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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Tolstoy on law

Tolstoy, Count Leo Nikolayevich (1828-1910)

Tolstoy has been described as a writer, aesthetic philosopher, moralist and mystic, the greatest European novelist. War and Peace and Anna Karenina are generally acknowledged to be the two greatest novels ever written. Tolstoy read law at Kazan University.

During the last twenty years of his life he wrote a number of essays expounding an innovative brand of non-violent anarchism, including the following commentary on law:

  • Laws are framed, and repealed, by human beings. It is not some sociological “iron” law, but ordinary man-made law, that produces slavery. The slavery of our times is very clearly and definitely produced by human enactments: about land, about taxes and about property.

  • There is one set of laws by which any quantity of land may belong to private people, and may pass from one to another by inheritance, or by will, or may be sold; there is another set of laws by which everyone must pay the taxes demanded of him unquestioningly; and there is a third set of laws to the effect that any quantity of articles, by whatever means acquired, may become the absolute property of the people who hold them. And in consequence of these laws, slavery exists.

  • We are so accustomed to all these laws that they seem to us just as necessary to human life, as the laws maintaining serfdom and slavery seemed in former times. No doubts about their necessity and justice seem possible, and we notice nothing wrong in them. But just as a time came when people, having seen the ruinous consequences of serfdom, questioned the justice and necessity of the laws which maintained it, so now, when the pernicious consequences of the present economic order have become evident, one involuntarily questions the justice and inevitability of the legislation about land, taxes and property which produces those results.

  • Land ownership: history shows that property in land resulted from the seizure of the common land by conquerors and its distribution to those who served the conquerors.

  • Taxes are taken by those who have the power to take them.

  • People formerly established laws enabling some people to buy and sell other people, and to own them, and to make them work, and slavery existed. Now people have established laws that men may not use land that is considered to belong to someone else, must pay the taxes demanded of them, and must not use articles considered to be the property of others – and we have the slavery of our times.

  • The essence of legislation is organised violence. According to science, legislation is the expression of the will of the whole people: but as those who break the laws, or who wish to break them and only refrain from doing so through fear of being punished, are always more numerous than those who wish to carry out the code, it is evident that legislation can certainly not be considered as the expression of the will of the whole people.

  • There is one characteristic common to all laws, namely, that if any one man does not fulfil them, those who have made those laws will send armed men, and the armed men will beat, deprive of freedom, or even kill, the man who does not obey the law.

  • For every non-fulfilment of the established laws there is punishment: the offender is subjected, by those who make the laws, to blows, imprisonment or even loss of life.

  • Everywhere and always the laws are enforced by the only means that has compelled, and still compels, some people to obey the will of others, by blows, by deprivation of liberty and by murder. There can be no other way. It cannot be otherwise. For laws are demands to obey certain rules and to compel some people to obey certain rules can only be done by blows, by deprivation of liberty and by murder. If there are laws, there must be the force that can compel people to obey them. There is only one force that can compel people to obey rules (to conform to the will of others) and that is violence; not the simple violence which people use on one another in moments of passion, but the organized violence used by people who have power in order to compel others to obey the laws that they, the powerful, have made, in other words, to do their will.

  • The essence of legislation lies in the fact that people who wield organized violence have power to compel others to obey them and do as they like.

  • Laws are rules, made by people who govern by means of organized violence, for non-compliance with which the non-complier is subjected to blows, to loss of liberty, or even to being murdered.

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