It was kind of interesting, and I stuck with it right up until the author started promoting something called "biodynamic compost" that was invented by...moreIt was kind of interesting, and I stuck with it right up until the author started promoting something called "biodynamic compost" that was invented by "clairvoyant scientist Rudolf Steiner" and involves things like "filling a cow horn with ground quartz and burying it over the summer, then digging it up and mixing it with water, stirring for an hour as the sun rises," and so forth... I finally realized that nobody had applied a bullshit filter to this book, so I dropped it.(less)
I think it makes for good food for thought, and some of the advice would be very useful to people who haven’t already been hammered with it (e.g. if arrested in the U.S., you do have the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and you’d be a fool not to insist on taking advantage of both of those rights). But I also found the book to be disappointing in being often a collection of on-the-one-hand / on-the-other-hand stories. This, I think, is not so much a weakness of the book as a reflection on the difficulty of the subject matter — there is no silver bullet here.
The closest thing to a silver bullet is one that Wolfe never mentions — radical honesty. A movement like Gandhi’s satyagraha campaign in India defused the danger of snitches and narcs by conducting all of its lawbreaking and conspiring in the open: they would announce “I am going to be breaking such-and-such a law on such-and-such a date in such-and-such a place.” Snitches and narcs had nothing particularly meaty to rat them out about that they weren’t already shouting from the rooftops. (Of course they might still be vulnerable to agents provocateurs, or to people trying to analyze their communications networks in order to disrupt them, or people trying to sow discord, or people hoping to turn key movement members by means of blackmail, or any number of other harmful infiltration strategies — so this, too, is no silver bullet.)
After Gandhi learned about some infiltration by government agents in Indian independence work, he wrote:
This desire for secrecy has bred cowardice amongst us and has made us dissemble our speech. The best and the quickest way of getting rid of this corroding and degrading Secret Service is for us to make a final effort to think everything aloud, have no privileged conversation with any soul on earth and to cease to fear the spy. We must ignore his presence and treat everyone as a friend entitled to know all our thoughts and plans. I know that I have achieved most satisfactory results from evolving the boldest of my plans in broad daylight. I have never lost a minute’s peace for having detectives by my side. The public may not know that I have been shadowed throughout my stay in India. That has not only not worried me but I have even taken friendly services from these gentlemen: many have apologized for having to shadow me. As a rule, what I have spoken in their presence has already been published to the world. The result is that now I do not even notice the presence of these men and I do not know that the Government is much the wiser for having watched my movements through its secret agency.
Such an approach might not work for all campaigns and actions, but I think for many of them, it might be worth asking “what would we do even if we knew the authorities were watching us and one of us was an informer” rather than guessing “what should we do, since we hope the authorities aren’t watching us and none of us is an informer.” The alternative, of always looking over your shoulder and suspecting everyone you work with, as Wolfe’s book sometimes seems to recommend, seems more a recipe for paralysis.
I research tax resistance, particularly conscientious tax resistance, and so I learned about Beatrice and Kees Boeke through the war tax resistance th...moreI research tax resistance, particularly conscientious tax resistance, and so I learned about Beatrice and Kees Boeke through the war tax resistance they practiced as part of their pacifist activism. This book taught me more about their lives and work.
Fiona Joseph’s story of the Boekes is a fascinating look at a quest for purity and righteousness – both in its pitfalls and its promises – and would be a good and humbling meditation for anyone who has ever considered “going all in” and uncompromisingly living by the standard of their most idealistic hopes.
The Boekes came from a Quaker tradition that promoted service, international missionary work, charity, and pacifism. In addition, Beatrice had financial independence because of her inheritance of part of the Cadbury chocolates company. The couple gave away a lot of money to international charity, and also helped to nurture the international peace movement – both War Resisters International and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation had their founding meetings at the Boeke home in Holland (where the couple settled after Kees was expelled from England during World War Ⅰ for preaching pacifism and for his suspicious contacts with pacifists on the other side of enemy lines).
Another major figure in the international peace movement at the time, and a major influence on the Boekes, was Swiss pacifist Pierre Cérésole. He was present at the 1919 meetings of international war resisters at the Boeke home, and soon afterwards the Boekes began to contemplate war tax resistance, which Cérésole had already been practicing for several years.
