The Personalism of Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Earth Constitution

Glen T. Martin

February 2022

Leo Tolstoy was one of the great Russian writers and thinkers of the late 19th century. His book, written later in his life, called The Kingdom of God Is Within You arrived in South Africa in English translation in the year of its publication, 1894. Its intended recipient was Mohandas K. Gandhi, a young lawyer struggling to defend the Indian community of South Africa (who were considered “non-white” by the apartheid government of that country). The book’s revolutionary impact on Gandhi is well-known. It effected a major change in Gandhi’s life and was a key influence that made him into a Mahatma (a “great souled” one).

In his Autobiography, Gandhi declares that Europe and Western civilization has “disapproved of Christ” (Sterba, 1998, 303) for the obvious reason that so-called “Christian civilization” has continuously embraced war and war-making throughout its history, in spite of the undisputed fact that both the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus in the New Testament say clearly: “Thou shall not kill.” Gandhi recognizes this command as at the heart of all the world’s great religions. It was the same for Tolstoy. The authoritarian nation-state, exploitative capitalism, and militarism all have nothing to do with Christianity for Tolstoy (or with the truth of the universal moral law that is “written on men’s hearts”: Romans 2:14). It is simply this truth, exemplified by the Golden Rule, that is present within the subjective consciousness of all people.

For Tolstoy, all men know in their hearts the truth that is within us, the truth embodied in the Golden Rule. Hence, all men already know the revealed truth that was taught by Christ that “the kingdom of God is within you.”  This seemingly cryptic statement is understood by Tolstoy as the simple realization that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This imperative is already a glaring truth within all human beings. The kingdom of God will appear among us when we live from this simple, universal truth. The kingdom is already there within each of us, ready to burst forth in human relationships and communities.

The state, however, (and the economic and political organization of humankind behind the state that is so alien to these simple, universal truths) can only exist through hypocrisy: government, the capitalist economic system, militarism, and war all directly contradict these simple truths that we all know. Tolstoy declares that layers of custom, brutalization by governments, militarism, class societies, social privileges, and systems of domination have established society and civilization as quite the opposite of the truths that all men know—as expressed in the Golden Rule and the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

At bottom this world of injustice is most fundamentally one of hypocrisy, for we all know that these brutal systems of domination, exploitation, and violence should not exist. Tolstoy compares our situation to hypnosis (1984, 279); the upper classes (the few) who exploit, brutalize, and dominate the many, have hypnotized the many to think that this hell into which they have been born is the only way that human beings might organize themselves and relate to one another. “All that is needed is to make an end of lying and hypocrisy,” he declares (281).  Yet all this falsehood, with its’ endless lies, is called “Christian civilization” and is perpetuated by the hypocrisy of the rulers: supported by the rich, the military, and the clergy. The clergy, he says, play an absolutely essential role in this big lie (336).

The big lie also covers up personal responsibility for these perpetual crimes of violence, exploitation, and injustice that constitute the fabric of so-called civilization:

So many instigate, assist, or sanction the commission of every one of these actions that no one who has a hand in them feels himself morally responsible for it…. Just as in a wicker basket all the ends are so hidden away that is hard to find them, in the state organization the responsibility for the crimes committed is so hidden away that men will commit the most atrocious acts without seeing their responsibility for them. (318-19)

This social obfuscation of individual responsibility is part of the big lie and in their heart of hearts people know this: “In the depth of their hearts they all know that what they are doing is shameful” (331).  Perhaps it is the same today, as people claim that the dominant society is based on principles such as “human rights,” while, in reality, these same people maintain a horrific system of domination, exploitation, violence, and war in which human rights becomes an “ideal” that never seems to be attained for everyone, certainly not for “foreign enemies.”  There is a dimension of personhood, a reality within our inner life, that needs to be recognized and heeded. Tolstoy declares:

The only object of life is to learn the Truth and to act on it—acceptance of position and of State action deprives life of all object—If it is God’s will that we should serve Him in our life, that is, that we should bring about the greatest Unity of all that has Life, a Unity only possible in Truth. (281)

The imperative is “to bring about the greatest unity of all that has Life.”  Tolstoy has an understanding that has perhaps spread more widely in our own day: that the world is alive, that all life is united in what we today call “Gaia,” that the very existence of life is miraculous and divinely inspired, and that our obligation is to enhance life and to fully live the life that is given to us. Tolstoy may well have rejected any biological implications that the concept of Gaia might today include. Nevertheless, he recognized the great imperative that we must live the life that is given to us within a larger community of life.

