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Fyodor Dostoevsky: The desire to rule mankind as slaves leads West to colossal, final war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Selections on war

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Fyodor Dostoevsky
From The Diary of a Writer
Translated by Boris Brasol

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The final settlement, the payment due, may occur much sooner than the most vivid fantasy can conceive. The symptoms are dreadful. The long-standing abnormal political status of the European countries may serve as a beginning of everything. How can this status be normal, if abnormality is laid in its very foundation and has been accumulating during centuries? One small part of mankind cannot own the rest of mankind as slaves. Yet it was for this sole purpose that, up to the present, all civic institutions (long not Christian) of Europe, now altogether pagan, have been inaugurated. This abnormality, and these insoluble political questions (however generally known) unfailingly must lead to a colossal, final, partitioning, political war in which everybody will be involved, and which will break out in the course of the current century, and, perhaps, even in the coming decade.

1880

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If nations fail to live by superior disinterested ideas, by the lofty aims of serving mankind, and merely to serve their own “interests,” they must unfailingly perish, grow benumbed, wear themselves out, die.

1877

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Marshall MacMahon, having enlisted for himself the devotion of the army, would be in a position simply with bayonets to disperse the new forthcoming Assembly of the French representatives, should it oppose him, after which he would announce to the whole country that such was the will of the army. Much like a Roman emperor of the epoch of the decadence of the Empire, he could declare that henceforth “he would take into consideration only the opinion of the legions.” Then a general’s state of siege and military despotism would be inaugurated, – and you will see, you will, that these will please many people in France! And believe me that, if this should prove necessary, there will be plebiscites which by a majority vote of all France would authorize war and would appropriate the funds needed therefor.

1877

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Indeed, eating, sleeping, polluting and sitting on their soft cushions will long attract men to earth, but not the higher types. Meanwhile, it is the higher types that are, and always have been, sovereign on earth, and invariably it so happened that, when the time was ripe, millions of people followed them. What is the loftiest word, the loftiest thought? This word, this thought (without which mankind cannot exist) is often uttered for the first time by the poor, imperceptible people without any significance, who even frequently are persecuted and who die in exile and in obscurity. But the thought, the word uttered by them, never dies, never disappears without leaving a trace; it can never vanish if it has once been uttered; and this is noteworthy in mankind. And in the next generation, maybe twenty or thirty years later, the thought of the genius is embraced by everything and everybody – it lures everything and everybody – and the result is that not the millions of people, not the material forces, apparently so dreadful and immutable, not money, not the sword, not might are triumphant – but the thought imperceptible at first, and often the thought of an apparently insignificant man…

I repeat, there are many people desirous to live without any ideas, without any sublime meaning of life – simply to pursue an animal existence, as some lower species. And yet there are many individuals – what is most curious, apparently extremely coarse and vicious ones – whose nature, however, perhaps without their knowledge, has long been craving for sublime aims and the lofty meaning of life. These will not be appeased by love of eating, by the love of fish-pies, beautiful trotters, debauch, ranks, bureaucratic power, the adoration of their subordinates and the hall porters at the doors of their mansions…

1876

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On Don Quixote

How desirable it would be for our youth to become thoroughly familiar with these grand works of world literature. I don’t know what is being taught in the courses in literature, but acquaintance with this the grandest and saddest book conceived by the genius of man would unquestionably ennoble the soul of a youth with a great thought and would plant in his heart momentous queries, helping to divert his mind from the worship of the eternal stupid idol of mediocrity, self-complacent conceit and trivial prudence. This saddest of all books man will not forget to take along with him to the Lord’s last judgment. He will point to the very deep and fatal mystery of man and of mankind revealed in it. He will show that the most sublime beauty of man, his loftiest purity, chastity, naïveté, gentleness, courage, and finally, the greatest are often – alas, much too often – reduced to naught, with no benefit to mankind, solely because all these the noblest and richest gifts with which man is frequently endowed have lacked one and the last gift – genius in order to administer the wealth of these blessings and all their power, – to administer and lead them along a truthful and not fantastic and insane path of action – for the benefit of the human race!

1877

In the whole world there is no deeper, no mightier literary work. This is, so far, the last and the greatest expression of human thought; this is the bitterest irony which man was capable of conceiving. And if the world were to come to an end, and people were asked there, somewhere: “Did you understand your life on earth, and what conclusion have you drawn from it?” – man could silently hand over Don Quixote: “Such is my inference from life. – Can you condemn me for it?”

1876

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Every great happiness bears within it a certain sorrow because it arouses in us superior consciousness. Grief, rarer than happiness, arouses in us such a lucidity of consciousness. Great, that is, sublime happiness lays an obligation on the soul. (I repeat: there is no greater happiness than to acquire faith in men’s kindness and their love of one another.)

1877

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