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Monday, March 24, 2014

Leo Tolstoy Witnesses a Beheading

Posted by on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM

LEO TOLSTOY, AGE 20  Nine years before watching a beheading in Paris.
  • LEO TOLSTOY, AGE 20 Nine years before watching a beheading in Paris.

Today in Paris in 1857, Leo Tolstoy sat down to write a letter to a friend. Tom Nissley tells the story in A Reader's Book of Days:

Idling in Paris, Tolstoy wrote to a friend in Russia on this say, "I can't foresee the time when the city will have lost its interest for me, or the life of its charm." But by the time he had finished the letter the next day, it had. What happened? On that morning, he was "stupid and callous enough" to attend an execution by guillotine: "If a man had been torn to pieces before my eyes it wouldn't have been so revolting as this ingenious and elegant machine by means of which a strong, hale, and hearty man was killed in an instant." Disgusted with Paris, he couldn't sleep for days and soon left the city, and his disgust transformed his outlook in a way that never left him. "The law of man—what nonsense!" he wrote that day. "The truth is that the state is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens."


Comments (9) RSS

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lark 1
Can't imagine seeing ANY execution. But, a beheading is particularly gruesome. Evidently, it is still done in Saudi Arabia and publicly. Not a guillotine though. It's a fellow with a sabre (?) who does the deed.
Posted by lark on March 24, 2014 at 11:32 AM · Report this
Better the state than random barbarians beheading each other ritualistically in a society without government. Capital punishment is horrible, but his conclusion was extreme.
Posted by Jizzlobber on March 24, 2014 at 11:36 AM · Report this
AirBuddy 3
You decided not to Herz it!? I'm really unprepared to see sociological critiques without accusatory commentary on Slog these days.
Posted by AirBuddy on March 24, 2014 at 11:52 AM · Report this
AFinch 4
@2 - Funny how Somalia just keps popping up as a perfect - and real - reference implementation of so many econo-political theories. Even more amazing how it continues, despite being so clearly undesirable.

While I think capital punishment is barbarian, I'm not sure that beheading is that much worse than electrocution or some botched forms of lethal injection. Certainly it's more painful for viewers, but that's more an argument for public executions (leading to widespread revulsion and support to eliminating the penalty) than for different methods. It seems to me that the death penalty would never have persisted in this country as long as it has without executions being hidden from public view.
Posted by AFinch on March 24, 2014 at 12:02 PM · Report this
Posted by tiktok on March 24, 2014 at 12:16 PM · Report this
Per Bernstein 6
"Memento mori—remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die—what makes this any different from a half hour?" -Leo Tolstoy, "Path of Life"
Posted by Per Bernstein on March 24, 2014 at 1:03 PM · Report this
If we're going to have capital punishment, it should be administered by beheading. In public, by the governor of the state. Using a sword, Saudi-style, takes a certain amount of skill, so perhaps an axe would be better. I'm looking at you, Rick Perry - let's see how tough on crime you really are.
Posted by dextrose dave on March 24, 2014 at 1:05 PM · Report this

Despite the blood, beheading seems (to me, anyway) more humane and merciful than strapping someone down and paralyzing them with one drug so they can't scream while you slowly poison them with another.

Of all the forms of capital punishment, lethal injection always struck me as the most downright _perverse_. It's inherently very sadistic.
Posted by Just Another Snake Cult on March 24, 2014 at 2:47 PM · Report this
Per Bernstein 9
In the depth of his heart he knew he was dying, but not only was he not accustomed to the thought, he simply did not and could not grasp it. The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter's Logic: "Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal," had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius — man in the abstract — was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others.
Posted by Per Bernstein on March 24, 2014 at 6:53 PM · Report this

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