Author: Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin
Year of Publication: 1925
Page Count: 216
Written as a critique of Leo Tolstoy’s pacifist ideology, Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin’s On Resistance to Evil by Force (1925, 216 pages) provides a passionate and often insightful defense of the legitimacy of physical opposition to evil. Ilyin writes from a distinctly Russian Orthodox perspective which informs his conclusions (and leads to some of its shortcomings). From this perspective, he critiques not only the pacifism of Tolstoy and the ethics of the Roman Catholic Jesuits, but also what he calls “the most naive and elementary attempts to give the sword an absolute justification” of Martin Luther. While Luther wrote that the legitimate use of “the sword” in service to secular governments is a work done on behalf of God Himself, and that it, therefore, is absolutely righteous, Ilyin argues that the use of force in countering evil is actually an unrighteous act, but an act that must be performed by righteous men. We need, he writes, both the warrior and the monk – the warrior to do the necessary work of combating evil, and the monk to do the work of absolving the warrior of that evil. This is where Ilyin’s argument goes off the rails, and does not align with Scriptural teaching.
However, along the way, Ilyin argues powerfully and logically against Christian pacifism and quietism as ideologies which run counter to Biblical teaching. He makes a cogent case for the necessity of standing up against evil in this world, to the point of physical resistance, on the basis of love for God, for our neighbour, and for righteousness itself.
This book was written in Russian in 1925, and is neither an easy read nor a book which I would endorse without reservation. That being said, Ilyin’s overarching message is very relevant for our current situation, and provides much food for thought as we consider how and why Christians should actively combat evil in this world.