Tolstoy, The Most Woke Anarchist Since Jesus
Leo Tolstoy is an amazing writer, known mostly for his epic War and Peace, but don’t worry, The Slavery Of Our Times is only 90 pages long. It quickly and beautifully upends basic assumptions about economics, law, and the need for government at all. Tolstoy is the anarchist philosopher poet, trying to make peasants into philosopher kings.
Tolstoy starts the book visiting the horrors of then-modern capitalism. Men working 36 hour shifts at the train station, women giving away their children to work at the garment factory. He sees this suffering and asks why. Why must we live like this? What he sees is that these people live under wage slavery as real as chattel slavery, backed by lawyers and economists as false as priests, enforced by governments as vile as murderers.
Today, 120 years later, it feels like the same shit, different day. His books is stunningly, depressingly relevant to modern debates. We still tinker around the edges (like capitalism vs. socialism), but Tolstoy exhorts us to go deeper still. He harks back to the ideas of Christ, the Buddha, and Confucius, back even to the first thing God was recorded to tell man. Do not kill. This very simple commandment, applied to government, changes everything.
If you take violence out of government, the government cannot enforce laws. If the government can’t enforce laws, wage slavery falls down. Without wage slavery, the people are free. This condition of freedom, where people live in voluntary, non-coercive institutions is properly called anarchism. As Noam Chomsky says, “anarchy as a social philosophy has never meant “chaos” — in fact, anarchists have typically believed in a highly organized society, just one that’s organized democratically from below.”
The Slavery Of Our Times is one of the most important anarchist works, and it’s not about chaos at all. It’s about freedom, about love, and the message of the original anarchist, Jesus Christ.