Blog Post

Tolstoy Journal, February 11, 2017

A short one today, just to note that I am on target with the reading, 200 pages into volume III. But had to transcribe the following quote about Tolstoy which I read in Czeslaw Milosz’s Visions from San Francisco Bay:

“Tolstoy, Rousseau’s disciple, in many respects outdid his master in the finality of his judgments. Perhaps Berdyaev was right in calling Tolstoy the evil genius of Russia, for the sage of Yasnaya Polyana trained the Russian intelligentsia in the advancing of absolute demands and in what may be called impatience with institutions, hierarchies, gradual improvement, with history in general as a fabric of imperfect good and imperfect evil, interwoven, interdependent.”

This is true, however I dislike it. There is an absolute or even totalitarian quality about Tolstoy’s thought, which is one thing, I suspect, Orwell didn’t like about it. Stephan Zweig says the same thing in his little book on Tolstoy, which I have but cannot find right now; in it he notes that Tolstoy does share some affinities with the Bolsheviks, or at least he gave them permission, in a sense, to say we must wipe the slate clean and start over, the revolutionary mantra, which always leads to the guillotine and the gulag. Not that he would have approved of them or their violence and use of terror, only that his absolute ways of thinking gave them the license for the clean break.


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