Power to the People
Two questions guide this second epilogue. First, Tolstoy wants to know what power is. Second, he wants to know what force triggers the movement of people and nations. In today’s chapter, drawing upon his discourses in the preceding chapters, he settles on an answer to these questions. Kind of.
The answer to the first question is relatively straightforward and simple. Power is the relationship between people, particularly the relationship between the so-called masses and their so-called leaders.
His answer to the second question, what force it is that moves people and nations, is a bit more murky. He begins by stating what this force is not. The force that moves people and nations is not caused by power or intellectual activity, nor is it moved by a combination of the two. Rather, the force of nations is the activity of all the people wherein “those taking the largest direct share in the event take on themselves the least responsibility and vice versa.” The so-called leaders of nations, under the traditional understanding of historical analysis, assume the moral power of history whereas the so-called masses are the physical engine of movement. Tolstoy argues against the understanding that the moral wielders are the cause of events. “Moral activity is inconceivable without the physical,” he writes. Therefore, “the conception of cause is inapplicable to the phenomena” of history. History, for Tolstoy, is a series of uncaused events. It is, to quote further, a series of uncaused events wherein
For reasons known or unknown to us the French began to drown and kill one another. And corresponding to the event its justification appears in people’s belief that this was necessary for the welfare of France, for liberty, and for equality. People ceased to kill one another, and this event was accompanied by its justification in the necessity for a centralization of power, resistance to Europe, and so on. Men went from the west to the east killing their fellow men, and the event was accompanied by phrases about the glory of France, the baseness of England, and so on. History shows us that these justifications of the events have no common sense and are all contradictory, as in the case of killing a man as the result of recognizing his rights, and the killing of millions in Russia for the humiliation of England.
And all this within just a small slice of the European theater of history during the early parts of the nineteenth century. Libraries overflow with similar tales of folly, madness and insanity on a global level. They’ll continue to fill unless we change our ways. If Tolstoy is right, if it’s true that history is the uncaused collective activity of mankind then it’s up to us to change. We must abandon the nationalisms, the anger, the hatreds, the suspicions, and the tribal instinct for savagery that has characterized our history up to this point. We must carry within ourselves meditations of peace and unity.
It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.
When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks