George Walford: How To Do It

Every now and again one of the masters shows us how to write about ideological features. Here is Tolstoy, in War and Peace, on expediency:

[Napoleon has invaded Russia.] With half of Russia in enemy hands, and the inhabitants of Moscow fleeing to distant provinces, with one levy after another being raised for the defence of the Fatherland, we, who were not living in those times, cannot help imagining that all Russians, great and small, were solely engaged in immolating themselves, in trying to save their country or in weeping over its downfall. All the stories and descriptions of those years, without exception, tell of nothing but the self-sacrifice, the patriotic devotion, the despair, the anguish and the heroism of the Russian people. Actually, it was not at all like that. It appears so to us because we see only the general historic interest of the period, and not all the minor personal interests that men had. In reality, private interests of the immediate present are always so much more important than the wider issues that they prevent the wider issues which concern the public as a whole from ever being felt – from being noticed at all, indeed. The majority of the people of that time paid no attention to the broad trend of the nation’s affairs, and were only influenced by their private concerns. And it was these very people who played the most useful part in the history of their day.

from Ideological Commentary 57, August 1992.