“…only Germans can be self-assured on the basis of an abstract idea – science, an imaginary knowledge of the perfect truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he considers himself personally, in mind as well as body, irresistibly enchanting for men as well as women. An Englishman is self-assured on the grounds that he is a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore, as an Englishman, he always knows what he must do, and knows that everything he does as an Englishman is unquestionably good. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others. A Russian is self-assured precisely because he does not know anything and does not want to know anything, because he does not believe it possible to know anything fully.”
This comes from Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. It’s beauty lays not from its apparent racism but from the examples it provides of types of knowledge. It is the Russian’s admission that they cannot know everything that is so commendable here especially when talking about such a complex environment such as war.
Another passage that shows how war is a complex environment (defined by the wide array of known and unknown variables, the known variables weight’s being extremely debatable as to their effect on the outcome of the situation):
“…. and no-one can know the strength of this or that detachment. Sometimes, when there’s no coward at the head who shouts, ‘We’re cut off!’ and runs away, but a cheerful, bold man who shouts ‘Hurrah!’ — a detachment of five thousand is worth thirty thousand, as at Schongraben, and sometime fifty thousand flee at the sight of eight, as at Austerlitz.” Tolstoy explains all the mass of uncertain circumstances that could have had such a great effect on the outcome of the war.