Friday, April 3, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of Tolstoy's (b. 1828 - d. 1910) writings on civil disobedience and nonviolence

     A collection of letters and essays published by Bergman in 1967, summarized below, focuses on Tolstoy's opinions on nonviolence. It includes many anecdotes and lengthy quotations.
     Military service is a type of slavery. Men are trained to kill by torture and deception, and they are trained to train their trusting brothers to kill. Soldiers are taught that the Judeo-Christian commandment "Thou shalt not kill" does not apply to national defense. They are told that the responsibility for the killing lies with the commander, not the soldier who fires the bullet. Taking orders from someone else is a dreadfully arbitrary reason to kill.
     The Russian army is particularly offensive because the soldiers mainly harass the peasants. The government sends soldiers to distant regiments to avoid making them shoot their own relatives.
     Conscientious objectors have Christian motives even if they don't claim to be Christian. Men may not realize they follow Christ because Christ's example is now ingrained in human conscience. "True Christians" aren't permitted to kill. Christ enters the world through men who refuse to participate in war.
     The Dukhobors of the Caucasus are waging, in Tolstoy's opinion, a metaphorical Christian holy war against the Russian government because they refuse to serve in the army despite harsh consequences. They obey God before country. It is just as well to refuse to serve, because the punishment of imprisonment or exile is no worse than military service itself.
     Patriotism, the preference for one's own country, can't be a modern virtue because it contradicts the principle of "equality and fraternity of all men." The prevalence of immigration complicates patriotism. Patriotism and peace are incompatible. Men should resist the hypnotism of patriotism and follow their consciences. Spread Christianity, not patriotism.
     He supports troop reduction and disarmament on all sides of a conflict. The government will never approve of this strategy, so troop reduction must be achieved by the public attaching stigma to military service and dissuading men from enlisting. The people who prop up bellicose emperors and join the army are more to blame for war than the emperors themselves.
     Men who think military service is morally acceptable do not think for themselves.
     But not all will accept the law of non-resistance, and it would contradict the spirit of the law to force them to accept it. Christ only wants each man to "fulfill his allotted task."
     Under Nicholas I, soldiers were routinely forced to beat their fellow soldiers to death for deserting or complaining. Soldiers should listen to God's rule on this question, not the government's. The government conceals Christianity's anti-government doctrines because, without soldiers, the poor could usurp the property of the rich.
     The government-mandated Orthodox doctrine and ritual is "stupid and senseless" and "pseudo-Christian" because religion is a relationship with God.
     In one of his letters, Tolstoy noted that Thoreau had written Civil Disobedience fifty years previously. He claims to have been influenced by the Quakers and the anti-slavery movement in the United States.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy's Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-violence. New York: Bergman Publishers, 1967.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

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