David Horowitz will be speaking at the Wednesday Morning Club on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210. The reception begins at 11:30 a.m., followed by the luncheon at 12:00 p.m. and the book signing at 1:30 p.m. To make reservations, click here. Below is an excerpt from his new book, A Point in Time:
It is humbling to look into historical texts and see how images of the past that have been recorded by others are familiar to us, and how little we have learned from their experience. Dostoevsky’s Diary of A Writer, which was published more than hundred years ago, contains this reminiscence: “‘Do you know,’ Belinsky screeched one evening (sometimes, if he was very excited, he would screech) as he turned to me, ‘Do you know that man’s sins cannot be counted against him? … When society is set up in such a mean fashion … man cannot help but do wrong; economic factors alone lead him to do wrong; and it is absurd and cruel to demand from a man something the very laws of nature make it impossible for him to carry out, even if he wanted to.’”
Belinsky’s outburst took place in the course of an evening at the circle of St. Petersburg radicals that Dostoevsky had joined. Thirty years later, Dostoevsky wrote about the incident and published it. He regarded Belinsky’s remark that evening as so important that he also incorporated it into the creed of the church of socialism. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, confronts Christ with this prophecy: “Do you know that centuries will pass and mankind will proclaim with the mouth of its wisdom and science that there is no crime, and therefore no sin, but only hungry men? ‘Feed them first, then ask virtue of them!’—that is what they will write on the banner they raise against you, and by which your temple will be destroyed.”
By the time Dostoevsky had reached the end of his days he was so revered by his countrymen that he had become a national symbol, and was regarded by them as a prophet. Yet no one really listened. In less than an individual’s lifetime, socialist radicals seized power in St. Petersburg, and renamed it “Leningrad,” raising to sainthood the malevolent dictator who decided the fate of millions. Under the rule of Leninists, Russia became the center of a revolution to create a new world and to fashion new human beings to inhabit it. These miracles were to be achieved by transforming Belinsky’s “economic factors.”
During Russia’s bloody upheavals, the Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht took the very words the Inquisitor had spoken—“First comes feeding, then comes morality”—and inserted them into a popular German opera intending to inspire others to join the revolutionary cause. When the destructive energies of the revolution had run their course they left in their wake a hundred million corpses and the blighted the lives of many more. But the fantasy of a socialist paradise lived on.
There is no secret to Dostoevsky’s clairvoyance. He understood that morality was not the product of feeding human beings but was an expression of their humanity and their freedom. The radical view expressed by Belinsky is that we are the products of social engineering and thus constructed by our environment. This is the heart of all schemes for an earthly redemption, and the antithesis of freedom. It is the philosophy, as Dostoevsky, put it, of an anthill. In his Diary, he answered Belinsky: “In making the individual dependent on every flaw in the social structure, … the doctrine of the environment reduces the subject to an absolute non-entity, exempting him totally from every personal moral duty and from all independence, reduces him to the lowest form of slavery imaginable.”
When criminals are viewed as society’s victims, the crimes they commit can be seen as a form of social justice. “Since society is organized in such a vile fashion,” Belinsky explained on that memorable evening, “one can only break out of it with a knife in hand.” To the social redeemers, criminals are “unfortunates,” since the responsibility for their crimes lies in society itself. Dostoevsky described their thinking this way: “Society is vile, and therefore we too are vile; but we are rich, we are secure, and it is only by chance we escaped encountering the things you did. And had we encountered them, we would have acted as you did. Who is to blame? The environment is to blame. And so, there is only a faulty social structure, but there is no crime whatsoever.”
From such attitudes it is a small step to regarding those who break the law as social heroes, or to describe them with the term fashionable in Dostoevsky’s time as “people’s criminals.” They break the law to achieve “people’s justice.” Thus revolutionaries seeking to change the world do not see the targets of their violence as human beings like themselves but as “enemies of the people” who have earned their fate.
When Dostoevsky came to write a novel about political radicals, he called it The Devils and modeled its central figure on a Russian terrorist named Sergei Nechaev. A colleague of Bakunin’s, Nechaev founded an organization called “People’s Justice,” for which he wrote a “Catechism for Revolutionaries.” In the course of his political activities Nechaev induced several in his small circle of followers to kill a student in their group in order to seal their revolutionary bond in blood. In the “Catechism for Revolutionaries,” he elevated expediency to a moral principle. The goal revolutionaries were seeking of a world transformed justified any means necessary to achieve it: “Poison, the knife, the noose … The revolution sanctifies everything…”
The creed of the revolutionary divides the world into forces of good and evil — on the one side enemies of the people on the other the social redeemers. The passion to create a new world is really a passion to destroy the old one, and transforms the love of humanity into a hatred for the human beings who stand in its way.