After screwing the priest’s wife for a few gold pieces Kutuzov calls Prince Andrei into his room to speak with him. This post-coital conversation is short in duration but long in wisdom. In it Kutuzov expresses the thinking behind the Fabian strategy he intends to employ against the French and in doing so establishes himself as Tolstoy’s great self-effacing Buddha warrior.
Kutuzov, you see, unlike Napoleon, seeks no glory for himself. He desires only communion with those twin pillars of sound governance: patience and time. “But believe me, my dear boy,” he tells Prince Andrei, “there is nothing stronger than those two, patience and time, they will do all.” Where others counsel offering battle Kutuzov, whenever possible, denies it. As such, he serves as the avatar of Tolstoy’s theory of history and his talk with Prince Andrei today is a kind of thematic overture to that theory.
We won’t get too deep into Tolstoy’s theory of history today. For now it will suffice to simply state Tolstoy’s central question of the theory: How do we reconcile the apparent deterministic fatalism of history with the ostensible free-will individuals use to author human affairs? There must be some sort of engine of history, historians have argued. The Great Man theory — the idea that powerful men such as Napoleon or Alexander thrust history forward, pulling along lesser men — has long been a favorite of historians. Tolstoy, however, disagrees. The engine, he feels, must reside somewhere much lower than the elevated animal spirits of great men. He holds up Kutuzov’s generalship as an example. Throughout the remainder of the novel we’ll see how Kutuzov, far from directing history, assumes a radically relaxed, subdued, and humble approach. He does not attempt to move history. Rather, he attempts to move with it.
We’ll leave Tolstoy’s theory here for now and conclude by noting that Kutuzov recognizes some unfathomable essence among the varieties of human action that coordinate to produce the accidents of history. He does not seek to control or direct the incomprehensible flow of this coordination. That, in his estimation, is folly. It can only lead to disappointment and frustration. Rather, Kutuzov wishes to tap into the hidden intelligence of dispersed activity by allowing it, with patience and time, to go where it will. Seems like he may have been reading his Epictetus.
At any rate, Prince Andrei leaves his meeting with Kutuzov with full confidence in the man and his plan. He recognizes the wisdom in Kutuzov’s understanding that “there is something stronger and more important than his own will — the inevitable course of events, and he can see them and grasp their significance, and seeing that significance can refrain from meddling and renounce his personal wish directed to something else.”
Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.
Laozi, Tao Te Ching