Ellis Washington
On Leo Tolstoy: war and peace or war and appeasement?
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By Ellis Washington
May 10, 2015

It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.

The whole world is divided for me into two parts: one is she, and there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness.


~ Leo Tolstoy

Biography of Tolstoy

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (9 September 1828–20 November 1910), also known in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian novelist considered one of the greatest Russian writers in history. He is celebrated for his two epic novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), where Tolstoy first attained literary acclaim, albeit in his 20s Tolstoy wrote an important biographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, (1852–1856), and Sevastopol Sketches (1855), drawing from his personal experiences in the Crimean War (1853-56). Tolstoy's fiction is as vast as the Russian landscape and includes voluminous short stories including several novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Family Happiness, and Hadji Murad. A prolific writer, he also wrote plays and many philosophical essays on such varying subjects as politics, economics, Marxism, philosophy, non-violence, anarchism, pacifism, religion, aesthetics, and vegetarianism. In the last 20 years of his life Tolstoy wrote hundreds of essays where he reiterated the anarchist critique of the state and indorsed books by Russian philosopher Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921) and the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65) to his readers, while disavowing anarchism's advocacy of violent revolutionary action.

In the 1870s Tolstoy underwent an intense crisis of conscience, and afterwards experienced what he considered a personal spiritual conversion. Profoundly moved by reading the Sermon on the Mount, Tolstoy began engaging in a literal interpretation of the moral teachings of Jesus. This led him to become a zealous Christian anarchist and pacifist. His new asceticism and Christian beliefs compelled Tolstoy to renounce his substantial wealth which caused his marriage to devolve into acrimonious chaos. Now in his early 80s, Tolstoy, knowing death was near and weary of his wife's bitter arguments against him, tried to secretly escape his embattled home by train so he could travel to a place of solitude and die in peace. Tragically, this state of affairs indirectly caused him to contract Pneumonia while sitting inside a waiting room at Astapovo, a small, remote train station in the heart of Russia. He was 82 years old at his death.

Tolstoy's notions on nonviolent resistance, demonstrated in such writings as The Kingdom of God is within You (1894), would have a profound impression on many writers most notably – Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Gustave Flaubert, Anton Chekhov among many others. Also Tolstoy's writings influenced many great 20th-century leaders including Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel, and the Quakers, a Christian sect in America known for their austere lifestyle and pacifism.

Following Anna Karenina, Tolstoy focused almost exclusively on Christian themes, and in his succeeding novels for instance, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and What is to Be Done? (1887), created a radical anarcho-pacifist Christian worldview which in 1901 was so provocative that it caused his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church. Despite all of the international acclaim given to his works Anna Karenina and War and Peace, later in his life Tolstoy would categorically reject these two novels as something not reflective either his worldview or of reality.

Tolstoy's War and Peace

War and Peace begins in the Russian city of St. Petersburg in 1805, as Napoleon's invasion of Western Europe is starting to strike fear into the hearts and minds of the Russian people. Many of the novel's characters are presented to the reader at a grand party by the hostess, including Pierre Bezukhov, the socially clumsy but affable son of a wealthy count, and Andrew Bolkonski, the intellectual and ambitious son of a retired military commander. Later the reader encounters the devious and pretentious Kuragin family, including the scheming father Vasili, the materialistic son Anatole, and the elegant daughter Helene. We are introduced to the Rostovs, an aristocratic family from Moscow, including the vigorous daughter Natasha, the demure, devout cousin Sonya, and the reckless son Nicholas, who has recently joined the army commanded by the grizzled veteran, General Kutuzov.

Possessing a strong coalition with the Austrian empire, the Russian military forces are mobilized, while concurrently fighting Napoleon's advances. Andrew and Nicholas are conscripted to fight at the war's most deadly zone – the Russian front. Andrew, although thought to be dead, was wounded at the Battle of Austerlitz and survives. Pierre is made the sole heir of his father's wealth and in a state of confusion impulsively marries Helene Kuragina. Helene is unfaithful to Pierre, and he almost kills her lover when he challenges the man to a duel.

During this period Lise, Andrew's wife, gives birth to a son at the same time as Andrew comes home to his estate, surprising his family. Tragically, Lise dies in childbirth, and Andrew's devout sister Mary raises the child as her own son. In the interim, Pierre, disenchanted by married life, abandons his wife for the spiritual fraternity of Freemasonry. Reminiscent of Tolstoy's own zealous to his personal anarchist-pacifist ideas after his conversion to Christianity, Pierre attempts to apply Freemasonry philosophy in the administration of his estate, and encourages his skeptical friend Andrew to apply the Freemasonry ideas in his efforts to modernize the Russian government.

