Friday, 11 October 2019

Dostoevsky On The Revolutionary Demons

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Demons is an attack on atheistic and nihilistic political movements. The book shows that atheistic and nihilistic philosophy can lead to suicide and murder. This is the story of high-minded intellectuals who are attempting to spark a revolution, even though they are clueless about the consequences of a revolution. But the intellectuals are not the demons that Dostoevsky describes in the novel—the demons are the atheistic and nihilistic ideas by which the intellectuals are possessed. (The book is also known as The Possessed.)

Dostoevsky offers a masterful description of the extent to which Alexei Nilych Kirillov, a character in the novel, is possessed by the revolutionary ideas. Kirillov, an engineer in the small town where the story is set, is deeply influenced by Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin, one of the leaders of the secret revolutionary society. Kirillov is determined to kill himself at the opportune moment when his death will be useful for sparking the revolution. He explains his motivation in these words:
“So at last you understand!” cried Kirillov rapturously. “So it can be understood if even a fellow like you understands. Do you understand now that the salvation for all consists in proving this idea to every one? Who will prove it? I! I can’t understand how an atheist could know that there is no God and not kill himself on the spot. To recognize that there is no God and not to recognize at the same instant that one is God oneself is an absurdity, else one would certainly kill oneself. If you recognize it you are sovereign, and then you won’t kill yourself but will live in the greatest glory. But one, the first, must kill himself, for else who will begin and prove it? So I must certainly kill myself, to begin and prove it. Now I am only a god against my will and I am unhappy, because I am bound to assert my will. All are unhappy because all are afraid to express their will. Man has hitherto been so unhappy and so poor because he has been afraid to assert his will in the highest point and has shown his self-will only in little things, like a schoolboy. I am awfully unhappy, for I’m awfully afraid. Terror is the curse of man.… But I will assert my will, I am bound to believe that I don’t believe. I will begin and will make an end of it and open the door, and will save. That’s the only thing that will save mankind and will re-create the next generation physically; for with his present physical nature man can’t get on without his former God, I believe. For three years I’ve been seeking for the attribute of my godhead and I’ve found it; the attribute of my godhead is self-will! That’s all I can do to prove in the highest point my independence and my new terrible freedom. For it is very terrible. I am killing myself to prove my independence and my new terrible freedom.” 
Dostoevsky was of the view that atheism is essentially a project for self-deification. When human beings discard the idea of divinity, they pave way for some of them to come forward and make the claim that they are themselves divine. That is why the atheistic revolutions which try to obliterate notion of god in heaven, end up deifying their own leaders as the new gods.

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