Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Factions Formed

I've always liked this passage from War & Peace dealing with the various factions in the Tsar's court, simply because it seems to true to how people argue about issues.

Among the opinions and voices in this immense, restless, brilliant, and proud sphere, Prince Andrew noticed the following sharply defined subdivisions of tendencies and parties:

The first party consisted of Pfuel and his adherents—military theorists who believed in a science of war with immutable laws—laws of oblique movements, outflankings, and so forth. Pfuel and his adherents demanded a retirement into the depths of the country in accordance with precise laws defined by a pseudo-theory of war, and they saw only barbarism, ignorance, or evil intention in every deviation from that theory. To this party belonged the foreign nobles, Wolzogen, Wintzingerode, and others, chiefly Germans.

The second party was directly opposed to the first; one extreme, as always happens, was met by representatives of the other. The members of this party were those who had demanded an advance from Vilna into Poland and freedom from all prearranged plans. Besides being advocates of bold action, this section also represented nationalism, which made them still more one-sided in the dispute. They were Russians: Bagration, Ermolov (who was beginning to come to the front), and others. At that time a famous joke of Ermolov's was being circulated, that as a great favor he had petitioned the Emperor to make him a German. The men of that party, remembering Suvorov, said that what one had to do was not to reason, or stick pins into maps, but to fight, beat the enemy, keep him out of Russia, and not let the army get discouraged.

To the third party—in which the Emperor had most confidence—belonged the courtiers who tried to arrange compromises between the other two. The members of this party, chiefly civilians and to whom Arakcheev belonged, thought and said what men who have no convictions but wish to seem to have some generally say. They said that undoubtedly war, particularly against such a genius as Bonaparte (they called him Bonaparte now), needs most deeply devised plans and profound scientific knowledge and in that respect Pfuel was a genius, but at the same time it had to be acknowledged that the theorists are often one-sided, and therefore one should not trust them absolutely, but should also listen to what Pfuel's opponents and practical men of experience in warfare had to say, and then choose a middle course. They insisted on the retention of the camp at Drissa, according to Pfuel's plan, but on changing the movements of the other armies. Though, by this course, neither one aim nor the other could be attained, yet it seemed best to the adherents of this third party.

Of a fourth opinion the most conspicuous representative was the Tsarevich, who could not forget his disillusionment at Austerlitz, where he had ridden out at the head of the Guards, in his casque and cavalry uniform as to a review, expecting to crush the French gallantly; but unexpectedly finding himself in the front line had narrowly escaped amid the general confusion. The men of this party had both the quality and the defect of frankness in their opinions. They feared Napoleon, recognized his strength and their own weakness, and frankly said so....

[The fifth and sixth parties are adherents of specific generals while the seventh consists of those with a nearly magical devotion to the Tsar and confidence that if only he will personally lead the troops, they cannot lose.]

The eighth and largest group, which in its enormous numbers was to the others as ninety-nine to one, consisted of men who desired neither peace nor war, neither an advance nor a defensive camp at the Drissa or anywhere else, neither Barclay nor the Emperor, neither Pfuel nor Bennigsen, but only the one most essential thing—as much advantage and pleasure for themselves as possible. In the troubled waters of conflicting and intersecting intrigues that eddied about the Emperor's headquarters, it was possible to succeed in many ways unthinkable at other times. A man who simply wished to retain his lucrative post would today agree with Pfuel, tomorrow with his opponent, and the day after, merely to avoid responsibility or to please the Emperor, would declare that he had no opinion at all on the matter. Another who wished to gain some advantage would attract the Emperor's attention by loudly advocating the very thing the Emperor had hinted at the day before, and would dispute and shout at the council, beating his breast and challenging those who did not agree with him to duels, thereby proving that he was prepared to sacrifice himself for the common good. A third, in the absence of opponents, between two councils would simply solicit a special gratuity for his faithful services, well knowing that at that moment people would be too busy to refuse him. A fourth while seemingly overwhelmed with work would often come accidentally under the Emperor's eye. A fifth, to achieve his long-cherished aim of dining with the Emperor, would stubbornly insist on the correctness or falsity of some newly emerging opinion and for this object would produce arguments more or less forcible and correct.
From War & Peace, Book 9, Chapter 9

On this re-read (my third time through the book) one of the various things that's striking me is that the book changes tone a great deal in the second half. Books 1 through 8 are written in fairly standard novel format, and it's the characters and their relationships that keep you moving through it. With Book 9, where Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 begins, you have three chapters right at the beginning that are all Tolstoy's theory of history and his narration of big historical events, and it's not till four chapters in we even catch a glimpse of a minor character.

Tolstoy himself said that War & Peace was not truly a novel and considered the other elements of it (philosophy, history, etc.) to be at least as important as the fictional narrative, but personally I'm pretty much only interested in the novel.


Sarah Spitz said...

Thank you for your wonderful writing!
I am thinking about becoming a Catholic as I am deeply in love with God and also with a Catholic man.
It is therefore helpful to read about Catholic life and thought on your blog.

All the best from Germany and have a wonderful weekend,


PS: I am and always have been in deep, deep admiration of Tolstoy

Darwin said...

Thank you. I'm glad that you enjoy it.