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Representation of the Idea of Bad Faith: Tolstoy Versus Sartre

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Tolstoy is not fully associated with existentialism, although in his work many existential themes are expressed. Tolstoy’s (1993) ‘How much land does a man need?’ looks into the existential idea of authenticity in relation to land ownership. Sartre is a major part of the existential discipline, with two important works which are ‘Existentialism and Humanism’ (2007) and ‘Being and Nothingness’ (1969). Sartre (1969) suggests the idea of bad faith, which is where an individual denies their freedom and acts in the mode of the in-itself (Yue and Mills 2008). In this essay I will argue that if an individual has bad faith they are inauthentically living their life, which is what Pakhom is doing as he is greedy and always wishes for more land. This idea of inauthenticity due to land ownership relates to the way land is owned in todays society. Everyone needs access to land but many have to pay rent to a private individual to have land which is inauthentic.

Tolstoy (1993) published ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need?’, which is the story of Pakhom, who was a peasant. During the story he keeps wishing for more land, never being satisfied with what he has, which is what leads to Pakhom’s death. At the beginning of the story Pakhom states “My only grievance is that I don’t have enough land. Give me enough of that and I’d fear no one – not even the Devil himself!” (Tolstoy, 1993, p. 97). This indicates Pakhom thinks the way he will be truly fulfilled in life is by having land. When Pakhom first buys land it is due to as necessity as “if we don’t we won’t be able to live, what with that manager bleeding us white with fines” (Tolstoy, 1993, p. 98). However, after this, when the opportunity to buy new land arises Pakhom states “I don’t really need to go away, with all that land of mine” (Tolstoy, 1993, p. 100) displaying his desire for more land, which is unnecessary. His greed for wanting land is tested when the Bashkirs offer him all the land he can walk round in a day, ending at his starting point marked by a cap. However, as the sun starts to set Pakhom realises may not make it to the end point, he states that he “must take the shortest way back. It’s no good trying to grab too much, I’ve quite enough already!” (Tolstoy, 1993, p. 108). As Pakhom reached the crowd of the Bashkirs and his workmen “his legs gave way, he fell forward and managed to reach the cap with his hands” (Tolstoy, 1993, p. 109). He was so committed to gaining this land that he finished the task, even though he knew it may kill him. This greed that Pakhom has for always wishing for more land means he is inauthentic.

Sartre’s existential ideas can help to understand Pakhom’s greed and inauthenticity. Sartre (2007) suggests existence preceded essence, which means a humans’ characteristics are due to actions in their life rather than their biology. He states we are condemned to be free, so we do not rely on anything to determine who we are. In this case individuals have to fulfil themselves according to their projects. Sartre also suggests all humans have a responsibility to other humans. Every action sets an example for all other humans to potentially follow. Pakhom sets an example of greed, never being fully happy with what he has and instead striving for more. The fact that Individuals have freedom to make their own choices and the responsibility for choosing for all humans can cause anguish to arise (Lafarge 1970).

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Moreover, Sartre (1969) introduces the notion of bad faith, also known as self-deception (Santoni 1995), which may explain Pakhom’s actions of greed for land. Bad faith suggests Pakhom’s actions are inauthentic due to him always wishing for things to be different and disowning his freedom. There is no way to know if Pakhom could stop and live with what he has or if he always wishes for more. Therefore, we can never truly understand Pakhom’s desire for land. However, this theory proposed by Sartre may not be a good tool for analysing the story of Pakhom as there is no criteria for what would be authentic. Santoni (1995) expresses that Sartre does not give enough detail to understand good faith. Also, there is no way for anyone to assess if Pakhom actually has good intentions. As Pakhom realises he may not make it back to the Bashkirs before the sun sets he says “I’ve been too greedy” (Tolstoy, 1993, p. 109). This could indicate Pakhom was starting to understand his greed for land, which could have led him too stop wishing for more land if he had lived. Hence, he may no longer be in bad faith.

Land ownership in perpetuity is seen as inauthentic. This is because all humans require land in order to live, so when land ownership occurs others are made to pay rent to a private individual to access the land. Due to the necessity of paying rent that many people face, a majority of the population are essentially being stopped from having access to land. Also, it is inauthentic because an individual cannot own a common resource that has value due to the surrounding community. To be authentic individuals must only have possession of land. This is authentic because the individual only possesses the land as long as they are using it, rather than owning the land in perpetuity. With this system individuals may pay a fee that goes back into the community instead of to a private individual. Therefore, land possession is a more appropriate use of land.

The question of “How much land does a man need?” (Tolstoy 1993) leads to two existential answers. One idea is that a man only needs enough land to be buried in. This is an existentially pessimistic view of the question. This idea is expressed in the story of Pakhom because when he dies Pakhom’s workman “dug a grave for his master – six feet from head to heel, which was exactly the right length – and buried him” (Tolstoy, 1993, p. 110). A more realistic view of how much land a man needs is that they would only need as much land as they can use. This is a more sustainable view of land necessity, as no land would be wasted.

In conclusion, using the idea of bad faith (Sartre, 1969) the existential meaning of Tolstoy’s (1993) ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need?’ demonstrates how land ownership is inauthentic. It is a necessity for all humans to have access to land, without ownership in perpetuity, and instead with possession. Therefore, humans only have access to land they are using, while also ensuring that any fees being payed going directly back into the community.

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Representation of the Idea of Bad Faith: Tolstoy Versus Sartre. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
“Representation of the Idea of Bad Faith: Tolstoy Versus Sartre.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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