Skip to content

Dostoevsky versus Tolstoy on Humanitarian Interventions

May 13, 2011

James Warner in openDemocracy:

From the summer of 1876 to the spring of 1877, there was heated public debate in Russia over whether to engage in the conflict in the Balkans. Fyodor Dostoevsky was passionately in favor of military intervention, for humanitarian and patriotic reasons – Leo Tolstoy, although not yet a fully-fledged pacifist, could not see the point of Russia getting involved.

Dostoevsky was in tune with the popular mood. His serialised publication A Writer’s Diary, which ran around this time, often reminds me of the U.S. “war blogs” of 2002-3. It’s fascinating how Dostoevsky’s various motivations for supporting the war merge and reinforce each other. His most laudable motive is his acute empathy with suffering, the sense of humanitarian urgency he has about putting an end to atrocities committed by the Turks. But he segues easily from reporting horrific massacres to fantasizing about a Russian conquest of Constantinople, the center of Orthodox Christianity. Dostoevsky admires Russian heroes and despises foreign diplomats, and condemns those who “rattle on about the damage that war can cause in an economic sense.” He is sublimely confident the Serbs will welcome Russian intervention, and that those who don’t are an unrepresentative class out of touch with their own people. He has no sense that atrocities are occurring on both sides.

Dostoesvsky feels that a national malaise has been conquered in Russia, and that the extent of popular support for the Serbs is proof of the spiritual superiority of the people to the intelligentsia. He is angry with those Russians who feel sympathy for the Turks. He is completely certain of victory and of being on the side of history, and has suggestions about what to do once the Ottoman Empire is completely crushed. [More]

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s