The Kingdom of God Is Within You

ISBN: 0486451380
ISBN 13: 9780486451381
By: Leo Tolstoy Constance Garnett

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Banned in Russia, Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You was deemed a threat to church and state. The culmination of a lifetime's thought, it espouses a commitment to Jesus's message of turning the other cheek. In a bold and original manner, Tolstoy shows his readers clearly why they must reject violence of any sort—even that sanctioned by the state or the church—and urges them to look within themselves to find the answers to questions of morality.In 1894, one of the first English translations of this book found its way into the hands of a young Gandhi. Inspired by its message of nonresistance to evil, the Mahatma declared it a source of "independent thinking, profound morality, and truthfulness." Much of this work's emotional and moral appeal lies in its emphasis on fair treatment of the poor and working class. Its view of Christianity, not as a mystic religion but as a workable philosophy originating from the words of a remarkable teacher, extends its appeal to secular and religious readers alike.

Reader's Thoughts


In this book, Tolstoy uses Jesus' Sermon on the Mount to makes a brave, impassioned argument for pacifism and the abolishment of all governments. He makes some great points, but his argument is utterly lacking in nuance. For example, the Bible commands us not to lie, but polite society would undoubtedly break down if, every time we said "nice to see you" to someone, we had to stop a moment and ascertain whether such was indeed actually the case. We can also reasonably assume that "turning the other cheek" wasn't meant to apply in the event you come face-to-face with a serial killer who wants to make you his next victim; and we can suppose that "Thou shalt not kill" goes out the window if you have a chance to take out a terrorist about to detonate a nuclear weapon. However, for Tolstoy, every Biblical imperative is rendered in complete black and white, and there is no such thing as mitigating circumstances regarding their implementation. Jesus' words were certainly the ideal by which to live, but, in the case of the terrorist, who do you apply the golden rule to--the murderer or the potential victims? Because, obviously, if you were the terrorist, you would want something completely different than if you were the victim. Tolstoy would say that, in such case, "do unto others" applies to the terrorist, and we, as a society, would best try to just absorb the damage as best we could. Tolstoy believes that there should be no government, no prisons, and no law enforcement of any kind, because such would violate Christ's call for us to be forgiving. But the idea of forgiveness doesn't always necessitate freedom from punishment, and forgiveness was never put forth as a licence to act with impunity. I think you can forgive someone for crashing into your car and yet still expect them to pay for the damages. Tolstoy argues that, through non-violent resistance, we can bring about heaven on earth (thus the title of the book, "The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You"). But Tolstoy is taking this verse out of context, and, in reality, humanity has little hope for true world peace until Christ returns. That's not to say we shouldn't try, and Tolstoy's book best serves as a wake-up call to remind us of our duty to our fellow man. Then there's the presentation of the book itself, which is badly in need of a good editor (as noted in the introduction by the translator, who states that Tolstoy was much more careful about structuring his novels than his non-fiction works) and, in the case of my copy, a much better proofreader. It's fatally repetitive and a complete slog to get through, but parts of it are rewarding enough to make it worthwhile--though just barely so.


I have considered this since I read it probably 6 years ago to be my favorite book, or at least the book that has challenged me the most. It's as powerful of a testament to Christian nonviolence as I imagine has ever been written. Probably it's most well-known claim to fame is that Gandhi cites it as the book that influenced him most in his life, even though he was a devout Hindu.

Tom McKone

Tolstoy is my favorite writer. 'The Kingdom of God Is Within You' is a book that heavily influenced Gandhi in his epic battle for justice and compassion within and, then, against the British Empire. It is not what you might think though. It is heavily censorious of prevailing assumptions in Christianity as they were practiced in the 18th century. Tolstoy is a radical and allows Christians no wriggle room. You are either a believer and follow the spirit and teachings of Jesus or you are not. It is only in living by the teachings that one becomes a Christian. He gives very little attention to any Christologies. What one may believe about the afterlife has very little sway here. His main criticism of religion is that it might actually serve as an obfuscation and hinder one in ascertaining the real message and value of Jesus' teachings. Religion might prevent Jesus from coming into one's life. Christ is what most people want; a simple affirmation. But, to Tolstoy, belief requires more. Hence, a point of view: no Jesus, no Christ.

