«Michal Kuz, Political Science Department, Louisiana State University. 1 Abstract The issue of justice is crucial to Dostoevsky's oeuvre. The Russian ...»
Clearly Dostoevsky was not a nihilist, but, nevertheless, he was a tragic figure. We must remember that Fyodor Dostoevsky also fell into the Grand Inquisitor's trap that is described in Brothers Karamazov. He could not compromise politics with morality or faith and arrive at a safe modus vivendi. Thus in accordance with the Grand Inquisitors logic he left his readers with a choice between a demonic theocracy and an amoral nihilism. Out of those two options Dostoevsky favored the first, whereas, his Western admirers ‒ like Woody Allen often decided to opt for the second. The essence of the trap of the Inquisitor lies in the fact that both a complete separation between the real and the transcendental and the theocratic immanentization lead to similar outcomes. The second option explicitly gives all earthly power to the Inquisitor. The first one turns all morality into a purely inner, solipsistic sensation and thus the Inquisitor is yet again free to rule the material world. In both scenarios absolute power takes takes over. In the solipsistic world of Ivan Karamzov's mind we know who is guilty but he cannot be punished. In the real world of law, politics and life it does not not matter who is penalized. It is enough if the number of sentenced is equal to the number of crimes.
This Gnostic lack of faith in individual crime, punishment and responsibility is something both Allen, Freud and Dostoevsky share. In the case of Freud and Allen, however, it results from a cosmically nihilistic perspective in which every individual is just a plaything in the hands of unconscious powers she or he does not control. Thomas Sowell describes this perspective, with reference to certain American lawyers, in the following way: "From such a viewpoint, particular individuals might turn out to be either criminals or law abiding citizens as a result of innumerable influences resulting from the accidental circumstances into which they are born and which they chanced to encounter as they grew up."(Sowell 1995, 192).
For Dostoevsky the same reflection seems to stem from a certain residual theological element 14 within the Orthodox Church teachings. This concept can be interpreted as a modern a adoption of the Origenian doctrine of apocatastasis, which was extremely popular among Eastern Gnostics as well as some mainstream theologians. Origen of Alexandria (VI c. a. Ch.) speculated that with the second coming of Christ the world will be ultimately purified, thus becoming a flawless reality in which even the devil himself along with all the sinners shall participate (Pelikan 1977). For propagating the doctrine of universal salvation as well as arguing for the preexistence souls and last but not least performing an act of (literal) auto-castration Origen was finally condemned by patriarchs of the Eastern Churches. Nevertheless, his ideas turned out to be very resilient, especially among eastern Christians. We encounter them again in Brothers Karamazov where the devil himself confesses to
“I might bawl hosannah, and the indispensable minus would disappear at once, and good sense would reign supreme throughout the whole world. And that, of course, would mean the end of everything, even of magazines and newspapers, for who would take them in? I know that at the end of all things I shall be reconciled. I, too, shall walk my quadrillion and learn the secret.
But till that happens I am sulking and fulfill my destiny though it's against the grain — that is, to ruin thousands for the sake of saving one.” (Dostoevsky 2009).
Still, the West (especially after World War II) when faced with antinomies presented within Dostoevsky's oeuvre seems to be more sensitive to individualistic nihilism than the Gnostic, moral collectivism.1 This individualistic nihilism is the essence of the "last man" from Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zaratustra. In Woody Allen's film it is initially visible in the comfortable amorality of Judah, who mutes his conscience with the comfort of family life. Interestingly, this kind of muting is also recognized as the major threat to democracy and common political sentiment by the father of modern
studies of American politics - Alexis de Tocqueville. The French thinker writes:
"..I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each of them withdrawn into 1 Naturally, it is not my intention to undermine the historical significance of Western totalitarianisms. Nevertheless, their ideological roots were shallower and slightly different in kind. Moreover, in Europe and America the typically Occidental, individualistic nihilism turned out be much more resilient that any totalitarian ideologies. One may argue that the exact opposite is true of Russia and China.
15 himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists in his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself, and though he still may have a family, one can at least say that he has not got a fatherland."
(Tocqueville 1969, 692) This reflection provides us with a strikingly accurate portrait of Judah, who has so little compassion for law and his fellow citizens that he grants himself the right to kill them when they stand in the way of his minute, personal and familial preoccupations. Chris from Match Point is even more ruthless, like the mythical Gyges (Plato 1999), he no longer asks himself whether to do something or not, but how to do it without being caught. Ultimately, Allen seems to put forward the thesis that all major events in life are accidental. He succumbs to something Dorosz calls the "terror of history" (2010, 1).
