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  • Tolstoy on Human Nature, and Certain Interpreters Thereof

    Posted by David Foster on May 1st, 2016 (All posts by )

    Prince Andrei (in War and Peace), who is falling in love with Natasha, is talking with her sister Vera:

    “Yes, that is true, Prince.  In our days,” continued Vera–mentioning “our days” as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of  “our days” and that human characteristics change with the times–“in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her.”  (emphasis added)

    Bingo, Leo Tolstoy!  I have often observed people writing or speaking about “these days” but equally or more often about “this country” or “this society” as if they had conducted a vast comparative study.  Frequently you will hear people talking about some unfortunate characteristic that is pretty much universal across space and time and attributing it the “modern American society” or simply “our society.”  Few of these, I’m pretty sure, have either spent a lot of time in  other societies or made a serious study thereof, nor have many of them conducted extensive historical research about other eras.

    I’ll give the floor to Gilbert and Sullivan, whose Lord High Executioner was looking forward to doing away with:

    The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone
    All centuries but this, and every country but his own

     

    9 Responses to “Tolstoy on Human Nature, and Certain Interpreters Thereof”

    1. Robert Schwartz Says:

      In the Winter, a couple of domestic cable channels rebroadcast the 2016 BBC 8 hr production of War & Peace. We enjoyed it very much. I am sure you can find it on Netflix and other fine services.

      Since then we have begun listening to a reading of the unabridged Garnnet translation. we listen to a chapter or two every evening at dinner. It will take a very long time to finish it.

      We bought it through http://www.downpour.com/

      They have an excellent selection of classics and they can deliver them in download or SD format.

    2. David Foster Says:

      The series is also available on Amazon instant video. (Watching it inspired me to finally read the book)

      Interesting reviews of the BBC production from Russia:

      http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35491909

    3. Richard Says:

      Venerable Bishop Sheen often observed that it used to be that only Catholics believed in the Immaculate Conception, but now it seems that unbelievers see themselves a immaculately conceived free of sin, as if sprung full-born from the head of Zeus into a “Divine Order.”

    4. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Richard, More importantly, an all knowing divine order, where society may rearranged at will to conform with whatever passes for a fashionable notion of what would improve things. No knowledge of history or economics or philosophy required.

    5. PenGun Says:

      “The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone
      All centuries but this, and every country but his own”

      With over 65% overweight, and an astounding 35% obese, America has become a place where new things are tried, at least.

      TM, those Cokes and Pizzas are on my poison list.

    6. Mike K Says:

      “With over 65% overweight, and an astounding 35% obese, America has become a place where new things are tried, at least.”

      Yes, the government has certainly done what it can to kill us all off with food pyramids.

    7. PenGun Says:

      “Yes, the government has certainly done what it can to kill us all off with food pyramids.”

      ROTFLMFAO

    8. Mike K Says:

      “ROTFLMFAO”

      PenGun the nutritionist who does not know about carbohydrates because he is a vegan.

    9. PenGun Says:

      “PenGun the nutritionist who does not know about carbohydrates because he is a vegan.”

      Not really. I eat the odd fish. No, what cracked me up was the ‘pyramid of death’. I should have explained.