The Ballou-Tolstoy Correspondence
The correspondence consists of four letters, two by Tolstoy and two by Ballou. There are two published sources for these letters:
1. "The Christian Doctrine of Non-Resistance: By Count Leo Tolstoi and the Rev. Adin Ballou.
Unpublished correspondence compiled by Rev. Lewis G. Wilson," The Arena (December 1890), 1-12.
2. Frederic I. Carpenter, "A Letter from Tolstoy," New England Quarterly (1931), 777-782.
Lewis Wilson's part in initiating and publishing the correspondence is described in chapter 24 of the Autobiography.
Frederic Ives Carpenter Jr. (1903-1991) was a professor of English and a prolific writer on American literature and cultural history.
In his 1931 article he explained that the last two letters in the Ballou-Tolstoy correspondence had come into his hands (he did not say how)
and that they differed significantly from the version printed in The Arena.
He wrote, "Wilson, who edited the letters, deleted several passages from them, and corrected (without notice) Tolstoy's use of the English language.
The originals... seem of such interest as to justify republication in their original form."
The letters here generally follow the version edited by Wilson. Where possible, text omitted by Wilson has been restored based on Carpenter's article;
this added text is shown in square brackets.
In a few cases (in Ballou's letter as well as in Tolstoy's), Carpenter's reading of a word has been used in preference to Wilson's.
These changes are shown in square brackets and discussed in footnotes.
Leo Tolstoy to Lewis G. Wilson
July 5, 1889
I have seldom experienced so much gratification as I had in reading Mr. Ballou's treatise and tracts.
I cannot agree with those who say that Mr. Ballou "will not go down to posterity among the immortals."
I think that because he has been one of the first true apostles of the "New Time" --
he will be in the future acknowledged as one of the chief benefactors of humanity.
If, in his long and seemingly unsuccessful career, Mr. Ballou has experienced moments of depression in thinking that his efforts have been vain,
he has only partaken of the fate of his and our Master.
Tell him, please, that his efforts have not been vain. They give great strength to people, as I can judge from myself.
In those tracts I found all the objections that are generally made against "non-resistance" victoriously answered,
and also the true basis of the doctrine. I will endeavor to translate and propagate as much as I can, the works of Mr. Ballou,
and I not only hope, but am convinced, that the time is come, "when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live."
The only comments that I wish to make on Mr. Ballou's explanation of the doctrine, are,
firstly, that I cannot agree with the concession that be makes for employing violence against drunkards and insane people.
The Master made no concessions, and we can make none. We must try, as Mr. Ballou puts it, to make impossible the existence of such persons,
but if they are -- we must use all possible means, sacrifice ourselves, but not employ violence.
A true Christian will always prefer to be killed by a madman, rather than to deprive him of his liberty.
Secondly, that Mr. Ballou does not decide more categorically the question of property, for a true Christian not only cannot claim any rights of property,
but the term "property" cannot have any signification for him. All that he uses, a Christian only uses till somebody takes it from him.
He cannot defend his property, so he cannot have any. Property has been Achilles' heel for the Quakers, and also for the Hopedale Community.
Thirdly, I think that for a true Christian, the term "government" (very properly defined by Mr. Ballou) cannot have any signification and reality.
Government is for a Christian only regulated violence; governments, states, nations, property, churches -- all these for a true Christian
are only words without meaning; he can understand the meaning other people attach to those words,
but for him they have none, just as for a business man if he were to come in the middle of a cricket party,
all the divisions of the ground, and regulations of the game, could have no importance or influence upon his activity. No compromise!
Christian principles must be pursued to the bottom, to be able to support practical life.
The saying of Christ that, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,"
was true in His time, and is true in ours; a follower of Christ must be ready to be poor and suffer;
if not he cannot be his disciple, and "non-resistance" implies it all. Moreover, the necessity of suffering for a Christian is a great good,
because otherwise, we could never know, if what we are doing we are doing for God, or for ourselves.
