Blog Post

Tolstoy Journal, July 25, 2017: “And so once more men will be made savage, fierce, and brutal”

The featured image is of a rather battered copy of War and Peace I bought at our local library’s annual sale. The reason I bought it is because it is the Ann Dunnigan translation, which I have read is the best, and because it has an introduction by John Bayley, a famous Tolstoy scholar and husband of Iris Murdoch.

I have now read up to page 148 of Volume XIV of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi or Chapter VIII of “Two Old Men.” Today’s reading was of a story, “The Candle,” and the beginning of “Two Old Men.” “The Candle” was a moving story, a bit contrived at the end but still powerful. A story about how hate feeds on hate, spite on spite, and that only love can defeat hate. I also read 21 pages of Sampson’s Progress in the Age of Reason, and a good number of pages in what I am calling my psychedelic Tolstoy, a book I showed as a featured image in Tolstoy Journal, July 20, 2017: “But much more than his capacity to irritate, he has a power to disturb, to unsettle, to upset.” I was reading an essay called “On Patriotism,” which seemed very timely in these “interesting times.” I would like to include a passage or two here that struck me.

“The editors of the daily press, happy in the receipt of an increased income, will begin virulently to stir men up to hatred and manslaughter in the name of patriotism. Manufacturers, merchants, contractors for military stores will hurry joyously about their business, in the hope of double receipts. . . .

“And, smothering despair within their souls by songs, licentiousness, and wine, men will trail along, torn from peaceful labor, from their wives, mothers, and children,–hundreds of thousands of simple-minded, good-natured men with murderous weapons in their hands–anywhere they may be driven.

“They will march, freeze, hunger, suffer sickness, and die from it, or finally come to some place where they will be slain by thousands, or kill thousands themselves with no reason–men whom they have never seen before, and who neither have done nor could do them any mischief.

“And when the number of sick, wounded and killed becomes so great that there are not hands enough left to pick them up, and when the air is so infected with the putrefying scent of the “food for cannon” [the rank and file working class] that even the authorities find it disagreeable, a truce will be made, the wounded will be picked up anyhow, the sick will be brought in and huddled together in heaps, the killed will be covered with earth and lime, and once more all the crowd of deluded men will be led on and on till those who have devised the project weary of it, or till those who thought to find it profitable receive their spoil.

“And so once more men will be made savage, fierce, and brutal, and love will wane in the world, and the Christianizing of mankind, which has already begun, will lapse for scores and hundreds of years. And so once more the men who reaped profit from it all will assert with assurance that since there has been a war there must needs have been one, and that other wars must follow and they will again prepare future generations for a continuance of slaughter, depraving them from their childhood.”

I think this is what Eisenhower was talking about in his speech on the military industrial complex. I used to be very conservative–here is a link to something I wrote about it–Becoming a Conservative and After–but now I have moved left and doubt a lot of what I used to believe about wars and patriotism.

But back to Tolstoy and some passages from Wilson’s biography of him:

p. 397: “The reason that Father Sergius was never published in Tolstoy’s lifetime is that it was too near the bone–too vivid a dissection of what was wrong not only with Chertkov, but also with the whole Tolstoyan way of looking at the world.”

p. 400: “Throughout the famine, and the epidemics which followed it, the Tolstoy family were thus occupied, and although they returned home for short intervals in order to be ill, and although he continued to write, it was the practical relief of human suffering which marked the next two years of the family’s life. Their example had a powerful effect, and there were many landowners, as well as sympathisers coming out from the towns, who assisted with these soup kitchens. As well as collecting, distributing and conserving food, the Tolstoys were able to set up care for the children of the villages where they worked, and basic medical supplies.”

p. 403: “While Lev Lvovich Tolstoy organised famine relief in the Smara district in 1891-2, there was one very conspicuous absentee from his band of helpers: Lenin, who was at that time in ‘internal exile’ there. According to a witness, Vladimir Ulyanov (as he still was) and a friend were the only two political exiles in Samara who refused to belong to any relief committee or to help in the soup kitchens. He was said to welcome the famine ‘as a factor in breaking down the peasantry and creating an industrial proletariat’. Trotsky, too, took the line that it was improper to do anything to improve the lot of the people while the autocracy remained in power. When they themselves seized power, the chaos and desolation were immeasurably worse.”

pp. 410-411: “The Kingdom of God is Within You, then, is a disturbed and broken thing, passages of sublime truth alternate with pages of complete nonsense; optimism of the craziest kind jostles with a ghastly realism of vision. The world would be better, Tolstoy asserts, without governments, without standing armies, without police forces and without prisons. But he is unable to show that this would abolish the proclivity of evil men for dominating the good, and for the strong bullying the weak. The essay has many historical postscripts. One cannot read it today without these postscripts intruding into one’s sense of the truth or untruth of his words.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s