The Library Basement
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Tag Leo Tolstoy

Readings for May 2017

The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

This was my third read-through of Tolstoy's great work of Christian anarchism. It is stimulating to use this book as a way-point to see how my views have developed over the past decade or so. It is also a useful correction for the natural march to conservatism which middle class life brings. Tolstoy's vision may not be achievable or entirely consistent, but it is a challenge which I must consider.

Take The Kingdom of God is Within You, put it in a blender with Ellul's The Technological Society, Hays' The Moral Vision of the New Testament, and Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, and you'll get a taste of the intellectual storm which has been spinning in my mind and heart these many years.

Yes, recommended, though once again, not for neophyte Christians.


  • Harper's April 2017

Against his will

A man cannot be placed against his will in a situation opposed to his conscience.

~ Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You. Trans. Constance Garnett.

The operative concept is the will. If one is seemingly forced to go against it, the reality is that one's will truly preferred to preserve what was being threatened.

Readings for September 2014

We took a vacation and had other distractions. Sadly I don't get so much reading done on vacations these days, but this too shall pass.

The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

I found this re-read to be very stimulating. As a matter of fact, I marked up the margins with a pen and dog-eared a bunch of pages, something I feel quite certain I have not done since my college days. Tolstoy's writing requires response.

I may yet commit some of those marginal notations to blog posts, as I was planning when I first penned them. I think the primary value for me in reading this work is to reflect on Tolstoy's challenges to traditional power structures and to compare how my views fit with his.

As I often say, I am a Yoderian, meaning I support "legitimate" violence only as constrained by law in a legal system. Extra-judicial violence, especially wars of aggression, cannot conform to Christian standards. But Tolstoy is right there, questioning everything, and that has value. This book is recommended for mature readers.


  • Harper's October 2014

Tolstoy documents American pacifism

I have commenced re-reading Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. I first read it four years ago. It was a challenging read. This book of Tolstoy's is primarily concerned with offering a defense of the Christian principle of non-resistance to evil (Matthew 5:39). Tolstoy's interpretation calls for absolute non-violence for Christians.

(He makes this theme so central to his Christianity, he ends up being a redaction critic, attributing almost anything "mystical" in the balance of the New Testament as being added to distract from the earl church's desire to distract from Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.)

In the first section of The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Tolstoy reacts to critics and supporters of his previous work (What I Believe). In doing so, he lists authors and movements pre-dating himself which held essentially the same viewpoints about non-resistance. What interests me is that the list is dominated by American institutions - the Quakers, the Mennonites, etc. Apparently in the late 19th century, the US was known for having a bunch of Christian denominations which were dedicated to peace.

This is not the case now. Many of those historical institutions have declined in relative prominence, and some of the same have softened their stances on non-violence. On the world's stage, American Christians are now probably best known for sanctioning state aggression. But I am proud to recount that we used to have something of a reputation for refusing the call to arms.

I will probably have several posts inspired by Tolstoy's work as I read through.