G.d. Brennan

"The Kingdom of God is Within You" is at once flawed and necessary, a critical look at how human institutions have interpreted (or misinterpreted) the Gospel message.In it, Tolstoy focuses on what's perhaps Jesus' most often overlooked statement--the admonishment to offer no resistance to evil. It's an admirable task, to take a clear look at a statement that many pretend is blurry, to simplify a message that is complicated in spite of its clarity. And Tolstoy's passion and originality make for an unforgettable read, even as his sweeping generalizations make it easy to put down in frustration.He claims, for instance, that there are only three ways to view life--the animal, the pagan, and the divine. In the former, one is only looking for fulfillment of one's own desires; most societies recognize this as potentially harmful, and set out laws so as to corral the human animal. But, as Tolstoy puts it, this still leads to allegiance to "the tribe, the family, the clan, the nation," and that ultimately leads to conflict. The answer, as he sees it, is for human society to keep evolving towards the divine ideal set down in the Gospels, wherein one treats everyone well, regardless of (and even in spite of) their past behavior.In looking at the middle level--that of human society--Tolstoy latches on to something Chairman Mao would later express far more cynically: political power ultimately rests on force. Laws that aren't enforced are basically just suggestions, so no matter how noble-minded the government, or how good its intentions, it ultimately must either use or threaten violence--the very word "enforcement" acknowledges this. So, for instance, pacifists who are waiting for governments to renounce the use of war will be waiting forever. As Tolstoy points out, "One might as well suggest to merchants and bankers that they should sell nothing for a greater price than they gave for it, should undertake the distribution of wealth for no profit, and should abolish money, as it would thus be rendered unnecessary." For war is but the extreme end of an ill-defined spectrum of force that starts at a much lower level, that of police and criminals; no government will (or can) ever give that up, so once one acknowledges and buys into the implicit relationship between political power and force, the question of its upper limit is a matter of quibbling. As Tolstoy mentions, only the weaker nations will suggest with a straight face that international matters should always be subject to arbitration. The stronger countries have nothing to gain by limiting themselves, and no one to compel them to do so.Tolstoy uses Jesus' words amply. He points out that many believe that Jesus' teachings "can have no other significance than the one they attribute to it." But that only adds to the irony elsewhere, when he suggests that Jesus' words against resistance should be used as an excuse to stop paying taxes. Jesus was quite clearly of a different mindset, and said "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" to those who asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes. The point's pretty simple, and it's one Tolstoy completely ignores: the government literally makes the money in the first place, so if the government wants part of their money back, that's their business.Elsewhere, too, Tolstoy's generalizations invite argument, not agreement. "We do know by prolonged experience that neither enemies nor criminals have been successfully suppressed by force," he says, obviously speaking without the benefit of World War II as a historical example, although one ends up surprised that he didn't make more reference to Napoleon's defeat, a topic which he obviously covered at far greater length elsewhere. A better argument, perhaps, would rely on the moral consequences to the victors, rather than the physical outcomes. (Perhaps the best illustration of this, oddly enough, was near the end of "Return of the Jedi," where Luke finds himself transformed by the mere act of resisting the Emperor.) It's hard to claim that resistance is wrong because it doesn't work; there are those who will always argue that it does. The bigger issue, perhaps, is that it makes you similar to what you're resisting.Tolstoy's long-winded. He departs from the Gospel message in at least one key regard. He relies on evidence for some assertions but also makes plenty of unsupported allegations and blanket generalizations. (Some of these do seem oddly timeless and apropos of our current age, as for instance when he says that scientists see Christianity "as a religion which has outlived its age" and that "[t]he significance of the Gospel is hidden from believers by the Church, from unbelievers by Science.") Yet the many areas where he amplifies Jesus' teachings make for a thought-provoking read that also might cause some soul searching, whatever one's religious or political persuasion.

Sean Wilson

Having read 'War and Peace' and 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich', I was always interested in reading Tolstoy's non fiction works. His ideas in W&P were very interesting and I always saw Tolstoy as a great philosopher. 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' signifies his many years of research and observation during his later years. It is a life changing account on the nature of not just Christianity, but humanity.As a fellow Christian, I was always aware of the falseness of the religion I tried to adhere to. I wanted to fully commit myself to it. I never really went to church because I saw so many hypocrites and I never bothered to really research or 'search' for my faith until a few years ago. This work is exactly what I needed to read all those years back. Tolstoy's views on the Church, leaders and the religion itself is very painfully true and quite liberating to read. Tolstoy dissects Christianity to its basic, fundamental roots which is found in Jesus Christ's teachings: Non-violence, non-resistance and achieving 'perfection' (or in Buddhist terminology: 'enlightenment'). After reading this, I knew Christianity's core principles made sense to me. It's probably one of the greatest works of Christian theology and philosophy out there and something that certainly opened my eyes.