Due to Nicholas's gambling debts, the Rostov family wealth is deteriorating rapidly, prompting the family to consider selling their family estate to Otradnoe in order to stave off bankruptcy. Nicholas is pressured to marry a wealthy heiress, even though earlier in the narrative he has promised to marry Sonya. As Nicholas's army career progresses, he observers the signing of a peace treaty between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander. As Natasha matures into a beautiful young lady, she goes to her first ball, and falls in love with several men before settling on Andrew. Andrew's father disapproves and demands that Andrew delays marriage for a year and Andrew travels away; Natasha reluctantly accepts this change in their marriage plans.

After Andrew departs, his father becomes irritable and cruel towards Mary, who accepts the cruelty with Christian forgiveness (reminiscent of Tolstoy's contemporary Dostoyevsky's 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment – As Sonya tells Raskolnikov: "Accept suffering, and be redeemed by it"). Natasha falls in love with Anatole and plans to elope with him, but the scheme is unsuccessful. Andrew comes home, discovers her unfaithfulness to him and rejects Natasha. Pierre comforts Natasha and senses a magnetism towards her. Natasha soon becomes very ill.

After Napoleon invades Russia in 1812, in response Tsar Alexander grudgingly declares war. Andrew is conscripted back into the army. Pierre notices Moscow's response to Napoleon's attacks and forms an irrational delusion that he has been appointed to assassinate Napoleon! Mary and the old Prince Bolkonski (Andrew's father) are warned to leave the estate as French military forces approach. The prince dies at the same time as the French troops reach the estate, forcing Mary to flee where she finds the native peasants hostile to her plight. When Nicholas by chance intervenes and rescues her, it stirs up feelings of romance between them.

At the critical battle at Borodino the Russians and French fight with many casualties on both sides, yet much to Napoleon's astonishment the smaller Russian army miraculously routs the French army. (A similar fate would happen to Hitler's Nazi invasion of Russia in Operation Barbarossa – June-Dec. 1941). In St. Petersburg, life in the upper social spheres remains virtually unaffected by the siege of Moscow. Helene tries to find a dissolution of her marriage with Pierre so that she can then wed a foreign prince. Troubled by this news, Pierre becomes even more deranged and leaves his companions, living as a nomadic roaming around the city of Moscow. (Once again art imitates life for this was the simple, rustic life Tolstoy dreamed of having but ironically international literary fame and his overbearing, materialist wife prevented it).

In the meantime, the Rostovs are preparing to hastily leave their estate and in an act of transcendent Christian sacrifice, they abandon all their belongings in order to transfer wounded soldiers to a safe location including Andrew with them. Petya, Natasha's younger brother joins the army. As the Rostovs leave the city in haste they carry the wounded Pierre, still roaming around half-crazed in Moscow observing the city descending into the anarchy of lawlessness, plundering, fire, and murder. Fraught with obsession and frustration regarding his self-appointed task of assassinating Napoleon, he protects a girl from a fire but is arrested by the French police. Pierre observers the execution of some of his fellow prisoners, and forms a close friendship with a clever peasant named Platon Karataev.

Nicholas's aunt attempts to arrange a marriage between Nicholas and Mary, but Nicholas fights against this, recalling his promise to Sonya. Mary visits the wounded Andrew being cared for by the Rostovs, and Natasha and Mary grow to become strong friends. Andrew absolves Natasha's infidelity, proclaiming his love for her as he dies. General Kutuzov marches the Russian armies back toward Moscow, which the French armies were forced to abandon after their military losses at Borodino. Employing the savage death march strategy, the French, force the Russian prisoners of war, as well as Pierre to march with them back to France. On the way, Platon becomes gravely ill and is shot as a straggler. The Russians follow the retreating French, and small partisan fighting ensues. Petya is shot and killed.

After being freed from prison by the French, Pierre suffers an unexplained illness which lasts for three months. Later he has a full recovery and recognizes his affection for Natasha, which is mutually shared. In 1813, Pierre and Natasha are married and ultimately have four children. Natasha matures into a strong, old-fashioned Russian matron. Nicholas weds Mary and thus solves his family's financial obligations. He likewise restores Mary's family's estate, which during the war had suffered great damage. Notwithstanding some burdens of life, Nicholas and Mary live happily ever after.

