, Suverans2, I think I get your picture -- and I suspect this ties in with Jim's thread questioning Tolstoy with anarchy.

I am a sovereign state. That declaration is made sincerely, although facetiously at times to arouse the do-it-by-the-book types who seem to think one must make formal declarations of secession (in a state-prescribed manner) to in fact withdraw "citizenship" inflicted by the beast and become truly a sovereign individual.

Anybody knows I avoid rules, protocol, policy, regulation, and terms defined by others. I manage to run a small truck business with its ancillary and aggravating permits, licensing, fuel tax reports, weight certifications, and endless inspections (all done by the girls in the office) that must be accomplished to satisfy the white man who claims to "own" and have authority over the highways and byways.

And I don't plan to stop trucking just because said white man is a pernicious pain in the ass. Any more than I plan to stop walking in the woods because rattlers and ticks are pains in the ass. A doc in San Antonio once told me I'm now immune after surviving a grievous bite a long ways from help and the venom ran its course through me. But I still wear snake boots to the woods and look carefully before reaching.

So in that sense you might accuse me of not being free -- I'm not free to run barefoot in the woods, and I have to take care of embedded ticks soon as possible. And the white man in all his vainglory will always be about -- for my own good, of course.

Be free. This might be one of my last posts for quite a time. My internet connection severs today and I'm not replacing it on this old computer. If I buy a new one my kids will have to train me on how to get back online successfully. You've been my trainer on HTML, for which I thank you.


Suverans2's picture

G'day Sam,

A "sovereign state"?

If you have a STATE's "...permits [and] licensing...", as you have just admitted, doesn't that mean you have "testified" that you are a citizen/subject of [a "(prep.) Denoting relation...belonging to, or connected with; as, men of Athens"] that STATE, and did you not have to use an IRS chattel number to obtain them?


    There are a few minimum requirements for becoming a licensed commercial driver in XXXX:

    You must be 18 years old or older.

    You will need to apply at an XXXX Department of Transportation driver's license site and supply documents proving your date of birth, your full name, and your Social Security number.

    Fill out the Certification for Commercial Driver's License form testifying that you are eligible for a CDL.

If all the above is true, how is it that you are a "sovereign state", which is a state that is "not...subject to any other (or paramount) state in any respect"?

Oh, and Sam, you ARE "free to run barefoot in the woods", just as you are free to choose whether or not to subject yourself to the dominion a STATE, which, in turn, is "controlled by a paramount government", itself.

Mark Davis's picture

All true Suverans2, but the fact remains that churches do not act that way (at least until they too become theocratic states). That is churches make no such claims, presumptions or threats.

Suverans2's picture

If they did, Mark Davis, we would still be free to "rebut the presumption" that we are members, just as we are now.

Darkcrusade's picture

Perhaps you were looking for this Jim>;c=1702272497


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. So it has always been understood by people who were not under the necessity of justifying a Christian government. Only from the time that the heads of government assumed an external and nominal Christianity, men began to invent all the impossible, cunningly devised theories by means of which Christianity can be reconciled with government. But no honest and serious-minded man of our day 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.

But if it is so, and we are right in saying that Christianity is incompatible with government, then the question naturally presents itself: which is more necessary to the good of humanity, in which way is men's happiness best to be secured, by maintaining the organization of government or by destroying it and replacing it by Christianity?

Some people maintain that government is more necessary for humanity, that the destruction of the state organization would involve the destruction of all that humanity has gained, that the state has been and still is the only form in which humanity can develop. The evil which we see among peoples living under a government organization they attribute not to that type of society, but to its abuses, which, they say, can be corrected without destroying it, and thus humanity, without discarding the state organization, can develop and attain a high degree of happiness. And men of this way of thinking bring forward in support of their views arguments which they think irrefutable drawn from history, philosophy, and even religion. But there are men who hold on the contrary that, as there was a time when humanity lived without government, such an organization is temporary, and that a time must come when men need a new organization, and that that time has come now. And men of this way of thinking also bring forward in support of their views arguments which they think irrefutable from philosophy, history, and religion.

Volumes may be written in defense of the former view (and volumes indeed have long ago been written and more will still be written on that side), but much also can be written against it (and much also, and most brilliantly, has been written--though more recently --on this side). ''

GeoffreyTransom's picture

Thatr's a very interesting excerpt, DarkCrusade - it's quite stunning to see a 'proper' intellectual writing "it was for that cause that [Yehoshuah ben Yusuf] was crucified."

Folks like me have always understood that the rebellion advocated by the anti-Roman revolutionary that we now call 'Jesus' was a specifically political act, which is why it received the standard Roman punishment for anti-State activities (and why his follwers were referred to as "lestai").

