Tolstoy’s “Letter to the Liberals”

I’ve copied Aylmer Maude’s translation of Leo Tolstoy’s interesting Letter to the Liberals to The Picket Line. I’ve been unable to reach either the publisher of the book where I found the translation or the translator, so I’m asking for forgiveness rather than permission as I post it here. Excerpts:

It seems to me that it is now specially important to do what is right quietly and persistently, not only without asking permission from government, but consciously avoiding its participation.…

People who take part in government, or work under its direction, may deceive themselves or their sympathizers by making a show of struggling; but those against whom they struggle — the government — know quite well, by the strength of the resistance experienced, that these people are not really pulling, but are only pretending to. And our government knows this with respect to the Liberals, and constantly tests the quality of the opposition, and finding that genuine resistance is practically non-existent, it continues its course in full assurance that it can do what it likes with such opponents.…

[T]wo methods of opposing the government have been tried, both unsuccessfully, and it now remains to try a third and a last method, one not yet tried, but one which, I think, cannot but be successful. Briefly, that means this: that all enlightened and honest people should try to be as good as they can, and not even good in all respects, but only in one; namely, in observing one of the most elementary virtues — to be honest, and not to lie, but to act and speak so that your motives should be intelligible to an affectionate seven-year old-boy; to act so that your boy should not say, “But why, papa, did you say so-and-so, and now you do and say something quite different?” This method seems very weak, and yet I am convinced that it is this method, and this method only, that has moved humanity since the race began.



I’ve often wondered whether or not Christians make arguments like this one: The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why don’t Christians live what they preach?

In spite of the renewal movement’s proud claims to miraculous transformation, the polls showed that members of the movement divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement’s leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept. ¶ This, alas, is roughly the situation of Western or at least American evangelicalism today.…

If Christians do not live what they preach, the whole thing is a farce. “American Christianity has largely failed ,” Barna concludes, “because Jesus’ modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus.” This scandalous behavior mocks Christ, undermines evangelism, and destroys Christian credibility.

Seems to me that those of us who don’t believe in gods and divine books and such could use a similar kick in the pants, but who could deliver it and how?


Alexander Cockburn has tickled the Secret Service search engines, I’m sure, with his essay suggesting that President Bush should be killed (after a fair trial finds him guilty of war crimes for which the penalty is death).


“How can you possibly live on $15,000 a year,” says someone who lives on $40,000 a year. “How can you possibly ask that question,” says someone who lives on $800 a year.

Why do people have such a wide range of values for how much money they think is necessary to get by on? , PNC Bank released some results from a survey they’d done of “America’s wealthiest individuals” (“792 affluent American adults, including nearly 500 high net worth individuals with more than $1 million in investable assets”):

  • Fewer than half (46 percent) of survey respondents say that they have become happier as they have accumulated more money. Nearly one third (29 percent) of respondents with more than $10 million in investable assets agree that having a lot of money brings more problems than it solves, and 33 percent agree that having enough money is a constant worry in their life.…
  • While having money today makes life less stressful, increased longevity has created new anxieties about financial security in the future. Approximately one in five (19 percent) respondents with $10 million in investable assets and 21 percent of those with assets from $1 million to $4.9 million worry that they will not have enough money to support the lifestyle they want to have in retirement.
  • When asked how much they needed to feel financially secure in the future, respondents consistently cited a need to approximately double their current level of assets. Those with $10 million or more felt they needed a median of $18.1 million; those with $5 million or more needed $10.4 million, and those with a half million to $1 million said they needed $2.4 million.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.


In the past on The Picket Line, I’ve discussed Thomas Jefferson’s strange legacy. Among the strange interactions between Jefferson and slavery is this one: Jefferson only became president because the U.S. Constitution considered a slave to be the equivalent of three-fifths of a person for the purposes of counting population and allocating electors to states.

I was reminded of this when I read the New York Times opinion piece Why Some Politicians Need Their Prisons to Stay Full.

Felons are barred from voting in 48 of 50 states — including New York. Yet in New York, as in the rest of the country, disenfranchised prisoners are included in the population counts that become the basis for drawing legislative districts.

An eye-opening analysis by Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner found seven upstate New York Senate districts that meet minimal population requirements only because prison inmates are included in the count. New York is not alone. The group’s researchers have found 21 counties nationally where at least 21 percent of the “residents” were inmates.

The New York Republican Party uses its majority in the State Senate to maintain political power through fat years and lean. The Senate Republicans, in turn, rely on their large upstate delegation to keep that majority. Whether those legislators have consciously made the connection or not, it’s hard to escape the fact that bulging prisons are good for their districts. The advantages extend beyond jobs and political gerrymandering. By counting unemployed inmates as residents, the prison counties lower their per capita incomes — and increase the portion they get of federal funds for the poor. This results in a transfer of federal cash from places that can’t afford to lose it to places that don’t deserve it.


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