Reading for Tuesday, June 23

And Tolstoy rants a little bit more about power, before finishing off with the thought that you can’t actually find a single cause for why a war occurs (or anything for that matter). Well, not a single cause of one person anyway. Only in taking the sum total of all actions of the masses will you find the reason for something.

And we see now why this novel devoted so much detail to all the little characters. Even if they only appeared for an instant. Because, from Tolstoy’s view, every single one of them was important to the flow of history. Some may have actually changed things, some may have stood back and let things happen – but the sum total of all those interactions was the War of 1812, the invasion of Russia by the French.

The question is – when you’ve debunked a few people at the top as being catalysts for history – where do you go from here? What can you put in its place?

The solution is quite astonishing – Tolstoy says that there is a law that governs all our actions. Every little thing we do is caused by something else which is caused by something else. Thus, despite the fact that he’s thinking he’s doing whatever he wants – is really heading down a pre-ordained path.

So while you may have been reading these chapters, secretly enjoying Tolstoy cutting down the big man at the top – really, he’s cut down you. Because if a man at the top has no more or less influence over the course of history, then neither do you.

So the question he moves on to is: do we then have free will?

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3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace E2.7 – The Law of Mass Motion

  1. Yes, I think this is where Tolstoy’s arguments start to become, for me, hardest to agree with. And yet I think it’s impressively and cogently argued – and I love the challenge of trying to pick the faults or weaknesses in those arguments, perhaps because it reminds me of my days studying philosophy where we had to find the faults in people like Spinoza or Leibnitz who basically believed that nothing was what it seemed. Tolstoy’s aguments here are very much like that, for me – powerfully argued and yet seem in many ways to be so contrary to how we understand things to really be. Tolstoy’s view that things happen because of laws, rather than because of human will, is certainly very hard to accept when our own perception that we are making our decisions is so strong. But, of course, Tolstoy is too great a thinker, and too great a writer, not to acnowledge that and this conflict between the freedom we think we have, and the laws we in fact are subject to, is pretty much what occupies the rest of War and Peace. And only five days to go, Matt!!

  2. Anybody miss me? Doubt it . . . ’cause I don’t really have much to say about this kinda’ thing anyway, so there was no point my being here.
    I’m not going to lie – not going to say I was reading through all this stuff at the end avidly.
    This stuff at the end of War & Peace made me feel the same way as I felt about Harper’s Island – glad it was over!

  3. Hi Carly …. I certainly noticed your absence, but suspected it might be for the very reasons you mentioned. It seems a lot of people plod their way through these last chapters more as an act of duty than anything else. But as I mentioned elsewhere, I found all this stuff a lot more engrossing the second time around – no doubt in part because I was ready for it. Of course, it made absolutely no difference to my doggies who, as usual, curled up and slept through each of their daily War and Peace chapters. But at least now I know it wasn’t because they were bored – it was because of the laws of history!!

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