AMAZON BLURB: Set in the years leading up to and culminating in Napoleon's disastrous Russian invasion, this classic novel focuses upon an entire society torn by conflict and change. Here is humanity in all its innocence and corruption, wisdom and folly, painful defeats and enduring triumphs. Here is the seemingly effortless artistry of a master. Here, finally, is a view of history and personal destiny that is perpetually modern.
I’ve been reading War and Peace, sort of a virtue-ethics rite of passage. There is so much intrigue and despicable behavior that one can’t help but learn something from it. At least that was Adam Smith’s theory as to why we should read great literature—they provide us with lots of bad exemplars!
The book castigates armies and its generals everywhere, but particularly during the Napoleonic wars. There are ridiculous bureaucratic structures and the egoistic over-confidence of grand planners, who don’t seem to understand that real development happens from the bottom-up not the top down. Anticipating Hayek, there is never enough good information to make reliable forecasts of how our actions will play out in real life. At minimum, one should be humble and flexible.
There are some horrific descriptions of the tragedies of war, as well as brutally funny military escapades, leading me to think that Joseph Heller must have read this before penning Catch-22. The real war heroes are criticized and forgotten, and the cowards and crooks get promoted.
To understand why Napoleon went on to attack Russia in 1812, I had to relearn a bit about the “Continental System.” The English had earlier mounted a blockade of France, so France retaliated by making it illegal for any European country under its alliance to trade with England. The result was the greater impoverishment of many European citizens who did not have access to cheap British goods, but those in import-competing businesses made out well.
The British suffered little since they pushed their exports onto other colonies and markets. The Spanish, Portuguese and Russians had profitable smuggling operations sneaking in British goods, which contributed to the disastrous French invasions of these regions.
Because of the British blockade, the British were in need of seamen, and impressed as many as 10,000 American merchant seamen into the British Navy. There were other reasons leading up to the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the U.S.
America leaders became alarmed by our lack of military preparedness, and shortly after 1807 passed a tariff on gunpowder that gave the DuPont company of Delaware a lovely start. Is this the birth of the military-industrial complex in America?
More on the book later….