Cérésole, like Beatrice Cadbury, had inherited shares of stock. He, however, refused to accept them, not being willing to live on unearned wealth while trying to maintain solidarity with the working class. “To live on one’s invested income is as debasing as to own slaves,” he wrote, “in fact it is the same thing.” He believed that the best thing rich Christians could buy with their money was freedom from possessing it: relinquish it, give it away, and remove the barriers it puts up between them and other people.
This made for a challenge to the Boekes, who were sensitive to charges of hypocrisy while being very public in their idealistic (and increasingly revolutionary Marxist) proclamations. In 1920 the couple were imprisoned for refusing to pay their fines after being arrested for unlicensed street preaching — Beatrice while in the last month of pregnancy.
Later that year Beatrice decided that she would give away her Cadbury shares to the workers at Cadbury. It was harder than she expected. Her family were opposed to the move and there were legal obstacles. It was not until 1922 that she was able to construct a Boeke Trust that satisfied her wishes to relinquish control of the shares and also seemed to cover the legal bases.
By that time the Boekes had adopted a forthright anarchism. Kees published a pamphlet entitled “Break with the State” and, following its advice, the couple began resisting taxes. The Boekes felt that in order for their tax resistance to be consistent, they must also refuse to use state-run monopolies like the postal service and railways, relinquish their passports, stop contributing to retirement accounts, and renounce any claim to the protection of the police, courts, and military. The following year, Kees stopped handling money, and Beatrice joined him in this a year later.
They had also adopted an “open door” policy at their home – anyone was welcome at any time, no need to knock, and the doors were never locked. This led to frequent thefts – even of the family’s food (though sympathetic friends would sometime sneak in food in the same way) – and eventually to the occupation of the family home by vagrants. Being unwilling to either kick out their new guests themselves or to apply to the police to do it for them, the family – including seven children – abandoned their home and left to live in tents elsewhere.
The Cadbury family, concerned for the welfare of the Boekes and especially for their children, devoted a lot of time and energy to figuring out ways of providing for the Boekes without appearing to do so. While the Boekes would have angrily rejected any blatant Cadbury family charity, Joseph notes that “[a]lthough Beatrice had relieved herself of the burden of her inheritance, the Boeke family were now dependent on their friends to help and support them.”
In addition, at the Boeke Trust that Beatrice had established to relinquish any claim on the Cadbury fortune and to give control to the workers to pursue their agendas, the welfare of the Boeke children was in fact a top concern. “Every meeting” of the Trust, Joseph writes, “started with the same agenda item: ‘Care of the Boeke Family.’” The trust voted in 1926 to pay the Boekes’ 1923–5 back taxes without their knowledge.
The family had also become increasingly isolated. Their refusal to use the railways or the postal service, and their relinquishing of their passports, meant that they were no longer as able to participate in the international peace movement – and the occupation of their property by ne’er-d’ye-wells meant that they could no longer host gatherings themselves.
Meanwhile their children were living in squalor, and visits from their family resembled interventions from social workers – for instance, taking the children aside out of view to look them over for signs of malnutrition.
They eventually realized that they had gone too far and that in their attempts to patch up any hints of hypocrisy and inconsistency in their lifestyle, much common sense had slipped through the cracks. Joseph: “They had wanted to humble themselves before God, to prove that He would provide their daily bread. All they had actually done was to cause hardship for the children and put the responsibility for their welfare onto the shoulders of other people…”
Finally they gave in. They accepted some help from the Cadbury family in setting up a modest new home, and they began to compromise with some of their earlier-drawn lines in the sand. By 1935 they were using money again and had reapplied for passports.
Among the steps they had taken over the years was to withdraw their children from school when the government took over private schools and made them tax-funded. They homeschooled their children, and Kees in particular discovered a talent for teaching and an interest in the reform of education. What had begun as homeschooling blossomed into a small school that attracted parents enthused by Kees’s methods or theories and also orphaned Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied countries.
This enabled the Boekes’ to shelter some of these children during the Nazi occupation of Holland (for which the couple were later enshrined in the “Righteous Among the Nations” list of the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority).
