Leo Tolstoy and the State

In every human society there are always ambitious, unscrupulous, cruel men, who, I have already endeavoured to show, are ever ready to perpetrate any kind of violence, robbery or murder for their own advantage; and that in a society without Government these men would be robbers, restrained in their actions partly by strife with those injured by them (self-instituted justice, lynching), but partly and chiefly by the most powerful weapon of influence upon men – public opinion. Whereas in a society ruled by coercive authority, these same men are those who will seize authority and will make use of it, not only without the restraint of public opinion, but, on the contrary, supported, praised and extolled by a bribed and artificially maintained public opinion.

Written in 1905, Tolstoy’s The End of the Age: An Essay on the Approaching Revolution could well have been written today, given how little has changed with the nature of State power and the governments of the world. George Bush Snr. once said to a White House correspondent, “If the people knew what we had done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us.” But since the media functions to create the “artificially maintained public opinion” the people remain largely ignorant of how those in power abuse their influence in order to expand further their already excessive wealth and power.

They can be implicated in large-scale paedophile rings, as, for instance, the aforementioned George Bush was in the Franklin cover-up affair; members of the Labour cabinet were implicated during the Metropolitan Police investigation into paedophilia, Operation Ore, after which a D-Notice was promptly slapped on the media. While D-Notices (which prohibit the media from reporting on issues of “national security”) are not legally binding, the media nevertheless effectively treats them as such and any investigative journalism – however tepid it may be, given the lackadaisical attitude to dirt-digging from the press – is immediately called off.

Coercive authority has little difficulty masking its own crimes from the eyes of the public.

Whereas paedophilia is clearly too taboo for even the servile and amoral politicians and their allies in the press to endorse, when it comes to other forms of “violence, robbery or murder for their own advantage” the shapers of public opinion are all too eager to justify the most barbaric acts of naked imperialistic aggression and plunder. Witness the devastation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, then try and find a mainstream journalist capable of expressing compassion for the countless victims rather than extolling the virtues of the aggressors.

The aphorism “might makes right” – when it is “our” might being used against others – dominates the discourse; the enemy figures are portrayed in a manner not dissimilar to Kipling’s “white man’s burden”, written just 6 years before Tolstoy’s essay. The government and media may be slicker endeavours in the modern world but little has changed in terms of its message to the rest of the world; their delusional superiority complex no different today than it was in the days of colonialism and the suppression of Winston Churchill’s “uncivilised tribes”.

Many times I have endeavoured to explain that all the chief calamities from which men suffer, such as the accumulation of enormous wealth in the hands of some people and the deep poverty of the majority, the seizure of the land by those who do not work on it, the unceasing armament and wars, and the deprivation of men, flow only from the recognition of the lawfulness of governmental coercion; I have endeavoured to show that before answering whether the position of men would be the worse or the better without Goverments, one should solve the problem as to who makes up the Government. Are those who consitute it better or worse than the average level of men? If they are better than the average run, then the Government will be beneficient; but if they are worse it will be pernicious. And that these men – Ivan IV, Henry VIII, Marat, Napoleon, Arakcheyef, Metternich, Tallyrand, and Nicholas – are worse than the general run is proved by history.

To which we might reasonably add the Bushes and Blairs, the Obamas and the Camerons, who’s actions have amassed a pile of corpses running into the millions. Yet the vehicle used by these “ambitious, unscrupulous, cruel men”  – the State – remains in place, regardless of how increasingly untenable it appears to be in a world tumbling inexorably into the chaos and devastation of a third world war. This is in no small part thanks to the perpetuation of the myth of the necessity of the State, or as Tolstoy phrases it, “the superstition of the State as something sacred…”

The essence of this superstition is this: that men of different localities, habits and interests are persuaded that they all compose one whole because one and the same violence is applied to all of them, and these men believe this, and are proud of belonging to this conversation.

The State via its mouthpieces in the media naturally portrays itself as benevolent, run by men of intelligence and integrity for the good of the people, who, in their turn, accept the State, with all its taxation, coercion and laws as an essential component of their freedom. But these ideas are not their own: they are the ideals of the State projected upon themselves and worn as second-hand ideologies which detract from rather than serve their own best interests. It’s as if the mass consciousness has been caught up in Stockholm Syndrome. In response to this, Tolstoy’s words from over 100 years ago still carry immense weight:

… it is, in such a critical time as the present, important above all not to live by the experience of others, not by others’ thoughts, ideas, words, not by various social democracies, constitutions, expropriations, bureaux, delegates, candidatures and mandates, but to think with their own mind, to live their own life, constructing out of their own past, out of their own spiritual foundations new forms of life proper to this past and these foundations.

