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If Tolstoy Had Never Lived Barack Obama Would Not Be President

He influenced Gandhi, who influenced Martin Luther King Jr., who paved the way for Obama’s presidency

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This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Friday September the 9th marks Leo Tolstoy’s birthday. Born into an elite family in the Tula province of Russia (his mother was a princess and father a Count), Tolstoy became not only one of Russia’s greatest writers, but would be acclaimed world-wide as an extraordinarily gifted novelist. However, he was really much more than that.

Deeply spiritual and pre-occupied with self-improvement, truth and social justice, Tolstoy would become a major influence on a wide variety of writers, social activists and religious philosophers. Using his tendentious stories to educate (some would say preach) and inspire, Tolstoy affected an entire generation of people yearning for spiritual development, social equality and political reform.

A student of Oriental languages and philosophy, Count Tolstoy incorporated ideas of non-violence towards all animals and “non-resistance to evil” as cornerstones of his personal philosophy. He also adopted the Oriental belief that sexual hedonism prevents spiritual development.  

The true genius of Tolstoy’s philosophy, however, was taking a passive, rather defeatist moral concept and transforming it into an active and assertive principle that would bring about a moral victory.    

Disillusioned with both the Orthodox Church and the autocratic Tsarist regime, Tolstoy became a harsh critic of Capitalism, war, and discrimination based upon class. As a result, he was the subject of government surveillance and considered a danger to the stability of the country.

Forty-one years after Tolstoy was born, another man with similar personality traits to Tolstoy’s appeared in India; his name wasMohandas Gandhi. Also born into a privileged family, Gandhi’s life dramatically changed after he read Tolstoy’s book “The Kingdom of God is Within You” and his essay” Christianity and Patriotism”. These works convinced Gandhi to embrace a philosophy almost identical to that of Tolstoy’s: a belief in non-violence and love as a means of obtaining social change, antipathy to Capitalism, and living a life of simplicity devoid of crass consumerism and sexual hedonism.

During his lifetime, Gandhi would utilize his philosophy to fight against class discrimination (based upon race) in both South Africaand India. While in South Africa he even established a cooperative community called “Tolstoy Farm” based upon the teachings of the Russian Count.

His civil disobedience movement which brought about civil rights for the poor in India and eventual independence from Britain was also directly influenced by Tolstoy, in particular- the aforementioned principle of non-resistance to evil.

Far away in another land once colonized by the British, a man who will develop strong spiritual beliefs mixed with a determination to fight against social injustice was born in Atlanta, Georgia. His name was Martin Luther King Jr. Unlike Tolstoy or Gandhi the future reverend was born into a family of modest means in the racially segregated south that would serve as the template for Apartheid inSouth Africa. Very like his spiritual predecessors, however, reverend King would embark on a life-long mission to oppose war, class discrimination (based upon race) and Capitalism. He even traveled toIndia to experience the land and culture of his spiritual mentor. Also like Tolstoy and Gandhi his words and activities were closely monitored by government agents.  

In the end, Dr King’s popular civil disobedience movement managed to secure many rights for Afro-Americans. Due to his tireless efforts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed and most of these rights were enacted into law.  Without the passage of these two Acts the young Barack Obama would never have had the opportunity to obtain the education he did or be allowed to rise to the level of President. And for all this he can thank the man who initiated the historical thread: Count Leo Tolstoy.

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