If the 'cohort' required to apprehend him and his mates was a standard σπειραν ("speira" - the original word used in John 18, Mark 15 and Matthew 27), it was very specifically the tenth part of a legion, i.e., 600 legionnaires or 1000 auxiliaries - that represents a very large manpower requirement for a peacenik.

I've written here and elsewhere that I have no truck with idiots who believe that there's an invisible wizard in the sky who can create 100 quintillion stars in one days, but must be propitiated with foreskin and blood and burnt offal... in exchange for which he made an incestuous nomad the wellspring of the Master Race (Avram and Sarai were half-siblings) .

That said, I have little doubt that a whole bunch of would-be leaders got nailed to a big lump of wood for agitating against Rome and its quislings during their (failed, eventually) occupation of Judea. The propaganda that one or other of Rome's victims used to try to gain political traction is of marginal interest in that it resulted in 2 millennia of paedophiles living in palaces funded by superstition and greed... thankfully that's finished now. And as we threw off Church hegemony over the course of the last 300 years, so we will throw off State hegemony over the next 50.

Suverans2's picture

“...he made an incestuous nomad the wellspring of the Master Race (Avram and Sarai were half-siblings)” ~ GeoffreyTransom

A common misconception, particularly by those who desire to discredit the BIBLE. ;)

    Genesis 11:31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife...

For those who don't know it, Terah is Abram's (Abraham) father, but as you can see from that he is not Sari's (Sarah) father; he is her father-in-law.

    Genesis 12:11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister [lie for me]: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. 14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.

And, wouldn't you just know it, the same exact thing happened to Isaac and Rebekah and Abimelech king of the Philistines. But here the ruse is made much clearer.

    Genesis 27:7 And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me...because she was fair to look upon.
    29 And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest [for fear that] I die for her.

Basically, both Abraham/Abram and Isaac lied, and threw their wives to the sharks, just to protect their own sorry asses, and for profit of course (See Genesis 12:16), we mustn't ever forget the profit motive with these so-called "chosen people".

    And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

Well, sort of.

    Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?
Jim Davies's picture

Thanks DarkCrusade. Seems I have some more Tolstoy to read!

Meanwhile, a response to what you wrote. Any idea for terminating government is worth considering.

This one, however, seems at first sight to have trouble with the whistle test. You say "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."

I'm an ex-Christian, and with due respect I'd say that that is simply not true. Jesus' crucifixion had no such cause. In Christian theology, he died to bear the sins of the world, as a sacrificial lamb. The "true sense" of Christianity is well summarized in the Nicene Creed, which I think is accepted by every denomination, albeit sometimes in slightly different words, and that's how the crucifixion is treated there.

At its "very commencement" there was, as far as I remember, never any call for the State to be abolished, by Jesus or any of his disciples. At that highly critical moment when he stood before Pilate, the Governor reminded Jesus that he held his life in his hands, saying "Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" (John 19:10, KJV) and his astonishing and courageous reply was "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above." In those few words he turned Pilate's boast on its head by saying in effect that he had only to snap his fingers and the entire Roman empire would crash and burn. God, in other words, either created or permitted that government to exist, moment by moment; and so was responsible for all the evil it wrought.

God/Jesus is King of Kings, and yet is an anarchist? - my contradiction-detector is red-lining.

Subsidiary to that, I can think of a long history of willing cooperation and synergy between governments and the _followers_ of Jesus, over two thousand years; but not a single case in which any of them got together and made a significant dent in the myth that government is good and necessary. Can you?

And lastly I have trouble, alas, with your suggestion to "destroy [government] and replac[e] it by Christianity." Amen to the first, but what exactly is this "replacement"? Who performs the transplant? What would he do with me, an atheist who wants no truck with either myth? Would I be strapped on an Inquisition-style rack and given some attitude adjustment?

BHK's picture


I have never been a Christian, but I have studied alternative Christian doctrines among other doctrines because I grew up in a tradition where the spiritual and the intellectual are the same. I believe that when Jesus' word is whittled down to the core message of loving your neighbor as yourself, it is fully in line with natural law and is a prescription for the individual to be truly joyful in any society, but thrive the most in a post-political one. Tolstoy recognizes this in the Kingdom of God is Within You. Even the title alludes to heaven being a place that you already are, if you would just awake to it. In this sense, the teachings of Jesus are similar to that of Lao Tzu and Buddha. I don't know if Tolstoy dispensed with the parts of the gospels that didn't conform to his particular view of Jesus' teaching, but Jefferson wrote a version of the Bible that takes out much of the teachings of Jesus that contradict the core message of love and forgiveness. I think it's fair for us to do the same. It's the church that insists that we take it all as it was assembled, and calls it heresy when we call out the contradiction.

Tolstoy also writes a great deal on the subject of collusion between church and state. Don't write him off just yet. He did, after all, inspire Gandhi to make his movement non-violent.

