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renunciation

February 17, 2010

[The Nation] The last decades of Tolstoy’s life were marked by a turn toward ideological radicalism and spiritual extremity. In a series of works composed in the wake of Anna Karenina (1878)–A Confession, the first and most powerful, described his own crisis and conversion; others bear titles like “What Men Live By” and The Kingdom of God Is Within You–he expounded the moral philosophy that became known around the world as “Tolstoyism”: anarchist, pacifist, ascetic, egalitarian, vegetarian, anti-church. The Sermon on the Mount became the central text of Tolstoy’s renovated Christianity; its highest ideal, borrowed from the Russian mendicant tradition as well as, via Schopenhauer, from Eastern religion, was renunciation: the surrender not only of material possessions but of all attachment to this world, this life. Tolstoy’s own life ended when, old and sick, he fled his estate at the onset of winter to set out, apparently, on the renouncer’s path himself, a step with which he had long wrestled. (read)

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