  • emperorreagan

    In the library of my mind where I catalog all of the works that have most influenced me and the lines of thought they carried me down, Tolstoy occupies his own book case.

  • BuzzCoastin

    except for Thoreau & a few marginalized anarchists
    I’ve never seen anyone question the value of democracy
    or the roll of government as ruler
    nor express any desire to move beyond it
    even though democracy is touted as being the best form of government
    it’s pretty obvious that democracy eventually & inexorably evolves into an Oligarchic Dictatorship
    and that it’s time to leave government behind
    for some better forms with which to provide civil order & services

  • BuzzCoastin

    except for Thoreau & a few marginalized anarchists
    I’ve never seen anyone question the value of democracy
    or the roll of government as ruler
    nor express any desire to move beyond it
    even though democracy is touted as being the best form of government
    it’s pretty obvious that democracy eventually & inexorably evolves into an Oligarchic Dictatorship
    and that it’s time to leave government behind
    for some better forms with which to provide civil order & services

    • echar

      I wonder what that better form may be? I have an appreciation for the round table approach, but that’s mostly because I am a fan of King Arthur.

    • echar

      I wonder what that better form may be? I have an appreciation for the round table approach, but that’s mostly because I am a fan of King Arthur.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=742104313 Adam Goodwin

        The ‘better’ form is the one you consciously choose to act out with those around you. That’s all the ‘state’ really is anyways–a social relationship, a model (which is chosen by each individual, if you believe in free will) upon which we base our trust in others. Kropotkin wrote that the state was able to gain control of society by using our own social instincts against us. Currently, the state uses currency as a way of channeling our trust in each other to its own ends. I don’t mean to reify the state, in this sense, because to do that means that we are somehow absolved from the responsibility of its continual (re)creation by way of our own actions; and, we absolutely are responsible for this. Fortunately, though, the social control tool of money is in the process of self-destructing, so we’ll be able to shed that particular technique of authority-obfuscation soon enough. But what shall supplant it shall be most interesting, because it will be a mix of bartering, gift-giving, and token currencies. That’s the kind of diversity that builds resilience, not some ‘world reserve currency’ interest-bearing loaned-into-existence debt-based toilet paper.

        • echar

          I truly hope something that is more effective is adopted. It’s pretty obvious to me that things are not right. Currency would make awful toilet paper imo. Not that I know, but it’s not very soft. Some people make some really interesting art with currencies though.

        • echar

          I truly hope something that is more effective is adopted. It’s pretty obvious to me that things are not right. Currency would make awful toilet paper imo. Not that I know, but it’s not very soft. Some people make some really interesting art with currencies though.

        • BuzzCoastin

          when systems break down
          like the financial meltdown in Argentina
          people rally together and create decentralized replacements
          then eventually government takes control again

          the breakdown has to happen first
          no one fixes anything that’s working
          no matter how badly it’s working

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=742104313 Adam Goodwin

            My instincts tell me that it might be a lot harder to regroup after this time’s breakdown.

          • BuzzCoastin

            unless this time’s breakdown includes a natural calamity
            like North America becomes a dessert or a flood zone
            America would likely regroup without Uncle Homeland
            or without UH in his present Nanny form

            the tremendous resources still available in North America
            plus it’s relatively small population in comparison to other countries
            and it’s overabundant supply of recyclable materials
            gives it plenty of resilience for a comeback

          • BuzzCoastin

            unless this time’s breakdown includes a natural calamity
            like North America becomes a dessert or a flood zone
            America would likely regroup without Uncle Homeland
            or without UH in his present Nanny form

            the tremendous resources still available in North America
            plus it’s relatively small population in comparison to other countries
            and it’s overabundant supply of recyclable materials
            gives it plenty of resilience for a comeback

      • BuzzCoastin

        one approach that I am experimenting with is
        to remain outside the entanglements of government as much as possible
        through wisdom, exile & cunning
        choosing how & when to exercise “civil disobedience”
        as if a sovereign on the lam & not a serf on the farm
        knowing which rules can be bent and which can be broken
        and knowing exactly when and how Nanny must be obeyed
        in order to spank the Nanny

        I doubt a collective reform can be accomplished
        without a gun held to the head of the collective

        • echar

          If you have or ever do write a book on how to do this, I’d appreciate some wisdom.

