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This Star Will Shine Forth from the East: Dostoevsky and the Politics of Humility

This Star Will Shine Forth From The East: Dostoevsky And The Politics Of Humility

As Isaiah Berlin once noted, Fyodor Dostoevsky is perhaps the most “centripetal” of all Russian writers.1 This is to say that all of his thoughts and inquiries ultimately gravitated toward addressing one central question: can human society exist without God? Famously, Dostoevsky was pessimistic about this. However, instead of relying upon theological or rational justifications for the role of religion in public life, he based his pessimistic analysis of godlessness on the effects of such a condition upon the individual psyche.2 His message is clear: the human psyche is, by nature, not fit to exist without God, and any attempt to do so results in self-destruction.

It is perhaps for this reason that The Brothers Karamazov, his latest and arguably greatest work, is generally not viewed as a political work. Exceptional in this regard are those who have focused specifically upon the novel’s most famous chapter entitled “The Grand Inquisitor.”3 In this chapter, we take a different approach by arguing that other sections of this novel contribute to the understanding of Dostoevsky’s final and most complete statement on the appropriate role of Christianity within the Russian state. Such an approach begins with a speech given near the end of The Brothers Karamazov where Dostoevsky has the chief prosecutor refer to the Karamazov family as being similar to Nikolai Gogol’s reckless troika. He states, “. . . in this [Karamazov] family portrait it is as if one can gain a glimpse of certain fundamental features of today’s educated society—not all the features, but a snapshot, and in miniature . . .”(15:125).4

How is the Karamazov family like a miniature snapshot of Russia? How is it like a reckless troika?

As the name of this characteristically Russian vehicle implies, a troika is propelled forward by three horses.5 Similarly, the Karamazov family consists of three legitimate brothers, each of whom represents visions of a fundamental feature of nineteenth-century Russian educated society: the romantic vision, the rational vision, and the Christian vision. While the romantic (Dmitri) and rational (Ivan) visions are quite different for Dostoevsky, they ultimately result in a common end—the simultaneous destruction of themselves and of Russia (as represented by Fyodor/Fatherland). To state it differently, the murder contemplated by Dmitri and Ivan, and accomplished by Smerdyakov, is not merely patricide, but patricide.

What is overlooked by many readers is the problematic nature of the third horse—the Christian vision. It is assumed by most that Dostoevsky looked to this third horse as Russia’s salvation. This is only partially true. In point of fact, Dostoevsky divides Christianity into two camps. In the first, we find the “institutional” church as so famously depicted in “The Grand Inquisitor.” This is the camp that relies on “miracle, mystery, and authority” to exercise worldly power and to provide for human happiness. Importantly, “The Grand Inquisitor” is not merely an anti-Western or anti–Roman Catholic screed. Dostoevsky also, albeit in a somewhat veiled manner, criticizes the Russian “institutional” church. This is found in his depictions of Zosima’s fellow monks, most of whom seem equally wedded to the power of ecclesiastical authority (Paisiy) or miracle and mystery (Ferapont).

These individuals are clearly contrasted with those in Christianity’s second camp—the most reclusive element within the Christian church—the monastic hermits. Importantly, the key trait distinguishing these monastic hermits from their fellow Christians is their embrace of the virtue of humility. This is the case within both Eastern and Western Christianity. In Western Christianity, the rule that governs both monks and hermits, the Rule of St. Benedict, outlines a twelve-step ladder of humility, which provides, “. . . the heart of Benedict’s presentation of the way to God.”6 Once the monk or hermit arrives at the top of this ladder of humility, he achieves “that perfect love of God which casts out fear.”7 In other words, humility allows a hermetic monk to achieve the ultimate Christian goal of attaining a soul that loves perfectly and is in union with God.

The mainstream Russian Orthodox hermitic approach does not differ from this. Nil Sorsky, a fifteenth-century founding figure of the Russian staretz movement writes, “Let us in every way conduct our life in humility. And this is the beginning of it: to hold oneself beneath all others, to reckon oneself the most sinful and worthless of all men, and, as being beyond nature, the filthiest of all creations, and worse than the demons, as one violated and defeated by them.”8 Dostoevsky seems to agree on the importance of humility, but he emphasizes a more worldly, or political, outcome of its exercise. This is seen when he has Zosima use the following words, “When you ask yourself in times in which you are faced with certain thoughts, particularly at the sight of human sin, ‘Should I use force or loving humility?,’ you should always state, ‘I will decide upon loving humility.’ If you commit yourself to this position forever you shall be able to subdue the entire world. A loving humility is a frightening power, it is the most powerful power, nothing else like it exists” (14:289).

This somewhat non-monastic or non-hermetic goal to what is commonly seen as a monastic virtue is unconventional. Indeed, Zosima himself admits to the startling aspect of this approach when he declares, “And how astonished men would be if I were to say that from these meek monks, who yearn for solitary prayer, the salvation of the Russian land will perhaps come” (14:284). It is thus that Dostoevsky not only provides a critique of the three horses of the Russian ideological troika, but also his own vision for the role of religion in Russia. As will be seen below, Dostoevsky uses the characters of The Brothers Karamazov to illustrate or to personify the social dynamics at play in nineteenth-century Russia.

Dmitri, who personifies romanticism, embraces at least a form of love, but he rejects the route of humility to get there. His loving sentiments are worldly, proud, and self-interested. He, and the Russia that embraces his vision, end badly. Ivan, who personifies rationalism, rejects the existence of love in the first place. Much as Dmitri, his story ends badly. The institutional Christian Church, as illustrated in both “The Grand Inquisitor” as well as the characters of Paisiy and Ferapont, also illustrate a form of love that is proud and worldly. Taken in this light, Dostoevsky’s political message is clear: a politics of humility is required for Russia’s salvation.  A paradoxical “monk in the world” will be necessary. This, of course, is the role of the novel’s hero, Alyosha Karamazov.

Fyodor Karamazov: Humiliated Russia

The first question Dostoevsky must answer for any thoughtful reader is: Why humility? Is this a solution that is particularly important for Russia? Why? One of the first things we learn about Fyodor Karamazov is that he is a uniquely “national” character (14:7).9 He is a “father” (otets) not just in the biological sense; he is a “father” in the sense that he represents the root or origin of the Russian people. Ultimately, this is the sense of otets that provides the root word for “fatherland” (otechestvo).10 Fyodor’s three legitimate sons arrive in the order that the three visions of nineteenth century Russia’s future appear. Just as romanticism appeared in Russia
first in the 1820’s, so the first son—Dmitri—is also a romantic. He is of the generation of Pushkin, the poet with whom he is frequently mentioned.

