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.

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