A Confession

By Leo Tolstoy (1882)

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Untitled Anarchism A Confession

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(1828 - 1910)

Father of Christian Anarchism

: In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From: Anarchy Archives.)
• "...the dissemination of the truth in a society based on coercion was always hindered in one and the same manner, namely, those in power, feeling that the recognition of this truth would undermine their position, consciously or sometimes unconsciously perverted it by explanations and additions quite foreign to it, and also opposed it by open violence." (From: "A Letter to a Hindu: The Subjection of India- Its....)
• "You are surprised that soldiers are taught that it is right to kill people in certain cases and in war, while in the books admitted to be holy by those who so teach, there is nothing like such a permission..." (From: "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)
• "It is necessary that men should understand things as they are, should call them by their right names, and should know that an army is an instrument for killing, and that the enrollment and management of an army -- the very things which Kings, Emperors, and Presidents occupy themselves with so self-confidently -- is a preparation for murder." (From: "'Thou Shalt Not Kill'," by Leo Tolstoy, August 8,....)

Chapters

16 Chapters | 25,701 Words | 144,091 Characters

I was baptized and brought up in the Orthodox Christian faith. I was taught it in childhood and throughout my boyhood and youth. But when I abandoned the second course of the university at the age of eighteen I no longer believed any of the things I had been taught. Judging by certain memories, I never seriously believed them, but had merely relied on what I was taught and on what was professed by the grown-up people around me, and that reliance was very unstable. I remember that before I was eleven a grammar school pupil, Vladimir Milyutin (long since dead), visited us one Sunday and announced as the latest novelty a discovery made at his school. This discovery was that there is no God and that all we are taught about Him i... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
Some day I will narrate the touching and instructive history of my life during those ten years of my youth. I think very many people have had a like experience. With all my soul I wished to be good, but I was young, passionate and alone, completely alone when I sought goodness. Every time I tried to express my most sincere desire, which was to be morally good, I met with contempt and ridicule, but as soon as I yielded to low passions I was praised and encouraged. Ambition, love of power, covetousness, lasciviousness, pride, anger, and revenge - were all respected. Yielding to those passions I became like the grown-up folk and felt that they approved of me. The kind aunt with whom I lived, herself the purest of beings, always tol... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
So I lived, abandoning myself to this insanity for another six years, till my marriage. During that time I went abroad. Life in Europe and my acquaintance with leading and learned Europeans [Footnote: Russians generally make a distinction between Europeans and Russians. - A.M.] confirmed me yet more in the faith of striving after perfection in which I believed, for I found the same faith among them. That faith took with me the common form it assumes with the majority of educated people of our day. It was expressed by the word "progress". It then appeared to me that this word meant something. I did not as yet understand that, being tormented (like every vital man) by the question how it is best for me to live, in my answer, "Live ... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
My life came to a standstill. I could breathe, eat, drink, and sleep, and I could not help doing these things; but there was no life, for there were no wishes the fulfillment of which I could consider reasonable. If I desired anything, I knew in advance that whether I satisfied my desire or not, nothing would come of it. Had a fairy come and offered to fulfill my desires I should not have know what to ask. If in moments of intoxication I felt something which, though not a wish, was a habit left by former wishes, in sober moments I knew this to be a delusion and that there was really nothing to wish for. I could not even wish to know the truth, for I guessed of what it consisted. The truth was that life is meaningless. I had as i... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
"But perhaps I have overlooked something, or misunderstood something?" said to myself several times. "It cannot be that this condition of despair is natural to man!" And I sought for an explanation of these problems in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I sought painfully and long, not from idle curiosity or listlessly, but painfully and persistently day and night - sought as a perishing man seeks for safety - and I found nothing. I sought in all the sciences, but far from finding what I wanted, became convinced that all who like myself had sought in knowledge for the meaning of life had found nothing. And not only had they found nothing, but they had plainly acknowledged that the very thing which made me despair - n... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
In my search for answers to life's questions I experienced just what is felt by a man lost in a forest. He reaches a glade, climbs a tree, and clearly sees the limitless distance, but sees that his home is not and cannot be there; then he goes into the dark wood and sees the darkness, but there also his home is not. So I wandered n that wood of human knowledge, amid the gleams of mathematical and experimental science which showed me clear horizons but in a direction where there could be no home, and also amid the darkness of the abstract sciences where I was immersed in deeper gloom the further I went, and where I finally convinced myself that there was, and could be, no exit. Yielding myself to the bright side of knowledge, I u... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
Not finding an explanation in science I began to seek for it in life, hoping to find it among the people around me. And I began to observe how the people around me - people like myself - lived, and what their attitude was to this question which had brought me to despair. And this is what I found among people who were in the same position as myself as regards education and manner of life. I found that for people of my circle there were four ways out of the terrible position in which we are all placed. The first was that of ignorance. It consists in not knowing, not understanding, that life is an evil and an absurdity. People of this sort - chiefly women, or very young or very dull people - have not yet understood that question of... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