The next son, Ivan, represents the generation of the 1840’s. He is a “Westerner,” politically liberal and/or socialistic and secular in orientation. The third son, Alyosha, represents not so much a different generation of thinkers but rather the conservative, Christian reaction to the Westerners.11 Smerdyakov, the last son, represents the generation of the nihilists and terroristic revolutionaries, born in the 1860’s and active in the 1880’s. Although Dostoevsky was never able to personally witness the end of this movement, he regarded Smerdyakov as the logical conclusion to the thought processes of the “Westerners.”

At the same time, Dostoevsky describes Fyodor as a buffoon (shut), a role he plays for psychological reasons. Although he claims to do it because he wants to make himself “agreeable” (14:39), his behavior is primarily motivated by insecurity and shame. This becomes clear at the very beginning of the book when Zosima says to Fyodor, “Above all else, do not be so ashamed of yourself, for it is precisely this that causes everything else” (14:40). In other words, as a result of the shame he feels, he lashes out at others to counter-shame them. Indeed, at the moment he is about to play the buffoon, Fyodor thinks to himself, “Well, now there’s no rehabilitating myself. So let’s shame them for all I am worth. I’ll not feel shame at what they think—that’s all” (14:80).

What causes Fyodor to feel this shame originally? Fyodor himself gives us the critical clue when he states, “I’m taking revenge for my youth, for all my humiliation” (14:83). For Dostoevsky, this is pivotal primarily because children are so vulnerable psychologically.12 Indeed, the hearts of children are particularly defenseless with regard to the treatment they receive from their parents. There is little that can be more humiliating or shameful to a child than to be neglected by his or her parents. Neglect is perceived by the child as the withholding of love. Such a condition is, of course, intolerable to a child. They logically conclude that if their own parents do not love them, it is unlikely that anyone else will. They ultimately become fixed in their conviction that they are unlovable.13

It follows that Dostoevsky is implying that the spirit of Russia’s early period is one of humiliation (or lovelessness). Part of this, no doubt, is due to Russia’s youthful humiliation—the Mongol yoke. As Orlando Figes has written, “It is hard to overstress the sense of national shame which the ‘Mongol yoke’ evokes in the Russians. Unless one counts Hungary, Kievan Rus’ was the only major European power to be overtaken by the Asiatic hordes.”14 This humiliation from Russia’s past is compounded by a collective spirit of inferiority widely felt by Russians during the nineteenth century toward Europe. Once again, Orlando Figes quotes the great nineteenth-century Russian intellectual, Alexander Herzen, with the following illustrative quotation: “Our attitude to Europe and the Europeans . . . is still that of provincials towards the dweller in a capital: we are servile and apologetic, take every difference for a defect, blush for our peculiarities and try to hide them.”15 Figes accurately points out that this put Russians in a highly precarious emotional position.  After all, Russia’s “. . . rejection by the West could equally engender feelings of resentment and superiority to it.”16 This paradoxical combination of resentment and superiority is clearly represented in the character of Fyodor Karamazov. Of course, the ramification of this is the neglect of his children. The next generation of Russians is thus reared in their own pot of humiliation.

Dmitri Karamazov: The Romantic

Perhaps the most important utterance in the novel with regard to Dmitri Karamazov occurs when he yells at his father (and others in the room), “Why is such a man alive? . . . Tell me, can he be allowed to go on dishonoring the earth?” (14:69).17 On the one hand, through this sentence, the reader is immediately made aware of the rage that Dmitri feels toward his father. This is obvious. However, the message becomes far more sublime when we keep in mind that Dmitri personifies romanticism and its political manifestation: nationalism.

Let us begin with the first question: what is at the root of Dmitri’s rage toward his father? The first is obvious: they are competing for the same woman. On a psychological level, we may also consider the irony that the man who withheld love from him as a child is now attempting to keep him from experiencing love with another. Both of these facts are obvious. However, in them we do not find the whole story. The question must arise: why Grushenka? In many ways, Grushenka is a female version of Fyodor. She is vulgar, crass, and seems resentful about how others treat her, both past and present. Dmitri subconsciously sees this. In seeking her love, Dmitri is attempting to compensate for the fact that his own father neglected and abandoned him. By attaining her love, he is, in essence, capturing his father’s love as well—a primal form of love he should have received as a child. In doing so, he is proving that he is “lovable.” This explains, in part at least, Dmitri’s desperate need to be loved by Grushenka.

His desperation is clear when he states, “When [her] lover comes, I’ll go into the next room. I’ll clean her friends’ dirty galoshes, light their samovar, run their errands” (14:110). When Dmitri learns that Grushenka’s first love (a Polish gentleman) had returned to town and taken her away, he responds by stating, “She’s now with him. . . . Now I shall see what she looks like with him . . . [and then] I will disappear” (14:370). At that moment he felt an even greater arousal of his love for her and declares that he will efface himself to her.

The only man Dmitri objects to as her lover is his own father. Psychologically, this is perfectly understandable. It is not that he objects to Grushenka desiring his father, but the opposite. In seeking out and seducing Grushenka, Fyodor is, in Dmitri’s mind, seeking out and seducing himself. In other words, he is loving himself. In Dmitri’s mind, this self-absorbed love is what led to his childhood neglect to begin with. This strikes at the core of his deep psychological need for love—and he subconsciously knows this.

This psychological narrative is combined with Dmitri’s “romantic” spirit. Indeed, the youthful Dmitri fits the Russian romantic mold insofar as he lived a wild, extravagant life in the Caucasus as a young officer. While there he fought a duel, was broken to the ranks, and earned promotion again. Of course, he became involved with a young, beautiful woman. Similarly, and somewhat humorously, Dostoevsky has Dmitri share Pushkin’s notorious obsession with women’s feet (14:109).18 Dostoevsky clearly paints Dmitri in the image of a romantic, and in doing so illustrates the psyche, or perhaps the psychopathology, of a romantic. Indeed, Dmitri is the personification of the romantic spirit itself.

Romanticism as Movement

Although Romanticism is notoriously difficult to define—or even characterize—there is a consensus that it finds its roots in eighteenth-century Germany. As Isaiah Berlin so accurately summed up, “What people  [romantics] admired was wholeheartedness, sincerity, purity of soul, the ability and readiness to dedicate yourself to your ideal, no matter what it was.”19 It is a movement most often contrasted with rationalism. A romantic does not justify what he does through reason, he simply does it based upon pure emotion. Passionate emotional engagement is the fundamental virtue of this movement. As Berlin continues, “You would have found that common sense, moderation, was very far from their [a romantic’s] thoughts.”20

With Dmitri’s courtship of Grushenka, Dostoevsky conveys the spirit of romanticism, but in a negative light. His mental transformation of Grushenka, from whore to Goddess, is not only ridiculous, but dangerous. Indeed, his unruly passions ultimately result in devastating human tragedy in other parts of the novel. Perhaps the best illustration of this is when Dmitri’s uncontrollable rage compels him to senselessly attack Captain Snegiryov in the presence of the Captain’s son, Ilyusha. The trauma experienced by the son as a result of this humiliating attack is so severe that it significantly contributes to his death. Even more indicative of Dostoevsky’s indictment of romanticism lies in the patricide that is at the center of the novel’s plot.

