Reading for Monday, 1 June

Okay, now this is a bit of a tricky chapter, because Tolstoy is playing around with a few historical/philosophical ideas at the same time. Mainly it revolves around answering the critics who later thought Alexander I did a lousy job of leading the country.

I don’t think Tolstoy necessarily disagrees with their statement, but I think he’s merely saying that the forces that produce a man and his outlook (ie his upbringing, his philosophies, etc) are formed in such a way that sometimes you’ll like what they produce and then other times you will not like they produce.

So thus, how can we, as critics of history, really criticise people, because the same forces that produce the things we like, produce the things we don’t.

If they didn’t, Tolstoy is arguing, then we’d really just all conform to some mindless  mass and we really wouldn’t have any individuality at all.

At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

Maybe it will become clearer as I read on . . .

4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace E1.1 – Alexander and Historians

  1. I think your view of Tolstoy’s message here is pretty similar to mine, Matt – I guess I see his ultimate point as being more or less about the sunjectivity of history, or at least of people’s analysis of it – we interpret things on the basis of what we see their consequences to be, and of how we value those consequences. But those are value judgements, and our notions of what is good and bad will change over time – I guess partly because values change but (and I think this is more Tolstoy’s point) that consequences keep unfolding. It doesn’t just stop with the one thing that we ascribe to the efforts of this or that historical figure. I think it’s kind of related to Tolstoy’s notion of history as this massive tide – not just a simple chain of events where one thing can be deemed to be good because we, in our telling of history, connect it to another good thing.

  2. I think another thing we have to keep in mind is that ‘leaders’, be it political or military, are influenced by other leaders in the chain – pressure is put on our leaders to go against their own principles, at times. They’ve gotta’ keep the people with whom they are sharing the ‘top rungs of their ladders’.

    We see presidents, prime ministers, provincial leaders starting out by pleasing their constituents – their voters, in particular, and we’re impressed with the choices they make in the beginning of their careers as ‘the leader’. But we must remember that those people are not ‘really’ completely in charge. They are not only motivated by folks on the other top rungs, they’re obligated to them!

    That’s something I strongly believe in. Your country’s leader is, in some ways, merely a figurehead who stands for what’s drawn up by the group they sit down with every day.

    So it’s not surprising to see a leader change course, and therefore displease the folks on the lower rungs of the ladder.

    That’s about the most ‘political’ thing I’ve said in days – ha ha! The mental energy involved in ‘wording’ my views on that, prompts me to go ahead with that nap I’ve been thinking about since I rose from my bed well after eleven in the morning.


    Ian – was that a typo? SUN-jectivity? Or a clever word you’ve coined? Either way, it’s an excellent word.


  3. Lemme’ edit one of my sentences here . . .

    They’ve gotta’ keep the people with whom they are sharing the ‘top rungs of their ladders’ HAPPY.

  4. Yes, Carly, alas it was a typo. But I agree – not a bad word!! Now all need to do is try to think up an excuse to use it somewhere.

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