Life, in spite of the fact that it has evolved over billions of years, remains a cosmic miracle, just as every second of the existence of our cosmos remains a miracle. (As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, affirms (1965), we need to see existence as “ex nihilo”, or as what Buddhism calls its astonishing “thisness”: tathata, see Martin 1991.)  Indeed, to be a particular human being is to be a living, walking, cosmic miracle. As philosopher Eric Gutkind declared: “The world has an origin and a goal and is suspended between the two. Each moment in its process represents the whole in ever new forms, totality and singularity united” (1969, 57).

The philosophical Personalism that Tolstoy represents means that each human being must activate his or her subjective realization of the truth that is within us all. “Subjective” here, of course, does not mean that what is within us is “merely subjective,” merely “personal opinion” that has no significance in the face of the “objective” external world where science, sociology, economics, and nation-states rule. Just the opposite: there is a truth within human beings that cannot be discerned by the so-called “objective” external world.  This is what Tolstoy means by “the kingdom of God is within you.” The “totality and singularity united” that Gutkind declares means that a real transformation is possible for human beings any time that we wake up to the significance of our consciousness, of our subjectivity, and the truths embodied within it.

Today we call those truths “human dignity” and specify them as “human rights” (as the Prologue to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights correctly declares), but as I have shown in all my books and articles over the past 20 years (including this past year’s The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet),the present world disorder systematically defeats respect for human dignity and subordinates the infinite “inwardness” where dignity lies to so-called “objective” economic, political, and military imperatives.

Tolstoy does not conceive of this inwardness as a “mystical” withdrawal into some subjective peace of mind that remains quiescent and complicit within an “objective” world of domination, exploitation, violence, and injustice. So many of today’s “New Age” spiritual dilettantes operate in just this way: “my self-indulgence and my spiritual peace of mind are what counts, and just let the world go on with its own rotten ways.” For Tolstoy, it is just the opposite. If we affirm life (that is, the value, reality, and Truth of human self-awareness, i.e., human subjectivity), then the outward chaos, violence, and misery will be simultaneously transformed. Realizing “the kingdom of God” that is within us will simultaneously be fulfilling Christ’s command to bring the kingdom of God to Earth. It is the only way to bring about “the greatest unity of all that has Life,” the way of truth.

Those who approach through meditation the unity and oneness with all that is should not conclude from this that the world is simply an illusion, merely the play of maya, a dream of Brahman.  That is why I argued in my 2005 book Millennium Dawn that “integrative mysticism” involves a higher realization than “unitive mysticism,” just the opposite of what classical interpreters of mysticism like Walter Stace (1960) had assumed. Integrative mysticism unites singularity and totality. 

Singularity is utterly important. Personhood is utterly important. Human dignity lies in personality, in personhood. We are not merely merged in an ocean of unity. We are not just similar biological units of the species homo sapiens. This is what Mahatma Gandhi realized when he declared love for every person, for each individual, no matter how threatening or unjust they might be; he refused to use violence against them.

Tolstoy correctly argues that we need to actualize our singularity, our true personhood that carries the truth of human dignity and the Golden Rule. This is what it means to truly affirm life. He declares: “The sole means of uniting men is their union in the truth. And, therefore, the more sincerely men strive toward the truth, the nearer they get to unity” (1984, 349). Satyagraha, Gandhi’s social praxis and way of life, literally means “clinging to truth.”

What sort of social and economic order might arise if people begin to take personality and the inner dimension with its participation in cosmic truth seriously? And what good will it do if you and I cling to truth while society in general ignores this?  How can the kingdom of God arrive on Earth in the face of the overwhelming power of multinational corporations, nation-states possessing nuclear weapons, and false news organizations promoting and protecting this massive hypocrisy concerning the ‘big lie’?  For Tolstoy, there is an eschatological potential in history that is seething to come out, seething to burst forth out of human consciousness into our common human world:

Just as a single shock may be sufficient, when a liquid is saturated with some salt, to precipitate it at once in crystals, a slight effort may perhaps be all that is needed now that the truth is already revealed to men may gain a mastery over hundreds, thousands, or millions of men, that a public opinion consistent with conscience may be established, and through this change of public opinion the whole order of life may be transformed. And it depends on us to make this effort. (Ibid., 357)

Mahatma Gandhi also thought about the organization of society through his revolutionary concepts of satyagraha (clinging to truth), swaraj (self-determination) and Sarvodaya (the welfare of all). He also thought beyond India to the organization of the world which had shown itself (during his lifetime that spanned two world wars) as a hellish failure.  “True economics,” he declares, “never militates against the highest ethical standard, just as true ethics to be worth the name must, at the same time, be also good economics” (1972, 144). Ethical economics means “socialism,” he affirms, a socialism that must come about through a non-violent revolution. Gandhi writes:

By the nonviolent method, we seek not to destroy the capitalist, we seek to destroy capitalism. We invite the capitalist to regard himself as a trustee for those on whom he depends for the making, the retention, and the increase of his capital. Nor need the worker wait for his conversion. If capital is power, so is work. Either power can be used destructively or creatively. Immediately the worker realizes his strength, he is in a position to become a co-sharer with the capitalist instead of remaining his slave.

