Lev Tolstoy – War and Peace; volume II

Quite a long section; this one was mostly concerned with Peace, specifically the lifestyle of the aristocrats in the novel.

“Well, here you want to emancipate the peasants,” [Andrei] went on.  “That’s very good; but not for you (I suppose you’ve never whipped anyone to death or sent them to Siberia), and still less for the peasants.  If they’re beaten, whipped, and sent to Siberia, I don’t think that makes it any worse for them.  In Siberia he’ll go on with his brutish life, and the welts on his body will heal, and he’ll be as happy as he was before.  But it’s needed for those people who are morally ruined, live to repent it, suppress this repentance, and turn coarse, because they have the possibility of punishing justly and unjustly.  Those are the ones I pity and for whose sake I would wish for the emancipation of the peasants.  Maybe you haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen good people brought up in this tradition of unlimited power, as they can’t become more irritated over the years, become cruel, coarse, know it, can’t help themselves, and become more and more unhappy.    (386-367)

This monologue is spoken by Prince Andrei to Count Pierre as the former’s condescending criticism of the latter’s charitable actions towards the many peasants on his estates.  Pierre has undergone the changes due to his recent admittance into the Freemasons and the value they place on serving mankind.  Though he eventually sours towards his fellow Masons’ inaction and hypocrisy, at this point he is devout in his idealism, and Andrei is cynically critical.  Andrei’s speech is somewhat misleading at first, with his declaration that the emancipation would be good, but “not for [Pierre].”  This may come across as fairly obvious: Pierre isn’t helping his peasants to help himself—unless you want to give credit to a (basically) selfish desire to be selfless—he’s helping them to help them.  But Andrei downplays the importance of the end result of helping someone in order to make their lives better; Andrei only sees the value in redeeming the upper classes from the abuses of the lower classes to which they’ve become used. Continue reading