Napoleon has a nine point plan to subjugate, pacify, and revive under his rule a proud and patriotic Russian people. This is usually the moment in a piece of writing where the author asks what could possibly go wrong. If you’ve been following A Year of War and Peace you already know that what is going wrong is that Napoleon is placing too much hope in things he has no control over. He’s bound to be disappointed.
Here are the domains Napoleon wishes to control: military matters, legal matters, administrative matters, army supplies, religion (religion!), commerce and provision of the army, raising the spirits of the troops, philanthropy, and army discipline. To effect these changes he issues various proclamations.
He should know better.
The hubris of this guy, really. In a world where people have trouble controlling their appetites, this man thinks he can direct an entire nation. As Adam Ferguson writes: “Men, in general, are sufficiently disposed to occupy themselves in forming projects and schemes: But he who would scheme and project for others, will find an opponent in every person who is disposed to scheme for himself. Like the winds that come we know not whence, and blow whithersoever they list, the forms of society are derived from an obscure and distant origin; they arise, long before the date of philosophy, from the instincts, not from the speculations of men. The crowd of mankind, are directed in their establishments and measures, by the circumstances in which they are placed; and seldom are turned from their way, to follow the plan of any single projector.”
Napoleon needs to be careful here. Often those attempting to exercise control over the uncontrollable dig in deeper once things start getting away from them. And that’s how the things you cannot control start controlling you.
Is it possible for the man who is aiming at some one of these things which are under the control of others to be free from hindrance? — No. — Is it possible for him to be free from restraint? — No: — Therefore, it is not possible for him to be free, either.
Epictetus, The Discourses