Jim Davies's picture

Probably I'm a poor choice as a defender of the faith (where are all those earnest theologs when needed?) but with respect I think you're mistaken to say that one can "whittle down Jesus' word to the core message of loving your neighbor as yourself." That's a part of it, but (while I reject and disagree with the Christian religion) that would be a serious oversimplification, a misrepresentation. Let it be seen for what it is, by its own claims, and then accepted, rejected or otherwise critiqued.

One can invent one's own religion, and specify where heaven is etc, but if one wants to find out what the Christian one says, one must take it as one finds it - in the New Testament as a whole, with context. As far as I'm familiar with it, I'd say the Nicene Creed is a fair summary of what one finds there. All of it, not just bits here and there; though a scrutiny of its text at doesn't reveal any words about natural law and the kingdom of heaven being within one, etc. It speaks of a God who created everything, who became incarnate for the salvation of mankind, was killed but resurrected, and who will come again as a judge. These are all crisp and specific doctrines, which one must either accept (to be a Christian) or, like me, reject.

Treating it as something different is not fair.

Suverans2's picture

G'day BHK,

I agree with this, "...natural a prescription for the individual to be truly joyful in any society, but thrive the most in a post-political one." The natural law (of the human world) is THE "cornerstone" for a "truly joyful...society".

    The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure. ~ WikiepediA
Sir William Blackstone's picture

Very nice Jim. I'm a bit of a fan of Tolstoy, mainly for his incredibly accurate interpretation human nature. Here's a question though, if War and Peace or Anna Karenina had been strongly anarchistic, would these books be popular or considered brilliant by the mainstream? It's exactly because they are less political and less extreme that they end up being so popular. He did however write a work which is today extremely obscure. It's called The Ressurection, and that deals mainly with government. That book is quite anarchistic, and explained the non-aggression principle long before any of us were born. It's one of my favorite books, and if you want to know Tolstoy's thoughts on government, that's the book to read.

Jim Davies's picture

Sir William, I'm flattered to have found favor in the eyes of a genuine K! Thank you.

Good question. Always, that difficulty exists: if one speaks one's mind, will fewer people listen? Perhaps the best answer is to mull the matter over until the mind is really clear, then speak it out plainly; with luck it will then be so compelling that critics have to admit it's good. Ayn Rand did that, didn't she? (She wasn't always right, but that's another matter.) Eventually she got published, as an unknown author, because what she wrote was powerful - and radically unconventional.

I got the same impression about Tolstoy. He said what he wanted to say; for example he ridiculed the Tsar by saying Alexander had NOT designed the successful withdrawal strategy in 1812, which mid-Century Russians would see as heroic. One doesn't make friends and influence people by belittling a popular monarch - not normally. But because his novel was so good, it succeeded anyway. Another example: as in my article, he reasoned that government power was a meaningless term; not quite right, but surely a very red flag to the publishers and censors.

So if he had clearly conveyed the message that the problem is the State itself, not just some particular mistakes the Russian State was making, it seems arguable that he'd still have been published as a brilliant novelist.

Thanks for recommending The Resurrection. There are some rainy days left still, so I'll download and read it.

GeoffreyTransom's picture

A pretty good piece, but I take exception to this: "...governments make plans, and calculate likely gains and losses, and make war only if the former greatly exceed the latter."

Here's the thing: governments may well make these plans (effectively, undertaking a war on the basis of cost-benefit analysis) but the costs are borne by the tax base and the benefits accrue to the government (more power) and cronies (tax pelf, and prime claims over the resources of the vanquished in the event of victory: that is, extraction rights to captured resources accrued NOT to the 'victor nation', but to cronies of the State).

It is this 'tax-subvention' of private (crony) profit that tilts the benefit-cost analysis in favour of war; even for small wars with clearly negative net-benefit on a 'like for like' basis (assuming captured territory was exploited by the taxpayers who funded the invasion), the cost-benefit analytics tilt due to the fact that those who reap the benefit are not the same as those who pay the costs (and those who reap the benefit have a much MUCH larger weight in political-parasites' own private utility analysis).

So here's the thing: if a war will
(a) increase the penetration of state power in the 'belligerent' nation;
(b) enable large wodges of taxes to be transferred to cronies;
(c) result in little or no damage to "Das Vaterland' (i.e., little direct experiental cost from the war); and
(d) can be 'spun' by a State-dominated (if not State-owned) media...
Well, that war is going to happen ,bitchez!

It is abundantly clear (at least, since the FRENCH experience in Viet Nam and/or Algeria) that it is not possible to run a war at a profit on a 'like for like' basis except if there is a "France v the Mamelukes" level of technological asymmetry: if your opponent has weaponry any greater than pointed sticks, you'll face a guerilla situation for a generation and leave with your tail between your legs. Perhaps a better example is Auckland's Folly in Afghanistan of 1839-42 (where the sejail and mounted riflemen were the modern equivalent of the Parthian light cavalry at Carrhae) - although the Maori Wars are possibly a better example, since initially the Maori had no advantage other than knowledge of terrain (but they acquired technological parity with the English very quickly).

