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.
Man's mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man's soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: "This is the cause!" In historical events (where the actions of men are the subject of observation) the first and most primitive approximation to present itself was the will of the gods and, after that, the will of those who stood in the most prominent position – the heroes of history. But we need only penetrate to the essence of any historic event – which lies in the activity of the general mass of men who take part in it – to be convinced that the will of the historic hero does not control the actions of the mass but is itself continually controlled. It may seem to be a matter of indifference whether we understand the meaning of historical events this way or that; yet there is the same difference between a man who says that the people of the West moved on the East because Napoleon wished it and a man who says that this happened because it had to happen, as there is between those who declared that the earth was stationary and that the planets moved round it and those who admitted that they did not know what upheld the earth, but knew there were laws directing its movement and that of the other planets. There is, and can be, no cause of an historical event except the one cause of all causes. But there are laws directing events, and some of these laws are known to us while we are conscious of others we cannot comprehend. The discovery of these laws is only possible when we have quite abandoned the attempt to find the cause in the will of some one man, just as the discovery of the laws of the motion of the planets was possible only when men abandoned the conception of the fixity of the earth. (18.104.22.168)
Tolstoy really wants to make the study of history more like a hard science. Notice how he's comparing his discoveries with those of Galileo. He argues that there must be some kind of rules to the way historical events happen, which we could see if only we could study the thing long enough. It's true that he references God as the ultimate cause ("there can be no cause except the one cause of all causes"), but it's clear that he's not talking about an intrusive God who micromanages human affairs, but instead a watchmaker God, who sets the mechanism in motion and then lets it go.