Why Dostoevsky Matters Today by Rocket Kirchner

by Rocket Kirchner
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rocket Kirchner (blog)
Rocket Kirchner (youtube channel)
March 31, 2014

Francisco Goya's The Shootings of May Third 1808

Image by Andy Zeigert via Flickr

Those who champion political power as the only way to change the world, no matter who they have to trample on to do it, have one problem: The 19th Century masterpiece literature of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

In Hegel’s Philosophy of history we find one line in a nutshell that laid the foundation for Dostoevsky’s tragic evil characters world view. That line is this, “The history of the world moves on a higher level than that of morality.” In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov’s notion of the inferior and superior men, the superior ones give themselves the right to commit breaches of morality, while the inferior ones mind their own business.

There is no doubt that Hegel had a huge influence on the Russian novelist when he wrote his brother Mikhail a letter on February 22, 1854 asking for a copy of Hegel’s famous work. Hegel’s influence on Marxism, Feminism, Capitalism, Religious Fundamentalism, and every other “ism” in Historiosophy that still rule our world today, Dostoevsky created characters that would do anything for an idea or an ism seeking to rationalize how they behaved as good, noble, and just, then the novelist exposed that at the root of their intellectual excuses was not an ism but rather a wicked heart full of the hubris of pride.

They were like haunted houses with only suicide or salvation as their way out of their self loathing soul crushing madness and guilt. Then he takes the characters after we have suffered with them for their deeds through an entire novel, seeing ourselves in that character with no means of escape for the character, and he converts all of the socio/politico human problems into deeply personal spiritual/religious problems. It is exactly this about face, that political power mad people cannot handle. And we are not talking King Lear here folks, but the everyday man that seeks to rise above his nature and be superior over others. Ideological men and women despise Dostoevsky holding up a mirror to their faces, both then and now.

You talk to any well read intelligent politically oriented person of our day, be they Liberal, Conservative, Radical, Communist, Capitalist, Anarchist, Libertarian, Socialist, etc. and ask them if they have ever read Dostoevsky and they will pay lip service to his genius as a novelist, but it stops there. You may get such left handed compliments as “The Jeremiah of the Jail” or “The Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum”, as French writer and diplomat de Vogue in his book, Le roman russe (1886) describes him. The West can praise other Russian writers like Tolstoy or Turgenev as the antidote to growing Naturalism, but it runs into a brick wall with Dostoevsky.

So what is the all consuming visionary to do when facing the brick wall of Dostoevsky? What Andre Gide did. Let him widen one’s scope. Make a radical change. Get better. Stop violating one’s conscience for the sake of an idea that in the end only turns out to be personal and spiritual pride in disguise. In The Brothers Karamazov, an old women comes to Father Zossima and says that she had lost her faith in the God of her youth and that Christ seemed so far away from her. Normally this is where a person turns to a political ideology for a substitute. Zossima says that she should not seek to recover her lost faith of her youth, nor continue in present unbelief, but rather embrace the harsh reality of love in action instead of love in dreams, and a new form of faith will emerge that will really last.

That sounds like Kierkegaard, Dickens, Pascal, Cervantes, Teresa of Avila, Dante, Hildegaard, The Koran, Augustine, The Bible, back and back… .

When reading this complex Titan of a novelist one wonders how to say, “Beyond politics” or “Deep inner comfort” in Russian. Either way, Dostoevsky matters today maybe now more than ever as global problems propound exponentially as each individual thinks that they are superior to others and deems themselves their own little Napoleon stomping over others, thinking that they are doing it for the betterment of humanity in aggregate. Dostoevsky’s novels are a warning to such self deception, and carry in them the weight of the world and the cure via the humility of the Divine.


Crime And Punishment – John Hurt – Timothy West – Interrogation

Jack McFile on Mar 13, 2010


Crime And Punishment – Interrogation Part 9 (End)

Jack McFile on Mar 18, 2010

Suggested link:

Dostoyevsky’s Demons: Political Activists


Exclusive: Activists Who Can’t Love by Rocket Kirchner

Noam Chomsky: The Gospels Are Radical Pacifist Documents


27 thoughts on “Why Dostoevsky Matters Today by Rocket Kirchner

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  4. Thanks for filling in some historical background on what shaped and made Dostoevsky the almost too-good-to-be true person he was, Rocket. It’s almost like he wrote himself into existence. What an amazing and deep, multi-faceted unconscious he had; his very existence always gives me hope that sooner or later, Russia and the rest of us will get it together, that no matter how dark and muddy the path, there is Always a Light on the Way.

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  6. Splendid article, indeed, and so timely!

    To sum up what Rocket Kirchner implies about the astute awareness of that “unrecognized” Sage, Fyodor Dostoevsky had to say, in his novels about humanity, I’ll quote a line from a famous poem who’s author escapes my mind.

