Friday, May 11, 2012

Anarchy in May: Tolstoy on Moral Culpability

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
The previous quote from William Lloyd Garrison was drawn from Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. Unsurprisingly, Tolstoy himself--regarded by many to be the seminal figure in modern Christian anarchism, probably more for his notoriety than any novelty or innovation on his part--had plenty to say on the subject of the Christian relation to the state. While volumes could be filled with such quotes (and they are), consider this brief statement on the nature of moral culpability as it relates to citizen participation in civil government:

There are some people, who, without any definite reasoning about it, conclude straightway that the responsibility of government measures rests entirely on those who resolve on them, or that the governments and sovereigns decide the question of what is good or bad for their subjects, and the duty of the subjects is merely to obey. I think that arguments of this kind only obscure men's conscience. I cannot take part in the councils of government, and therefore I am not responsible for its misdeeds... Indeed, but we are responsible for our own misdeeds. And the misdeeds of our rulers become our own, if we, knowing that they are misdeeds, assist in carrying, them out. Those who suppose that they are bound to obey the government, and that the responsibility for the misdeeds they commit is transferred from them to their rulers, deceive themselves.

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