Essay about Pride Can Bring Disaster:
Russia has gone down the wrong path, says Andrew Kaufman: towards nationalist Dostoevsky, and not humanist Tolstoy. According to him, Vladimir Putin inspires the idea of the moral superiority of Dostoyevsky’s Russia over other nations. But pride can bring disaster and for Russia it would be better to choose the path of humility – the way of Tolstoy’s favorite characters.
According to the literary critic, Ukraine would be in peace now if Vladimir Putin chose Tolstoy and not Dostoevsky. In his article Andrew Kaufman writes that the events in Ukraine have not only geopolitical motives, but also reflect the “deep drama of the national soul,” which is most clearly manifested in the Russian literature.
Russian literature, responding to a question about the source of Russia’s greatness, developed two traditions. On the one hand, it is Dostoevsky with his idea of Russian exceptionalism, and on the other – Tolstoy, with his belief in the universality of human experience, regardless of nationality, culture and religion. “Alas, Putin chose Dostoevsky, and not Tolstoy.” – lamenting Kaufman.
Dostoevsky believed Russia to be the most spiritually developed country, designed to lead the other states. In the opinion of the writer, Russia’s mission was to create a pan-Slavic Christian Empire. Tolstoy, on the contrary, was not a nationalist, and believed that the spirit of each country is unique. In his Sevastopol Sketches, which is set in the region re-annexed by Russia, Tolstoy welcomes humanism in Russians, and Frenchmen, and British people.
Unfortunately, says Kaufman, Dostoevsky messianic vision of Russians is more to their liking than the universal humanism by Tolstoy. “After all the tragedies in the Russian history in the XX century, particularly after the humiliations of the past 20 years, the Russians are looking for conclusive proof of their national values - in fact, their superiority over the family of nations.” According to the author, that is exactly the “contingent,” Putin flirts with. Russian president rarely quoted Tolstoy, but often refers to the “messianic philosophers”: Solovyov, Berdyaev, and Ilyin, who were influenced by the Dostoevsky nationalism.
According to Tolstoy, true greatness is based on humility, not pride. The true greatness of Russia, he believed, stems from the ability to “preserve its dignity in the face of aggression and moral guidance in the worst of times.” This idea is embodied in the image of Kutuzov, who did not finish off the retreating French, and Pierre Bezukhov, who, after all the tests says: “Take each other by the hand those who love the good, and let it be one banner – the active virtue.”
But Putin, says the author, it seems, is inspired by another character of War and Peace – Napoleon.
“The French Emperor arrogantly imagines himself the greatest geopolitical strategist, especially when he reaches the long-sought goal – the conquest of Moscow. But what cost him the victory? The Tolstoy thinking – completely misunderstood by Putin – is that by believing in our victory, we can actually lose or even to lay the foundations of our own destruction. The conquest of the Crimea and the saber-rattling on the border with Ukraine now may seem to Putin a masterful strategic step toward restoring Russian hegemony, but after a few years or even months, it may cause the death of his country. “
If Dostoevsky created a philosophical basis, to which Putin adheres, the Tolstoy offered a solution.
In the words of Kaufman, it is “an alternative path that can return Russia to its high ideals and well-deserved place among the other countries.” But it is the way of humility, not pride, the author stresses, and concludes quoting Tolstoy: “There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth.”
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