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Reason, and history in Anna Karenina and War and Peace

Tolstoy’s two powerful novels Anna Karenina and War and Peace are, in part, about the danger, unhappiness, and misunderstanding that happen when people believe in the effectiveness of human reason. To rely upon reason, for Tolstoy, was an error, a Western error. Two Western thinkers, Jean Jacques Rousseauand Joseph de Maistre reinforced Tolstoy in these beliefs. Rousseau did not believe reason could lead to a good and moral education. Maistre dismissed reason as a basis for either explaining or suggesting human actions. Tolstoy also believed reason did not lead to control of human history, especially through the roles of “great men” in the domains of battle or public affairs. In War and Peace he maintains that historians could not accurately explain events, such as Napoleon’s 1812 campaign, because they believed the decisions of military and civilian leaders alone caused them. Tolstoy proposed instead a method for understanding history based upon measuring the choices and actions of all involved.

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