War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace Power Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Volume.Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation.
While this was taking place in Petersburg the French had already passed Smolensk and were drawing nearer and nearer to Moscow. Napoleon's historian Thiers, like other of his historians, trying to justify his hero says that he was drawn to the walls of Moscow against his will. He is as right as other historians who look for the explanation of historic events in the will of one man; he is as right as the Russian historians who maintain that Napoleon was drawn to Moscow by the skill of the Russian commanders. Here besides the law of retrospection, which regards all the past as a preparation for events that subsequently occur, the law of reciprocity comes in, confusing the whole matter. A good chess player having lost a game is sincerely convinced that his loss resulted from a mistake he made and looks for that mistake in the opening, but forgets that at each stage of the game there were similar mistakes and that none of his moves were perfect. He only notices the mistake to which he pays attention, because his opponent took advantage of it. How much more complex than this is the game of war, which occurs under certain limits of time, and where it is not one will that manipulates lifeless objects, but everything results from innumerable conflicts of various wills! (18.104.22.168)
Yeah, historians, get with the program already. Everything that happens, happens because of all the other things that happened beforehand. So attributing all the power to affect history to one person, or even a small group of people, is just crazy.
Napoleon at the battle of Borodino fulfilled his office as representative of power as well as, and even better than, at other battles. He did nothing harmful to the progress of the battle; he inclined to the most reasonable opinions, he made no confusion, did not contradict himself, did not get frightened or run away from the field of battle, but with his great tact and military experience carried out his role of appearing to command, calmly and with dignity. (22.214.171.124)
Here's Tolstoy's take on power. The guy who looks like he's at the top is just a convenient figurehead or symbol for the actual power, which is in the vast multitude of people who seem to be following him.
On the rug-covered bench where Pierre had seen him in the morning sat Kutuzov, his gray head hanging, his heavy body relaxed. He gave no orders, but only assented to or dissented from what others suggested. [...] He listened to the reports that were brought him and gave directions when his subordinates demanded that of him; but when listening to the reports it seemed as if he were not interested in the import of the words spoken, but rather in something else – in the expression of face and tone of voice of those who were reporting. By long years of military experience he knew, and with the wisdom of age understood, that it is impossible for one man to direct hundreds of thousands of others struggling with death, and he knew that the result of a battle is decided not by the orders of a commander in chief, nor the place where the troops are stationed, nor by the number of cannon or of slaughtered men, but by that intangible force called the spirit of the army, and he watched this force and guided it in as far as that was in his power. (126.96.36.199-2)
For Tolstoy, Kutuzov is the only person who really understands what his role is in all of this – just to sit there, look calm, and try as best as possible to go with the flow. It helps, of course, that's he's got his finger on the pulse of the army and knows what it can and can't do at any given moment. Does this come with experience, or is this some inborn trait?