(Ibid., 123-24).

With regard to weapons and militarism, he makes essentially the same point as Tolstoy: that the real purpose of these is not “security,” self-defense, or social stability; the real purpose is to protect the system of domination: “Immediately as the spirit of exploitation is gone, armaments will be felt as a positive unbearable burden. Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another” (Ibid., 112). War can only be ended through a global system. Nonviolence is not merely a method of resistance against oppressors. Satyagraha, as Gandhi understands it, involves an entire ethical world view that points toward a transformed world order.

In 1942, for example, he introduced a resolution to the Indian National Congress that read:

While the Indian National Congress must primarily be concerned with independence and defense of India in this hour of danger, the Committee is of the opinion that the future peace, security, and ordered progress of the world demand a world federation of free nations, and on no other basis can the problems of the modern world be solved. Such a world federation would ensure the freedom of its constituent nations, the prevention of aggression and exploitation by one nation over another, the protection of national ministries, the advancement of all backward areas and peoples, and the pooling of the world’s resources for the common good of all. (in Hudgens, 1986, 14)

The Earth Constitution, the writing of which began only 26 years after Gandhi introduced this resolution, fulfills the insights of both Tolstoy and Gandhi.  It represents that break in the slow historical evolution of the system of exploitation and domination that so many so-called “world federalists” appear to affirm. This is because it is the first constitution to place the social-political-economic organization of the world squarely within the basis of universal human rights and human dignity. The militarized nation-states of today’s world all see the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “merely symbolic,” and their economic-political-military decisions often violate such rights, especially for those outside their territorial portion of the globe (Donnelly 2003).

The “broad functions” of the Earth Constitution enumerated in Article One begin with ending war and disarming the nations. Secondly, the function is to “protect universal human rights,” the third is to “diminish social differences,” and the fifth is to “protect our planetary environment.” These functions are not merely empty ideals for, unlike all previous systems or constitutions, this government is not established to protect capitalism, nor to protect the class system, nor to protect the industrial-military complex.  It can end war and protect the environment precisely because it is based on personalism: the protection of universal human rights and dignity.

Tolstoy declares that “it is not possible that we modern men, with the Christian sense of human dignity and equality permeating us soul and body…should really go on living…that we should be every instant within a hair’s-breadth of falling on one another, nation against nation, like wild beasts” (1984, 349). When we wake up to the truth of our human situation, which includes our consciousness of the Golden Rule based on our universal human rights and dignity, then everything will change. The Earth Constitution embodies that change. Tolstoy writes:

At the bottom of your heart you know yourself that it is not true, that the existing organization has outlived its time, and must inevitably be reconstructed on new principles, and that consequently there is no obligation upon you to sacrifice your sentiments of humanity to support it. (Ibid., 363)

The present world chaos of militarism, domination, and exploitation requires that we “sacrifice our sentiments of humanity” to support its so-called “realism,” its deep hypocrisy (because despite paying lip service to universal human rights, it really supports power, domination, and exploitation). The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is an idea whose time has come. It constructs a world system based on universal human dignity, with the resulting consequences that it really ends war, really diminishes social differences, really protects unity in diversity, and really restores and protects our planetary ecosystem.  Both Tolstoy and Gandhi would agree.

Works Cited

Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  Found on-line at, and many other locations.

Donnelly, Jack (2003). Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Second Edition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Gutkind, Eric (1969). The Body of God: First Steps Toward an Anti-Theology. New York: Horizon Press.

Gandhi, Mahatma (1972). All Men are Brothers. Ed. Krishna Kripalani. New York: Columbia University Press and UNESCO.

Hudgens, Tom A. (1986). Let’s Abolish War. Denver: BILR Corporation.

Martin, Glen T. (1991). “Deconstruction and Breakthrough in Nietzsche and Nārgārjuna” in Graham Parkes, ED. Nietzsche and Asian Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 91-111.

Martin, Glen T. (2005). Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2021). The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet. Independence, VA: Peace Pentagon Press.

Tolstoy, Leo (1984, 1894). The Kingdom of God is Within You. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press.

Stace, Walter (1960). The Teachings of the Mystics. New York: Mentor Books.

Sterba, James P. (1998). Social and Political Philosophy: Classical Western Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Second Edition. New York: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1965). “Lecture on Ethics.”  Philosophical Review, Jan. 1965, pp. 3-17.