Afterthoughts on WAR AND PEACE.

Lockdown Reads

The book is proto-existential in its theme of meaninglesness and absurdity in both war itself and in peace where there is no love. Love is the spiritual salvation of all of the principal characters regardless of their fates. So the book is a comedy in the pure sense as love triumphs over death and there is even a flurry of marriages at the end just as in any classic comedy. The most philosophically challenging aspect of the book is Tolstoy’s insistence on the determinist nature of reality and time. As he rails against the Historiography of the day, where History is written as the triumphant and eventually vanquished will of great men, Tolstoy asserts that man is bound to his fate as a petal is bound to its flower first budding then blooming and eventually wilting within its flower’s embrace with no actual free will of its own. He describes various Napoleonic battles in wonderful detail and shows both opposing generals the super-active Napoleon and the cunningly passive Kutuzov as almost entirely bound within the flowers of their own circumstance. Almost all of their decisions are obvious and unavoidable as both leaders react to the circumstances of the weather, the state of the troops both in terms of supplies and morale, the terrain and the pressure from their power elites at home. Tolstoy goes as far as to suggest the man considered by the 19th century to have most imposed his will on reality and History, Napoleon Bonaparte, was the least free of all as everyone of his acts of will were more or less determined by the competing wills of more people than anyone else alive. Napoleon was swirling in a whirlpool of myriad-willed circumstance from which there was no escape…

So this has me thinking about free will versus determinism…
Are we free? Or do we merely think we are according to the philosophies handed down from one branch of Christian theolology… or are we bound by circumstance according to the philosophies handed down by the other branch of Christian theology?




Roddy McDevitt

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