WHILST BROWSING: A NOTE ON DOSTOEVSKY’S DEMONS

“In the nineteenth century Russia under the influence of their progressive parents, a generation of educated young people was convinced of the illegitimacy of the Tsarist regime. Dostoevsky’s “Demons” (1871) is a vivid chronicle of the tragic and farcical process by which progressive liberals discredited traditional institutions and unleashed a wave of revolutionary terror. Not only tsarism but any form of government came to be seen as repressive. As one of Dostoevsky’s characters put it “I got entangled with my data…… shifting from unlimited freedom I concluded with unlimited despotism”.

From John Gray “The Woke have No Vision for the Future” Unherd.

Unherd is one of my favourite websites. It was set up to “push back against herd mentality with new and bold thinking and provide a platform for otherwise unheard, ideas, people and places”. This week there was an essay by the author John Gray quoted above which, within its argument, makes reference to Dostoevsky’s novel “The Demons” ( which when I read it a long time ago was translated “The Possessed”) in connection with recent troubles in the U.S following the George Floyd killing. The argument is complex and I shall not attempt to summarise it here though if interested I would recommend you to look at it on the site. However the discussion of Dostoevsky drew my attention. He is a writer whose big four novels I absorbed in late adolescence but to which I have seldom returned since. Reading Gray’s essay adducing “The Demons” to understand the state of our post-liberal world makes me want to read that novel again.

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