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Tolstoy on the "Laws of History" War and Peace
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Tolstoy on the "Laws of History" 

War and Peace

Part 11, I:

"The first fifteen years of the nineteenth century present the spectacle of an extraordinary movement of millions of men. Men leave their habitual pursuits; rush from one side of Europe to the other; plunder, slaughter one another, triumph and despair; and the whole current of life is transformed and presents a quickened activity, first moving at a growing speed, and then slowly slackening again. What was the cause of that activity, or from what laws did it arise? asked the human intellect.

The historians, in reply to that inquiry, lay before us the sayings and doings or some dozens of men in one of the buildings of the city of Paris, summing up those doings and sayings by one word--revolution. Then they give us a detailed biography of Napoleon, and of certain persons favourably or hostilely disposed to him; talk of the influence of some of these persons upon others; and then say that this it is to which that activity is due, and these are its laws.

But the human intellect not only refuses to believe in that explanation, but flatly declares that the method of explanation is not a correct one, because in this explanation a smaller phenomenon is taken as the cause of a greater phenomenon. The sum of men's individual wills produced both the revolution and Napoleon; and only the sum of those wills endured them and then destroyed them.

But whenever there have been wars, there have been great military leaders; whenever there have been revolutions in states, there have been great men,' says history. 'Whenever there have been great military leaders there have, indeed, been wars,' replies the human reason; 'but that does not prove that the generals were the cause of the wars, and that the factors leading to warfare can be found in the personal activity of one man.'..."


Part Eleven, I, page 768--"For the investigation of the laws of history, we must completely change the subject of observations, must let kings and ministers and generals alone, and study the homogeneous, infinitesimal elements by which masses are led. No one can say how far it has been given to man to advance in that direction in understanding of the laws of history. But it is obvious that only in that direction lies any possibility of discovering historical laws; and that the human intellect has hitherto not devoted to that method of research one millionth part of the energy that historians have put into the description of the doings of various kings, ministers, and generals..."

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