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Leo Tolstoy: Prescription for peace

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From The Kreutzer Sonata (1889)
Translated by Margaret Wettlin

“Observe this: If the aim of human life is goodness, kindness, love; if the aim of human life is what is told us in the prophecies, that all people are to be united by love, that the sword is to be exchanged for the ploughshare, and all the rest, then what is it that prevents us from achieving this aim? Our passions. And of all the passions, the strongest, the most vicious and persistent, is sexual, carnal love, and therefore if the passions are subdued, especially this, then the prophecies will be fulfilled and mankind will be united into one, the aim of human life will be achieved, and there will no longer be anything to live for. As long as mankind exists it is inspired by the ideal, and certainly not the ideal of pigs and rabbits, which is to have as many offspring as possible, nor the ideal of monkeys and Parisians, which is to get the most refined enjoyment out of sexual indulgence. It is the ideal of goodness achieved through continence and purity. Man always has and always will strive to attain this…”

“Slavery is nothing but a state in which some people reap the benefit of the forced labour of others. Slavery can be abolished only when people no longer wish to reap the benefit of the forced labour of others because they consider it sinful or shameful. But what they actually do is to change the outer forms of slavery by forbidding the sale of slaves, and they fancy (and convince themselves) that slavery has been abolished, not seeing and not wishing to see that slavery continues to exist because people go on wanting to reap the benefit of other people’s labour and consider it right and just to do so. So long as this is considered right, there will be found people who, being stronger and more cunning than others, will bring about slavery.”

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