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Tolstoy on the People's Will

My favorite novel is Anna Karenina.  And one of my favorite scenes in that novel occurs in Chapter 15 when Levin argues with Sergey Ivanovitch over the merits of sending Russians soldiers off to join with the Serbs in a war against the Turks:

"I tell you that it’s not a case of hundreds or of
ne’er-do-wells, but the best representatives of the people!" said
Sergey Ivanovitch, with as much irritation as if he were
defending the last penny of his fortune. "And what of the
subscriptions? In this case it is a whole people directly
expressing their will."

"That word ‘people’ is so vague," said Levin. "Parish clerks,
teachers, and one in a thousand of the peasants, maybe, know what
it’s all about. The rest of the eighty millions, like Mihalitch,
far from expressing their will, haven’t the faintest idea what
there is for them to express their will about. What right have we
to say that this is the people’s will?"

Governments — especially ones whose officials attain office by garnering a majority (or a plurality) of votes cast in regular elections — insist that all that they do is at the command of the people, that they carry out ‘the people’s will.’

There is much more myth than reality in the notion of a people’s will.  I have a will.  You have a will.  George Bush has a will, as do Howard Dean and Howard Stern.  Society has no will.  To suppose that it does is grossly inappropriate anthropomorphism.