The Less Control We Have
Today’s reading pairs perfectly with yesterday’s reading, serving as the perfect opportunity to compare and contrast the competing strategies of Tolstoy’s dueling generals. Yesterday we learned a little bit more about Kutuzov. Today we learn a little bit more about Napoleon. Both men are active men — they’re military generals after all — yet the domains in which they choose to act are wildly different.
Yesterday we noted Kutuzov’s preference to be led by events rather than to lead them. This strategy is born not from a timid passivity but, rather, from Kutuzov’s belief that he exercises no control over something as complex as war and the best way to learn is to allow time and patience to teach everything. This, suffice to say, is not Napoleon’s philosophy.
Napoleon, as he did in Egypt, Italy, Austria, and in Prussia, seeks to control everything. He is the consummate micromanager. Today we see his active policy in his Russian war. Tolstoy argues that the decisions Napoleon makes in Russia are the wrong decisions but, nevertheless, they are more proactive than Kutuzov’s laissez-faire attitude.
History tells us where this desire to control everything leads Napoleon and Tolstoy tells us how foolish and futile it is. “In both cases his personal activity,” writes Tolstoy on Napoleon, “having no more force than the personal activity of any soldier, merely coincided with the laws that guided the event.”
The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.
Epictetus, The Discourses