I like the beginning although I do not entirely agree with the non-resistance to violence principle; sometimes using violence to warrant the safety of one or more of loved ones is necessary; nor do I believe that Jesus intended the turn the other cheek to be interpreted as a mandate for the absolute rejection of using violence. The first laws are to love God and your neighbor as yourself, and sometimes you have to hurt another neighbor to protect your neighbor out of love. I do however generally deplore violence and most assuredly do think war to be conceptually inhuman and should always be prevented from actualization as much as possible. The mid section of the book, about the advent of a universally accepted pure Christian life-conception (perfect absence of violence), was not that interesting and proved to be too much wishful thinking and overoptimism on Tolstoy's part; although it can hardly be denied, especially for our persistently thoroughly blood-soaked world, that it is a most noble goal for humanity to pursue. Tolstoy's principled antagonism toward war and conscription is outstanding and worthy of eternal applause not least because of his brave maverick position. The arrival of communism, world war I, Nazism and world war II would have been brutally vicious slaps in the face for poor old Tolstoy.... had he lived.The last portion of the book, however, the conclusion spanning some 80 pages, was most interesting and most inspiring and had he not included it I would've given the book a considerably lower ranking. His anarchic stance on general (abusive) government is as exemplifying as courageous. On a personal note, Tolstoy presented me the material for me to finally be able to fully understand system-idolatry.

mic boshans

Never mind the cover. This book is amazing! One of the most important books I've ever read...Read the description; I think it's pretty right on. If you've ever called yourself a Christian, this is a must read. If you think Christians are misguided or even dangerous, you should read this book. If you like certain aspects of Christianity but think that organized religion is a crock, you should read this book. If you think war is a necessary evil, read this book. If you think Gandhi was on to something, you should read this book. If you consider yourself an anarchist, you should read this book. If you think anarchists are ridiculous, you should read this book. If you haven't read this book, you should read this book.


Without a doubt, one of the most important books I've ever read. I'd read "What I Believe" and "A Confession" previously, but this work among all of his stands as the most personally significant to me. Life-changing.


