Tolstoy’s Christian anarchism was a war on both church and state

Giles Fraser

Tolstoy’s War and Peace is well over a thousand pages. And the BBC has been criticised for whittling it down into a mere six episodes. So it’s obviously ridiculous to try and summarise such a whopping doorstopper in three short sentences. But seeing as Tolstoy believed there was quite a lot to be said for foolishness, here goes: all Christians are fools. Politicians can’t allow themselves to look or behave like fools. Therefore, politicians cannot be Christian.

No wonder the Russian Orthodox church excommunicated him in 1901. He was a thorn in the side of organised religion and, even more so, a vigorous opponent of the state. For Tolstoy, the state was one great big protection racket, a monopoly of organised violence demanding money for a false promise of security. For by the raising of armies its citizens organise for war and yet also make themselves a target for attack. Thus the Christian state is a contradiction in terms. Not that you’d know it from the BBC’s bodice-ripping adaptation, but War and Peace is an extended argument for that most foolish of moral wisdom: pacifism.


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