The Kingdom of God Is Within You Summary

Leo Tolstoy


Leo Tolstoy sets the purpose and tone of his argument by quoting the “Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention” of 1838, a lengthy document that openly and emphatically opposes war, violence, and murder, and promotes the principles of peace, nonresistance, and forgiveness. He then recounts the efforts of many individuals and groups in Europe and the United States who have spoken out against war and have urged people to live according to Christ’s teachings. These efforts met with complete silence, however. A perplexed Tolstoy, searching for an explanation, cites five arguments opposing nonviolence and universal love: some people say Christ sanctioned violence; others believe that wicked people make it necessary to use force; resistance to evil by force is justified when one is protecting a neighbor; one who uses force can still be a Christian; and, finally, many believe that Christians must serve prevailing earthly powers. Tolstoy rejects each of these rationalizations in turn and asserts that the life of a Christian is a struggle and sacrifice, and if one persists, one will progress toward blessedness, which cannot be fully achieved on earth, only approached.

The church has strayed from the truth of Christianity by claiming that it alone possesses the truth of the Gospels, whereas, in fact, it has become the chief obstacle against the teaching of Christ’s principles. Churchmen actually oppose Christianity by teaching their infallibility, and they have come to represent pride, violence, stagnation, and death. The Christian church is hypocritical because it preaches the principles of Jesus but does not follow them. The church is filled with men who strive only to remain secure in their comfortable positions, doing so by helping to keep the poor in their place and supporting a government that in turn supports the Church. Government itself is made up of individuals who depend on it for support and whose aim in life is to keep order and maintain the status quo, which is based on inequality, injustice, and the use of force. The landowners, merchants, and idle rich generally...

(The entire section is 860 words.)


Sources for Further Study

Fausset, Hugh I’Anson. Tolstoy: The Inner Drama. London: Jonathan Cape, 1927. A psychological explanation of Tolstoy’s religious beliefs in relation to his personal struggle and to the growth of human consciousness in general.

Nazaroff, Alexander I. Tolstoy: The Inconstant Genius. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1929. Explains how The Kingdom of God Is Within You represents a change in Tolstoy’s Christian beliefs and leads to his increased social involvement.

Simmons, Ernest J. Introduction to Tolstoy’s Writings. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968. Reviews the principal ideas in The Kingdom of God Is Within You and places them in the larger framework of Tolstoy’s religious convictions.

Taffel, David. Introduction to The Kingdom of God Is Within You. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2005. Summarizes Tolstoy’s Christian beliefs and shows their relevance to Tolstoy’s other writings and to conditions in the modern world.

Wenzer, Kenneth C. “Tolstoy’s Georgist Spiritual Political Economy (1897-1910): Anarchism and Land Reform.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 56, no. 4 (October, 1997): 639-668. Sees Tolstoy’s religious writings as an expression of his spiritual beliefs late in life and explains their genesis and worldwide influence, both social and political.