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.
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