    “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

    In spite all that has been written in injustice throughout the ages, the human race has yet to evolve to a higher state of consciousness and awareness regarding ourselves, our fellow human beings, the animal kingdom and for that matter, all sentient beings, plus a respect for Mother Nature’s bounty.

    The only difference, as I see it, between our barbaric ancestors and today’s “warrior-class” barbarians is the lethal technology for massive death and destruction. Spiritually, we have made very little progress.

    In the United States, 98% of voters elect and re-elect the pro-corporate, pro-war, pro-imperialist candidates of the Republican/Democrat Party, deceiving themselves over and over again, and still wondering why things are getting worse.

    • Frank , write on ! Dostoevsky said ” the most evil thing in the world is the attempt to overthrow all evil ”. His novels really show what Simone Weil meant when she pointed out that the political radical only looks forward , while that the spiritual person looks up .

      boy oh boy with the Technikon in full swing we need this Russian novelist now more than ever.

      • Dostoevsky’s remark which you quote said it all! It reminded me of a television program segment of either the Smothers Brothers (which I think it was) or on Rowen & Martin’s “Laugh-In” show in the early 1970’s when they did a parody montage of “national leaders” fighting and/or waging war — starting from ancient times up to (at that time) the present, who all invoked “God” being on their side to help defeat the omnipresent bogeyman, but in essence (if I remember correctly), was a mockery of false religion to justify war.

        The late novelist, Kurt Vonnegut, an infantryman fighting in Europe during WW2, picked up a belt buckle off a dead German soldier, and inscribed on the inside was (in German language) “God is with us.”

        Thanks for bringing the Dostoevsky message to the readers of Dandelion Salad. We sure need him — we need to “learn from his wisdom” before it’s too late!

        • The same happened with “All Quiet on the Western Front” early movie, when this opposition found a cross on his necklace, this would be on the 1914-18, war. another cultural iconic film that would parallel, the author in question.

        • Amen! I remember the History Channel showing the “Christmas Truce of 1914” about 5 or 6 years ago, when German & British troops celebrated Xmas together, exchanging foods and beverages, showing family pictures to the so-called “enemy troops”, and how both sides were threatened with court martials if they didn’t return to the trenches and resume killing each other.

          I think Herman Goering defined “patriotism” and the way to rally the people to do the bidding of the ruling-class best, during his imprisonment while awaiting trial.

        • Frank, you don’t have to put in this blog for your website when commenting. It is for your blog/website/FB page or whatever you have. And it’s optional.

        • Frank , have you read Hoffer’s ”The True Believer ”? Short but potent book on the interchangeability of mass movements , no matter what they are , secular or religious … the danger of the nature of the fanatic.

          When D finishes his novels someone gets redeemed in the real way , and not the dogmatic …. destructive way . When they get redeemed , they really get redeemed ! this is what political ideologues hate. and this is why this article belongs on this blog .

          thanks .

        • Frank , a must read to understand the mindset of the fanatic ideologue . what attracted Dostoevsky to the idea of the Incarnation of Christ was it was the antidote to the 19th century intelligentsia that embraced Hegelian abstractionism . In Christ he found a real concrete love that emanated thru humanity verses and an abstract ideal of humanity .

          though Hoffer is secular in his approach , he gets the folly of the abstract intellectualism . Hoffer worked on a dock in frisco , and never stepped into a school . so , he understood humanity in the concrete , though secular.

  7. Thank you for a thought-provoking piece for consideration. The themes of well-intentioned activism ultimately made more clear as hubris and ambition are so relevant to today’s political climate. But, I did wonder, was it truly necessary to reference the koran in his list of the great Western philosophers and writers? Hate to through the wet blanket on an otherwise interesting blog post, but this was truly a case of “one of these these doesn’t belong.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the koran is read and used as a political manifesto in justification of conquest, wrapped in supposed spiritual cloth. The same could have been argued about the Bible, but that was centuries ago, not today. The koran is not Occidental; and, it stands in opposition to the themes Dostoevsky represents in his works, as Kirchner identifies. In doing so, Kirchner gives literary credit where it is not due — or, simply does not belong.

    (As an aside, and not in the interest of being snarky, but… Andy Zeigert shouldn’t have been credited for Francisco Goya’s masterpiece painting, ‘The Third of May 1808’. ‘Just believing credit should be given where credit is due.) Thank you!

    • About the photo credit, Andy Zeigert is the photographer, and it’s his photo that we are using copyright-free for this blog post, so yes, indeed he deserves the credit. If you click on the photo, Andy has the painter’s name in the description. I’ve added it to the alternative text title but I usually don’t change photographers’ titles of the photos unless they haven’t titled them.