As mentioned above, Dostoevsky hints that Dmitri’s patricidal psyche is born of parental neglect. Therefore, if Dmitri is meant to represent the spirit of romanticism, this implies that the spirit of this movement must be driven by both a hatred of its host country as well as a certain self-hatred. This is somewhat ironic, as romanticism is commonly seen as the antecedent movement to nationalism. Indeed, nationalism is the political manifestation of romanticism. It is commonly assumed that nationalism is a political doctrine that insists ethnic boundaries not cut across political boundaries.21

Nationalists make this demand under the assumption that every nation has the right to self-determination. National identity functions as the primary determinate of justice and defines the good. It is also assumed, on a deeper level, that the spirit of nationalism is animated by a love of one’s own people. In keeping with Dmitri’s romantic psyche, he is a Russian nationalist. Toward the end of the novel he makes an enormously illustrative statement in which he states, “I hate America, damn it. Even though Grushenka will be with me. . . . And how will I put up with the crowded hordes out there, though they may be better than I, everyone of them. I really hate America already! And though they may be wonderful with machines, every one of them, damn them, they are not my people, not of my soul. I love Russia, Alyosha, I love the Russian God, though I am a villain” (15:186).

This statement must be understood within the context of Dmitri’s hatred for his father. To hate his father while loving Russia he must ignore the reality that his father typifies Russia, that he is the “national” type. In other words, to love Russia he must ignore reality. Not coincidentally, this is an oft-noted tendency of the nationalist as well. As E. J. Hobsbawm once wrote, “Nationalism requires too much belief in what is patently not so.”22 Yet another scholar of nationalism, Benedict Anderson writes, “In an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”23 This then begs the question: why must an individual go so far out of his way to imagine this false political community? Through Dmitri, Dostoevsky illustrates that a nationalist’s love is motivated by a psychological need to be loved by an individual who is desperately in need of love. On a personal level, Dmitri’s psychological need to be loved by Grushenka is a compensatory attempt to be loved by his father.

For Dostoevsky, Dmitri’s flaw is his demand to be loved. The logic used by Dostoevsky (through Zosima) is somewhat counter-intuitive. Humility provides the path to the “perfect love” that heals the soul of the humiliated from the trauma of past humiliation. The humiliated must practice humility to master the exercise of a love of which they themselves were deprived. Once achieved, they escape the ravages of shame and humiliation. This two-fold paradox flies in the face of natural intuition—that the humiliated should be shown respect by others and the unloved should be loved by others. Thus, the first step in soothing the loveless humiliation of the Karamazov family (and by implication Russia itself) is the practice of humility.

Dmitri’s need to love and be loved by Russia—and thus exhibit Russian nationalism—is also a compensatory love. Thus, when Dmitri states that he hates America, he is readily admitting that he sees that country as superior and resents his underappreciated status as a Russian.24 His love for his country is not a real love, but a reaction to a feeling of being unappreciated and unloved. In the end, Dostoevsky’s depiction of the romantic and nationalistic movement through the character of Dmitri is ingenious in that he cuts to the psychological core of the movement and finds an unexpected spirit (of humiliation and self-hatred). Simultaneously, he illustrates that the movement is, paradoxically, bent on destroying the very object of its purported love—through patricide nationalists are committing patricide.

Interestingly, and in spite of every intention, it is not Dmitri who ends up killing his father. Dostoevsky purposefully keeps the individual representing nationalism from killing Russia. While he certainly regards nationalism as a sickness, both for the individual and for the Russian nation, Dostoevsky swims against the current. Rather than the collective psychopathology of romanticism as the greatest threat to Russia’s salvation, he looks to Ivan and the rationalist approach as being far more culpable and dangerous.

The Riddle of Ivan Karamazov’s Rationalism

Ivan Karamazov is arguably the most misunderstood character in this novel because of the commonly held belief that he represents pure rationalism. It is more accurate to approach this character as does Alyosha near the beginning of the novel when he states, “I love you, Ivan. Brother Dmitri says of you: Ivan is a tomb! I say of you, Ivan is a riddle” (14:209). We can surmise that Dmitri regards Ivan as a “tomb” because, as a rationalist, he has renounced love. Alyosha, however, hits closer to the mark, for he clearly sees the riddle of Ivan: on the one hand, he renounces love, but on the other he cannot control his human impulse to love. Much like Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, Ivan is a nihilist who believes in neither God nor morality.25 He is an empiricist. He explains to Alyosha, “I have a Euclidian, earthly mind and so therefore I can not solve problems that are not of this world. And I advise you never to think about it either, my friend Alyosha, especially about God, whether He exists or not. All such questions are utterly inappropriate for a mind created with an idea of only three dimensions” (14:214). The riddle, of course, is that Ivan’s mind perforce does drift to another dimension.

This is precisely why Dostoevsky has Ivan write a scholarly article discussing the proper role of ecclesiastical courts in society. Here he makes the argument that “every earthly State should be, in the end, completely turned over to the Church and should become nothing else but a Church, rejecting every purpose incongruous with the aims of the Church” (14:58). Because this was an unusual argument for a rationalist to make, readers are often unsure what to make of it. Members of the “Church faction” regarded Ivan as their ally in the battle with the atheists, while the atheists thought that the article was nothing more than “an impudent farce and mockery” (14:16).

Bakhtin may have had a point when he wrote that “everything in his [Dostoevsky’s] world lives on the very border of its opposite.”26 At least this is the case with both Dmitri and Ivan, whose natures are so conflicted that they seem doomed to self-destruction. While Dmitri’s conflict centers upon the nature of love, Ivan’s conflict hinges upon the existence of love. Indeed, the otherwise unlikable divinity student, Rakitin, correctly guesses that Ivan had written the aforementioned ecclesiastical courts article as a way to gain the respect (and ostensibly the love) of Katerina (Dmitri’s fiancé!).