The school they founded was so well-considered that after the war, Dutch Princess Juliana sent her children there (including now-Queen Beatrix).(less)
Bondurant was working in military intelligence during World War Ⅱ and was assigned to India where she translated Japanese communications. While she wa...moreBondurant was working in military intelligence during World War Ⅱ and was assigned to India where she translated Japanese communications. While she was there she was exposed to Gandhi’s satyagraha techniques as they were being developed and put into use there, and she was impressed by what she saw and decided to give the subject some study. Her book was one of the first attempts to methodically describe the theory behind the use of satyagraha in political conflict.
(Bondurant seems to have had some instinctual appreciation of satyagraha ahead of time. Legend has it that when she went to learn Japanese in her eagerness to help the war effort, she was turned away — the class was for men only. So she sat outside the classroom door every day until they relented and let her in.)
Gandhi himself did not pause to try and rigorously delineate the contours of his theory. He explained himself briefly on many occasions, and you can piece together a picture of what he had in mind from various examples of these, but because he was developing his technique on-the-fly, experimenting and refining along the way, he sometimes contradicts himself, and the overall picture of what he developed can be a fuzzy one.
Bondurant’s is one attempt of many to try to make up for this lack of a formal understanding of satyagraha.
She starts by giving an introduction to what satyagraha is, how Gandhi developed it, and how he described it. She then tells how it played out in a variety of campaigns, and what generalizations we can draw from seeing how these campaigns played out.
Then she inquires into how much the success of satyagraha depended on the preexisting cultural context of Hinduism. (She suggests that while Gandhi was skilled at remixing the symbols and norms of Hinduism and of Indian culture to explain his technique, the technique itself is universal, and could just as easily be translated to another culture.)
Finally, she compares satyagraha, which is a theory of political action, to a variety of other, more static political theories — such as anarchism, Marxism, liberalism, autocratic idealism, and paleoconservatism. She finds that the means-are-the-ends philosophy of satyagraha give it an edge over other political philosophies that tend to be vague on the means to be used to bring about preferred ends or to resolve conflicts.
I found the book to be thought provoking in many parts, but also to be a little dry and sometimes wordy and vague.
Among the more interesting bits was the discussion of whether Gandhi could be considered an anarchist. Gandhi did not profess a particular political philosophy or theory of the state. Sometimes the things he said seemed to have no interpretation but an anarchist one; other times, he explicitly envisioned and promoted particular state-based action.
Bondurant suggests that part of the problem people have when trying to get a straight answer to this question is that they take for granted the traditional description of a state as an entity that claims a local monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Just as Gandhi was innovating in developing nonviolent ways of projecting force or of resolving conflict, Bondurant thinks, he was also able to imagine a state-like institution that did not use or legitimize violence in its methods of projecting force or resolving conflict. So that when Gandhi spoke of ideal governments or states, he may not have been imagining anything that would necessarily make an anarchist upset.(less)
And it came to pass in 1896 that there went out an ordinance from Her Majesty the Queen of England that all the territories adjacent to the Colony of Sierra Leone should be taxed.
This tax, though similar to ones that had been successfully imposed in other imperial “protectorates,” was resisted, and led to a violent rebellion and then to a crackdown in which dozens of hut tax rebels were hanged and hopes for the independence of Sierra Leone from foreign rule were, for decades, frustrated.
The coastal colony of Sierra Leone, and its adjoining inland “protectorate,” was coalesced by the British by means of negotiating with individual kings of the many small political groups native to the area. These negotiations usually took the form of a treaty signed by the local king and the colonial governor that ceded certain rights over territory to the British in return for protection (including mediation and sometimes military intervention in inter-group conflicts) and often a periodic payment by the empire to the native king.
The British also made some effort to combat the still-ongoing slave trade in the area, which to the residents was a mixed blessing depending on whether they had been prey or predator. Some local elites had made their fortunes in the slave trade when it was still being encouraged by Britain, and slavery was also a local institution — with a large percentage of the population of the protectorate being slaves. The British by this time were actively suppressing the slave trade, having had a change of heart about their own former pro-slavery politicies about a century prior, but they didn’t try to abolish slavery in the protectorate or to free those currently enslaved there. However their legal system did not recognize the validity of slavery, and so it wouldn’t treat enslaved people as property if they did escape to a British-controlled area, and some of the kings complained that their slaves were taking advantage of this to escape.