It's also not a satisfactory answer to say "the political class never learn" - that they simply keep repeating the 'mistakes' of their forebears. This is a 'rookie error' wherein the observer assumes that the objective was a decisive military victory... whereas the aim of war is always - **ALWAYS** - the transfer of massive amounts of public money to politically-connected vermin. A stalemate does a far better job of transferring money than a successful 'blitzkreig'.

I tried to write down the actual optiminsation problem for the political class - maximise the value transferred to cronies, subject to ... subject to what? What is the constraint? It's not "the tax-base's capacity to pay" - plainly, since governments always use DEBT to fund war. Even "a debt/GDP ratio consistent with manageable debt-servicing" can't be the constraint... again, .gov has shown itself willing to bankrupt the public coffers in order to get the wealth-transfer done, driving debt/GDP to levels where 100bps uptick in debt servicing costs will cripple the public finances in perpetuity (e.g., Italy).

As to the "meat and pertaters" of the piece, it seems obvious to me that since Tolstoy was already a public figure by the time War and Peace was written (being a minor scion of an aristocratic family, and 41 when W&P was published), he would have come under scrutiny by the Tsar's secret police had he been openly anarchistic; this (again, to my way of thinking) is the very obvious reason why he made his anti-State comments **in France** and not in his home country. As he aged, he was more and more supportive of anarchist works, taking significant personal risks to publish and circulate works by Bakunin, Kropotkin and Proudhon - and his "Letter to a Hindoo" and "What Then Must We Do" are replete with anti-State themes.

Moorlock's picture

War & Peace was written before Tolstoy became an anarchist, I believe. It was written in the 60s, and his anarchist writing mostly dates from the 90s and 00s. You can see some hints of his emerging philosophy in War & Peace, but don't expect to see mature anarchism there -- see:

"The Kingdom of God Is Within You" is probably his most completely thought-out (and most influential) work of Christian anarchism -- see

But see also:
* "Letter to the Liberals"
* "Letter to Eugen Heinrich Schmitt"
* "'Carthago Delenda Est'"
* "Patriotism and Government"
* "'Thou Shalt Not Kill'"
* "The Only Means"

Glock27's picture

Where exactly did natural law come from? Did someone just make it up, or find it in a dream or the cards, or is it that a divine creator set it in motion? As I see it, the bible is a work of history, politics, culture and stories to get a point across fact or fiction seems to make no difference as the truth will always be the truth regardless of how it is twisted, so exactly where did natural law come from? Anyone got an answer? I would appreciate some different perspective if it is available.

Suverans2's picture

"Did someone just make it up, or find it in a dream or the cards, or is it that a divine creator set it in motion?" ~ Glock27

Actually, it might be said that it was "found" using not much more than common sense.

    "Natural law is that body of rules which Man is able to discover by the use of his reason." ~ Hugo Grotius

Perhaps reading Introduction to Natural Law, by Murray M. Rothbard, will help, Glock27.

    "The statement that there is an order of natural law, in short, leaves open the problem of whether or not God has created that order; and the assertion of the viability of man's reason to discover the natural order leaves open the question of whether or not that reason was given to man by God. The assertion of an order of natural laws discoverable by reason is, by itself, neither pro- nor anti-religious." (Excerpted from said treatise.)
Suverans2's picture

Generally speaking, most (wo-)men who don't believe that there is such a thing as the natural law (of mankind), believe that only laws made by humans are "real". And, generally speaking, (wo-)men who are agents, or informants, of man-made governments, MUST "believe that only laws made by men are 'real'".

"Man or woman using the screen name, Glock27, are you an agent, or informant, of any man-made government?"

Allow me to ask that same question of myself, that you may know there is no maliciousness intended by that question.

"Man or woman using the screen name, Suverans2, are you an agent, or informant, of any man-made government?"

"No, absolutely, positively not!"

Suverans2's picture

Regardless of your answer to that question, you may find reading this "Classic by Lysander Spooner" enlightening.

    "What, then, is legislation? It is an assumption by one man, or body of men, of absolute, irresponsible dominion over all other men whom they call subject to their power. It is the assumption by one man, or body of men, of a right to subject all other men to their will and their service. It is the assumption by one man, or body of men, of a right to abolish outright all the natural rights, all the natural liberty of all other men; to make all other men their slaves; to arbitrarily dictate to all other men what they may, and may not, do; what they may, and may not, have; what they may, and may not, be." (Excerpted from the above mentioned treatise.)
Glock27's picture

Have the Spooner you are refering to, just haven't gotten around to reading it. I am currently ploding my way through Henry Browne's book "How I Found Freedom in an unfree world"