Excerpts from essay “Patriotism and Government,” by Leo Tolstoy (1900):
All the nations of the so-called Christian world have been brought by patriotism to such a degree of bestialization that not only the men who are put to the necessity of killing or being killed wish for and rejoice at murder, but also the men who calmly live in their houses in Europe, who are not threatened by any one, thanks to the rapid and easy means of communication and to the press – all men in Europe and in America – during any war are in the position of spectators in a Roman circus, and just like them rejoice at the slaughter, and just as bloodthirstily cry, “Pollice verso!”
The army, the money, the school, the religion, and the press are in the hands of the ruling classes. In the schools they fan patriotism in the children by means of history, by describing their nation as the best of all the nations and always in the right. In the adults, the same sentiment is roused by means of spectacles, celebrations, monuments, and a patriotic, lying press. But patriotism is chiefly roused in them by committing all kinds of unjust acts and cruelties against other nations and provoking hatred in these nations for their own nation, and then using this hatred for provoking such a hatred in their own nation.
Having the power in their hands, the governments are able to irritate the other nations and to evoke patriotism in their own, and they use every effort to do both. They themselves cannot help doing so, because upon this is their existence based.
If the governments were needed before to defend their people against attacks from other nations, now, on the contrary, the governments artificially violate the peace that exists among the nations, and provoke hostilities among them.
… governments, by dint of their very activity, which consists in the practice of violence, are always composed of elements which are the very opposite of holy – of the most impudent, coarse, and corrupted men. For this reason every government, and especially every government to which the military power is delegated, is a most dangerous institution in the world.
And it is such governments that are invested with full power, not only over property and life, but also over the spiritual and moral development, the education, and the religious guidance of all men.
Men produce this terrible machine of power, letting anyone who pleases seize this power (and all the chances are that it will be seized by the one who is morally worst), slavishly submit to it, and marvel that they are faring badly. They are afraid of mines and of anarchists, but are not afraid of that terrible structure which threatens them any minute with the greatest calamities.
To free people from those terrible calamities of armaments and wars, which they suffer now, and which keep growing greater and greater, we do not need congresses, conferences, treaties, or tribunals, but the abolition of that implement of violence that is called government, and from which originates all the greatest calamities of men.
Men who would like to follow Christ’s teaching are taxed, insulted, deceived, and drawn into the army. Christ taught meekness, humility, forgiveness of sins, and that it is bad to kill. Scripture teaches people not to swear, but the upper classes compel us to swear on the Scripture, in which they do not believe.
This army is formed by us, our deceived neighbors and brothers, who have been made to believe that they are serving God when they defend their country from the enemy. In reality, our country has no enemies except the upper classes, who have taken upon themselves to guard our interests, if only we shall consent to pay the taxes. They consume our sustenance and rouse our true brothers against us, in order to enslave and degrade us.
[Patriotism, which government forces upon people] is disgraceful, because it transforms the man not only into a slave, but also into a fighting cock, a bull, and a gladiator, who ruins his forces and his life, not for his own purposes, but for those of his government. It is immoral because, instead of recognizing himself as the son of God, as Christianity teaches us, or at least as a free man, who is guided by his reason, every man, under the influence of patriotism, recognizes himself as the son of his country and the slave of his government, and commits acts which are contrary to his reason and to his conscience.
Men need but understand this, and the terrible bondage of men, called the government, will fall apart of its own accord, without any struggle, and with it will fall that terrible, useless evil which is caused by it to the nations.
Silently disregard these upper classes, and refuse to bow before their martial idol. Stop supporting preachers who preach war and put forward patriotism as something important.
Let them go and work, as we do.
We believe in Christ, but they do not. Christ said what he thought. They say what they think will please the men in power – “the upper class.”
We will not enter military service. We will not shoot at their command. We will not arm ourselves with bayonets against the good and meek masses. …
Your deceptive cry, “Wolf, wolf!” does not frighten us. We pay our taxes only because we are compelled to do so. We will pay them only so long as we are compelled to do so. We will not pay any church tribute to the hypocrites, or our tithes for your hypocritical philanthropy, and we will on every occasion express our opinion,
We will educate the men.
Let men understand that they are not the sons of any countries or governments, but the sons of God, and that, therefore, they cannot be slaves or enemies of other men, and all those senseless, now quite useless, pernicious institutions, bequeathed by antiquity, which are called governments, and all those sufferings, acts of violence, degradations, and crimes, which they bring with them, will disappear of their own accord.
Text in original language: Russian http://az.lib.ru/t/tolstoj_lew_nikolaewich/text_1180.shtml