          • BuzzCoastin

            thanks, but
            there are actually several eBooks out there on this
            google 100 Ways to Disappear and Live Free for the genre

            the first step is to bail on the system & the day job
            really hard first step
            but once you’ve done it awhile, the rest comes easy

          • echar

            Thanks

          • echar
          • BuzzCoastin

            yeah, that’s what keeps Big Homelander in place
            people think that will be the norm without Big Homelander
            but the despite the pessimistic reports
            humanity has reached all time highs of civility
            and government did help bring that about
            but once you cross the river
            you no longer need the boat
            the boat needs you

          • echar

            By the river I assume it’s not the Humbling River

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIjUtzWrCeA

          • echar

            By the river I assume it’s not the Humbling River

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIjUtzWrCeA

          • BuzzCoastin

            Send “The Humbling River” Ringtone to Cell

            Maynard’s always been a preacher of sorts & big Hicks fan too
            but the river is your river
            and it can be Humbling
            but be it ever so humble there’s no place like home
            which for some strange reason is always across some damned river

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=742104313 Adam Goodwin

      The Iron Law of Oligarchy.

    • emperorreagan

      It’s tough to turn the debate to questioning the premises under which a society operates. Many who think about such issues (particularly in the academy) are locked-in to the path and can only envision tweaks or adding layers of complexity, not questioning the direction.

      • BuzzCoastin

        once any form of government is in place
        it holds tenaciously to it’s position, eventually by force
        so that reform usually only comes about through revolution or war

        • emperorreagan

          I wasn’t even thinking within the government – I was thinking just general discourse.

          Maybe that questioning only gains steam once revolution is imminent.

        • emperorreagan

          I wasn’t even thinking within the government – I was thinking just general discourse.

          Maybe that questioning only gains steam once revolution is imminent.

          • BuzzCoastin

            right, but the government, until recently
            held control of information & it’s dissemination
            so public discourse was constrained by that control
            now that the control has been loosened
            only the edumacation system is left to control discourse

            everyone was taught in school that
            the American form of government is the best and freest available
            they were not taught how to critically examine that idea
            and follow Jefferson’s advice
            of overthrowing the government from time to time

            when Thoreau committed his first act of civil disobedience
            his well-healed friends were embarrassed
            Emerson paid his fine & bailed him out
            something Thoreau didn’t ask for or seem to want

          • BuzzCoastin

            right, but the government, until recently
            held control of information & it’s dissemination
            so public discourse was constrained by that control
            now that the control has been loosened
            only the edumacation system is left to control discourse

            everyone was taught in school that
            the American form of government is the best and freest available
            they were not taught how to critically examine that idea
            and follow Jefferson’s advice
            of overthrowing the government from time to time

            when Thoreau committed his first act of civil disobedience
            his well-healed friends were embarrassed
            Emerson paid his fine & bailed him out
            something Thoreau didn’t ask for or seem to want

  • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

    The State is pretty much ubiquitous. So then often what happens in discussions of anarchy, people say basically “What would Anarchy look like?” i.e. as a Ubiquitous Political regime. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. You are only going to have anarchy for limited periods of time among limited groups of people. That is the conclusion I have come to. It kind of goes along with Hakim Bey’s idea of the TAZ, but I also think if you get a good group of people, with a lot of talent and energy, who put a premium on theor own freedom and autonomy, you may just end up with the Aristocracy of a new State. That happened again and again throughout history.

    But as far as Universal anarchism, There is no way to unilaterally impose anarchy onto the rest of the World, the way the State has done. That would be contradictory.

  • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

    The State is pretty much ubiquitous. So then often what happens in discussions of anarchy, people say basically “What would Anarchy look like?” i.e. as a Ubiquitous Political regime. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. You are only going to have anarchy for limited periods of time among limited groups of people. That is the conclusion I have come to. It kind of goes along with Hakim Bey’s idea of the TAZ, but I also think if you get a good group of people, with a lot of talent and energy, who put a premium on theor own freedom and autonomy, you may just end up with the Aristocracy of a new State. That happened again and again throughout history.

    But as far as Universal anarchism, There is no way to unilaterally impose anarchy onto the rest of the World, the way the State has done. That would be contradictory.

    • jnana

      What would be nice is to see all sorts of political systems or apolitical anti-systems actually practiced on small scale, as experiments and to allow individuals to be creative and have input in their own lives. We could have different economic communities(commie, capitalist, socialist, gift, etc.), try out different systems of law and order, theocracies, sharia law, whatever. I have a feeling if that happened, more people would be attracted to anarchistic societies, because they’d actually see what it’s like.

    • jnana

      What would be nice is to see all sorts of political systems or apolitical anti-systems actually practiced on small scale, as experiments and to allow individuals to be creative and have input in their own lives. We could have different economic communities(commie, capitalist, socialist, gift, etc.), try out different systems of law and order, theocracies, sharia law, whatever. I have a feeling if that happened, more people would be attracted to anarchistic societies, because they’d actually see what it’s like.

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