Brothers Karamazov vs. Arrogance of Power.

In Art & Culture

By Vladimir Golstein

Dostoevsky’s Brothers K, which obviously can’t be reduced to a simple message, has these two fundamental insights, insights which are as relevant, as they are overlooked.

1. Each of us is responsible for everything that goes on in the world.
2. Everything is interconnected: “For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”

These two observations are somehow more obvious for Russians — with their sense of community, with the fact that the word “mir” refers both to Universe and to the village commune, thus stressing the unity of microcosm and macrocosm, then to the rather individualistic self-reliant western mind, with its stress on autonomy and separation.

The western mind, however, is not stupid, and senses the interconnection as much as anyone. We talk about boomerang effect, or stress that “karma is a bitch.” From globalism, to Gaia effects, to climate issues, we, as stubborn children, are being taught the unity and mutual responsibility of all living. Great authors knew it (don’t ask for whom the bell tolls); Greek tragedy is based on it.

The failure to understand this unity is probably more related to class issues than to the cultural ones. It is rich and powerful who imagine themselves as independent and detached. Poor always know that a decision made in Washington or St. Petersburg can directly impact their lives at any outskirt of an empire.

Here is a striking Russian example, striking in its Ancient Greek simplicity and symmetry. It highlights the arrogance of power, and the price that others pay for this arrogance.

Alexander III had a father and a son. Alexander II — the father, killed by Russian terrorists in 1881, and Nicholas II — the son, killed by Bolsheviks in 1918.

Russian Empire, for almost 150 years, didn’t have death penalty. As opposed to blood thirsty west, by the way. But on rare occasions, related to “regicide” they would find a pretext to execute. Thus, they executed five Decembrists in 1826. During his life, Alexander III had signed two sets of death sentences. One — against the five terrorists who killed his father. Easily understood sentence. But then he pulled another one. Again, against another five, one of whom was a 21 old kid, named Alexander Ul’anov. This second group were just the University students, silly and idealistic. They were not a real threat, they were monitored by the police from the get go, their bomb, which they finally constructed couldn’t explode, nor did the gun, found on one of them, could shoot. Yet, they were executed, in 1887, Alexander Ul’ianov — the older brother of Vladimir Lenin, was killed a week after his twenty second birthday.

Interconnection and mutual guilt is obvious. Lenin had to take revenge against the senseless murder of his brother. And he did. With a vengeance. Killing Alexander III son and grandchildren, and everyone related to the family.

Do I try to excuse Lenin? Not really, he has to deal with his own conscience. But Alexander III should have known better. Do you really need to execute and break all sorts of traditions and customs and expectations, just to look tough? Wouldn’t a simple exile or prison sentence suffice? Isn’t love, forgiveness, understanding, and mutual cooperation are stronger foundations for society’s existence than violence, that generates more violence. Alas, the arrogance of power makes people delusional and blind to human inter-connectivity. Alexander III had a very powerful advisor, Pobedonostev, a conservative intellectual and politician, who was a good friend of Dostoevsky, with whom they discussed Brother K frequently. Couldn’t Pobedonstev explain to Alexander the rudiments of the novel?

Arrogance of Power!

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