Sierra Leone’s importance to the British was in part because it was “the only suitable coaling station England possesses on the west coast of Africa.” It does not seem to have been otherwise a great source of benefit for England, not having known mineral resources of much use then, or agricultural exports worth getting excited about, but in the Monopoly game that was the imperialist scramble for Africa, it was better to have poor colonies than no colonies at all. Before the hut tax that was scheduled to go into effect in 1898, the colony’s revenue came from customs duties.
The British colonial rulers had deputized natives to be imperial “Frontier Police,” but in a classic imperial snafu, these more-or-less completely unsupervised police, because they had no particular investment in the British project or the reputation of the empire, tended to use their authority to settle old scores, shake people down, and take untoward sexual liberties with those they lorded over. There seemed also to be instances of gangs impersonating Frontier Police in order to assume these same advantages. Because they did all this as de facto representatives of The Queen of England, and often represented themselves as imperial judges and legislators as well as cops, their abuse or assumption of power reflected back on the Empire and made it harder for it to get respect.
In addition, the colonial government relied on the Frontier Police when it was trying to collect the tax or take reprisals against tax-resisting groups or kings. Even worse, when the colonial government justified the tax to the people in the area harassed by the Frontier Police, it did so by saying the money was necessary in order to finance this police force.
The 1896 Protectorate Ordinance that instituted the tax also gave the colonial administration greater powers than before, and by fiat, marking a striking change in attitude by the empire toward the Kings that it had previously been negotiating with. Provisions of the new ordinance included “limiting the forensic jurisdiction of the Chiefs… enabling the Governor to unmake and make Chiefs, to banish persons from any part of the territories without any charge and without opportunity of a hearing or defence, and… imposing taxes”
Almost immediately as word of the ordinance got out, petitions came in from a variety of groups asking that it be rescinded. In particular, the hut tax was described as onerous and impossible for poor people and villages to pay, as well as an outrage: “our own true fear is that paying for our huts naturally means no right to our country” (or, as another aboriginal political scientist patiently explained: “Paying for a thing in our country means that you had no original right to it; so it seems as if they had no right to their houses.”)
When the government, disregarding these complaints, began collecting the tax, perhaps because it had been forewarned by all of this petitioning it “came to the conclusion that the exercise of force, peremptory, rapid, and inflexible, was the element to be relied on in making the scheme of taxation a success.” This was because without “a good show of force in the shape of Police in each of the districts in which the collection is to take place, the natives may passively resist the authorities collecting the tax, and do all in their power to evade it.”
Colonial district commissioners would summon together the kings in a district, ask them to pay up, then arrest them and hold them hostage if they refused or were unable — imprisoning them until they or their subjects coughed up the tax as a ransom, or sentencing them to hard labor for their refusal. These acts, though done by colonial district commissioners and not by the even more arbitrary Frontier Police, were no less extra-legal (the law provided only for property levies against non-payers, not arrest or criminal prosecution, except in the case of fraud in which case the punishment was only to be a fine). Report author David Chalmers says bluntly: “The arrests and imprisonments were not legal under the law of the Protectorate Ordinance, or any other law under which the District Commissioner was authorized to act.” Later, this became standard practice for the Frontier Police collectors: “it seems indeed to have been taken as the proper practice to make the Chief or Headman of the town a prisoner in this way until the tax was paid.”
The humiliation of their kings, far from intimidating the populace, further infuriated them, and convinced them that the ultimate aim of the British was to destroy their own system of governance, take their land, and mine them for exorbitant taxes.
A king named Bai Bureh, in Kasseh, assembled an armed group, called “war-boys” in Chalmers’s report, to defend him against an expected attempt to arrest him for refusing to pay the Hut Tax. They successfully defended him against an attempted arrest — an attempt that Chalmers labels “aggression pure and simple on the part of the authorities” — and thus the Hut Tax War began. Other angry kings and people, inspired by Bai Bureh’s successful action, rallied to his side. Chalmers is surprisingly sympathetic to the aims of the rebels at this stage, quoting a member of the colonial forces as saying that their own aims, “being unable to arrest him [Bai Bureh], we destroyed his country and that of other Chiefs also, whom we were unable to arrest,” while of the rebels:
The character of the war as on the side of the Native forces, except in two attacks upon Port Lokko and another upon Karene, was defensive, probably the only mode of fighting possible to them as against troops having European organisation. It is well to remember the fact that they waged no warfare except against the troops and Police. There were missionary and trading stations absolutely at their mercy; but there were no plundering raids, and not a trader or missionary was killed, with the exception of the missionary, Mr. Humphreys, who lost his life through persisting in pressing on upon a journey along a particular road against the warnings of the war-men, who told him that they could not permit him to pass, and it even appeared that in killing him the men acted of their own accord, and not by the order of any one in authority. Mr. Elba in narrating his interview with Bai Bureh said that he appeared to be sorry for the occurrence.
