Laws for Leadership

Day 248 of A Year of War and Peace


Edmund Burke once wrote that the deliberations of calamity are rarely wise. When you combine this insight with Sherlock Holmes’s dictum that one must never insensibly twist facts to suit theories you get the disaster for Moscow that are Count Rostopchin’s broadsheets. Rostopchin, working under the duress of an imminent French invasion, and wishing the Russian position to be much stronger than it actually is, writes these broadsheets encouraging Muscovites to remain in the city and fight for its liberation. Luckily, most ignore this nonsense. Unluckily, some take his advice. The foul results of remaining in Moscow will be made clear in the immediate chapters. Today, however, things are just getting started.

Already we have trouble. Men have invaded a bar and started drinking. It’s probably not the wisest decision to introduce alcohol consumption into an already volatile situation. Predictably, fights break out. The fighters stumble over to the police superintendent. Along the way their march snowballs into a rowdy crowd. When the superintendent realizes there is no calming this mad crowd he makes his escape. Then it dawns on those who have remained that they’ve been duped. “There now!” voices in the crowd shout, “the gentry and merchants have gone away and left us to die. Do they think we’re dogs?”

When the people start asking themselves these questions it’s probably not too long before the ruling class has a problem on their hands. In this particular case the ruling class, here represented by Count Rostopchin, must take all of the blame for what’s about to happen in Moscow. He has exercised his authority poorly. With the publication of his broadsheets he displays dishonesty and disregard for the wellbeing of those he governs.

Luckily for us there is an alternative model of leadership available from a man whose life, according to Edward Gibbon, “was the noblest commentary on the precepts of Zeno. He was severe to himself, indulgent to the imperfections of others, just and beneficent to all mankind.” That sounds like someone worth listening to.


A man should always have these two rules in readiness: one, to do only whatever the reason of the ruling and legislating faculty may suggest for the use of men; the other, to change your opinion, if anyone sets you right and dissuades you from any opinion.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This is the two hundred and forty eighth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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