This is the riddle of Ivan’s rationalism. Throughout the novel, he is perpetually stuck in a conundrum. In one of his most famous statements, he declares, “I want to travel from here to Europe, Alyosha. And yet I know that I am only going to a graveyard, but it is a most precious graveyard. . . . I know I shall fall on the ground and kiss those stones and weep over them even though I’m convinced in my heart that it has long been nothing but a graveyard” (14:210). By stating that Europe is a graveyard, Ivan elaborates a grand theme of nineteenth-century Russian literature—Western Europe has lost its soul. This loss of soul results in the catastrophic condition of lovelessness. In other words, Ivan knows that by embracing utilitarianism and empiricism he embraces a “dead” set of European ideals, a spiritually empty set of principles.

Even though he is aware that his rationalist approach is a graveyard, Ivan does his best to maintain his rationalist façade. In yet another of his famous pronouncements, he declares, “One can love one’s neighbors in the abstract, or even at a distance, but at close quarters it’s almost impossible” (14:216). At the same time, he is aware that he can not maintain this position in the long run and explains to his brother that “when I approach the age of thirty and I want to ‘dash the cup to the ground,’ wherever you may be I’ll come to have one more talk with you, even if I have to come from America” (14:240).

It is his conflicted soul that is driving him to “dash the cup to the ground.” On the one hand he is a man of reason. On the other, he experiences emotional states more akin to that of Dmitri: For example, he declares, “Though I may not believe in a universal order of things, yet those sticky little leaves as they open in spring are dear to me. The deep blue sky is dear to me” (14:210). Perhaps even more inexplicable are “his ardent and insane passion for Katerina Ivanovna” (15:48) and his almost pathological desire for his own father’s murder (15:66). None of these intensely felt emotions are the hallmark of a strictly rational creature.

The fact that Ivan is tormented in his rationalism—that his rationalism is but a riddle—is seen most clearly by Zosima. Just after he hears Ivan’s theory about the ecclesiastical courts, he says to Ivan, “in your despair, even you divert yourself with magazine articles and discussions in society though even you don’t believe your dialectics—and with an aching heart you mock at them inwardly” (14:65). Ivan, rather than even attempting to deny this, rises from his chair, receives his blessing, and kisses his hand.27

Of course, most of the novel devoted to Ivan focuses on his attempts to resolve this doubt. Toward the end of the novel, he comes close to resolving this doubt in his interviews with Smerdyakov. It is only at this point that he realizes that the ultimate end result of his rationalism is nihilism. He is appalled by this. This turning point is symbolized by his return to the place where, on his way to interview Smerdyakov, he had knocked unconscious a drunken peasant and had left him lying in the snow (which certainly would have resulted in his death). He retrieves the man and offers sufficient aid for his recovery.

The experience of helping the drunken peasant made him “feel” good. It is as if at this point he sees more clearly precisely what Zosima saw and thus resolves to change his ways. However, by not acting immediately upon the most pressing issue of his life—facing the issues associated with his father’s murder—he postpones his salvation. By waiting until the following day to report to the police Smerdyakov’s guilt as well as his own (perceived) complicity, he dooms himself to insanity. He spends that evening tormented by the devil, unable to completely let go of his rationalism and embrace charitable love. Ultimately, Ivan attempts to admit to the murder of his father in an effort to expiate his feelings of guilt over his secret desires to see this murder happen. Of course, he also feels complicit because he taught Smerdyakov that “all things are permitted” (15:67). In the end, he is driven to insanity; for Dostoevsky, the incompatibility of being a rationalist and being truly human is simply too profound.

The Conflicted Spirit of Rationalism

Through Ivan, Dostoevsky portrays both the spirit of the rationalist society as well as its fate. In short, rationalist societies are profoundly conflicted societies that will ultimately destroy themselves. The process by which this occurs on the social level is most clearly illustrated in the most famous chapter of The Brothers Karamazov—“The Grand Inquisitor.” To state it differently, Ivan’s internal moral and intellectual dynamics are played out on a social level in this chapter.

The first point to be made here is the fact that Ivan calls the story of “The Grand Inquisitor” a “poem.” A poem, of course, is distinct from prose insofar as it expresses feelings and emotions. One would not expect to find in a young man committed to rational thought such emotional sentiments. Even more ironic is that the poem illustrates the perfect rationalist conundrum in which he finds himself: one pitting love against rationalism. At first glance, the story of “The Grand Inquisitor” seems to be a critique of the Catholic Church.28 Indeed, the story takes place in Catholic Spain during the Church’s darkest hour: the inquisition. This, however, is not the main point.

The main point of this poem is to illustrate the feelings within Ivan and his inner turmoil. The poem itself tells of Christ’s return to sixteenth-century Seville, in inquisitorial Spain, and is recognized as such. Predictably the town’s people are drawn to him. They felt, “The Sun of Love which burned in his heart” (14:227). The Archbishop of Seville eventually approaches Christ and confronts him with the paradoxical words, “Why, have you come to hinder us? . . . tomorrow I shall condemn you and burn you at the stake as the most evil of heretics” (14:228). He then denounces the freedom Christ gave to mankind fifteen hundred years ago, and resents that Christ gave man the freedom that makes him unhappy. He resolves to “correct” Christ’s work and to take this freedom away. In the place of this freedom, he offers to man true happiness: “miracle, mystery, and authority” (14:232).

From a political point of view, this “poem” creates a problem. If the earthly goal of a leader is to make man happy, he should take away this freedom. As D. H. Lawrence has famously argued, “The recognition of the weakness of man has been a common trait in all great, wise rulers of people.”29 Lawrence concludes that Christianity is impossible because it makes “demands greater than the nature of man can bear.”30 A great political system recognizes this and relieves man of this freedom.31 For Dostoevsky, this is perhaps the most seductive argument in support of socialism. At its core, socialism promises a society that allows for the blossoming of human happiness. Once the material conditions of man’s existence are corrected through the elimination of private property, man can be expected to attain his highest state of happiness. This end goal must be contrasted with the end goal of Christianity, which is the realization and expression of God’s love.

This end goal is not only fundamentally different, but it involves an internal conversion rather than an external political or material configuration.32 The key problem here is that the Inquisitor approaches Christ’s freedom from a political perspective. Indeed, Christ no doubt disappointed some in his day by not being a political actor—a liberator from Roman political oppression. Christ’s message, however, was one of spiritual rather than political salvation. His was a freedom from the internal or spiritual oppression. It is not a political freedom from external constraints.

The goal of the Christian is inner salvation through God’s love. Thus, when Christ states that “the Truth will set you free” (John 8:31), he is, in essence, saying that God’s love will set you free. Anything opposed to God’s love—namely, sin—keeps mankind from experiencing true freedom. In Christ’s words, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). To state it differently, sin enslaves and imprisons mankind. Thus, when the Inquisitor states that mankind has rejected God’s freedom, he is basically stating his observation that man persistently slips into sin in pursuit of his own immanent happiness.