The actions of the Imperial troops, on the other hand, resulted in “the laying waste of a country of about thirty miles’ radius round Karene, and the destruction of 97 towns and villages, having an aggregate population of over 44,000.” Chalmers implies that Imperial troops and their Frontier Police allies cut a path of unprovoked and senseless destruction through the territories they passed through during a punitive expedition — murdering, kidnapping children, burning villages — and then falsified their reports to say that they had been responding to attacks by “war-boy” guerrillas.
Meanwhile, tax collectors even in more subdued areas were acting with brutality and impunity: “houses were broken down or burned when the tax was not paid… [or even] after the tax had been paid… Goods were distrained at under values. In many cases where the tax was paid, it was by means of money borrowed at high interest; the Police took whatever they wanted for their own use without payment; they used threats freely, even to use their rifles… it is impossible to do otherwise than conclude that there were very many examples of cruel and flagrant abuse of authority, utterly unsanctioned by the law.”
This in sum convinced many people in Sierra Leone that the British had determined to inflict an all-out, no-quarter-given war on them, and they decided to respond in kind. Over a few days “the male British subjects in Bandajuma, Kwallu, and Sulymah Districts, with few exceptions, were murdered. A number of women also were murdered, and after an order went forth from the leaders staying the killing of women, they were treated as captive slaves. All property belonging to British subjects was plundered…”
This included the English missionaries and missions, which had not before been the objects of hostility. Chalmers notes that “the missionaries at some of the Mendi stations had preached sermons shortly before the outbreak in support of the Hut Tax, and advising the people to pay the tax,” and suggests that possibly “the people considered [that] the missionaries showed by these sermons that they identified themselves with the Government, and had common purpose with the Government in the enforcement of the Hut Tax.”
An interesting section in Chalmers’s report concerns the anarchic instincts of the people of the area and how these were underestimated by the more thoroughly conquered British citizens who took taxation in stride. Excerpts:
[A] tax of the nature of the Hut Tax is unknown in native custom, and… it is highly obnoxious. With a great deal of prevailing loyalty to authority, the native African mind has a strong grasp of the idea of individual liberty, and a tax peremptorily imposed irrespective of the consent of the tax-payer is felt to be derogatory to liberty. Moreover no people has ever welcomed direct taxation or received it even with toleration unless they have become aware that the Government they are required to support brings to them reciprocal advantages worth paying for.
We must accept the fundamental fact that the Chiefs and people of the Hinterland of Sierra Leone have as yet only very slight knowledge of the English Government or its beneficent aims. It has been recognised by many of the Chiefs that the English rule is beneficial inasmuch as it has tended to allay and prevent inter-tribal raids, which are condemned by general native opinion. And they probably have some feeling of security from the hope of English protection if threatened by outside enemies. Beyond these advantages nothing tangible or intelligible has as yet accrued.
The advantages recognised scarcely suggest to the native benefits of a nature which ought to be paid for by compliance with a tax which they regard as oppressive and unjust in itself, and in the peculiar significance attributed to it, viz.: that it implied a taking away of the right of the people in their own country, and a taking away of the right of ownership in the houses, an implied meaning which spread widely and deeply.
…It is true that Chiefs occasionally draw contributions from their people, but these are of the nature of free-will offerings for particular purposes known and approved of by the people, as in the characteristic instance mentioned by Captain Fairtlough — the coronation of a Paramount Chief, or other occasion for festivities. I have found no instance of a Chief attempting to raise anything of the nature of a regularly recurring revenue in this way.
