What to read other than Tolstoy

Tolstoy Center for Nonviolence

Jul 29, 2022

Here are several works that are memorable for their lively advocacy of nonviolence — despite the fact that some of these authors and their heroes are not at all supporters of nonviolence.

In order of length, starting with the shortest:

  1. Leonid Andreev. Judas Iscariot, 1907. A literary work, not so much about non-resistance as about passions and falling from grace, but written with such talent, simplicity, and clarity, that it’s a pleasure to read this depiction of the difference between divinity and humanity.
  2. Alexander Men’. The First Apostles, the 1990’s. This work is considered a continuation of the author’s Son of Man and is a very thoughtful explanation of why things turned out as they did with the apostles.
  3. Adin Ballou. Christian Non-Resistance, In All its Important Bearings, 1846. A unique treatise by an American minister, published in Russian translation over a hundred years ago. A thoughtful and confident rationale for nonviolence based on personal experience and analysis of the gospels.
  4. Pitirim Sorokin. The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation, 1954. This book is worth dwelling on in more detail.

You may have heard of this book but have probably never read it. First of all, it has never been published in Russian. Also, it is nearly 600 pages in length, and serious studies of love are always cloaked behind the dense veil of scientific and popular sociology of human passions, conflicts, and degradation. I was truly inspired when I discovered this work and now I will explain why you too should spend some time with it.

  • It is extremely practical. For all its completeness and its generalized application, it can hardly be classified as sociology. Instead, it is a detailed analysis of widely-known and little-studied techniques and variations of personal moral transformation, from tribal self-centeredness to genuine altruism — with the maximum level of detail possible for this particular format. I would confidently put this book in second place only to the Gospels: while the Good News, with its axioms and postulates, resembles theoretical mathematics, The Ways and Power of Love represents the applied physics of experiments and proofs created by the best representatives of humanity.
  • Furthermore, this book goes beyond an interfaith approach, and includes many examples from outside religious, national, temporal, and any other context. It draws upon an extremely wide sample, without bias (this is where any church would sin), beyond selecting for individuals and groups known for their moral growth. Happily, the author has other works devoted to the transformation of ordinary people — the so-called “good neighbors.”
  • The book will allow you to analyze your own lifestyle fully and objectively, providing ways to make up for deficiencies — or at least to understand what is not too late to learn, and how to go about doing it.

The book also has some minuses. The main ones are its verbosity, and its overabundance of attention to “unsuccessful” methods and concepts. It would be possible to shorten the book to one half or one third of its length without substantial harm, and even then it would retain its comprehensiveness.

A Russian-language edition is planned for release in 2024, but for now Russian-speaking readers can purchase the English-language original on Amazon or use one of the existing computerized book translation services.