This precludes his true freedom—and, ironically, his happiness. Rather than espousing a path to true freedom so consistently rejected by mankind (which requires the hard work of internal conversion), the Inquisitor offers a sort of “short-cut” to happiness—miracle, mystery, and authority. Again, these provide an external focus, rather than an internal conversion. Ironically, the Inquisitor does none of this out of malice. Indeed, he claims to be doing this out of a genuine concern for human happiness. He truly believes in the rightness of his actions. He recognizes that what he is doing is a “lie,” but selflessly bears the burden of this for the happiness of mankind.

Famously, the poem ends with an unexpected twist. At the end of his long-winded justification of his rationalist approach, the Inquisitor stops, expecting a response. Christ says nothing, but approaches the old man in silence and softly kisses him (14:239). The Inquisitor shudders and declares, “Leave, and do not return. . . . Never return at all, never, never!” (14:239) Ivan concludes the poem with the words, “The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man holds to his earlier idea” (14:239). He recognizes the conundrum of Christ’s love, but, like Ivan, rejects it. Alyosha, of course, immediately understands that this poem depicts the conflicted state of Ivan’s soul and indicates this with his first response to it. He responds sadly, “And you with him, you too?” (14:239). Indeed, Ivan is very much stuck in a spiritual conundrum. On the one hand, it sounds ludicrous for a Christian leader to “correct” Christ, yet on the other, it is difficult to deny the merit of the Inquisitor’s argument (mankind is burdened with his moral freedom: it makes him unhappy).

The Grand Inquisitor legend thus illustrates Ivan’s moral quandary. Can man live happily without love? If so, the Inquisitor is correct. Man is in his happiest state deprived of his freedom, living by mystery, miracle, and authority. If, however, man cannot live happily without love, the Inquisitor’s argument falls apart. For Dostoevsky, this is the fundamental problem with any political system predicated on the promise of immanent happiness. Although Ivan is conflicted about this conundrum, he clearly is the intellectual source for the moral justification used by Smerdyakov to kill their father. Dostoevsky is, ultimately, arguing that rationalism applied to the political realm results in patri(a)cide. In other words, the more significant threat to Russia comes from this conflicted rationalist quarter rather than romanticism/nationalism. This is precisely why  Dostoevsky has Fyodor anticipate this when he asks, “What does Ivan say? Alyosha my dear, my only son, I’m afraid of Ivan. I’m more afraid of Ivan than of the other one. You’re the only one I’m not afraid of” (14:130).

Smerdyakov: The Nihilist Agent of Rationalism

Toward the end of the novel, Smerdyakov accuses Ivan of patricide with the following words, “You killed him. You are the real killer! I was only your stooge, your faithful servant Licharda, and it was following your words I did it” (15:59).33 Ivan eventually acquiesces to this accusation. How are we to understand this? Why did Dostoevsky not have Ivan kill his father rather than Smerdyakov?

The main literary purpose of Smerdyakov-as-a-murderer is to further emphasize the effect of profound humiliation. In point of fact, it would be difficult to create a character more humiliated than Smerdyakov. His mother was, in Dostoevsky’s words, “an idiot girl, who wandered about the streets and was known to the whole town by the nickname of Stinking Lizaveta (Lizaveta Smerdyastchaya)” (14:89). Fyodor raped her on a bet. Fyodor found it “amusing” that the people in the town began to use the patronymic “Fyodorovich” with Smerdyakov, but he denied paternity. He ended up, however, assigning a thoroughly humiliating nickname for him—Smerdyakov (“The Stinker”)—ostensibly in honor of his raped mother.

Smerdyakov’s humiliation does not stop there. Gregory, who had taken it upon himself to raise the child, also demeaned him regularly. At one point Gregory yells at him, “You are not a human being. You emerged from the mildew in the bathhouse. That’s what you are” (14:114). He then observes that the child grew up with “no sense of gratitude,” and that “he [Smerdyakov] doesn’t care for you or me, the monster” (14:114). It makes some sense that this degree of humiliation would result in certain unique behavioral characteristics. While Smerdyakov displays little interest in cultivating friends or romantic relationships, he does attempt to salvage some measure of dignity with regard to his physical appearance.

He also displays, in his early childhood, the classic trait of many modern serial killers insofar as he “liked to hang cats and bury them with great ceremony. He used to dress up in a sheet as though it were a vestment, and sing and wave some object over the dead cat as though it were a censer” (14:114). Smerdyakov is, in essence, Dostoevsky’s illustration of what can happen in the most extreme cases of humiliation and shame. He does not simply suffer from a damaged self-image—he is psychologically and spiritually destroyed. This condition ultimately results in a rage so intense that he would rather die than to continue living with this humiliation. As Smerdyakov puts it, “I would have welcomed their killing me before I was born so that I might not have come into the world at all” (14:204–205).

As evidence of his “self-death” and the “numb” sensation that accompanies such a supremely humiliated and unloved state, after murdering his own father, Smerdyakov displays no remorse.34 His psychological motivation for killing his father is clear: he murdered the man primarily responsible for his humiliation. Because Ivan had provided for him a justification for it, he had no moral or ethical brake on committing this crime. He commits suicide not to escape justice (there is no incriminating evidence) but to avoid the further humiliation of a courtroom trial. For him, suicide is not even a dramatic event; it is nothing more than a merciful release from a numb and burdensome life.

Another reason Dostoevsky has Smerdyakov commit the murder rather than Ivan revolves around the chronology of Russian history. For Dostoevsky, the liberal “Westerners” of the 1840’s set the stage for the violent revolutionaries of the next generation. Indeed, this is the theme of his book The Possessed (written just before The Brothers Karamazov). In a letter that Dostoevsky sent to the future Tsar, Alexander III, he explains his chronological thinking with regard to the origins of Russia’s nihilistic terrorists:

“It’s almost a historical study, in which I’ve sought to account for the possibility of such monstrous phenomena as the Nechaev movement occurring in our strange society . . . Our Belinskys and Granovskys would never have believed it if they’d been told they were the direct spiritual fathers of the Nechaev band. And it’s this kinship of ideas and their transmission from fathers to sons that I’ve tried to show in my work.”35

The idea that the importation of even seemingly innocuous Western rational secular ideas was somehow damaging to Russia was, of course, not unique to Dostoevsky (both Turgenev and Tolstoy agreed with this). He differed primarily in what he thought would be the end result of the West’s Godless ideas. In The Brothers Karamazov, he brought together all of the political musings stretching from Notes from the Underground to The Possessed about the dangers of a Godless society—such Godlessness could only result in patri(a)cide through nihilistic violence.

