1862: Dostoevsky on the new world order
From Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1862)
Translated by Kyril Fitzlyon
The immense town [London], forever bustling by night and by day, as vast as an ocean, the screech and howl of machinery, the railways built above the houses (and soon to be built under them), the daring of enterprise, the apparent disorder which in actual fact is the highest form of bourgeois order, the polluted Thames, the coal-saturated air, the magnificent squares and parks, the town’s terrifying districts such as Whitechapel with its half-naked, savage and hungry population, the City with its millions and its world-wide trade, the Crystal Palace, the World Exhibition…
The Exhibition is indeed amazing. You feel the terrible force which has brought these innumerable people, who have come from the ends of the earth, altogether into one fold; you realize the grandeur of the idea; you feel that something has been achieved here, that here is victory and triumph. And you feel nervous. However great your independence of mind, a feeling of fear somehow creeps over you. Can this, you think, in fact be the final accomplishment of an ideal state of things? Is this the end, by any chance? Perhaps this really is the ‘one fold’? Perhaps we shall really have to accept this as the whole truth and cease from all movement thereafter?
It is all so solemn, triumphant, and proud that you are left breathless. You look at those hundreds of thousands, at those millions of people obediently trooping into this place from all parts of the earth – people who have come with only one thought in mind, quietly, stubbornly and silently milling round in this colossal palace, and you feel that something final has been accomplished here – accomplished and completed. It is a Biblical sight, something to do with Babylon, some prophecy out of the Apocalypse being fulfilled before your very eyes.
You feel that a rich and ancient tradition of denial and protest is needed in order not to yield, not to succumb to impression, not to bow down in worship of fact, and not to idolize Baal, that is, not to take the actual for the ideal…
[If] you had seen how proud the mighty spirit is which created that colossal decor and how convinced it is of its victory and its triumph, you would have shuddered at its pride, its obstinacy, its blindness, and you would have shuddered, too, at the thought of those over whom that proud spirit hovers and reigns supreme. In the presence of such immensity, in the presence of the unbounded pride of the dominating spirit, and of the triumphant finality of the world created by that spirit, the hungry soul often quails, yields and submits, seeks its salvation in gin and debauchery and succumbs to a belief in the rightness of the existing order…
In London you no longer see the populace. Instead you see a loss of sensibility, systematic, resigned and discouraged. And you feel, as you look at all those social pariahs, that it will be a long time before the prophecy is fulfilled for them, a long time before they are given palm branches and white robes, and for a long time yet they will continue to appeal to the Throne of the Almighty, crying: ‘How long, oh Lord?’
From Meditations About Europe (1876)
Translated by Boris Brasol
Everybody predicts lasting peace; everywhere, clear horizons, alliances and new energies are being discerned. Even in the fact that in Paris a republic has been established, people perceive peace; moreover, even in the fact that that republic has been established by Bismarck – even in this, people perceive peace. In the accord of the great Oriental powers people unhesitatingly see great pledges for peace, while some of our newspapers begin to observe even in the present Herzegovina disturbance unmistakable symptoms of the stability of European peace, instead of the former apprehension.
Peace “to the very finish” is altogether impossible there [France]. Acclaiming the republic, everybody in Europe has been asserting that it is needed by both France and Europe by the fact alone that only its existence will render the “revanche” war with Germany impossible, and that the republic alone – among all the governments that have been only recently claiming power in France – will neither risk nor desire it. And yet all this is a mirage: the republic has been proclaimed precisely for the purpose of war, if not with Germany, then with a still more dangerous adversary, communism.