Kirkus Star


Email this review


One does not normally expect lecturers in political science (Sampson teaches at the Univ. of Bristol) to be Christian anarchists. Yet that is what Sampson (The Psychology of Power, 1966) turns out to be. In this startling and wholly original essay on the causes of War, Sampson adopts the Christian precept resist no evil as the basis of a radical reconsideration of Tolstoy's theories of war and peace -- arguing that the great Russian novelist whose latter religious works have been seen (by Isaiah Berlin and almost everyone else) as lapses into mystical idealism, in fact deserves to be recognized as a seminal political theorist. Tolstoy, Sampson contends, was affected by the events of 1812, and specifically by the Battle of Borodino and the burning of Moscow, in much the same way as 20th century man was affected by Hiroshima. Along with de Maistre, Stendhal, Herzen and Proudhon, Tolstoy intuited that 1812 inaugurated ""the era of mechanized slaughter."" Throughout War and Peace the great novelist struggled with the psychological, political and moral presumptions of Power; he arrived eventually at a root-and-branch rejection of the State and its inevitable and always illegitimate lust to conquer and coerce. Tolstoy understood that in the final analysis war is the raison d'etre of the State and can never be eradicated so long as men accept its legitimacy. En route to these radically subversive conclusions Sampson weaves a stunning essay in European intellectual history culminating a categorical rejection of a world order based on democratic national states. He calls it unabashedly ""a religious position"" but he vehemently denies the corollary that this admission automatically removes him from the political arena. (Has Sampson met Dan Berrigan?). This is a uniquely challenging and provocative work, even though Sampson will certainly be banished from the APA with cackles of derision.

Pub Date: Nov. 27th, 1973
Publisher: Pantheon