The final departure of the great Emperor
And lastly, the final departure of the great Emperor from his heroic army is represented to us by the historians as something great -- a stroke of genius. Even that final act of running away, which in ordinary language is the ultimate degree of baseness -- even that act finds justification in the language of historians.
When it is no longer possible to stretch those so very elastic threads of the historical rationale any farther, when an action is manifestly contrary to all that humanity calls right or even just, the historians resort to the device of “greatness.” “Greatness” would appear to exclude the standards of right and wrong. For the “great” man nothing is wrong. There is no atrocity, for which a “great” man can be accounted guilty, “C’est grand!” say the historians, and good and evil cease to exist, there is only grand and pas grand. Grand is good and pas grand is bad. Grand, according to their understanding, is the characteristic of certain peculiar animals they call “heroes.” And Napoleon making off for home in a warm fur coat and leaving to perish not only his comrades but men who (according to his beliefs) has been brought there by him, feels that this is grand, and his soul is untroubled.
“From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step,” says he, seeing something sublime in himself. And for fifty years the whole world has been echoing “Sublime! Grand! Napoleon le grand! Du sublime au ridicule il n’y a qu’un pas!”
And it never occurs to anyone that to admit a greatness that is not commensurate with the standard of right and wrong is merely to admit one’s own nothingness and immeasurable puniness.
For us, with the standard of good and evil given to us by Christ, there is nothing for which we have no standard. And there is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.
Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace
Signet Classic ed. p. 1278 ff.