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  • Leo Tolstoy

Just Living Life? Nope, Can’t Do That!

Excerpts from Leo Tolstoy (20th Century text)

A man of our time lives, doing his work or enjoying himself, employing the fruits of his own labor or those of others for his own sake or for the sake of those who are near to him, like any other man, despising all kinds of oppressions and privations, hostility, and sufferings. The man lives peacefully; suddenly people come to him, who say:

‘In the first place, promise and swear to us that you will slavishly obey us in everything which we shall prescribe to you, and that everything we shall invent, determine, and call a law you will consider an indubitable truth and will submit to; in the second place, give part of your earnings into our keeping: we shall use this money for keeping you in slavery and preventing you from forcibly opposing our decrees; in the third place, choose yourself and others as imaginary participants in the government, knowing full well that the government will take place entirely independently of those stupid speeches which you will utter to your like, and that it will take place according to our will, in whose hands is the army; in the fourth place, appear at a set time in court and take part in all those senseless cruelties which we commit against the erring men, whom we ourselves have corrupted, in the shape of imprisonments, exiles, solitary confinements, and capital punishments. And finally, in the fifth place, besides all this, though you may be in the most friendly relations with people belonging to other nations, be prepared at once, when we command you, to consider such of these men as we shall point out to you your enemies, and to cooperate personally or by hiring others in the ruin, pillage, and murder of their men, women, children, old people, and, perhaps, your own countrymen, even your parents, if we want it...’ it is necessary for us, as in the case of the rural judge and the peasants, to continue to flog one another, consoling ourselves with the thought that the fact that we prattle in Chambers and assemblies, form labor-unions, parade the streets on the first of May, form plots, and secretly tease the government which flogs us — that all this will have the effect of freeing us very soon, though we are enslaving ourselves more and more.

Nothing so much impedes the liberation of men, as this remarkable delusion. Instead of directing all his forces to the liberation of himself, to the change of his world-conception, every man seeks for an external aggregate means for freeing himself, and thus fetters himself more and more. It is as though men should affirm that, in order to fan a fire, it is not necessary to make every coal catch fire, but to place the coals in a certain order.

What importance can there be in such phenomena as the refusals of a few dozens of madmen, as they are called, who do not wish to swear to the government, or pay taxes, or take part in courts and military service? These men are punished and removed, and life continues as of old. It would seem that there is nothing important in these phenomena, and yet it is these very phenomena that more than anything else undermine the power of the state and prepare the emancipation of men. They are those individual bees which begin to separate from the swarm and fly about, awaiting what cannot be delayed — the rising of the whole swarm after them. The governments know this, and are afraid of these phenomena more than of all socialists, communists, anarchists, and their plots with their dynamite bombs.


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