Anna Karenina Part 8, Chapter 15 Summary

Leo Tolstoy

Part 8, Chapter 15 Summary

Dolly tells Levin that Sergey Ivanovitch traveled on the train with Vronsky, who was on his way to the war with a squadron he hired to go with him. Levin agrees that this is the best thing for Vronsky and wonders if volunteers are still going to the front, looking deliberately at his brother as he asks. He wonders who the volunteers are fighting and why. Sergey Ivanovitch smiles strangely and says that, though there is no war, they are fighting the Turks because people sympathize with their neighbors’ sufferings and are eager to help them.

Levin argues that war is different than help, and the old prince has said that private citizens cannot participate or help without the government’s permission. Katavasov challenges Levin and asks why he thinks that is so, and Levin has a ready answer. On one side, war is horrific enough that men alone should not take responsibility for beginning it; on the other side, in matters of state, and particularly matters of war, private citizens must forego their individual will.

The two men from Moscow both have their arguments ready. Katavasov says that there may be instances when the government will refuse to do what the people assert as its will; Sergey Ivanovitch disagrees. He claims this is not a war but an outpouring of Christian feeling, that when Christians see suffering they instinctively want to stop the suffering—without asking if a war has been declared or not. Levin argues that he would, indeed, help; however, he would not kill the offender.

The old prince confesses he has never felt any obligation to care for their Slavonic neighbors, and he is glad to hear another man sharing his view. Sergey Ivanovitch argues that personal opinions do not matter when all of Russia has expressed its will, but the prince retorts that the people are largely ignorant about the cause. Though they have been told about it, they do not understand it.

They test this argument by asking the old beekeeper what he thinks about the war and whether Russia should be fighting for their Christian neighbors. He simply states their leaders “think for us in all things” before asking if he should bring them some more bread. Sergey Ivanovitch continues to insist that the people are going to fight willingly for a just cause; Levin is equally convinced that it is only the “ne’er-do-wells” who are eager to fight. The other eighty million, like the old beekeeper, have no idea at all what there is to express their will about; Levin asks what right anyone else has to say what the will of the people is.