David Chalmers’s report, which amounted to an indictment of the policy of the colonial government, and cast the blame for the war and the massacres that resulted on the ineptitude, clumsiness, brutality, and extralegal overreach of the hut tax and its enforcement, was not at all welcomed by the government that commissioned it. The story they wanted to hear was that the Hut Tax War was “the result of an inevitable conflict between ancient barbarism and advancing civilisation,” nobody’s fault but of the child-like natives who, unable to comprehend that the benefits of their colonization would have to be paid for, threw a tantrum in the classic manner of unchristian savages everywhere.
Chalmers’s recommendations, which largely amounted to treating the people of Sierra Leone with respect to their human dignity — not in repudiation of the imperialist project, but in order to live up both to its oft-pretended ideals of extending the blessings of civilization and to its promise of financial and strategic rewards to the empire — were largely ignored, and the empire doubled-down on its “exterminate the brutes” policy.
The GI support group Courage to Resist conducted interviews with several members of the U.S. military who in recent years have wised up and turned the...moreThe GI support group Courage to Resist conducted interviews with several members of the U.S. military who in recent years have wised up and turned their backs on the wars they were sent to fight.
The stories they tell are often heart-wrenching, horrifying, and infuriating, but also at times inspiring. It seems hard enough for civilians to stick our necks out to oppose the government and its wars — think of how much more courage it takes for those in uniform.
While each story is unique and interesting in its own right, many stories follow the same awful, relentless pattern: Some kid, hoping to improve on a mediocre lot in life and motivated by a desire to do something worthwhile for his (or her) country, talks to a military recruiter and gets a great song-and-dance about opportunity and how in the military we’re all one big happy family that sticks by each other through thick and thin. Once in, the corruption, dishonesty, and betrayal of the military and its degrading, cruel, and dehumanizing culture start to pile on, and the new soldier starts to understand that he’s been had. Sent overseas, he discovers quickly that his actual mission doesn’t bear any resemblance to the noble stories the government and propagandists are pitching back home, and that his life and his mission are considered far less important than ass-covering up the chain of command. When he tries to get help — for instance for injuries, for post-traumatic stress disorder, or for the family he’s left behind — he finds that the “big happy family that sticks together” quickly becomes disparagement, abuse, bureaucracy, and wholly inadequate assistance: at best they’ll try to drug you up to keep you quiet. Finally deciding to get out, he then finds that the military has dozens of ways of making you suffer if you try to leave, and that there’s often no exit except as an outlaw.
These resisters are doing the hard work, and ought to shame the rest of us into doing more. As one of the soldiers, Michael Thurman, put it: “I think G.I. resistance is going to be the ultimate thing that stops the war, because definitely politicians and the government won’t do it. It’s going to have to be the actions of individuals that bring down the pillars of war.”(less)
I’ve lately been reading Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Blood of Others. In general I seem to be able to get a better feel for French existentialists...moreI’ve lately been reading Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Blood of Others. In general I seem to be able to get a better feel for French existentialists from their fiction than their essays and lectures — at least where Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre are concerned. De Beauvoir is considerably less coy than they were, in their novels, about making her fiction primarily a way of illustrating existentialist philosophy.
For example, this scene, in which Hélène ponders with her lover the question “why do we live?”:
“When I was small, I believed in God, and it was wonderful; at every moment of the day something was required of me; then it seemed to me that I must exist. It was an absolute necessity.”
I smiled sympathetically at her. “I think that where you go wrong is that you imagine that your reasons for living ought to fall on you ready-made from heaven, whereas we have to find them for ourselves.”
“But when we know that we’ve found them ourselves, we can’t believe in them. It’s only a way of deceiving ourselves.”
“Why? You don’t find them just like that — out of thin air. We discover them through the strength of a love or a desire, and then what we have found rises before us, solid and real.”
or this argument:
“People are free,” I said, “but only so far as they themselves are concerned; we can neither touch, foresee, nor insist on them using their liberty. That is what I find so painful; the intrinsic worth of an individual exists only for him, not for me; I can only get as far as his outward actions, and to him I am nothing more than an outer appearance, an absurd set of premises; premises that I do not even choose to be…”
“Then don’t get excited,” said Marcel; “if you don’t even make the choice, why punish yourself?”
“I don’t choose to exist, but I am. An absurdity that is responsible for itself, that’s exactly what I am.”
“Well, there must be something.”
“But there might be something else…”
or this steamy existentialist love scene:
“I need you because I love you,” I said.
