It is no wonder that Stefan Zweig, the artist, the psychologist, the bon vivant, the Viennese, loses his temper when Tolstoy, one of the great artists and connoisseurs of human nature of his time, concludes that everything valid today should be completely discarded. Art, science, the state, money. And that man’s salvation on his own soil consisted in the harvesting of his own literal fruits.
Zweig could not come to terms with this idea, this conclusion, which, in his view, was to abandon all civilisation and let all people lead a life as a dumb peasant.
As radical and extreme – and as hard to digest for the ordinary citizen – as Tolstoy sets out his argument in his writing „What is to be done now?“, he is right at the heart of the matter. His words appear to be based on facts and external considerations, but they have their origin in deep inner soul realisations.
The state, art, science, money, „civilisation“, they all expand or accumulate upon themselves. Without ceasing and without (self-) limitation. Their limits exist only on the outside and where they meet something stronger or lack resources. Once they have overcome the stronger, accumulated new resources, they expand further. Like a volcanic eruption. Spilling everything senselessly. They only take and do not give back. They follow a linear path.
If in Tolstoy’s time it was the workers and peasants who were exploited and destroyed, today, of course, alongside the global exploitation of the Third World and the self-exploitation of Western workers, it is the earth itself that is exploited and destroyed, now by everyone.
The peasant in Tolstoy’s time lived differently. He woke and slept. Like the turning earth. He limited himself to his village, his field and his knowledge. Did not stretch himself inordinately and circled. In the field, in the seasons, in the activities, in his thoughts. As the earth circles on its limited orbit. Taking on summer and winter. It only wants this orbit and always returns so that a new cycle can begin for life. It does not serve itself. It serves everything as part of everything. And so the farmer. He is the image of the cosmic being of the earth.
I go even further, as I wrote years ago: the hunter-gatherer, he is the ultimate ideal. The one who accepts completely, the one who knows very little, the one who acts little and circles almost without a trace. He is even more devoted to the destinies that surround him….
Let us preserve „civilisation“: Money should have no place in this new civilisation. It is the worst thing, because it separates us from each other and from the basis, the roots of our existence. State, art, science, they must become like the farmer, must become like the hunter-gatherer. Circling, limiting oneself, surrendering, without a trace…. Modest. Humble. Truly knowing and therefore touching. And so man. Then he has overcome his being an animal.