Bruce's Reviews > War and Peace 2

War and Peace 2 by Leo Tolstoy
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Jul 24, 12

Read from January 21 to June 03, 2012

War and Peace, like Anna Karenin, has two plots between which the narrative goes back and forth: the Napoleonic Wars in Russia and the personal drama of the major characters. They intersect and occasionally blend, but each has its own separate and distinct impetus.

The war plot famously illustrates Tolstoy's idea that history is moved not by the decisions of "great men" (like Napoleon), but rather by the sum of decisions made by everyone in a society -- and no one, least of all the great men, can have any idea whither this sum of decisions will lead. This view is similar to Adam Smith's explanation of economic progress in a free society as the function of an "invisible hand," comprised of the sum total of all entrepreneurial decisions. Tolstoy, however, underscores the unconsciousness and potential destructiveness of this societal force, stopping short of unmitigated determinism by suggesting that if leaders (like General Kutuzov who leads the Russian army against Napoleon) are sensitive to the will of the majority, they might guide their nation towards health and prosperity.

All of this is interesting not so much as a cohesive theory of history, but as a stage of intellectual development in Tolstoy's passionate quest to find his life's meaning and live according to it. That quest also drives the characters in the other plot, particularly Prince Andre, Natasha and Pierre. One might also include Tolstoy in this list of characters, trying through his account of the War of 1812 to make some sense of that chaotic time in order to salvage his beloved country.

The idea that this goal can only be accomplished by implementing the faith of the Russian people was promoted by Tolstoy to the end of his life.
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