Reading for Sunday, June 21

Tolstoy actually picks up on the point I made in my last post – that if you’re going to assign power to the person at the top, this only works if people actually do what that person says. What about those rulers that nobody obeys?

And thus, because you can’t find a definite connection between having someone at the top and what the masses do, therefore, you can’t say the person at the top has any power.

At this point, my own thought leads me to think that what’s missing here is a recognition that people (generally) are brought up to understand and have some sort of respect (perhaps grudging) for authority figures. At least in normal Western society, we are brought up by our parents to obey them, and then to obey certain authority figures around us.

We learn to obey the law, we learn to obey those who enforce the law (the police and the law courts). For some, this respect might be willing – we know if we obey them it keeps the peace for everyone. For others, it might be grudging – if I don’t obey, I’ll get locked up. But either way, it leads to (most of) the population doing what they’re told.

And thus, in a social system like this, with everyone blindly obeying the laws of the land and respecting the law enforcers), the position of lawmaker (whether it be politician or Emperor or King) becomes very important indeed. In a society where most people do what they’re told, the person doing the telling wield immense power.

Yes, you can argue that the population got itself into this herd-like state by being conditioned that way by the circumstances of their parents and their upbringing. (Thus, why countries can struggle with maintaining social order amongst members of the population from different ethnic backgrounds – not everybody has been raised to be respectful to those in authority around them.)

From time to time, revolutions occur, and the people rise up against their rulers (just look at Iran at the moment), but unless they choose anarchy (rarely), they pick someone else to be the lawmaker that they can follow. So, under those circumstances, I think it’s pretty sane to say that the person at the top can cause a great deal more to happen than a person at a lower level.

Anyway, Tolstoy I’m sure will try to win me around to his thinking in the next seven chapters left in this book, so we’ll see how he goes . . .

One thought on “One-Year War and Peace E2.5 – More on Power

  1. Actually, Matt, I don’t think you’re in total disagreement with Tolstoy here – I don’t think he is denying that rulers can have influence, nor that masses can be influenced – but I think he is saying that that doesn’t explain the whole story and, most particularly, it doesn’t explain how things change. It might seem a satisfactory explanation for peaceful times (be it peaceful nations or peaceful families), but when things disrupt and there are upheavals we need to find other ways of understanding how people think and act. And so then, Tolstoy argues, we have to start to understand the connections between all these people – the nature of the connection between leaders and the masses, and within the masses, and from the masses back to their leaders. And so now, we suddenly notice we do not have a simple line of command, but rather a labyrinth of human connections – and this, for Tolstoy, as I understand it, is what the historian must describe is he or she is to really tell history.

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