Alyosha Karamazov: A Monk in the World

Alyosha Karamazov is clearly the hero of this novel, and as such he is very different than his brothers. Why is Alyosha so different? If shame and humiliation are the key elements leading to self-loathing and violence, why is Alyosha not as hateful as the other brothers? Dostoevsky clearly wants to point to Alyosha’s Christian faith and loving humility that saves him from his brothers’ fates. He first hints at this when describing his early childhood. His mother, Sophia (reason), was Fyodor’s second wife and the mother of both Ivan and Alyosha. In spite of her name, she appears to have lost her reason (teryala rassudok) and sought religion between the time she gave birth to Ivan (in the first year of her marriage to Fyodor) and to Alyosha (in the fourth year) (14:13). Her conversion stemmed from the abuse and humiliation at the hands of Fyodor. It was thus that the rationalist first child was not exposed to Christianity, but the second one was. Indeed, the most cherished memory Alyosha retains of his mother was of her kneeling before an icon in the corner of a room praying to the Mother of God, “in hysterics, sobbing with cries and moans” (14:18).

Key, however, is not that Alyosha is merely a Christian as a result of his mother’s conversion, but that he is a monastic novice under the spiritual guidance of a staretz. In placing himself under the guidance of a staretz, he chose the most humble of an already humble “career” choice. He sought neither fame nor glory; he sought a life of solitude, prayer, and obscurity. His life was to be geared toward the worship and contemplation of God and of God’s love. Humiliation—the feeling of lovelessness by others—is impossible for someone who has no expectations of  receiving worldly love in the first place. It is, of course, Zosima that provides the source for Alyosha’s psychological health.

At the very beginning of the novel, Zosima immediately understands the problem that festers at the root of the Karamazov family—humiliation. He makes this clear when he tells Fyodor, “Do not trouble yourself. Make yourself quite at home. And, above all, do not be so ashamed of yourself, for it is from this that all the other things come” (14:40). This statement is followed by one of the most powerful symbolic actions of the novel when Zosima, “distinctly and deliberately bowed down at Dmitri Fyodorovich’s feet till his forehead touched the floor” (14:69).

This is followed by the words, “Forgive me! Forgive me, all of you!” (14:69). This dramatic display of loving humility is intended by Zosima to be illustrative of the key to addressing the problem of humiliation within the Karamazov family. It is here that we find the source of Alyosha’s immunity to the humiliation experienced by his brothers. As a humble novice, Alyosha feels none of the psychological disturbances experienced by Dmitri and Ivan. He was just as neglected as they were, but as a humble novice he shows no sign of disappointment over his childhood neglect. In essence, Alyosha’s humility shields him from the humiliation of not being loved by his father.

This humility not only protects Alyosha from an intolerable past but provides a potent psychological power that can transform even the most despicable of characters in the novel. To state it differently, he is not just experiencing a “conversion of soul” through his practice of “loving humility,” he is able to transform the people around him—even the two most hideous characters of the novel: Fyodor and Grushenka. For example, within two weeks of his return home, Fyodor “took to embracing him [Alyosha] and kissing him terribly often, with drunken tears, with sentimentality. It was evident that he felt a real and deep affection for him, such as he had never been capable of feeling for anyone before” (14:18–19). Fyodor concludes, “I feel that you’re the only creature in the world who has not condemned me” (14:24). Grushenka echoes a similar sort of transformation when she declares to Alyosha, “I believed that, nasty as I am, someone would really love me, but not only in a shameful manner” (14:323).

This very worldly power of loving humility cannot be underestimated for Dostoevsky. Indeed, Alyosha’s functions as an intermediary between the hermetic world and the outside world. It is up to him to fulfill the seemingly impossible task of applying the hermetic ideals of loving humility to the world. This is precisely why Zosima tells Alyosha that “this is not the place for you in the future . . . you should get married, too” (14:71). Later in the novel, he explains that he will live as a “monk in the world” (14:259). Within three days of Zosima’s death Alyosha does precisely this. Alyosha is, in essence, the antidote to the conditions that allow for patri(a)cide. By bringing loving humility into the world, a healthy, Russian alternative to romanticism and rationalism become available to a world otherwise pervaded with Karamazov-like humiliation.

A Star Rises in the East: Political Christianity?

In this light, it is difficult to imagine that the Christianity of Alyosha and Zosima could really be considered as the third leg of this reckless Russian troika. After all, both Dmitri and Ivan are not only self-destructive but harm most of those around them. Even worse, they contemplate and contribute to patricide and patriacide. Alyosha and Zosima do none of these things—they actually attempt to stop them. For Dostoevsky, however, Alyosha and Zosima do not represent the complete Christian vision as seen in nineteenth-century Europe. For him, Christianity—or at least a prominent part of it—still represents the third horse of this reckless troika.

To see this, we must distinguish between the two visions of Christianity found in the novel. On the one hand, we see a Christianity based on “loving humility.” This is Zosima’s hermetic, and humble, Christianity. This is to be contrasted with the Christianity of the Inquisitor, which is based on “miracle, mystery, and authority.” The crucial difference between these two approaches is in their conceptions of humility. While the Inquisitor’s motivation may well be his “love” for the people (as he claims), by stating that he is “correcting” Christ’s work by taking away man’s freedom, he is displacing God himself. In becoming God, he is violating the principle of humility to the extreme. His actions may be grounded in love, but they are not grounded in loving humility. They are grounded in “miracle, mystery, and authority.” Moreover, “The Grand Inquisitor” is not merely a critique of the Roman Catholic Church—a Church to which he was famously opposed. In point of fact, Dostoevsky is primarily opposed to any Christian Church that attempts to exercise the type of Inquisitorial authority we see in this chapter. To illustrate this, Dostoevsky provides a Russia-based analogy in chapters 3 through 5 of Book I with the narrative dealing with Ivan Karamazov’s ideas about the appropriate role of the ecclesiastical courts within the Russian state.

What is most striking about this discussion is the enthusiasm with which the monastery’s monks embrace the idea of political reform that would enhance the role of the Church in the state. This argument is neatly summed up in the words of Father Paisiy, who declares, “It is not that the Church is transformed into the State, understand this! That is Rome and its dream. That is the third temptation of the devil. It is the opposite: the State is to be transformed into the Church, will ascend and become the Church over the whole world. This is the complete opposite of Ultramontanism and Rome, and your interpretation. It is the great worldly destiny ordained for the Orthodox Church. This star will arise in the east!” (14:62). For Paisiy, this transformation will begin with the abolition of civil courts.