    • Lee , to your first point . The Koran was a big influence on Dostoevsky, and though i myself am not a Muslim , my studies of Dostoevsky’s letters , he deemed the Koran as important as Kant’s ”Critique of pure reason”, when it came to the study of resistance of radical evil .

      There is a lot in the Koran that is very instructive on fighting an inner jihad as in M’s 10 year exile to Medina . … a non violent approach that inspired Bhatsi Khan ( the Northern Gandhi ) , and many of the Sufi’s to do real Jihad -struggle within . The Characters in the Koran are as complex as the ones in the Bible. Lots of nuances going on in both books that can be found in D’s work , and the other writers that i have mentioned on the list. All great Lit as you know is dark and foreboding .

      Your second point — Lo answered .the reason why i picked that Goya was because as you know the great Russian Novelist survived a firing squad , and it was among the many things that shaped his paradigm.

      thanks for the comments .

    • I think Jesus is the culprit who instigated Mohamed writings, I draw your attention to Christs maxim “on turning the other cheek” the problem being Christian crusades and other penetrations of invasion attacking the Middle East with impunity, the central theme of Mohamed’s political doctrine, to resist invaders of the Middle East and if necessary resist with violence, the additive of style within the Koran text, is the idea of purity and perfection, this also became a problem with Christs texts, insofar as Jesus, was not pure in this sense, that is he drank alcohol, consorted with prostitutes and had traits of anger and violence, although having said this made him sort of human but also divine.

      • Don , as all great characters in Literature they are not one dimensional, Jesus of Nazareth being a great example of this …. Full of paradox and surprise, reversal of expectation , and amazing faith one minute .. and then doubt on the cross . to the altruists he was an egotist , and visa versa. the company he kept was a scandal , and yet nobody could fault his life . Love your enemies , yet he weaved a whip and drove the money changers out of the Temple.

        To what extent the Koran influenced the Russian novelist who knows. but it did. The Abraham /Ismael story is more nuanced than the one in the Bible . the whole notion of an inner struggle as the one and only Jihad is all over Dostoevsky’s work . He is was no doubt in line with the Sufis on this one . interesting that you should bring up the purity issue … something that D takes to task . He views purity different than something ideological . Zossima and Sonya would be his pure characters , and someone redeemed away from an ideological inner prison to the inner kingdom of heaven .

        Dostoevsky’s subjectivity and spirituality is very Kierkegaardian , and it is as powerful as Augustine’s ”Confessions”.

  8. I have know individuals who profess to the dedication of noble aspirations, like the reading of the intellectual and higher consciousness book studies and even the usual pursuits such as meditation and yoga and so it go’s, and in time finding that they are pretty much the same as what I would say are the criminal or corrupt, this can be devastating, if one is sucked in by these sort of people, as models of the higher realms, leaving one depressed, possible for life, I am not sure if this is what this article is commenting on as such.

    • Don , thanks or getting the ball rolling . Actually what i am aiming at with this article is that the ideologue that walks on other people thinking that in the long run they can do good for the human race (got a break a few eggs to make an omelet ), lesser of 2 evils mentality stuff ….

      Dostoevsky has got their number and exposes them for what they are –full of the hubris of pride … and that they need real redemption . They have arrogantly violated their conscience. The Russian novelist is about as good as it gets in this area. Even better than Hugo’s work.

      you might want to watch the 2 videos below to get a little idea .

      • I had this thought today, how as a demonstration of spirituality, no longer seems feasible, as say when Buddha or Jesus, and the big names or stars of the past are no longer appropriate, like say “The Good Samaritan” as a demonstration of what is good, now we have the State as the good Samaritan, with its hand out to the down trodden, the mysticism of the past, no longer seem to play a part in the imagination now we have reason to explain every thing, what is baffling, is science and interpretation of the Universe seems as mystical as ever, here I mean the non time and no matter of the nothingness apparently before the Big Bang, not only is this mysterious, but also quantum mechanics also seems strange, in as much as a particle being in two separate places at the same time.
        As yet science has not answered why the individual is born in this part of the Universe? as the Universe being big, why here?
        The Buddhists, do attempt to answer this, with its notion of karma, but all the same sometimes you may see a fly accidentally struggle for life in water, is this a lesson to the fly? it seems nevertheless unsatisfactory as to what meaning is.

        • Don , i hear ya . volunteerism is alive and well , and individuals are acting to help others . Are you familiar with Dostoevsky’s concept of the Double ? it is a literary device that sort of runs in tandem with Quantum . And he was writing this stuff in the 19th century .

          Actually , i like the idea of not knowing . i love mystery . and to take it and put it into art , music , relationships , literature , etc… is a gas.

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