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October 24, 2021

'... the small significance which, to my mind, so-called great men have in historical events' — Tolstoy

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The passages below are from Tolstoy's "A Few Words Apropos of the book 'War and Peace," his appendix to his novel, published in the magazine Russian Archive in 1868, before the final parts of the book had appeared in print.

I say all this in order to show the inevitability of falsehood in the military descriptions which serve as material for military historians, and therefore to show the inevitability of frequent disagreements between artists and historians in understanding historical events.

But, besides the inevitability of untruths in their setting forth of historical events, I encountered in the historians of that epoch that interested me (probably as a result of grouping events, expressing them briefly, and conforming to the tragic tone of the events) a particular inclination to high-flown speech, in which falsehood and distortion often touch not only the events, but also the understanding of the meaning of the events.

And so the tasks of the artist and the historian are completely different....

... the most important consideration concerns the small significance which, to my mind, so-called great men have in historical events.

... I arrived at the obviousness of the fact that the causes of historical events that take place are inaccessible to our intelligence.

A countless number of retrospective conjectures can be made and are being made about the causes of this senseless event; but the enormous number of these explanations and their convergence on one goal only proves that there is a countless multitude of these causes and that none of them can be called the cause.

... man's consciousness of freedom in the committing of acts of a certain sort is mistaken.

And so there are two sorts of acts. One depends, the other does not depend on my will.

... the mistake that produce that produces a contradiction comes only from the fact that I wrongly transfer the consciousness of freedom, which legitimately accompanies any act committed with my I, with the highest abstraction of my existence, to my acts committed jointly with other people and depending on the coinciding of other wills with my own.

To determine the boundaries of the domains of freedom and independence is very difficult, and the determining of those boundaries is the essential and sole task of psychology; but, observing the conditions of the manifestation of our greatest freedom and greatest dependence, it is impossible not to see that the more abstract our activity is and therefore the less connected with the activity of others, the more free it is, and, on the contrary, the more our activity is connected with other people, the more unfree it is.

The most strong, indissoluble, burdensome, and constant connection with other people is the so-called power over other people, which in its true meaning is only the greatest dependence on them.

Tolstoy made his boj debut last month and this encore won't be the last you'll see of his work.

October 24, 2021 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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