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# BOOK 11

By Jill Russell,2014-11-27 12:23
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BOOK 11 BOOK ELEVEN: 1812 CHAPTER I ABSOLUTE CONTINUITY OF ...

BOOK ELEVEN: 1812

CHAPTER I

Absolute continuity of motion is not comprehensible to the human

mind. Laws of motion of any kind become comprehensible to man only

when he examines arbitrarily selected elements of that motion; but

at the same time, a large proportion of human error comes from the

arbitrary division of continuous motion into discontinuous elements.

There is a well known, so-called sophism of the ancients consisting in

this, that Achilles could never catch up with a tortoise he was

following, in spite of the fact that he traveled ten times as fast

as the tortoise. By the time Achilles has covered the distance that

separated him from the tortoise, the tortoise has covered one tenth of

that distance ahead of him: when Achilles has covered that tenth,

the tortoise has covered another one hundredth, and so on forever.

This problem seemed to the ancients insoluble. The absurd answer (that

Achilles could never overtake the tortoise) resulted from this: that

motion was arbitrarily divided into discontinuous elements, whereas

the motion both of Achilles and of the tortoise was continuous.

By adopting smaller and smaller elements of motion we only

approach a solution of the problem, but never reach it. Only when we

have admitted the conception of the infinitely small, and the

resulting geometrical progression with a common ratio of one tenth,

and have found the sum of this progression to infinity, do we reach

a solution of the problem.

A modern branch of mathematics having achieved the art of dealing

with the infinitely small can now yield solutions in other more

complex problems of motion which used to appear insoluble.

This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when

dealing with problems of motion admits the conception of the

infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion

(absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error

which the human mind cannot avoid when it deals with separate elements

of motion instead of examining continuous motion.

In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing

happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable

arbitrary human wills, is continuous.

To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of

history. But to arrive at these laws, resulting from the sum of all

those human wills, man's mind postulates arbitrary and disconnected

units. The first method of history is to take an arbitrarily

selected series of continuous events and examine it apart from others,

though there is and can be no beginning to any event, for one event

always flows uninterruptedly from another.

The second method is to consider the actions of some one man- a king

or a commander- as equivalent to the sum of many individual wills;

whereas the sum of individual wills is never expressed by the activity

of a single historic personage.

Historical science in its endeavor to draw nearer to truth

continually takes smaller and smaller units for examination. But

however small the units it takes, we feel that to take any unit

disconnected from others, or to assume a beginning of any

phenomenon, or to say that the will of many men is expressed by the

actions of any one historic personage, is in itself false.

It needs no critical exertion to reduce utterly to dust any

deductions drawn from history. It is merely necessary to select some

larger or smaller unit as the subject of observation- as criticism has

every right to do, seeing that whatever unit history observes must

always be arbitrarily selected.

Only by taking infinitesimally small units for observation (the

differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of men)

and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum

of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.

The first fifteen years of the nineteenth century in Europe

present an extraordinary movement of millions of people. Men leave

their customary pursuits, hasten from one side of Europe to the other,

plunder and slaughter one another, triumph and are plunged in despair,

and for some years the whole course of life is altered and presents an

intensive movement which first increases and then slackens. What was

the cause of this movement, by what laws was it governed? asks the

mind of man.

The historians, replying to this question, lay before us the sayings

and doings of a few dozen men in a building in the city of Paris,

calling these sayings and doings "the Revolution"; then they give a

detailed biography of Napoleon and of certain people favorable or

hostile to him; tell of the influence some of these people had on

others, and say: that is why this movement took place and those are

its laws.

But the mind of man not only refuses to believe this explanation,

but plainly says that this method of explanation is fallacious,

because in it a weaker phenomenon is taken as the cause of a stronger.

The sum of human wills produced the Revolution and Napoleon, and

only the sum of those wills first tolerated and then destroyed them.

"But every time there have been conquests there have been

conquerors; every time there has been a revolution in any state

there have been great men," says history. And, indeed, human reason

replies: every time conquerors appear there have been wars, but this

does not prove that the conquerors caused the wars and that it is

possible to find the laws of a war in the personal activity of a

single man. Whenever I look at my watch and its hands point to ten,

I hear the bells of the neighboring church; but because the bells

begin to ring when the hands of the clock reach ten, I have no right

to assume that the movement of the bells is caused by the position

of the hands of the watch.

Whenever I see the movement of a locomotive I hear the whistle and

see the valves opening and wheels turning; but I have no right to

conclude that the whistling and the turning of wheels are the cause of

the movement of the engine.

The peasants say that a cold wind blows in late spring because the

oaks are budding, and really every spring cold winds do blow when

the oak is budding. But though I do not know what causes the cold

winds to blow when the oak buds unfold, I cannot agree with the

peasants that the unfolding of the oak buds is the cause of the cold

wind, for the force of the wind is beyond the influence of the buds. I

see only a coincidence of occurrences such as happens with all the

phenomena of life, and I see that however much and however carefully I

observe the hands of the watch, and the valves and wheels of the

engine, and the oak, I shall not discover the cause of the bells

ringing, the engine moving, or of the winds of spring. To that I

must entirely change my point of view and study the laws of the

movement of steam, of the bells, and of the wind. History must do

To study the laws of history we must completely change the subject

of our observation, must leave aside kings, ministers, and generals,

and the common, infinitesimally small elements by which the masses are

moved. No one can say in how far it is possible for man to advance

in this way toward an understanding of the laws of history; but it

is evident that only along that path does the possibility of

discovering the laws of history lie, and that as yet not a millionth

part as much mental effort has been applied in this direction by

historians as has been devoted to describing the actions of various

kings, commanders, and ministers and propounding the historians' own

reflections concerning these actions.