The application of every doctrine is always a compromise, but the doctrine in theory cannot allow compromises;
although we know we never can draw a mathematically straight line, we will never make another definition of a straight line than
"the shortest distance between two points."
* * * * *
"I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled!"
I think that this time is coming, and that the world is on fire, and our business is only to keep ourselves burning;
and if we can communicate with other burning points, that is the work which I intend to do for the rest of my life.
Many thanks for your letter, and for Mr. Ballou's portrait and books. Please tell him that I deeply respect and love him,
and that his work did great good to my soul, and I pray and hope that I may do the same to others.
Your brother in Christ,
Adin Ballou to Leo Tolstoy
January 14, 1890
Dear Sir and Brother:--
I gratefully appreciate your approval of my work on Christian Non-Resistance and your fraternal sympathy with me therein,
as expressed in your letter of July 5, 1889, to Rev. Lewis G. Wilson, of this place.
I am an old man of little distinction or fame in this world, and must soon pass into the realm of the Invisible where the ambitious of this world are of small account.
It gives me little concern to know that a mere handful of mankind concur with me in this sublime doctrine and that the vast multitude,
even in the so-called Christian church and state, hold it in contempt; for I am none the less certain it is divinely true and excellent, and will finally prevail.
I have candidly considered your exceptions to some of my definitions and qualifications of Christian Non-Resistance,
and do not complain of your frank dissent from them. Such differences are to be expected among free and independent minds.
But I am obliged to say with the same fraternal frankness, that I am confirmed in my persuasion that
on the minor points of difference between us I am in the right.
I desire therefore, briefly, to defend my positions as against yours. In this I am sure you will indulge me.
1. You say, "I cannot agree with the concession that he makes for employing violence against drunkards and insane people:
the Master made no concessions and we must make none." I made no concessions for employing violence in any case; but for employing uninjurious,
benevolent physical force, in the cases alluded to, where the absolute welfare of all the parties concerned should be scrupulously regarded.
I make no concession to killing, injuring, or harming any human being.
What I approved, is not only sanctioned but dictated by the law of pure good will.
This class of cases includes all cases of delirium, partial delirium, and passional outrage wherein the assailant,
as well as the victim, will have reason for thankfulness that beneficent restraint and prevention was imposed.
There are multitudes of such cases in human experience; and the employment of beneficent physical restraint in such cases
must not be confounded with the popular doctrine that it is right to employ deadly physical force against human offenders and enemies.
This is the resistance of evil which Christ forbade.
2. You say, "The Master made no concessions and we must make none."
True, he made no concessions allowing us to employ vindictive, or deadly, or harmful force against our human offenders and enemies, and we must make none.
The use and employment of such forces had been sanctioned by law and custom from time immemorial as necessary and right for the resistance of evil doers.
It is still the fundamental assumption of all legislators, governments and worldly-minded individuals. But Christ uncompromisingly prohibited it.
What then? Did he ever prohibit the resistance of evil by uninjurious and beneficent forces of any kind, physical or moral?
Never! And to construe his precept, “Resist not evil,” as meaning absolute passivity to all manner of evil, because he made no specific qualifications,
is to ignore the context and make him the author of self-evident absurdity.
The context clearly shows what kind of resistance of evil had been sanctioned by law and custom, and what he meant to abrogate.
And it shows exactly the application and limitations of his precepts. It means neither less nor more than the context plainly indicates.
And enlightened reason goes the same length.
3. You say, "The application of every doctrine is always a compromise, but the doctrine or theory cannot allow compromise, etc."
I am not sure that I understand this statement. If I do, it means that no doctrine, theory, or precept can be carried out in practice without compromise.
If this be your meaning, I must dissent. In ethics, I think no doctrine, theory, or prescribed duty is sound that cannot be put in practice uncompromisingly.
And it seems to me to be a dangerous concession to make to human tergiversation, that a moral precept strictly right
is expected to be compromised in application to actual practice.
Religionists and moralists the world over, have ever been professing to hold sacred many great precepts -- such as the Second Commandment and Golden Rule --
yet wholly violating them on this very ground that, as the world is, they cannot be applied and lived out without compromise.
