Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Paleoconservative/Paleolibertarian Themes in War and Peace

As Napoleon bears down on Moscow, several come to the fore in Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy's monumental work.

In an exchange between Moscow Governor Feodor Rostopchin, one of the novel's villains, if a Tolstoy novel can be said to have villains (the author is filled with Christian charity even for the most flawed of his characters), and Pierre Bezukhov, the character in whom the author's beliefs are most clearly stated, the former says, "... I know there are Masons and there are Masons. I hope you are not one of those who, on the pretense of saving the human race, are doing their best to destroy Russia."

Although the words were put into the mouth of one of the morally weakest characters in the book, the reader, at least this particlar (and particularist) reader, recognizes the truth of the statement. And later, Count Bezukhov, will also come to realize its truth, that love for some abstract "humanity" is no love at all; it is love towards particlar persons and groups of people that we are called.

Later, the French conqueror and small-a antichrist, surveying the Russian capital he is about to enter, says, "From the heights of the Kremlin—yes, there is the Kremlin, yes—I will give them just laws, teach them the meaning of true civilization, and make generations of boyars remember their conqueror with love." Is not every neoconservative motivated by such thoughts?

In the description of the criminal handling of matters by Count Rostopchin preceding the occupation of the capital he governs, the author notes, "One need only posit some threat to the public tranquility and any action can be justified." He continues, "All the horrors of the reign of terror were based on concern for public tranquility."

In a similar vein, after describing the petty tyranny of the above-mentioned Count Rostopchin, Count Tolstoy teaches us, "Since the world began and men have killed one another, no one has ever committed such a crime without consoling himself with the same idea. And that idea is le bien publique, the hypothetical welfare of other people."

Finally, in this passage, which precedes the account of Count Rostopchin criminal misrule of Moscow as the French prepare to enter the city, the author's latent anarchism can be discerned:
    In quiet, untroubled times every administrator believes that it is only by his efforts that the whole community under his jurisdiction is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. As long as the historical sea remains calm, the pilot-administrator in his frail barque, holding onto the ship of the people with a boathook and moving along with it, naturally imagines that it is by his efforts that the ship to which he is clinging is propelled. But let a storm arise, let the sea begin to heave and the great vessel to be tossed about, and such a delusion is no longer possible. The ship sails under its own prodigious, independent power, the boathook no longer reaching the moving vessel, and the pilot, instead of being the master, the mainspring of power, is suddenly reduced to a useless, insignificant, feeble man.
The "quiet, untroubled times" the author speaks of bring to mind Roderick Long's aphorism: "Anarchy is the glue that holds society together."

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