Do not mistake my low rating as an outright dismissal of all of the contents of this work. I am sympathetic to Tolstoy's political persuasions and read this book during a period of time when I identified as being a "Christian Anarchist." I will, in fact, when forced to give a description of my views, still identify as something of an anarchist.I would even go so far as to say "Christian Anarchism" is a somewhat redundant term since we are taught in the scriptures that simultaneous service to God and Mammon is an impossibility. So certainly, as a resident of a country where two halves of the business party seem to be solely concerned with amassing more wealth, steadily eliminating the middle class and subjugating the population through propaganda-ridden "infotainment" (to paraphrase Chomsky), a little bit of healthy skepticism regarding our supposed salvation and utopian future courtesy of the powers-that-be seems warranted.Still, as a soon-to-be Orthodox Christian, I feel that Tolstoy's understanding of the Gospel is horrifyingly reductionist. The Gospel, we are told, is strictly a political vision with one's salvation being contingent upon, at the very least, trying really hard to realize a utopian society. In fact, salvation is identical to this society and the philosophy of Jesus is necessary to it's realization. Tolstoy claims that the true Gospel is spreading even subconsciously throughout the more enlightened and liberal types in Russia, as evidenced by the rise of Bolshevism. This is especially disturbing when one considers the millions of Christians who were martyred under Communist rule.All this is not to say that there are no political implications of the Gospel. The most popular image of atonement in Orthodoxy is that of "Christus Victor," Christ the Victor over death, over the principalities and powers. I believe very strongly that the Christian faith in liberating us from sin will eventually liberate us from the sinful power structures that we have created. It is necessary for a Christian challenge the evils in our world and not simply to hope for escape to a distant heaven.We are told in numerous places in Scripture to seek justice and every Orthodox liturgy contains prayers for "the poor, the oppressed, the sick and the suffering, for captives and their salvation...."Also, there is an abundance of quotes from prominent Church Fathers including (and certainly not limited to):"Wealth … is like a snake; it will twist around the hand and bite unless one knows how to use it properly."- Clement of Alexandria"None can rescue you from hell, if you obtain not the help of the poor."- St.John Chrysostom"Let us therefore, both poor and rich, cease from taking the property of others. For my present discourse is not only to the rich, but to the poor also. For they too rob those who are poorer than themselves. And artisans who are better off, and more powerful, outsell the poorer and more distressed, tradesmen outsell tradesmen, and so all who are engaged in the market-place. So that I wish from every side to take away injustice."- St. John Chrysostom"And what is the specious plea of the many [for loving wealth]? I have children, one says, and I am afraid lest I myself be reduced to the extremity of hunger and want, lest I should stand in need of others. I am ashamed to beg. For that reason therefore do you cause others to beg? I cannot, you say, endure hunger. For that reason do you expose others to hunger? Do you know what a dreadful thing it is to beg, how dreadful to be perishing by hunger? Spare also your brethren! Are you ashamed, tell me, to be hungry, and are you not ashamed to rob? Are you afraid to perish by hunger, and not afraid to destroy others? And yet to be hungry is neither a disgrace nor a crime; but to cast others into such a state brings not only disgrace, but extreme punishment."- St. John Chrysostom"Consider the roads blocked up by robbers, the seas beset with pirates, wars scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale."- St. Cyprian of CarthageHow can a man be master of another's life, if he is not even master of his own? Hence he ought to be poor in spirit, and look at Him who for our sake became poor of His own will; let him consider that we are all equal by nature, and not exalt himself impertinently against his own race.— St. Gregory of NyssaHis critiques display an astounding ignorance of the Church Fathers. He assumes that the established Church as always been an obstacle to social reform, an invention of St. Paul and fundamentally opposed to "real Christianity" which has always been marginalized, and which he associates with various heretics and cults.Christ the Conquering King did not come to kill and conquer. His victory was made manifest in his total submission to the will of God the Father, his obedience unto to death and Resurrection. The submission to Roman and Jewish authorities was a tremendous act of subversion. In spite of all outward appearances that the principalities and powers had conquered Christ, He had in fact conquered them, displaying his mastery over death itself which no earthly ruler could claim power over.The Kingdom is indeed a "power under" structure where the last are first and blood of numerous martyrs, who refused to respond to violence with violence, cries out for the forgiveness of the sins of even their murderers.It is understandable that Tolstoy would be enraged with the conduct of many Christians throughout history. The blood on our hands should weigh heavily on each of us. Yet, we cannot blame the Church. The Body of Christ will not be conquered by the "gates the Hell." Yet, individuals and groups within the Church will at times show themselves to be what they are...less than human. All we can do is daily beg forgiveness and pray to be fully human once more, pray that the image of God in each of us will be healed.It is worth noting, for all who champion this book, that Tolstoy continued to do many of the "superstitious" things he dismissed throughout his life including saying liturgical prayers and making the Sign of the Cross. Some evidence indicates, that He may have been considering a return to the Church towards the end of life.'s rejection of his noble status (he gave up his title of "Count") and his willing to labor in fields with those who had previously been his servants proves that Balaam's donkey was not the last time that God spoke through an ass. It would do many of our nation's wealthy good to live like the poor in their employ for a week, to realize the suffering that is necessitated by their endless pursuit of earthly treasure. Still, Tolstoy's vision of the Gospel is sadly incomplete.


this is an amazing book. i'm not a religious person and i can't say i believe in god, but this book sort of made me believe in jesus. not the supernatural aspects of him, but in his philosophy. tolstoy rips into the Church and gives no quarter, saying that the clergy are no better than gangsters. his elucidation of the profound madness involved when "christians" march off to war made me jump out of my chair and say, "yes!" read this book.


My gracious, what a book.It's a long, long read, of course. But 'tis Tolstoy, so this isn't much of a surprise.What's striking about it is that it establishes, through storytelling and history and reflection, a really solid basis for Christian anarchy. Meaning, it's a strikingly articulation of what he views as the essential nature of the Reign of God in Christianity. His vision of the perfect human society, drawn from the Sermon on the Mount, is totally nonviolent, devoid of either physical or economic coercion, one that strips away the absurdities of bureaucracy and the state.Tolstoy himself worked to create and participate in communities that expressed that ethic, as he struggled to live so that his faith would be alive, real, and not hypocritical.It's a beautiful, difficult, and fiercely hopeful book, one that requires patience with the gracious patterns of his thinking. Well worth the read.


Recommended by a friend. Just started it today.I can't make up my mind whether I am in love with or outraged by Tolstoy's emphatically constructed case for pacifism. It makes me want to strangle the man.UPDATE:I skimmed over a lot of Tolstoy's polemics. I enjoyed his critiques of Christianity more than his case for pacifism. My caveat is personal: I prefer a more nuanced argument.If you don't mind the polemic style, Tolstoy actually lays out a good case for pacifism especially based upon a Christian morality.