At the same in his obsessive crusade against cosmic justice Allen seems to reveal a perverse craving for precisely that kind of justice and a veiled accusation of the absolute. Lack of a decisive proof for the existence of cosmic justice for a Gnostically disposed mind that years for immanentization might lead to undermining the legal justice that models the everyday life of a given society. In doing so, such a mind seems to forget that lawmakers rarely intend to conclusively confirm the existence of a cosmic justice. In a traditional theophanic perspective, no human code can fully regulate the relations between individual persons and the cosmos. Secular and religious codes, however, should and do regulate interpersonal relations and ritual obligations towards God. Pangs of our conscience after wrongdoing a fellow human are essentially a reversed communal instinct Aristotle (1999) mentions. Only completely atomized or mentally disturbed human beings can cease to see any social bond between them and other members of their society thus effectively silencing their conscience. Dostoevsky apparently was aware of this fact. At the same time he saw the egophanic nihilism as primarily an Occidental development.
Thus, to cure the ailment he chose a collectivistic Asiatic medicine, which was an ideology formed much in the tradition of the Great Khan. In short, Dostoevsky desired to artificially create a image of the cosmic justice constructed in accordance with his cultural background. Woody Allen in his films, in 16 a similarly heavy-handed way wants to disprove the existence of the very same justice. For him and his characters life is an existential drama displayed on the verge of the abyss. Nietzsche in response to the identical problem replaced the transcendental, cosmic justice with a deified human, someone very similar to Raskolnikov. None of them had faith in the collective common sense of societies, that with time subtly connects law with transcendental experiences. None of them believed in the spontaneous ability of the peoples to form laws and abide by them. All three intellectuals were proponents of either a forceful deconstruction of the social tissue or its forceful reconstruction.
Milosz (2010) tries to at least partly justify Dostoevsky’s choice by pointing out that the West over the years has grown accustomed to its own nihilism and became partly immune to its most disturbing outcomes, whereas, from the Russian perspective the influx of Western moral nihilism ‒ personified by Ivan Karamazov, Stavrogin and the young Verhovensky was an utter cataclysm. Milosz even uses the metaphor of certain Carpathian communities that had endemically became almost immune to the once-deadly syphilis.
For Dostoevsky the crucial, ideological alternative of modernity was that between the collectivistic theocracy and the individualistic nihilism. His cultural heritage and his patriotism made him inclined to choose the first option. History, however, has shown that theocracy in its modernized and secularized version can be far more atrocious than the former tzarist regime. Many Western readers of Dostoevsky, also because of their cultural background, were to a large extent unable to treat seriously the positive component of his political philosophy. Thus, they focused on the psychological and existential elements of his oeuvre. However, even a misguided usage of Dostoevsky's themes inevitably leads to the same ideological alternative, even if it favors a specific solution. This is clearly visible in the two films by Woody Allen Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. Both films are consistently nihilistic precisely because 17 they borrow from Dostoevsky’s imagination without seriously asking the same political and social questions. Interestingly, the fairly recent Match Point shows a certain progress of nihilism, which becomes more violent than in Allen's previous “Dostoevsky film.” The materialistic mass man as portrayed in Match Point seems to be so atomized that he has no conscience in the classical sense of the word, at the same time he is not portrayed as a clinical case of sociopath. In comparison to the postmodern Chris, the bourgeois Judah remains a troubled modernist who, with his own words, still feels the "tiny sparks of his religious background" and thus retains an inner sense of justice. The Allenian picture of the Western social and political reality is thus utterly pessimistic. Even the consolation of ironic and erotic jocularity Allen is known for seems futile in the circumstances displayed in Match Point. Interestingly, neither Dostoevsky nor Allen speak of common sense and the society's ability to gradually and spontaneously heal its own pathologies. This is as well true of Nietzsche, who is often compared to Dostoevsky. The issue of societies' gradual adaptation is also raised by Czelaw Milosz, who comments on Dostoevsky’s overdrawn pessimism.
A contemporary political scientist could add that the pessimism about the ability to spontaneously develop notions of justice is unwarranted, even a simple game theory simulation (Axelrod 2006) easily proves that every pattern of anti-social behavior is usually short lived and becomes abandoned after a number of generic decision. With the words commonly but erroneously attributed to Abraham Lincoln one can only "fool some of the people some of the time." (Swartz 2003). Simultaneously, one has to remember that human beings are not in the position to judge the universe as a whole in legalistic terms; as Leszek Kolakowski puts it: "God owes us nothing." (Kolakowski, 1995).
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