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Dostoevsky’s Six Nightmare Prophecies That Came True in the 20th Century, Part Two

Uncle Fyodor wasn't fooling around when he diagnosed the problem of human evil.

by
R.J. Moeller

Bio

April 1, 2013 - 2:00 pm

4) Economics of Envy – The War on Private Property 

Dostoevsky held a deep-rooted distrust and disdain for centralized power. He also despised the decadence exhibited by many among Russia’s elite. He was a man of the people, not of big government nor big business (which, especially in those days, operated under the protective umbrella of big government).

But some misunderstand Dostoevsky’s aversion to “big” as a condemnation of what we know today as free-market capitalism. The caricatures of wealthy robber barons wearing ivory-rimmed monocles or the Monopoly Man lighting cigars with hundred-dollar bills tend to jump to the front of people’s minds any time a discussion of free-market economics presents itself, whether that be around the water-cooler at work or in the pages of a 19th century Russian novel.

I’ve had friends who lean fiscally Left and know my Dostoevsky appreciation ask me what I think of his anti-capitalistic message. My response is simple: Dostoevsky hated centralized power and licentious living among the rich, all while loving concepts such as private property, personal responsibility, stewardship, and creative innovation. He waxed poetically against socialism, Marxism, and those who thought they knew best how to handle other people’s lives. He wrote extensively on how political and economic freedoms were nothing without the rule of law and a citizenry that strove toward a virtuous society.

To most folks “capitalism” is merely an abstract concept, just as “socialism” is merely a label. The issue is values; Dostoevsky hated what we would consider “progressive” economic and political values. He hated them so much, he understood their deep flaws so well, that he chose to write about them in his books, identifying a root motivation that drove so many on the Left in his day: envy (or covetousness).

Last time, I cited his novel The Devils and the characters of Peter Verkhovensky (an ardent socialist radical) and his hapless father Stepan Trofimovich (a man who dabbled in progressivism, which greatly influenced his son’s future radicalism). In an utterly self-serving manner — though insightful — the father Stepan ponders aloud to a friend why it is his son Peter and his progressive friends seem to be so obsessed with money:

I’ve noticed that all these desperate socialists and communists are incredibly stingy, avaricious, and terribly eager to own things. One might even say that the more ardent a socialist a man is, the stronger is his need to accumulate goods. Why is this? Does it stem from the emotional element of their socialism?

As syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager often says, more people died in the 20th century because of class warfare than because of racism, homophobia, and sexism combined (and x 1,000,000). The myth perpetrated by every leftist rabble-rouser from Lenin to Hugo Chavez is that they are “men of the people” who care nothing for power or wealth, only the betterment of the proletariat. But what invariably happens is those who began by chanting “eat the rich” begin to eat (and live) like the rich they ate.

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All Comments   (9)
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RJ,

Great article. Very well done. I really appreciate the effort you put into this. It's a keeper.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I recall "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" in which the protagonist corrupts an entire planet due to telling "a lie" or was it "a joke"? I think it was the latter. (With Dostoyevsky it's the ambiguities, even the contradictions, which enliven his writings).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Social engineering, an irreplaceable plank in the socialist platform, never works because of the complexities of even the simplest societies. The socialist committed to science and logic is left floating in the wind with an idea that doesn’t produce the results their theories promised."

Exactly right! If we only made a point of "testing" the socialist schemes before implementing them widely, we'd soon see how ineffective they are.

The tragic fact is that the far Left can't point to a single VILLAGE that implements their visions of Utopia successfully without coercion, let alone an entire country that is successful based on the principles they advocate. If voters simply noted that one fact and refused to vote for untested leftist nostrums, our world would be immeasurably better in very short order.

In my view, the Left should test every one of their schemes on a localized, short-term basis among volunteers of their own choosing. If their schemes can be shown to work well without resorting to coercion - threats of execution or starvation in particular - they could and should start winning us over. But if their ideas can't be made to work in even limited experiments like this, what on earth makes anyone believe that they would work on a national basis without even trying them first?

For instance, let's try Obamacare somewhere, perhaps in one city, where people really believe in it and want to give it a serious try. Let this experiment run a year or two - whatever is necessary to thoroughly test it and prove whether it works or not - and then assess it after the test period. If there is widespread agreement among intelligent people of all political stripes, then we can get serious about implementing it more widely. But simply concocting these schemes and then forcing them on people after some very dubious political tactics is just foolishness.

I'm willing to keep an open mind and give these schemes an honest try when they are proposed but we MUST test them first, honestly and thoroughly, before rolling them out to an entire country. If the tests fail, there is no reason to assume that a national implementation will succeed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Loved the article. Sorry I missed the first part.

Dostoevsky certainly did despise progressives, socialists and meddling do-gooders. But I disagree on one point. Dostoevsky had no problem with centralized authority, as long as that authority emanated down from the Tsar or the Orthodox Church.

He was no admirer of individualism. He was ambivalent about America. Dimitri tells Alyosha, "I hate that America, even now...I love the Russian God though I'm a scoundrel myself. And I'd die over there." In "The Devils", one of the characters, I think it was Shatov, talks of going to America and being beaten and cheated by his employer, being accosted by pickpockets and oddly, approving of everything, "spiritualism, lynch-law, revolvers, tramps...".

"The Devils" is my favorite novel of his I think. Karamazov is second.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Loved the article. Sorry I missed the first part. "

There is a link to the first part in this essay. It's right below the caption on the first video.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thanks I've read it now.

This has been a great series. But I'm always dubious about Americans who take Dostoevsky to heart. I view him primarily as a satirist. Too many Americans take him too seriously and miss out on his jokes.

Grushenka's captivating little foot? The hilarious spoof on Karamazinov (Turgenev) in "The Devils"? Come on - this guy wrote good comedy.

To be sure, neither 'Rebellion' nor 'The Grand Inquisitor' were the stuff of jokes. But old man Karamazov was a high quality buffoon.

Once one reads Gogol's whacked-out fiction, it's easy to see where Dostoevsky is coming from. He's Gogol - not quite as funny - with cruder composition skills and a more modern sensibility.

But like Gogol, Dostoevsky was a master at setting up an elaborate joke. And the fact that so many Americans take him so seriously might have him laughing right now - wherever he is.

And the fact that both western conservatives and liberals seem to gravitate towards his work is rich with irony.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Brilliant work, R.J.

Just a beautiful two part piece.

Thank you for your fine efforts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you, I hope for more essays like this. Refreshing insights.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thanks you for this article. I really enjoyed it and would be interested to receive more like it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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