I had only read Dostoevsky back in my teenage years. I can’t recall now if it was for a school assignment or just part of my voracious reading habit. Such are the effects of my faulty memory, and as I work my way through yet another decade of life a seemingly common occurrence. Recently, the course videos uploaded by Jordan Peterson related to psychology have caught my attention and part of his course materials include his annually updated reading list for his college students. I will link to the reading list below, and I highly, highly recommend his lecture video series available on YouTube. As I perused over his list, I realized that I could not recall the details of Dostoevsky’s masterpieces and resolved to reread them. This time through, however, my focus would not be on simply consuming yet another book, but rather I wanted to focus on what the author wanted to convey. Dostoevsky had a lot to say about human psychology, the Russian people and the social and cultural upheaval that Russia was experiencing throughout his lifetime. Influences from Europe, cultural realities and the whims of human nature created a volatile mixture in Russia that culminated in massive national upheaval, intense inter-personal conflicts and soul-searching doubts.
It is simply breathtaking the difference in rereading a book that can provided by simply applying a new perspective or intentional focus to your reading. Rather than being simply swept away by Dostoevsky’s brilliant (albeit uniquely Russian) prose, I found myself pausing again and again to digest the insights he provides. Insights, which though divided by more than a century from my day and age, still ring true and relevant. His voice calls out across the years to beseech us to give pause to our mad cultural rush into socialism with dire warnings about both the nature of socialism as well the nature of man.
His famous quote in The Brothers Karamazov on the nature of socialism is just as true today; “For socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to-day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to Heaven from Earth but to set up Heaven on earth.”
What I found my heart reacting to most as I read his words was the heartfelt compassion he had for the poor while at the same time his fierce opposition to the siren call of socialism as the supposed solution for societies injustices and ills. He recognized, especially after his years in Siberia, that socialism dismisses the nature of man while trying to only solve for man’s material needs. The underlying premise of socialism is the belief that if all of the material needs of man are met, then man will automatically become free of all of his moral deficiencies. It is a classic case of putting the horse before the cart. The socialist thinks that man does evil because of material or social injustices, and if the conditions which create those same injustices were to be removed, then his evil acts would also be removed. When in actuality it is the nature of man to do evil that creates the injustices. You cannot fix a heart problem with a material solution. You can never create a perfect utopia of humans, because humans are not perfect.
I won’t attempt to recreate all of Dostoevsky’s thoughts on the topics, but I would definitely encourage you to take the time (and yes, it will take you some time) to reread his classic masterpieces Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Let his experiences and thoughts speak to you through his writing. It will not be a waste of your time.
For some other great suggestions, here is Jordan Peterson’s reading list: https://jordanbpeterson.com/category/reading-list/