Leo Tolstoy is perhaps the ultimate example of the late-in-life nihilist-turned-idealist. He is best known for his mid-life fiction, most notably War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He was early on somewhat of a determinist and nihilist but late in life began a study of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and came away a determined Christian, with significant misgivings regarding the Russian orthodox church specifically and organized religion and government generally. He wrote his thoughts in two books that were significantly suppressed by the Russian Church and the Czarist government.
As we continue to be subjected to campaign speeches and government rhetoric, it is wise to listen to the words of H.L. Mencken discussing the way to get elected (and also to retain power).
Politicians,” he notes with his characteristic wit, “seldom if ever get [into public office] by merit alone, at least in democratic states. Sometimes, to be sure, it happens, but only by a kind of miracle. They are chosen normally for quite different reasons, the chief of which is simply their power to impress and enchant the intellectually underprivileged….Will any of them venture to tell the plain truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the situation of the country, foreign or domestic? Will any of them refrain from promises that he knows he can’t fulfill – that no human being could fulfill? Will any of them utter a word, however obvious, that will alarm or alienate any of the huge pack of morons who cluster at the public trough, wallowing in the pap that grows thinner and thinner, hoping against hope? Answer: may be for a few weeks at the start…. But not after the issue is fairly joined, and the struggle is on in earnest…. They will all promise every man, woman and child in the country whatever he, she or it wants. They’ll all be roving the land looking for chances to make the rich poor, to remedy the irremediable, to succor the unsuccorable, to unscramble the unscrambleable, to dephlogisticate the undephlogisticable. They will all be curing warts by saying words over them, and paying off the national debt with money no one will have to earn. When one of them demonstrates that twice two is five, another will prove that it is six, six and a half, ten, twenty, n. In brief, they will divest themselves from their character as sensible, candid and truthful men, and simply become candidates for office, bent only on collaring votes. They will all know by then, even supposing that some of them don’t know it now, that votes are collared under democracy, not by talking sense but by talking nonsense, and they will apply themselves to the job with a hearty yo-heave-ho. Most of them, before the uproar is over, will actually convince themselves. The winner will be whoever promises the most with the least probability of delivering anything.
The blog at Purim has dissolved. I will resume blogging here for the time being. Stay tuned.