Should we -- non-resistants -- go and do likewise? -- be rigid in statement of our doctrine, yet lax and inconsistent in practice?
4. You say, "True Christians will always prefer to be killed by a madman rather than to deprive him of his liberty."
And by parity of reason from the same principle, I suppose you must say, a true Christian, if watching with a delirious sick man,
would prefer to see him kill his wife, children, and best friends, rather than restrain or help restrain him by uninjurious physical force of his insane liberty.
What precept of Christ makes insane liberty thus sacred?
Or what dictate of enlightened reason, humanity, or fraternal love demands such conduct towards the insane?
5. You say, "A true Christian not only cannot claim any rights of property, but the term 'property' cannot have any signification for him;
all that he uses, a Christian only uses until somebody takes it from him."
But food, raiment, and shelter are necessaries of mortal existence to Christians as to all human beings.
They are indispensable material goods to this extent at least. Jesus said, "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things."
If they are necessaries of mortal life, they certainly have a very important "signification."
Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
When they have been "added" to true Christians according to the will of the Father, whose are they?
Are they not the rightful property of those who possess them? -- to whom God has "added" them? as truly theirs as their bodily faculties --
for the just use of which they are morally responsible -- and which no human beings have any right to deprive them of by fraud or force?
Yet, you say, "A true Christian cannot claim any rights of property ... All that he uses, a Christian only uses till somebody takes it from him."
But has anybody a right to take it from him at will? Is there no such thing as theft, robbery, extortion, or crime against property,
against which a true Christian may protest? On the other hand, is there no such thing as a true Christian having any property to give away in alms or charity,
according to Christ's injunction? I do not so understand Christ or the dictates of reason, or the law of love.
6. You say, "Government is, for a Christian, only regulated violence ... governments, states, nations, property, churches -- all these
for a true Christian are only words without meaning, etc." But these are realities, we cannot ignore them as nonentities.
They are outgrowths from nature, however crude and defective. Man is a social being by natural constitution,
he is not and never can be a solitary, independent, individual being. He must, and will be inevitably more or less a socialist.
Families, governments, states, nations, churches, and communities, always have existed, and always will.
Christ came to establish the highest order of governmental association, a purely fraternal social order -- a church
"against which the gates of hell should not prevail." For this he lived and died.
No-governmentism, non-organizationism, sheer individualism, is no part of true Christianity.
It is impossible, unnatural, irrational -- a chaos. We should aim with our Master, to transform by the moral forces of divine,
fundamental principles uncompromisingly lived out, all barbaric, semi-barbaric, and unchristian social organizations into his ideal one,
the true church, wherein the greatest are least and all in unity of spirit with him, as he with the universal Father.
If in this holy aim we must dissent from the selfish and warlike multitude, let us follow him even unto death, till the final triumph arrives.
These are my highest convictions of truth and righteousness.
Permit me to add a few queries on some positions assumed in your work entitled "My Religion."
1. Concerning the Son of Man you say, "The son of man is homogeneous (of the same race) with God." (p. 125)
"The son of man is the light in every man that ought to illuminate his life."
"This light is reason, which alone should be the object of our worship, since it alone can show us the way to true wellbeing." (p. 126)
"The son of man, endowed with true kingly authority will call upon the faithful to inherit the true life;
they have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed and consoled the wretched, and in so doing they have ministered to the son of man
who is the same in all men. They have not lived the personal life, but the life of the son of man, and they are given the life eternal." (pp. 142-3)
Query. If the son of man is "homogeneous with God," is the light from heaven given to illuminate -- is reason,
which alone should be worshipped -- how is it in any sense of man? Is it not of God, or rather the very God himself?
But if it is God how can it need or receive ministrations from men, for which it should return compensation?
Are not these ministrations said to be rendered, by human beings personally, to human persons? Are not givers and receivers said to be personally blest?
Again, did not Christ uniformly represent himself as personally the son of man?
Once more -- Is reason really and absolutely God, alone to be worshipped? Is it not rather a faculty of God, and also finitely of the human soul?
