Les Loups du Barbarisme
Civilization is feeble. Institutions crumble. Only naked humanity remains when these two protective entities diminish. Such a state of affairs is aptly described by our man Rastopchin in today’s chapter when he tells himself that, “Le populace est terrible, elle est hideuse. Ils sont comme les loups qu’on ne peut qu’avec de la chair.” He has only himself to blame. As a political leader it is his duty to maintain the peace. Instead he submits to his anger and frustration. The result is that a mob tears a man to pieces, a lunatic asylum flows raging out onto the streets, and the table is set for riot. This chapter, more so than others, serves as a kind of soft-science, literary document of what happens when bad individuals, here represented by Count Rastopchin, control the institutions of society and government.
Seneca once wrote that reason wishes the decision that it gives to be just but anger wishes to have the decision which it has given to seem the just decision. This is precisely what Count Rastopchin is up to when he decides to find a scapegoat for the fall of Moscow. “As often happens with passionate people,” Tolstoy writes, “he was mastered by anger but was still seeking an object on which to vent it.” That is to say he abandons his duties as a man in position of power. There are any number of virtuous actions he could have taken or policies he could have enacted. Instead he opts to throw a man to the wolves. Literally. He actually orders that the gathered crowds attack a man he describes as being the reason Moscow is in the state it is. The crowds, ravenous as they always are, take up his offer and pummel and beat the man the death.
Read this chapter again. What you see — riot, rapaciousness, barbarity — is what you get when the civilizing forces of society decline. The surest way to get there is to populate institutions with unvirtuous men like Count Rastopchin.
Well is it with the king who keepeth a tight hold on the reins of his passion, restraineth his anger and preferreth justice and fairness to injustice and tyranny.
Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh