Commonplace: The Tory Slide

My wife and I have been reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons to one another; it is, as the dust jacket says, “a dark comedy of ideas run amok.” One interesting dialogue involves Pyotr Stepanovich Verkhovensky, the anarchist provocateur, and Count von Lembke, the governor, whose wife has taken a fancy to Pyotr Stepanovich and his crew of nihilists. Here we learn that Lembke’s conservatism and Verkhovensky’s nihilism is only a matter of degree:

Von Lembke recalled a conversation he had recently had with Pyotr Stepanovitch. With the innocent object of displaying his Liberal tendencies he had shown him his own private collection of every possible kind of manifesto, Russian and foreign, which he had carefully collected since the year 1859, not simply from a love of collecting but from a laudable interest in them. Pyotr Stepanovitch, seeing his object, expressed the opinion that there was more sense in one line of some manifestoes than in a whole government department, “not even excluding yours, maybe.”

Lembke winced.

“But this is premature among us, premature,” he pronounced almost imploringly, pointing to the manifestoes. Continue reading Commonplace: The Tory Slide

Russian Exceptionalism

Illustration: "Holy Russia" by Mikhail Nesterov
Mikhail Nesterov, Holy Russia, 1902

From The Possessed (Demons) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The following conversation takes place between Shatov, a former agitator and now a believer in “the Russian God;” and Stavrogin, the princely but self-destructive son of a nobleman, who made Shatov’s acquaintance when they both were members of a revolutionary society. We have put some sentences in bold for special emphasis.

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“Do you know,” he [Shatov] began, with flashing eyes, almost menacingly, bending right forward in his chair, raising the forefinger of his right hand above him (obviously unaware that he was doing so), “do you know who are the only ‘god-bearing’ people on earth, destined to regenerate and save the world in the name of a new God, and to whom are given the keys of life and of the new world… Do you know which is that people and what is its name?

[Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin:] “From your manner I am forced to conclude, and I think I may as well do so at once, that it is the Russian people.” Continue reading Russian Exceptionalism

Starving on Nihilism: The Moral Vacuum of The Hunger Games

Cover of "The Hunger Games" by Susanne Collins

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2010
384 pages, paperback, $8.99

(Given the wide-spread popularity of The Hunger Games and the multiplicity of reviews of it, this review will not summarize its plot; the reader can find a summary here.)

The Hunger Games presents its readers with a nihilistic world in which evil actions can be excused based on necessity. It accurately portrays the potential endgame of a big, centralized government and a population addicted to mass-media entertainment. In such a world, survival becomes the basis of morality and people mere objects in the pursuit of survival. While such a Machiavellian ethic seems realistic given the situation in which Suzanne Collins places her characters, she presents no alternative ethic. Instead, she crafts the plot to mitigate, as much a possible, the moral culpability of her protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. Continue reading Starving on Nihilism: The Moral Vacuum of The Hunger Games