Pardon these queries of an unmystical mind.
2. Concerning individual conscious existence after death, etc., you say -- "Strange as it may seem,
Jesus, who is supposed to have been raised in person, and to have promised a general resurrection --
Jesus not only said nothing in affirmation of individual resurrection and individual immortality beyond the grave, but on the contrary,
every time he met with this superstition, he did not fail to deny its truth." (p. 143)
"Jesus affirmed only this, that whoever lives in God will be united with God; and he admitted no other idea of the resurrection.
As to personal resurrection, strange as it may appear to those who have never studied the Gospels for themselves, Jesus said nothing about it whatever." (p. 144)
I have diligently studied the Gospels for myself more than seventy-five years, and these assertions are so utterly contrary to the sense in which I have understood
many passages in those Gospels, that had I familiar opportunity to question you, I fear I should be troublesome.
But as I have no such opportunity, I will content myself with the following inquiries,
Will the most righteous derive any conscious good from their faithfulness, except here in this present mortal existence?
If united to God, as you express it, will they have any consciousness of it after physical death?
And as the vast majority of mankind abide in spiritual death, disunited from God, and have no opportunity for improvement after death,
of what value is their personal existence at all? And what credit does such an abortive existence reflect on their Creator?
Trusting that your Christian consideration will make generous allowance for the freedom with which I have addressed you
and for even any seeming impertinences, I remain, with high esteem and Christian affection,
Your friend and brother,
Leo Tolstoy to Adin Ballou
Undated; received March 26, 1890
Dear Friend and Brother:--
I will not argue with your objections. It would not bring us to anything.
Only one point which I did not put clearly enough in my last letter I must explain, to avoid misunderstanding.
It is about compromise. I said that compromise, inevitable in practice, cannot be admitted in theory.
What I mean is this: Man never attains perfection, but only approaches it.
As it is impossible to trace in reality a mathematically straight line, and as every such line is only an approach to the latter,
so is every degree of perfection attainable by man only an approach to the perfection of the Father, which Christ showed us the way to emulate.
Therefore, in reality, every deed of the best man and his whole life will be always only a practical compromise -- a resultant
between his feebleness and his striving to attain perfection.
And such a compromise in practice is not a sin, but a necessary condition of every Christian life.
The great sin is the compromise in theory, is the plan to lower the ideal of Christ in view to make it attainable.
And I consider the admission of force (be it even benevolent) over a madman
(the great difficulty is to give a strict definition of a madman) to be such a theoretical compromise.
In not admitting this compromise I run the risk only of my death, or the death of other men who can be killed by the madman;
but death will come sooner or later, and death in fulfilling the will of God is a blessing (as you put it yourself in your book);
but in admitting this compromise I run the risk of acting quite contrary to the law of Christ -- which is worse than death.
As soon as I admit in principle my right to property, I necessarily will try to keep it from others, and to increase it,
and therefore will deviate very far from the ideal of Christ. Only if I profess daringly that a Christian can not have any property
will I in practice come near to the ideal of Christ in this instance.1
There is a striking example of such a deviation in theory about anger (Matt. 5:22) where the added word "without any cause"
has justified and justifies still, every intolerance, punishment, and evil, which have been and are so often done by nominal Christians.
The more we keep in mind the idea of a straight line, viz., the shortest distance between two points -- the nearer we will come to trace in reality a straight line.
The purer we will keep the ideal of Christ's perfection in its unattainableness, the nearer we will in reality come to it.
Allow me not to argue upon several dogmatical differences of opinion about the meaning of the words "son of God,"
about personal life after death and about resurrection. I have written a large work on the translation, [encordance]2
and explanation of the Gospels in which I exposed all I think on those subjects.
Having at the time -- ten years ago -- given all the strength of my soul for the conception of those questions,
I cannot now change my views without verifying [everything] anew.3
But the differences of opinion on these subjects seem to me of little consequence.