BK11|CH2

CHAPTER II

The forces of a dozen European nations burst into Russia. The

Russian army and people avoided a collision till Smolensk was reached,

and again from Smolensk to Borodino. The French army pushed on to

Moscow, its goal, its impetus ever increasing as it neared its aim,

just as the velocity of a falling body increases as it approaches

the earth. Behind it were seven hundred miles of hunger-stricken,

hostile country; ahead were a few dozen miles separating it from its

goal. Every soldier in Napoleon's army felt this and the invasion

moved on by its own momentum.

The more the Russian army retreated the more fiercely a spirit of

hatred of the enemy flared up, and while it retreated the army

increased and consolidated. At Borodino a collision took place.

Neither army was broken up, but the Russian army retreated immediately

after the collision as inevitably as a ball recoils after colliding

with another having a greater momentum, and with equal inevitability

the ball of invasion that had advanced with such momentum rolled on

for some distance, though the collision had deprived it of all its

force.

The Russians retreated eighty miles- to beyond Moscow- and the

French reached Moscow and there came to a standstill. For five weeks

after that there was not a single battle. The French did not move.

As a bleeding, mortally wounded animal licks its wounds, they remained

inert in Moscow for five weeks, and then suddenly, with no fresh

reason, fled back: they made a dash for the Kaluga road, and (after

a victory- for at Malo-Yaroslavets the field of conflict again

remained theirs) without undertaking a single serious battle, they

fled still more rapidly back to Smolensk, beyond Smolensk, beyond

the Berezina, beyond Vilna, and farther still.

On the evening of the twenty-sixth of August, Kutuzov and the

whole Russian army were convinced that the battle of Borodino was a

victory. Kutuzov reported so to the Emperor. He gave orders to prepare

for a fresh conflict to finish the enemy and did this not to deceive

anyone, but because he knew that the enemy was beaten, as everyone who

had taken part in the battle knew it.

But all that evening and next day reports came in one after

another of unheard-of losses, of the loss of half the army, and a

fresh battle proved physically impossible.

It was impossible to give battle before information had been

collected, the wounded gathered in, the supplies of ammunition

replenished, the slain reckoned up, new officers appointed to

sleep. And meanwhile, the very next morning after the battle, the

French army advanced of itself upon the Russians, carried forward by

the force of its own momentum now seemingly increased in inverse

proportion to the square of the distance from its aim. Kutuzov's

wish was to attack next day, and the whole army desired to do so.

But to make an attack the wish to do so is not sufficient, there

must also be a possibility of doing it, and that possibility did not

exist. It was impossible not to retreat a day's march, and then in the

same way it was impossible not to retreat another and a third day's

march, and at last, on the first of September when the army drew

near Moscow- despite the strength of the feeling that had arisen in

all ranks- the force of circumstances compelled it to retire beyond

Moscow. And the troops retired one more, last, day's march, and

abandoned Moscow to the enemy.

For people accustomed to think that plans of campaign and battles

are made by generals- as any one of us sitting over a map in his study

may imagine how he would have arranged things in this or that

battle- the questions present themselves: Why did Kutuzov during the

retreat not do this or that? Why did he not take up a position

before reaching Fili? Why did he not retire at once by the Kaluga

road, abandoning Moscow? and so on. People accustomed to think in that

way forget, or do not know, the inevitable conditions which always

limit the activities of any commander in chief. The activity of a

commander in chief does not all resemble the activity we imagine to

ourselves when we sit at case in our studies examining some campaign

on the map, with a certain number of troops on this and that side in a

certain known locality, and begin our plans from some given moment.

A commander in chief is never dealing with the beginning of any event-

the position from which we always contemplate it. The commander in

chief is always in the midst of a series of shifting events and so

he never can at any moment consider the whole import of an event

that is occurring. Moment by moment the event is imperceptibly shaping

itself, and at every moment of this continuous, uninterrupted

shaping of events the commander in chief is in the midst of a most

complex play of intrigues, worries, contingencies, authorities,

projects, counsels, threats, and deceptions and is continually obliged

conflict with one another.

Learned military authorities quite seriously tell us that Kutuzov

should have moved his army to the Kaluga road long before reaching

Fili, and that somebody actually submitted such a proposal to him. But

a commander in chief, especially at a difficult moment, has always

before him not one proposal but dozens simultaneously. And all these

proposals, based on strategics and tactics, contradict each other.

A commander in chief's business, it would seem, is simply to

choose one of these projects. But even that he cannot do. Events and

time do not wait. For instance, on the twenty-eighth it is suggested

to him to cross to the Kaluga road, but just then an adjutant

gallops up from Miloradovich asking whether he is to engage the French

or retire. An order must be given him at once, that instant. And the

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