Paisiy’s assertion, of course, is in reaction to Ivan’s article, where he claims that “if there were only the ecclesiastical courts, the Church would not sentence a criminal to prison or to death. Crime and the way of viewing it should inevitably change, of course, little by little, not suddenly, not now, but fairly soon” (14:58–59). The point is that for Dostoevsky, even within a Russian Orthodox Monastery, one finds the dangerous temptation of authority. Zosima recognizes this. In principle, Zosima agrees with Father Paisiy’s notion that the state should become the Church, but he disagrees with the notion that political reform should make this happen; it should only happen when society itself is ready for it.

He argues, “The Christian society is currently not yet ready and is only resting on seven righteous men, but as they are never lacking, it will continue unshaken in expectation of its complete transformation from a society almost pagan in character into a single universal and all-powerful Church. So be it, so be it!” (14:61).36 In other words, the Church must transform society in order to create a Kingdom of God on Earth, but not through a forceful state. It must happen through the conversion of the heart of each individual within society, not through the exercise of “the third temptation of Christ.” In other words, it is not through authority that the lost sheep will be gathered, but through loving humility.

Through the character of Father Ferapont, Dostoevsky also warns of the first and second temptations of Christ—that of miracle and mystery. The first point to be made here is obvious—Father Ferapont is a Russian Orthodox hermit. Significantly, he is not a staretz (he is actually opposed to this institution). Nonetheless, he has, in theory at least, left the world to seek salvation in poverty, silence, solitude, obscurity, and obedience to God’s will. The temptations to which Ferapont surrenders appear to be the first two temptations of Christ—miracle and mystery. As an ascetic mystic, he has committed himself to silence. However, when he does speak, he speaks of demons and exorcisms. In a characteristic passage he states:

“I’m telling you—I see, I see through them. As I was coming out from the Superior’s, I looked—there was one, behind the door, hiding from me—and a full-grown one, a yard and a half or more high, with a thick, long, brown tail, and the tip of his tail was in the crack of the door and I, not being an idiot, instantly slammed the door and pinched his tail. He squealed and began to struggle and I made the sign of the cross over him three times. He dropped dead, like a squashed spider. He must be rotten and smelly, but they don’t see or smell anything. I haven’t gone there in a year. I reveal it to you as you are a stranger” (14:153–154).

In this crazed passage, we can discern an element of insanity within Father Ferapont. It is here that we find a sobering parallel with the message of the Inquisitor. Ferapont is not Inquisitorial with regard to the principle of authority, however, he does embrace the powers of miracle and mystery. Through these powers he is able to attract an astonishing number of followers—both inside and outside the monastery. All of this in spite of the fact that he is clearly insane. For Dostoevsky, the seductive power of “miracle, mystery, and authority” is almost irresistible—even to monks in a monastery who have at least formally committed themselves to lives of poverty, silence, solitude, and obscurity.

The Politics of Humility

For Dostoevsky, individuals must embrace “loving humility” to escape and recover from humiliation. Humiliated Russia must take the same route. Because they are grand political movements that reject loving humility, neither nationalism (with its roots in romanticism) nor socialism (with its roots in rationalism) can address the problem of national humiliation. Even worse, because of their inner contradictions, these movements represent grave threats to the Russian fatherland. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky aims to show, through the Karamazov family members, how they ultimately result in patricide and patriacide.

Surprising to many, even Christianity can be ineffective at addressing the problem of national humiliation. Inquisitorial-style Christianity, be it in Spain or a Russian Orthodox monastery, lacks the key element for addressing humiliation—humility. Indeed, for Dostoevsky, Russia’s political salvation can only be addressed through the practice of national humility. As Zosima depicts, it will come from the meekest and mildest—the startsy of Russia. It will also come from another humble section of the Russian people—the Russian peasants. Indeed, Russians must trust in the Christian and peasant spirit of the people.

As Zosima states, “The salvation of Russia comes from the common people. . . . An unbelieving reformer will never do anything in Russia. . . . Take care of the people and guard their hearts. Quietly educate them. This is your monastic duty, for the common people are Chosen People of God” (14:285). In addition, “when the time comes they will show it to the wavering truths of the world. That is a great thought. This star will shine forth from the East” (14:284). Importantly, all of this must be accomplished in a spirit of humility, for “Russia is great in her humility” (14:286).

A great deal is at stake here, and not just the salvation of Russia. Europe itself has an interest in all of this. This is where we must return to the symbol of Gogol’s reckless troika, used by Dmitri’s prosecutor toward the end of the novel. The prosecutor argues, Our deadly troika is speeding headlong and, possibly, to destruction. And for quite some time throughout the whole of Russia, hands have been extended and have appealed to stop this furious, shameless sprint. And if yet other nations step aside from this sprint at breakneck speed, than maybe, it is not at all from respect of it, as the poet [Gogol] had wanted, but from horror. Take note of this! From horror, or maybe from disgust. And it is good that they step aside, but perhaps they will be led to position themselves as a solid wall in front of this rushing phantom and they themselves will stop this crazed sprint of our licentiousness for the sake of their own safety, enlightenment and civilization.  We have already heard alarmed voices from Europe” (15:150).

Clearly, for Dostoevsky, this troika, representing nineteenth-century Russia’s three philosophical visions (romanticism, rationalism, and Christianity), is galloping out of control and will lead not just to Russia’s destruction, but to that of Europe as well. The irony, of course, is that these three visions arrived in Russia from Europe itself. In essence, Dostoevsky’s solution is therefore not a political solution, but an anti-political solution. For this reason, the use of individual, novelistic characters provides an ideal stage upon which to suggest this. In using the psychological dynamics of Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha as microcosms of romanticism, rationalism, and Christianity, Dostoevsky ingeniously provides illustrations of the spirits of these movements, their origins, their inner tensions, and their fates (as movements). The humiliation of these characters, as well as that of Russia, can only be dealt with by the humble. The psychological illustration of this process on the individual level is compelling. The application of it to the social level seems equally as compelling.



An earlier form of this chapter, “This Star Will Shine Forth from the East: Dostoevsky and the Politics of Humility,” was delivered at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Seattle, Washington, 2011.

1. Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History (London: George Weidenfeld & Nicolson Limited, 1988), 4.

2. Indeed, it is generally accepted that Dostoevsky’s true genius lies primarily within the realm of psychology. In fact, Sigmund Freud once said that everything he had discovered in the first seventy years of his life had already been found in the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky (attributed to Edward Wasiolek in Richard Pope and Judy Turner, “Toward Understanding Stavrogin” Slavic Review 49 (Winter 1990), 543–553. Yet another notable thinker made a similar observation: Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “Dostoevsky was the only psychologist from whom I had anything to learn” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols; and The Anti-Christ (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968), #45).

