“War and Peace” Book Note (concluded)

Tolstoy understood Napoleon better than most of the characters he created in War and Peace: “{Napoleon} could not disavow his own acts, which were lauded by half the world, and so he was forced to disavow truth and goodness and everything human.” Reproduced in the book is a letter Napoleon sent from St. Helena —a fine example of self-justification and lamentation as to what Europe had lost by failing to elevate him to universally appreciated supremacy.

Some of what Tolstoy said about Napoleon would be an apt characterization of Donald Trump: “To his mind, all he did was good, not because it was in harmony with any preconceived notion of good or bad, but simply because it was he that did it.”

And some of Vladimir Putin: “The idea of glory and greatness, consisting in esteeming nothing one does wrong, consisting in glorying in every crime, and ascribing to it an incomprehensible, supernatural value.”

Prince Andrei’s epiphany may evoke Tolstoy’s principal preoccupation as well as anything:”There is nothing certain but the nothingness of all that is comprehensible and the grandeur of something incomprehensible, but more important.”

Nothing that Tolstoy expressed in War and Peace satisfied him in his later life. Ever restless, he propelled his vision of universal Christian love into the realm of nihilism.