All these doubts, which I am now able to express more or less systematically, I could not then have expressed. I then only felt that however logically inevitable were my conclusions concerning the vanity of life, confirmed as they were by the greatest thinkers, there was something not right about them. Whether it was in the reasoning itself or in the statement of the question I did not know - I only felt that the conclusion was rationally convincing, but that that was insufficient. All these conclusions could not so convince me as to make me do what followed from my reasoning, that is to say, kill myself. And I should have told an untruth had I, without killing myself, said that reason had brought me to the point I had reached. R... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
A contradiction arose from which there were two exits. Either that which I called reason was not so rational as I supposed, or that which seemed to me irrational was not so irrational as I supposed. And I began to verify the line of argument of my rational knowledge. Verifying the line of argument of rational knowledge I found it quite correct. The conclusion that life is nothing was inevitable; but I noticed a mistake. The mistake lay in this, that my reasoning was not in accord with the question I had put. The question was: "Why should I live, that is to say, what real, permanent result will come out of my illusory transitory life - what meaning has my finite existence in this infinite world?" And to reply to that question I h... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
I understood this, but it made matters no better for me. I was now ready to accept any faith if only it did not demand of me a direct denial of reason - which would be a falsehood. And I studied Buddhism and Mohammedanism from books, and most of all I studied Christianity both from books and from the people around me. Naturally I first of all turned to the orthodox of my circle, to people who were learned: to Church theologians, monks, to theologians of the newest shade, and even to Evangelicals who profess salvation by belief in the Redemption. And I seized on these believers and questioned them as to their beliefs and their understanding of the meaning of life. But though I made all possible concessions, and avoided all disput... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
And remembering how those very beliefs had repelled me and had seemed meaningless when professed by people whose lives conflicted with them, and how these same beliefs attracted me and seemed reasonable when I saw that people lived in accord with them, I understood why I had then rejected those beliefs and found them meaningless, yet now accepted them and found them full of meaning. I understood that I had erred, and why I erred. I had erred not so much because I thought incorrectly as because I lived badly. I understood that it was not an error in my thought that had hid truth from me as much as my life itself in the exceptional conditions of epicurean gratification of desires in which I passed it. I understood that my question... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
The consciousness of the error in reasonable knowledge helped me to free myself from the temptation of idle ratiocination. the conviction that knowledge of truth can only be found by living led me to doubt the rightness of my life; but I was saved only by the fact that I was able to tear myself from my exclusiveness and to see the real life of the plain working people, and to understand that it alone is real life. I understood that if I wish to understand life and its meaning, I must not live the life of a parasite, but must live a real life, and - taking the meaning given to live by real humanity and merging myself in that life - verify it. During that time this is what happened to me. During that whole year, when I was asking ... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
I turned from the life of our circle, acknowledging that ours is not life but a simulation of life - that the conditions of superfluity in which we live deprive us of the possibility of understanding life, and that in order to understand life I must understand not an exceptional life such as our who are parasites on life, but the life of the simple laboring folk - those who make life - and the meaning which they attribute to it. The simplest laboring people around me were the Russian people, and I turned to them and to the meaning of life which they give. That meaning, if one can put it into words, was as follows: Every man has come into this world by the will of God. And God has so made man that every man can destroy his soul or... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
In was then so necessary for me to believe in order to live that I unconsciously concealed from myself the contradictions and obscurities of theology. but this reading of meanings into the rites had its limits. If the chief words in the prayer for the Emperor became more and more clear to me, if I found some explanation for the words "and remembering our Sovereign Most-Holy Mother of God and all the Saints, ourselves and one another, we give our whole life to Christ our God", if I explained to myself the frequent repetition of prayers for the Czar and his relations by the fact that they are more exposed to temptations than other people and therefore are more in need of being prayed for - the prayers about subduing our enemies and... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
How often I envied the peasants their illiteracy and lack of learning! Those statements in the creeds which to me were evident absurdities, for them contained nothing false; they could accept them and could believe in the truth - the truth I believed in. Only to me, unhappy man, was it clear that with truth falsehood was interwoven by finest threads, and that I could not accept it in that form. So I lived for about three years. At first, when I was only slightly associated with truth as a catechumen and was only scenting out what seemed to me clearest, these encounters struck me less. When I did not understand anything, I said, "It is my fault, I am sinful"; but the more I became imbued with the truths I was learning, the more ... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)
And I ceased to doubt, and became fully convinced that not all was true in the religion I had joined. Formerly I should have said that it was all false, but I could not say so now. The whole of the people possessed a knowledge of the truth, for otherwise they could not have lived. Moreover, that knowledge was accessible to me, for I had felt it and had lived by it. But I no longer doubted that there was also falsehood in it. And all that had previously repelled me now presented itself vividly before me. And though I saw that among the peasants there was a smaller admixture of the lies that repelled me than among the representatives of the Church, I still saw that in the people's belief also falsehood was mingled with the truth. ... (From: Flag.Blackened.net.)

Chronology

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1882
A Confession — Publication.

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February 11, 2017; 4:12:55 PM (UTC)
Added to https://revoltlib.com.

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December 30, 2021; 5:00:14 PM (UTC)
Updated on https://revoltlib.com.

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