Reading for Thursday, June 18
Tolstoy deals with the usual arguments put forward by historians – that rulers change the course of things, or philosophers, or ideas and he attempts to debunk them all.
I had a bit of trouble following this argument, but is that because I’m so ingrained into thinking that people in positions of influence have power to change things? It seems to me that if you’re a general and someone has placed you in a position of power, that you have a great deal more influence that you can wield on the destiny of a nation than, say, one of your soldiers.
But then Tolstoy would probably say – look what happens when the people revolt . . . and it does happen. Where is the influence of the great men then?
Hmm . . . I think I’m starting to get it as I type these words. For every great man we could point to, there could equally be a dozen reasons why he might not be a great man. It’s only in hindsight that we can point back and say, “Wow, that all worked because of that guy.” If the guy’s plans had failed badly and everything went wrong, he wouldn’t be special at all.
So, Tolstoy just takes that a step further – if you wouldn’t think he was a special influence if things didn’t go a certain way – why would you assume he was a special influence because things went the way they did? (You might have to read that twice.)
Again, you’re back to the question – what makes things happen, whether they be ideas or people? Back to that in chapter 3.