Friday, June 27, 2014

At Home in the South: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Marion Montgomery saw broad agreement between Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s ideas and Southern ways (in ‘Solzhenitsyn as Southerner’, Why the South Will Survive).  The same may be said of another Russian writer, the novelist Dostoevsky.  Here are some of those areas of agreement.

--He sees, like the agrarians of the South, the sacramental nature of the creation, that there is grace therein to help man (individually and collectively) live something resembling a virtuous life if he will till and care for it; and also that man needs roots somewhere, that being part of an uprooted ‘mobile workforce’ (praised by Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, etc., etc.) is deadly to him:

 . . . “A nation should be born and rise, in its vast majority, on the soil from which the bread and trees grow.”

In the land, in the soil, there is something sacramental. If you want humanity to be reborn for the better, almost making men from beasts, then endow them with land, and you shall achieve your aim. At the very least we have the land and the commune.

Speaking on France, the paradoxalist directly clarifies his thinking: “In my opinion, work in a factory: the workshop is also a legitimate business and will always be born alongside already cultivated land – such is its law. But let every worker know that he has somewhere a garden under the golden sun and grapevines, his own, or more likely, a communal garden, and that in this garden lives his wife, a glorious woman, not one picked up off the road.” “Let him at least know that there his children will grow with the earth, with the trees, and with the quail they catch; that they are at school, and school is in the field; and that he himself, having worked enough in his age, will arrive there to rest, and then to die.” The bases for development of such a system he located in Russia. “The Russian factory worker has still kept a connection with the countryside, and the Russian peasantry has the village commune.” (Diary of a Writer, 1876, July-August)

Source:  Nikolai Lossky, trans. Mark Hackard, ‘Dostoevsky on Socialism (Pt. II)’,, posted 7 June 2014, accessed 15 June 2014

--In politics Dostoevsky defended hierarchy.  His vision, seen below, is very much like that of the South, which was based on honor for and loyalty toward the upper class gentleman-planter, who in his turn cared for various needs of the lower classes.

Dostoevsky was an opponent of limiting autocracy; he feared that the higher classes, the bourgeoisie and the educated would use political liberty to subordinate the simple folk to their interests and ideals. “Our constitution,” says Dostoevsky, “is mutual love of the Monarch toward the people and the people toward the Monarch.” (Letter to Maikov, No. 302)

Source:  Nikolai Lossky, trans. Mark Hackard, ‘Dostoevsky and the State’,, posted 4 April 2014, accessed 22 June 2014

There is also his respect for the twin reality of an aristocratic upper class and more democratic lower class in Russia, just as there was in the Old South:

Finding in the Russian people a “genuine democratic attitude,” Dostoevsky, without doubt, would have welcomed the establishment of political democracy in the form of a democratic monarchy, if, he hoped, the lower classes of the people could have genuinely enjoyed political freedom in the spirit of their ideals [but as seen above and as we continue to experience ever more with each passing day, democracy tends only to empower the wealthy oligarchs--W.G.].

Source:  ‘Dostoevsky and the State’,

--And in foreign policy, Dostoevsky, like the South (see Samuel T. Francis, ‘Foreign Policy and the South’, Why the South Will Survive), understood that there should be more involved in policy decisions than narrow material interests:

The place of Russia in Europe and her foreign policy especially interested Dostoevsky. The notion that moral principles should guide only the behavior of private individuals, but not the state, roused him to indignation. Condemning the behavior of such diplomats as Metternich, Dostoevsky says: “A policy of honor and unselfishness is not only a higher, but also perhaps the most beneficial (it) policy for a great nation, precisely because it is great.” (Diary of a Writer, 1876, Jul.-Aug.) Russia namely comports herself as a great nation. “Russia,” says Dostoevsky, “was never able to produce its own Metternichs and Disraelis, but rather the entire time of its European life it has lived not for itself, but for others, precisely for interests common to all mankind.” Her unselfishness often resembles the chivalrous nature of Don Quixote:

In Europe they scream of ‘Russian invasions’ and ‘Russian treachery,’ yet only to frighten their masses when needed, for the shouters themselves hardly believe any of it, nor have they ever believed it. On the contrary, they are now bothered and scared that in Russia’s image there is something upright, something too unselfish, honest and disdainful of usurpation and bribery. They have a presentiment that it’s impossible to buy her off and she won’t be lured into a mercenary or violent matter by any political advantage.” (1877, Feb.)

Source:  ‘Dostoevsky and the State’,

May friendship between the South and Russia grow apace!

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