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Forum Post: Leo Tolstoy writes a letter to (Russian) Liberals.

Posted 2 years ago on Sept. 24, 2012, 2:52 p.m. EST by thoreau42 (595)
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For all of you who think that your political party will save you. Leo Tolstoy thinks otherwise..

"There are people (we ourselves are such) who realize that our government is very bad, and who struggle against it. From before the days of Radishchef and the Decembrists there have been two ways of carrying on the struggle; one way is that of Stenka Razin, Pugatchef, the Decembrists, the Revolutionary party of the years sixty, the Terrorists of the thirteenth of March, and others.

The other way is that which is preached and practiced by you – the method of the "Gradualists," which consists in carrying on the struggle without violence and within the limits of the law, conquering constitutional rights bit by bit.

Both these methods have been employed unceasingly within my memory for more than half a century, and yet the state of things grows worse and worse. Even such signs of improvement as do show themselves have come, not from either of these kinds of activity, but from causes of which I will speak later on, and in spite of the harm done by these two kinds of activity. Meanwhile, the power against which we struggle grows ever greater, stronger, and more insolent. The last rays of self-government – the zemstvos (local government boards), public trial, your Literature Committee, etc. – are all being done away with.

Now that both methods have been ineffectually tried for so long a time, we may, it seems to me, see clearly that neither the one nor the other will do – and why this is so. To me, at least, who have always disliked our government, but have never adopted either of the above methods of resisting it, the defects of both methods are apparent.

The first way is unsatisfactory because (even could an attempt to alter the existing regime by violent means succeed) there would be no guarantee that the new organization would be durable, and that the enemies of that new order would not, at some convenient opportunity, triumph by using violence such as has been used against them, as has happened over and over again in France and wherever else there have been revolutions. And so the new order of things, established by violence, would have continually to be supported by violence, i.e. by wrong-doing. And, consequently, it would inevitably and very quickly be vitiated like the order it replaced. And in case of failure, all the violence of the revolutionists only strengthens the order of things they strive against (as has always been the case, in our Russian experience, from Pugatchef's rebellion to the attempt of the thirteenth of March), for it drives the whole crowd of undecided people, who stand wavering between the two parties, into the camp of the conservative and retrograde party. So I think that, guided by both reason and experience, we may boldly say that this means, besides being immoral, is also irrational and ineffective.

The other method is, in my opinion, even less effective or rational. It is ineffective and irrational because government, having in its hands the whole power (the army, the administration, the Church, the schools, and police), and framing what are called the laws, on the basis of which the Liberals wish to resist it – this government knows very well what is really dangerous to it, and will never let people who submit to it, and act under its guidance, do anything that will undermine its authority. For instance, take the case before us: a government such as ours (or any other), which rests on the ignorance of the people, will never consent to their being really enlightened. It will sanction all kinds of pseudo-educational organizations, controlled by itself: schools, high schools, universities, academies, and all kinds of committees and congresses and publications sanctioned by the censor – as long as those organizations and publications serve its purpose, i.e. stupefy people, or, at least do not hinder the stupefaction of people. But as soon as those organizations, or publications, attempt to cure that on which the power of government rests, i.e. the blindness of the people, the government will simply, and without rendering account to any one, or saying why it acts so and not otherwise, pronounce its "veto" and will rearrange, or close, the establishments and organizations and will forbid the publications. And therefore, as both reason and experience clearly show, such an illusory, gradual conquest of rights is a self-deception which suits the government admirably, and which it, therefore, is even ready to encourage.

But not only is this activity irrational and ineffectual, it is also harmful. It is harmful because enlightened, good, and honest people by entering the ranks of the government give it a moral authority which but for them it would not possess. If the government were made up entirely of that coarse element – the violators, self-seekers, and flatterers – who form its core, it could not continue to exist. The fact that honest and enlightened people are found who participate in the affairs of the government gives government whatever it possesses of moral prestige.

That is one evil resulting from the activity of Liberals who participate in the affairs of government, or who come to terms with it. Another evil of such activity is that, in order to secure opportunities to carry on their work, these highly enlightened and honest people have to begin to compromise, and so, little by little, come to consider that, for a good end, one may swerve somewhat from truth in word and deed. For instance, that one may, though not believing in the established Church, go through its ceremonies; may take oaths; and may, when necessary for the success of some affair, present petitions couched in language which is untrue and offensive to man's natural dignity: may enter the army; may take part in a local government which has been stripped of all its powers; may serve as a master or a professor, teaching not what one considers necessary oneself, but what one is told to preach by government; and that one may even become a Zemsky Nachalnik, submitting to governmental demands and instructions which violate one's conscience; may edit newspapers and periodicals, remaining silent about what ought to be mentioned, and printing what one is ordered to print; and entering into these compromises – the limits of which cannot be foreseen – enlightened and honest people (who alone could form some barrier to the infringements of human liberty by the government, imperceptibly retreating ever farther and farther from the demands of conscience) fall at last into a position of complete dependency on government. They receive rewards and salaries from it, and, continuing to imagine they are forwarding liberal ideas, they become the humble servants and supporters of the very order against which they set out to fight."

Read the full letter: http://lewrockwell.com/orig7/tolstoy4.1.1.html

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[-] -1 points by thoreau42 (595) 2 years ago

Yeah, this is pretty harsh on all you people who are so convinced your political saviors are going to save you, isn't it?