The Compact of Mutual Indulgence
We’ve met a lot of bad people so far during our year of War and Peace. None of them, however, have managed to establish themselves as complete jerks within the space of one short chapter. Anatole was actually kind of fun way back when we first met him in Petersburg during the opening parts of the book. He did, after all, help tie a policeman to a bear and then throw him into a river. Old Prince Bolkonsky, for his part, has a certain senescent charm to him. Even Dolokhov, once we learned of his family life, was at least a little sympathetic. Marshal Davout, however, establishes his poor character within less than two pages.
Strike one against Davout’s character is his decision to do his work on a barrel in a miserable shed. This is not a choice born of Seneca’s preference for pared down living, nor Schopenhauer’s philosophically pessimistic practice of negative visualization — both exercises aimed at creating a life of sustained well-being. Davout’s reason is much more tenebrific. The man actually wants to enhance and excuse his gloomy mood, not improve it.
Strike two and three is his treatment of Balashov. He’s nasty, brutish, and curt. Balashov handles himself well in response. He does his duty and refrains from rising to Davout’s bait. It’s a virtuous response and serves as a nice example of how to deal with bad actors.
And so each man will find in his own breast the fault which he censures in another […] And so let us be more kindly toward one another; we being wicked live among wicked. Only one thing can bring us peace — the compact of mutual indulgence.
Seneca, On Anger