Acton Institute Powerblog

Dostoevsky: An author for all seasons

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“Conservatism,” wrote Russell Kirk, “is the negation of ideology.” Kirk’s tradition rejects ideology, because “[t]he ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.”

The same view shaped one of the great canons of modern literature: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, writes Mihail Neamtu in a new essay for the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website.

As an added bonus, the essay is accompanied by a video of Neamtu explaining his views. Rather than long, discursive treatises on the human condition, Dostoevsky opted for compelling biographies suffused with memorable wisdom sayings. Neamtu writes:

Dostoevsky paid attention to the dramatic conventions of hagiography: A biblical parable would teach people more than any Cartesian meditation. The sayings of the Desert Fathers are part and parcel of Dostoevsky’s literary device. This is how Father Zosima is introduced in the book: as an elder surrounded by disciples, weak and strong, who are only too eager to listen to his famous adages. … Ready-made answers are nowhere to be found. With Alyosha and Zosima, as with Anthony the Great in the famous apophtegmata, one discovers the importance of limiting the arrogance of the all-knowing members of the European intelligentsia.

In its quest to establish the thirst for power on a high-sounding ideology, the State often coopts Christian imagery or the earthly church hierarchy itself. “Institutional Christianity often fails to resist the temptation of turning religion into an instrument of social discipline,” Neamtu, a public intellectual in Romania, writes.

You can read his full essay, and watch his video, here.

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.