3. See Ellis Sandoz, Political Apocalypse: A Study of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971); Jack F. Matlock, “Literature and Politics: The Impact of Fyodor Dostoevsky,” The Political Science Reviewer 9 (1979), 36–90; Joseph Alulis, “Dostoevsky and the Metaphysical Foundation of the Liberal Regime: ‘Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,’” Perspectives on Political Science 38 (2009), 206–216; Lee Trepanier, “The Politics and Experience of Active Love in The Brothers Karamazov,” The Political Science Reviewer 38 (Fall 2009), 197–205; David Walsh, “Dostoevsky’s Discovery of the Christian Foundation of Politics,” Religion and Literature 19 (1987), 49–72.

4. F. M. Dostoevsky, Polnoe Sobranie Sochineii i Pisem (Leningrad: Nauka, 1972–1990). All parenthetical references within this chapter are by volume and page number to this Academy edition. I am responsible for translations. Several translated quotes within this chapter can also be found in: John P. Moran, The Solution of the Fist: Dostoevsky and the Roots of Modern Terrorism (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009b) and John P. Moran, “The Roots of Terrorist Motivation: Shame, Rage and Violence in The Brothers Karamazov,” Perspectives on Political Science 38 (2009a), 187–196.

5. I would like to thank William L. Taylor for pointing this out.

6. Michael Casey, A Guide to Living in the Truth: St. Benedict’s Teaching on Humility (Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph Publications, 2001), 4.

7. Saint Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1982), 32.

8. Nils Sorsky, The Authentic Writings (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2008), 185.

9. Of course, the name Karamazov seems to imply a certain “dark stain.” Kara meaning black, and maz’ meaning ointment or oil. But the fact that a distinctly Turkic rather than a Russian root was used is perhaps to indicate a certain non-European element to a nation that is in many other ways European.

10. Famously, the alternative word in Russian for this concept, usually translated as “motherland” (“rodina”) does not find its root in the word for “mother” but rather in the word for “birth” or “origin” (“rod”).

11. It makes some sense that Dostoevsky would have these two characters be of the same generation. Dostoevsky himself shifted from the “Westerner” to the “Christian” positions within his own lifetime. The story of how this occurred is wonderfully covered in Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850–1859 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

12. Indeed, Dostoevsky has Zosima address this specifically later in the novel (14:289–290). For more, see Laurie Langbauer, “Ethics and Theory: Suffering Children in Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Le Guin,” English Literary History 75 (2008); Joseph R. Yacoub, “Children in Dostoevsky: The Case of The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov” in Proceedings of the 2004–2005 Midwest Philosophy of Education Society, ed. Jason Helfer (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007).

13. James Gilligan, “Shame, Guilt, and Violence,” Social Research: An International Quarterly 70 (2003), 1153.

14. Orlando Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (New York: Picador, 2002), 366.

15. Figes, Natasha’s Dance, 66.

16. Figes, Natasha’s Dance, 66.

17. Dostoevsky felt that this exclamation was so important that he named the entire chapter “Why Is Such a Man Alive?”

18. To ensure that the reader understands the Pushkin reference here, Dostoevsky had already put the following words in the mouth of Rakitin, “Pushkin, the poet of women’s feet, sung of their feet in his verse. . . .” (p. 86). For more see Helena Goscilo, “Feet Puskin Scanned, or Seeming Idee Fixe as Implied Aesthetic Credo,” The Slavic and East European Journal 32 (Winter 1988), 562–573.

19. Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 9.

20. Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, 9.

21. Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993),

22. E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Program, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 12.

23. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1991), 5–6.

24. It is commonplace to suggest that nationalism flourishes in areas where a particular national identity is most threatened by a dominant nation or by a neighboring country (Ireland and Poland are two classic examples).

25. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (New York: Bantam Books, 1981).

26. Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 176.

27. Even Rakitin notices his doubt by stating: “His soul is stormy; his mind is in a prison. Within him, his thought is great and unresolved” (14:76).

28. Dostoevsky was notably anti-Catholic. His main objection to Catholicism, as voiced by two of his most sympathetic characters, Myshkin in The Idiot and Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov, revolves around his concern about conflating temporal and spiritual power. See Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 335.

29. D. H. Lawrence, “Preface to Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor’” in Dostoevsky: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Rene Welleck (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962), 93.

30. Lawrence, “Preface to Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor,’” 91.

31. Based upon this logic, Lawrence concludes that Lenin was “. . . surely a pure soul . . .” (Lawrence, “Preface to Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor,’” 94).

32. Perhaps the best statement on this is made by Carl Linden when he writes, “Marx . . . is not aware of a need to rectify the inner regime of his own being, but only of the regime of the outer city. The fruits of the works of Marx and his Leninist following prove them to be not the savior of the modern city of man, but rather its angry and tyrannous despots” (Carl A. Linden, The Soviet Party-State: The Politics of Ideocratic Despotism (New York: Praeger, 1983), 28).

33. The Notes in the David McDuff translation explain that Licharda is a Russian version of the name Richard. Here it refers to the servant of King Guidon in Bova Korolevich (Prince Bova), a chivalric legend originally translated from medieval French (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts (London: Penguin Classic, 2003), 1001).

34. Gilligan, “Shame, Guilt, and Violence,” 1149–1181.

35. As cited in Michael R. Katz, “Introduction” in Devils (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), ix. Also quoted in Moran, The Solution of the Fist: Dostoevsky and the Roots of Modern Terrorism, 13.

36. This reference to “seven righteous men” refers to the seven general councils that defined the Orthodox Church’s teaching about the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. For an excellent background on these councils see Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (New York: Penguin, 1997), 18–42.


Our review of the book is available here. The following chapters are available here: “Dostoevsky’s Heroines; Or, On the Compassion of Russian Women,” “The Politics and Experience of Active Love in The Brothers Karamazov,” and “Dostoevsky’s Discovery of the Christian Foundation of Politics.” Also see “The Apocalypse of Beatitude: Modern Gnosticism and Ancient Faith in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed,” and “Psychologists of Evil: Nietzsche and Dostoevsky on the Darkness of the Soul.”

This is republished with the same title in Dostoevsky’s Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2013).


John P. MoranJohn P. Moran

John P. Moran

John P. Moran is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView and a Professor of Political Science at Kennesaw State University. He has also served in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Policy)/Chairman, Joint Chiefs; United States Mission to United Nations; United State Embassy, Moscow; and United States Field Systems Agency, Tokyo. He is author of From Garrison State to Nation State: The Russian Military and Political Power under Gorbachev and Yeltsin (Praeger, 2001) and The Solution of the Fist: Dostoevsky and the Roots of Modern Terrorism (Lexington Books, 2009).

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