Reply to Critics

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Reply to Critics
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Nathan Haskell Dole


SINCE the appearance of my book, "The Kingdom of God is within Us," and my article on "Patriotism and Christianity," I often hear and read in articles and letters addressed to me, arguments against, I will not say the ideas expressed in those books, but against such misconstructions as are put upon them. This is done sometimes consciously, but very often unwittingly, and is wholly due to a want of understanding of the spirit of the Christian religion.

" It is all very well," they say ; " despotism, capital punishments, wars, the arming of all Europe, the precarious state of the working-classes, are indeed great evils, and you are right in condemning all this ; but how can we do without government ? What will you give instead of it ? Being ourselves men, with a limited knowledge and intellect, have we the right, just because it seems best to us, to destroy that order of things which has helped our forefathers to attain the present state of civilization and its advantages ? If you destroy the State, you must put something in its place. How can we run the risk of all the calamities which might ensue if government was abolished ? "

But the fact is that the Christian doctrine, in its true sense, never proposed to abolish anything, nor to change any human organization. The very thing which dis- tinguishes Christian religion from all other religions and social doctrines is that it gives men the possibili- ties of a real and good life, not by means of general laws regulating the lives of all men, but by enlight- ening each individual man with regard to the sense of his own life, by showing him wherein consists the



evil and the real good of his life. And the sense of life thus imparted to man by the Christian doctrine is so simple, so convincing, and leaves so little room for doubt, that if once man understands it, and, therefore, conceives wherein is the real good and the real evil of his life, he can never again consciously do what he con- siders to be the evil of his life, nor abstain from doing what he considers to be the real good of it, as surely as a plant cannot help turning toward light, and water cannot help running downward.

The sense of life, as shown by the Christian religion, consists in living so as to do the will of Him who sent us into life, from whom we are come, and to whom we shall return. The evil of our life consists in acting against this will, and the good in fulfilling it. And the rule given to us for the fulfilment of this will is so very plain and simple that it is impossible not to understand, or to misunderstand it.

If you cannot do unto others what you would that they should do to you, at least do not unto them what you would not that they should do unto you.

If you would not be made to work ten hours at a stretch in factories or in mines, if you would not have your children hungry, cold, and ignorant, if you would not be robbed of the land that feeds you, if you would not be shut up in prisons and sent to the gallows or hanged for committing an unlawful deed through pas- sion or ignorance, if you would not suffer wounds nor be killed in war, do not do this to others. All this is so simple and straightforward, and admits of so little doubt, that it is impossible for the simplest child not to under- stand, nor for the cleverest man to refute it. It is impossi- ble to refute this law, especially because this law is given to us, not only by all the wisest men of the world, not only by the Man who is considered to be God by the majority of Christians, but because it is written in our minds and hearts.

Let us imagine a servant in his lord's power, appointed by his master to a task he loves and understands. If this man were to be addressed by men whom he knows


to be dependent on his master in the same way as he is, to whom similar tasks are set at which they will not work, and who would entreat him for his own good and for the good of other men to do what is directly opposed to his lord's plain commandments, what answer can any rea- sonable servant give to such entreaties ? But this simile is far from fully expressing what a Christian must feel when he is called upon to take an active part in oppress- ing, robbing people of their land, in executing them, in waging war, and so on, all things which governments call upon us to do ; for, however binding the commands of that master may have been to his servant, they can never be compared to that unquestionable knowledge which every man, as long as he is not corrupted by false doctrines, does possess, that he cannot and must not do unto others what he does not wish to be done unto him, and therefore cannot and must not take part in all things opposed to the rule of his Master, which are imposed upon him by governments.

Therefore the question for a Christian does not lie in this : whether or no a man has the right to destroy the existing order of things, and to establish another in its stead, or to decide which kind of government will be the best, as the question is sometimes purposely and very often unintentionally put by the enemies of Chris- tianity (the Christian does not think about the general order of things, but leaves the guidance of them to God, for he firmly believes God has implanted His law in our minds and hearts, that there may be order, not disorder, and that nothing but good can arise from our following the unquestionable law of God, which has been so plainly manifested to us); but the question, the decision of which is not optional, but unavoidable, and which daily presents itself for a Christian to decide, is : How am I to act in the dilemma which is constantly before me ? Shall I form part of a government which recognizes the right to own landed property by men who never work on it, which levies taxes on the poor in order to give them to the rich, which condemns erring men to gallows and death, which sends out soldiers to commit murder,


which depraves whole races of men by means of opium and brandy, etc., or shall I refuse to take a share in a government, the doings of which are contrary to my conscience ? But what will come of it, what sort of State will there be, if I act in this way, is a thing I do not know and which I shall not say I do not wish to know, but which I cannot know.

The main strength of Christ's teaching consists espe- cially in this : that He brought the question of conduct from a world of conjecture and eternal doubt, down to a firm and indisputable ground. Some people say, " But we also do not deny the evils of the existing order and the necessity of changing it, but we wish to change it, not suddenly, by means of refusing to take any part in the government, but, on the contrary, by participating in the government, by gaining more and more freedom, political rights, and obtaining the election of the true friends of the people and the enemies of all violence."

This would be very well, if taking part in one's govern- ment and trying to improve it, could coincide with the aim of human life. But, unfortunately, it not only does not coincide, but is quite opposed to it.

Supposing human life to be limited to this world, its aim can consist only in man's individual happiness ; if, on the other hand, life does not end in this world, its aim can consist only in doing the will of God. In both cases it does not coincide with the progress of govern- ments. If it lies here, in man's personal happiness, and if life ends here, what should I care about the future prosperity of a government which will come about when, in all probability, I shall be there no more ? But if my life is immortal, then the prosperity of the English, the Russian, the German, or any other state, which is to come in the twentieth century, is too paltry an aim for me, and can never satisfy the cravings of my immortal soul. A sufficient aim for my life is either my imme- diate personal good, which does not coincide with the government measures and improvements, or the fulfil- ment of the will of God, which also not only cannot be conciliated with the requirements of government, but is


quite opposed to them. The vital question not only for a Christian, but, I think, for any reasonable being, when he is summoned to take part in governmental acts, lies not in the prosperity of his state or government, but in this question :

"Wilt thou, a being of reason and- goodness, who comes to-day and may vanish to-morrow, wilt thou, if thou believest in the existence of God, act against His law and His will, knowing that any moment thou canst return to Him ; or, if thou dost not believe in Him, wilt thou, knowing that if thou errest thou shalt never be able to redeem thy error, wilt thou, neverthe- less, act in opposition to the principles of reason and love, by which alone thou canst be guided in life ? Wilt thou, at the request of thy government, take oaths, de- fend, by compulsion, the owner of land or capital, wilt thou pay taxes for keeping policemen, soldiers, warships, wilt thou take part in parliaments, law courts, condem- nations, and wars ? "

And to all this I will not say for a Christian, but for a reasonable being there can be but one answer : "No, I cannot, and will not." But they say, "This will destroy the State and the existing order." If the fulfilment of the will of God is destroying the existing order, is it not a proof that this existing order is contrary to the will of God, and ought to be destroyed?

January, 1895.