Richard Holmes rightly describes Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy as “the greatest political poem ever written in English”. The ninety-two verses of The Mask were written in hot indignation in September 1819, immediately after Shelley heard the news of the massacre at Peterloo. It is the most concise, the most popularly written and the most explicit statement of his political ideas in poetry.
Jesus’s teaching of peace, and the Church’s teaching of war
The Kingdom of God Is Within You is a short philosophical essay written by the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. In it he forcefully explains his reasons for rejecting militarism and warfare as solutions to humanity’s problems. Tolstoy had witnessed the brutal and brutalising nature of war firsthand, serving as a second lieutenant during the Crimean war, an experience he dramatically recounted in Sevestapol Sketches (1855) – the work which propelled him to fame. The Kingdom of God Is Within You lays out a new organization for society based on what he saw as the key elements of Jesus’s teachings: freedom, peace, love. It was first published in Germany in 1894, after being banned in his home country of Russia, and become an important text for Tolstoyan, pacifist, and Christian anarchist movements, influencing such pivotal 20th-century figures as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The book powerfully exposes the hypocrisy of the Christian Church – “professing Christ in words and denying His teaching in life” – as well as recording its complicity in the arms industry, and its role in using Jesus’s words to sanction blood sacrifice.