Shrugged Shoulders and Simple Sighs
Prince Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov wears many hats in War and Peace: Friend. Field Marshal. Commander-in-Chief. Fat man. Great hero of the Patriotic War of 1812. For our purposes, however, he must always be remembered as the sublime stoic buddha sage of Tolstoy’s novel. And in few chapters of the book does his wisdom shine brighter than it does today.
An understanding of the dichotomy of control?
Absolutely. In fact, he seems to be the only Russian general cognizant of the fact that the Russians can only be responsible for their own actions and not those of the French. This translates into his policy of simply following the French as they flee rather than attempting to cut off their retreat.
A commitment to practical wisdom?
Sure. Throughout the chapter he exercises good judgment, discretion and resourcefulness. It is Kutuzov, after all, who councils patience for the arrival of provisions rather than pressing forward in attack without being properly equipped.
How many of us, truly, could endure the insults of the Russian generals with the propriety and self-control of Kutuzov? Probably not too many.
Certainly. In addition to fighting a war it also takes courage to defend his policy in the face of such obstinate disapproval from his fellow officers. It’s easy to stand up to your enemies. It’s much harder to do so to your friends.
Indeed. It is wholly within his power as Commander-in-Chief to reprimand and punish those who so openly and brazenly mock him. Instead he responds with kindness and piety.
Indifference to that which falls outside the sphere of his control?
Who among us has shrugged his shoulders and casually sighed more than Kutuzov when confronted with such nonsense as he is today?
It is Kutuzov’s calm stoic philosophy that empowers him to accept the sudden end of his career with such equanimity. One could easily imagine the eruption of a shouting festival in the face of a forced retirement. That’s not Kutuzov’s way. Instead, in perfect freedom, he seeks the simple pleasures of old friendship and good times in the town of Vilna, the seat of his former governership.
That man is free who lives as he wishes; who can be neither compelled, nor hindered, nor constrained; whose impulses are unimpeded, who attains his desires and does not fall into what he wants to avoid.
Epictetus, The Discourses