I firmly believe that if I [consecrate]4 all my powers to the fulfillment of the Master's will
which is so clearly expressed in his words and in my conscience, and nevertheless, should not guess quite rightly the aims and plans of the Master whom I serve,
he would still not abandon me -- and do the best for me.
I would be very grateful to you should you send me a line [from yourself. Please give my love to Mr. Wilson.]
Two of your tracts are very well translated into Russian and propagated among believers, and [highly]5 appreciated by them.
With deep veneration and tender love, I remain,
Your brother and friend,
Adin Ballou to Leo Tolstoy
May 30, 1890
[Very Dear Sir and Brother:--
Your fraternal and kind letter, undated, was duly received on the 26th of March last.
I have delayed my acknowledgment of its receipt much beyond my original intention. Old age slackens my activity, and you must excuse my tardiness.
I fear that the bluntness with which I stated some points of dissent from your views may have seemed hardly courteous to you; though they were in no wise so meant.
I thank you for the kindness of your reply, and for the explanation of your statement respecting the compromise in practice of an uncompromisable theory.
I am far from desiring controversy or argumentation concerning our wordy differences. Let them sleep.
And I assure you I heartily concur in the conclusion expressed in one of your closing sentences,
"I firmly believe that if I consecrated all my powers to the fulfillment of the Master’s will, which is so clearly expressed in his words and in my conscience,
nevertheless should I not guess quite rightly the aims and plans of the Master whom I serve, he would still aid and do the best for me."
So we will trustfully govern ourselves accordingly.
Our mutual brother L. G. Wilson, appreciates your loving remembrance, and cordially reciprocates it.
I herewith send you a few more of my publications of various date, which I do not expect you to endorse in the gross,
and from which I give you perfect liberty to dissent, according to your own highest convictions.
But if you can find time and patience to read them, they will make you more acquainted with my peculiar trains of thought.
I hope they will safely reach you, in spite of the stringent censorship which prevails in your country.
I am highly gratified to know that I have a goodly few Non-Resistant brethren in Russia, and I remember them in my daily prayers,
thanking our heavenly Father that he has begotten them into this supernal faith, and that my writings minister in any degree to their edification.
I wish I could report more growth of this heavenly doctrine in my own country. It is gradually] leavening many minds,
but the bewitching influence of [worldly] politics, and the temporal [advantages]6
which the old system, founded on deadly compulsion, affords to multitudes of professional aspirants, are almost omnipotent.
The one and almost only argument I encounter is, Your doctrine is heavenly, grand, and Christ-like, but it is [impracticable]7
as society is. We must have government, hold office, and make money. So church, state, and the political multitude
are anchored securely in compulsory civilization until the millennium!
But none of these seductions swerve me a hair's breadth from Him who is "The Way, the Truth, and the Life."
And I am confident of two conclusions. First, that Christianity will never enter its promised land
till the nominal church re-embraces non-resistance as its capstone; and second, that this doctrine will finally be thus re-embraced.
It is now accounted foolishness, but will prove to be the "Wisdom of God." It is now set at naught by the builders,
but will yet become "the headstone of the corner."
Wishing you benedictions, divine and innumerable, I remain your friend and brother in Christ Jesus, evermore,
1. Wilson interpreted this sentence as a question: "Only when I profess daringly that a Christian cannot have any property,
will I not in practice come near to the ideal of Christ in this instance?"
2. Wilson omitted the unusual word "encordance," or harmonization.
Tolstoy was referring to his Synthesis and Translation of the Four Gospels, which he began in 1880-81 and never entirely finished.
It consisted of Tolstoy's own translation of the gospels, arranged thematically into 12 chapters,
omitting or reinterpreting the supernatural elements to present Jesus as a moral teacher.
The work exists in several different abridged versions, in French, English, and Russian, but was not published in its entirety until 1957.
3. Wilson changed this to "verifying them anew."
4. Wilson read this is as "...if I concentrated all my powers..." However, it is clear from Ballou's next letter than "consecrate" is correct.
5. Wilson read this as "...richly appreciated by them."
6. Wilson: "advantage"
7. Wilson: "impractical"