This is a great book to read before you go to sleep. I gave it three stars because it gave my brain a bit to think about, not because it is a well-written book by any stretch of the imagination. Tolstoy has a lot of great ideas, but this book is more of a collection of ramblings than a comprehensive work. Each chapter begins with a summary of its contents, which can be up to two pages on its own, and then proceeds to restate those ideas in even clumsier prose. Tolstoy's short stories were works of art, so I was disappointed that he seemed to put little effort into the writing of this book, seeking only to have his ideas heard.For those who see that the Christian Church has ceased to follow the most important teachings of Christ, this book can be good back-up. For those who believe that the Church is the be-all and end-all of Christian doctrine, I'd recommend you at least read parts of this book for a serious wake-up call.

Vance Halfaker

My reactions to Tolstoy's arguments oscillated rapidly from "YES! YES!" to "What?! Come on, man!" very rapidly. His criticisms of established religion and Christian justifications of violence are provocative and incredibly relevant to contemporary issues.


Tolstoy's radical take on Christianity may not sound so radical at first: he insists on a rigid adherence to the specific verbal instructions of Jesus as described in the Gospels. The sermon on the mount, in particular, is afforded special emphasis as a sort of new set of commandments. This is, notably, the sermon in which Jesus instructs us to turn the other cheek and be forgiving and loving of one another. These teachings, he writes, constitute the body of Christianity- they define what it means to be a follower of Christ.For Tolstoy, this naturally raises questions on the social & political levels. If we are to love one another universally, how can we reconcile this with state obligations that would have us go to war? What are we to do about the imprisoning, torture and killing of evildoers? Is it truly a Christian society that relies on the widespread exploitation and deprivation of lower classes? Jesus's vision is a radical one that aims to unite all peoples in love as equals- so how close are we to this, after two millennia of rule of so-called "christian nations?"Tolstoy sees an inherent contradiction between Christ's teachings and the function of the state as a largely repressive, violent institution. His doctrine also calls into question the focus on superstition and supernatural dogma of the established churches. Nothing like the church, he argues, appears in Jesus's direct teachings, with all its earthly powers and authority.Living at the turn of the 20th century in Russia, Tolstoy saw the writing on the walls: he repeatedly calls for reason and unity in the face of the mad building-up of war machines that lead toward inevitable massacre. He foresaw at least World War One, and makes other prescient remarks essentially about mutually assured destruction. This is the real focus of his work, to ask why as a species we seem hellbent on self-destruction and why we all willingly work together to enact the hateful, mad schemes of our imposed rulers, to the deprivation of ourselves and our neighbors. The way out of this blood-soaked labyrinth is his "Christian conception of life."The heart of his theory concerns human motivation. He outlines a rough sort of history / anthropology moving between the pagan conception of life, through to the state conception and then to the Christian. Importantly, he identifies a link between our spiritual / metaphysical beliefs, and our behavior as a whole.Rational self-interest, the latest holy cow of enshrined state philosophy, is in Tolstoy's argument both the mode of the state conception of life ("I will do what's best for me and my family") and the critical link in the chains that keep us fettered to mass suffering. As long as we look out for number one, we can never mount a meaningful resistance to this maltreatment, for to step out of line as a solitary soul risks much while accomplishing little (for the self, that is.) Directing all of us to focus on ourselves rather than our collective interest is the ultimate "divide and conquer" that drives a wedge between everyone.Tolstoy's "Christian conception of life", by contrast, places adherence to a Godly ideal above all else: the love of every fellow human. Now if this is our deepest motive, above all petty self-interest, we should have no problem suffering and even dying in order to serve this higher spiritual vision of human potential. Tolstoy means total radical non-compliance with the state, especially forced conscription, while maintaining nonviolence and accepting the punishments that the rulers of this earthly realm may dish out. Sounds an awful lot like the early Christians who were persecuted by the Romans- even Jesus himself, killed for challenging the authorities of his time.I believe that Tolstoy is onto something very important here. Rational self-interest has been studied extensively in game theory and economics. It can be mathematically (and experimentally) shown in the "prisoner's dilemma" that it doesn't always lead to the best possible outcome- and in fact causes us to figuratively shoot ourselves in the foot. Hofstadter's notion of "hyperrationality" was one attempt to get out of this self-imposed trap; I think Tolstoy is dealing with exactly the same questions.Altogether, this was a very interesting and powerful polemic, and I was extremely excited to finally find an author who seems to take the same understanding of Christianity as I have. Tolstoy lacks economic theory, and as a result seems to see wars as a result of the petty vanities and disagreements between our rules. Perhaps true in his time, but I am inclined to think war has always been an economic device. Nevertheless, he was a remarkably visionary author and reads as a voice of sanity crying out in the wilderness, as his era slipped inexorably toward the yawning pit of global catastrophe.

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