Studies in East European Thought

, Volume 71, Issue 1, pp 43–62 | Cite as

A revolutionary as a “beautiful soul”: Lev Tolstoy’s path to ethical anarchism

  • Lina SteinerEmail author


This article discusses Leo Tolstoy’s view of the Russian revolutionary movement. Taking as a focal point the writer’s lifelong interest in the Decembrist uprising of 1825 and particularly in the personalities of the gentry revolutionaries, the article argues that Tolstoy’s fascination for these figures was due to their superior moral qualities, rather than to their political and socioeconomic doctrines. Following Alexander Herzen, Tolstoy came to regard the Decembrists as full-fledged individualities and “beautiful souls” (in Friedrich von Schiller’s sense of the term). Thus, Tolstoy’s much debated “conversion” and subsequent attempts to transform literary art into a medium of religious and moral reform (and thus a peaceful cultural revolution) can also be viewed as extensions of his project of self-understanding and self-formation according to the model of kalokagathia provided by Russia’s aristocratic revolutionaries.


The Decembrist movement Liberalism Individuality (lichnost’Kalokagathia “Beautiful soul” Heutonomy Ethical anarchism Leo Tolstoy Alexander Herzen Friedrich von Schiller 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Centre for PhilosophyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany

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