War and Appeasement in Modern Times

History informs us that Tolstoy had a profound religious conversion that radically transformed his incongruous ideals of anarchism and pacifism, however, during the early twentieth century, the Golden Age of genocidal tyrants which Tolstoy witnessed the precursors of, can it be said that Tolstoy's anarcho-pacifism amounted to appeasement? I think it does. In Bruce Thornton's exceptional book, The Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich, and Obama's America, Thornton has this historically compelling passage subtitled, "The Pacifist Delusion":
    The general culture-wide fear of modern total war reinforced two influential ideas about international relations and human flourishing that had been developing for centuries in the West: pacifism and internationalism. These ideas were interconnected: to achieve peace and abolish war, national interests and aims had to be subordinated to transnational institutions and international laws that could monitor and deter belligerent states.

    Before World War I, pacifism was found predominantly among evangelical Protestant sects, such as Baptists and Mennonites. A more significant influence for the secular pacifist movement was Leo Tolstoy's anarchic and eccentrically Christian pacifism set out in his tract "What I Believe" (1885), for it legitimized pacifism outside the Orthodox Christian tradition and linked pacifism to the restructuring of social institutions necessary before war could disappear. Also important were organizations such as the London Peace Society, which, like Tolstoy, whom it called "the foremost and most uncompromising Peace advocate in the world," believed in societal transformation to abolish not just war but social ills such as alcoholism, slavery, prostitution, and brutal imprisonment.

    Significantly for the interwar period we are examining, these organization focused on establishing international organizations and laws that used arbitration codified in treaties to diffuse conflict, at the same time that they agitated for disarmament. Finally, equally important for the social and political mood that facilitated policies of appeasement in the Thirties were the socialist and labor movements. While not absolute pacifists – capitalistic imperialism was unlikely to be overthrown without force – these movements saw war between states as a violation of their universalistic ideal of human brotherhood and an expression of capitalism's inherent corruption. "Only when countries adopt a Socialist form of government," said British Labour Party leader George Lansbury in 1937, "will the world be finally secure for peace."
While Leo Tolstoy was indeed the greatest Russian writer of all time, history has repeatedly demonstrated that the pacifism so zealously and self-righteously proclaimed by him and his 'Progressive' and Socialists allies all over the world, historically only emboldened the aggressors and tyrants of the world to ever great acts of inhumanity. Pacifism never brings peace, it only prolongs war and encourages aggression because tyrants view pacifism as weakness and therefore are emboldened to exceeding more acts of inhumanity .

Almost three decades after the master's death, history would witness the apotheosis of Tolstoy's pacifism and anarchism in one of the most infamous episodes of British history – the appeasement of Adolph Hitler by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the Munich Pact (Sept. 30, 1938), where Chamberlain at the London airport feebly waived the paper he had just signed with Hitler in triumph and proclaimed – "We have peace for our time." Meanwhile, Hitler's Nazi Panzer Divisions would roll across Poland in blitzkrieg exactly 11 months later on Sept. 1, 1939, thus launching World War II.

An even greater treason we now see in Tolstoy's anarcho-pacifism today with the foreign policy of President Barack Obama and his servile appeasement policy toward Iran in the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Weapons Agreement which for decades Iran has used these talks to stall for time so that it could secretly build up its nuclear weapons arsenal while increasing its military hegemony throughout the Middle East, openly promising to "wipe Israel [and America] off the map" while since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, has become the number one exporter of Islamic terrorism throughout the world.

While Tolstoy's literary legacy put peace ahead of war, Tolstoy's geopolitical history and anarcho-pacifism philosophy put Appeasement ahead of Peace, thus making War both inevitable and perpetual to this day.

*N.B.: This essay is based in part on ideas from Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor-in-Chief (University of Chicago, 1952), Vol. 2, Chap. 6 – Beauty; Vol. 2, Chap. 50 – Love; Vol. 3, Chap. 98 – War and Peace; Vol. 3, Chap. 100 – Will; Vol. 51 – Tolstoy.


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Ellis Washington

Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review (1989) and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute (1992). Currently he is an adjunct professor of law at the National Paralegal College and the graduate school, National Jurisprudence University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, American History, Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Real Property, and Advanced Legal Writing, among many other subjects... (more)

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