Thursday, October 18, 2018

A mind so shallow as to be all surface

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
This insane regime,” its ablest defender, Count Witte, the premier of 1903–06, called it; “this tangle of cowardice, blindness, craftiness, and stupidity.” The regime was ruled from the top by a sovereign who had but one idea of government—to preserve intact the absolute monarchy bequeathed to him by his father—and who, lacking the intellect, energy, or training for his job, fell back on personal favorites, whim, simple mulishness, and other devices of the empty-headed autocrat. His father, Alexander III, who deliberately intended to keep his son uneducated in statecraft until the age of thirty, unfortunately miscalculated his own life expectancy, and died when Nicholas was twenty-six. The new Czar, now forty-six, had learned nothing in the interval, and the impression of imperturbability he conveyed was in reality apathy—the indifference of a mind so shallow as to be all surface. When a telegram was brought to him announcing the annihilation of the Russian fleet at Tsushima, he read it, stuffed it in his pocket, and went on playing tennis. When the premier, Kokovtsov, returning from Berlin in November 1913, gave the Czar a personal report on German preparations for war, Nicholas listened to him with his usual intent, unwavering gaze, “looking straight into my eyes.” After a long pause, when the premier had finished, “as if waking from a reverie, he said gravely, ‘God’s will be done.’” In fact, Kokovtsov concluded, he was simply bored.

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