You were in my arms, and my heart was heavy on account of those cowardly festive echoes and because I was lying to you. Crushed by all those things which existed in spite of me and from which I was separated only by my own anguish. There is nothing left. Nobody on that bed; before me lies a gaping void. And the anguish comes into its own, alone in the void, beyond the vanished things. I am alone. I am that anguish which exists alone, in spite of me; I am merged with that blind existence. In spite of me and yet issuing only from myself. Refuse to exist; I exist. Decide to exist; I exist. Refuse. Decide. I exist. There will be a dawn.
So, yeah… it gets a little heavy-handed at times. But sometimes a lay-it-on-thick melodrama is the best way of getting a philosophy across.
The major theme seems to be about the squeamishness conscientious people have about making choices that involve the sorts of risks to other people that would make them feel guilty if their choices turn out to have bad consequences. One “bad faith” way of dealing with this is to remain passive and to pretend that by not making a particular choice, you are not making any choice at all and therefore are not responsible for the consequences of your decision. Another way is to attach yourself to an organization or ideology that makes your decisions for you. But neither of these things really works; the decisions and their consequences are still yours, and you would have been better off just admitting this from the get go and acting accordingly.(less)
If Christianity were as Claiborne envisions it, it really could be irresistible... and maybe some day it will be. Myself, I have a hard time seeing ho...moreIf Christianity were as Claiborne envisions it, it really could be irresistible... and maybe some day it will be. Myself, I have a hard time seeing how you can build something lasting and worthwhile on a foundation of balderdash, but Claiborne is making a good show of it anyway and this atheist wishes him the best of luck.(less)
Ammon Hennacy wrote: “I felt that it must have been written especially for me, for here was the answer already written out to all the questions that I had tried to figure out for myself…”
Gandhi went on to read more of Tolstoy’s works on nonviolence, and began to develop his own implementations of ahimsa (non-harm) and satyagraha (truth-force) at a place he called “Tolstoy Farm” in South Africa. Hennacy adopted a life of voluntary poverty and tax resistance “as I had learned them from Tolstoy and the Catholic Worker.”
The book is the most influential work of Christian anarchism, and would probably be considered the founding work of that tradition if it didn’t itself claim to merely be pointing out Christian anarchism as the plain meaning of the gospels.
Tolstoy argues that Christianity as it currently exists in the form of doctrines, church institutions and hierarchies, and ritual practices, is anti-Christian. Not just that it happens to be because these things are corrupted (though they are) but because Christ explicitly told his followers to reject doctrines, church institutions and hierarchies, and ritual practices, and instead to love truth, to honor God, and to treat all people as your family and as you would want to be treated.
This intuitively simple message, which Jesus made explicit in the gospels, ought to be the lodestone of all of our lives, he says, and indeed the progress of society throughout human history is leading us in this direction as truth slowly erodes away falsehood.
An inevitable conclusion of the command to treat all people as your family and as you would want to be treated is that the current political order is unsupportable. You cannot participate in the political system, which is based on the use of violence to enforce the separation of people and the priviliging of some people over others, and at the same time follow the guideline to love your neighbor.
So everybody ought to work to orient their lives along true Christian lines immediately (without waiting for the world to be “ready” for it). This means ending all support of and participation in government, for instance as a soldier, an office-holder, a juror, or a taxpayer. And it also means renouncing any privileges that the government implicitly defends by violent means (such as private property).
Well, that's well and good, but I am not a Christian. That Jesus said this or the gospels say that, to me does not constitute an argument for a course of action. In addition, while Tolstoy’s interpretation of Jesus’s message is attractive in some ways, it does not convince me as being so clearly the best and most accurate summation of what Jesus had to say.
So while Tolstoy thought of himself as explaining the clear teachings of Christ to people who wanted to follow those teachings, I think of Tolstoy as explaining to us what worldly ethics he thinks the wisest person he can think of would have naturally taught. This is the Gospel of Tolstoy, and as such it is interesting even to a non-Christian.
Wiener's translation is okay, but unnecessarily awkward in parts, and some of his decisions are questionable (calling Ivan the Terrible “John IV,” overliterally translating Nicene Creed into the Nicene “Symbol,” refering to icons as “images,” and so forth). I think if I had to do it over again, I'd hunt up a different translation.(less)