Dostoevskii Dostoevsky Russia Russia and Europe Russian history and culture Russian national identity

Dostoevskii’s Mistaken ‘Double’: Russia and Europe

by Gordon M. Hahn

As Vladimir Kantor has noted, the double or ‘doppelganger’ is an important myth in Western culture and one adopted by the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky most notably in his novel ‘Dvoinik’ or ‘The Double’. The convention typically works as follows. A copy or Double of the original Hero appears and at least for the Hero’s purposes is evil. The Double loves and imitates the Hero or appropriates his/her ‘idea.’ In short, the Double is the Hero’s enemy and ultimately confounds and destroys him.

Dostoevskii appears to have subconsciously drawn on the concept of the Double in his evolving new vision of the world and politics, which centered around Russia’s relationship to Europe.

Europe came to Dostoevskii early—in his childhood and youthful nihilist and socialist days. He came to see Europe as a land of “holy miracles” but ridiculed the idea once he turned back Orthodoxy and Slavophilism. F. M. Dostoevskii, “Zimnie zametki o letnykh vpechatleniyakh,” in F. M. Dostoevskii, Sobranie sochinenii v 15 tomakh (Leningrad: Nauka, 1989), Vol. 4, p. 394.] Subconciously for Dostoevskii, Europe’s Double was Russia. Since Europe and the West were defined in Dostoevskii’s and other Slavophiles like him in terms, first of all, of Catholicism, Russia appeared and in its Orthodox after Europe as a copy of European Catholicism. Thus, Russians were imitating European ways: “Are we really Russian in fact? Why does Europe have such a strong, magical, invocative impression on us, whoever we are? That is, I’m not talking now about those Russians who stayed there, but about those ordinary Russians, … (about whom) our deep satirical magazines are still laugh because they don’t shave their beards. No, I’m talking about our privileged and patented bunch now. After all, everything, surely almost everything, that in our development, science, art, citizenship, humanity, everything, everything is from there, from the same land of holy miracles! After all, our whole life from the very first childhood has developed according to European ways. Could any of us be able to resist this influence, appeal, pressure? How have we not finally reborn into Europeans? That we are not reborn – I think everyone will agree with this, some with joy, others, of course, with malice because we have not been reborn. This is another matter…” [F. M. Dostoevskii, “Zimnie zametki o letnykh vpechatleniyakh,” in F. M. Dostoevskii, Sobranie sochinenii v 15 tomakh (Leningrad: Nauka, 1989), Vol. 4, p. 394.]

In April 1849, Nicholas I’s gendarmes arrested Dostoevskii and other members of the Petrashevtsy circle. The Emperor feared for the security of Russia and its crown in the face of the great European influence that had sparked the Decembrist aristocratic officers’ attempt to make a revolution from above in December 1825. The Petrashevtsy secret circle, however, was not revolutionary; its only crime was its reading list and radical discussions. Mock execution and exile to Siberia only deepened Dostoevskii’s search for a mantle of ‘universal happiness,’ but his first trip to Europe – London and, in particular, Paris – in summer 1862 after his release from exile disabused Dostoevskii of his mythical Hero. He wrote back home that he now felt “bloody repugnance to hatred” about Europe [D. S. Merezjkovskii, “Prorok russkoi revolyutsii,” in D. S. Merezhkovskii, V tikhom omute: Stat’i i issledovanie raznykh let (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1991), and L. P. Grossman, Tsekh pera: Esseistika (Moscow: Agraf, 2000), p 120.]. As Alexander II’s reforms copied European ways and introduced its ideas ever deeper into Russian state and society, Dostoevskii turned to his Hero’s Double in his quest for utopia. He now also feared for Russia on account of Europe’s overweening influence. Orthodox Russia and Russia’s supposed ‘universalism’, as he hailed it in his famous speech commemorating Russia’s great national poet Aleksandr Pushkin on 8 June 1880 (precisely 18 years from his departure on his first trip to Europe), became the new all-encompassing answer – the path to ‘universal happiness.’

Since Russia was now the new land of holy miracles, Dostoevskii made it the Double destined to overcome Hero-Europe. Now extremely religious, Dostoevskii was imbued with the original religious Hero/Double tandem God/Christ-AntiChrist, which saturated his worldview and that of many Russian Orthodox believers since Kievan Rus. A series of Hero-Double antipodes appear in the increasingly bifurcated post-Petrine Russian culture – general, religious, and political: Orthodoxy-Catholicism, Russian Orthodox Church or ROC-Old Believers (or if one is an Old Believer: Old Believer-ROC), Russia-West, Church-state, Moscow-St. Petersburg, pre-Petrine Muscovite Rus-post-Petrine Imperial Russia, Russkaya Pravda (Russian Truth)-Western Krivda (Western rationalism and falsity). Except for the first ‘Orthodoxy-Catholic’ and Russia-West antipodes, these pairs follow the double scheme: Rus and Moscow are usurped by the Empire and St. Petersburg; and the Petersburg imperial system arises and overthrows Muscovite Rus; the ROC or at least symfoniya (Church-state synergy and parity) is superseded by the state and secular hegemony.  

For Slavophiles like the latter Dostoevskii the Hero-Double vector is reversed not in chronological terms but in teleological terms. Roman Europe may have preceded Muscovite and Petersburg Russia, but in the outcome Petersburg will supercede ‘Rome.’ Overall, Dostoevskii in his post-European phase was an adherent of Russia as the Double, reversing his pre-European allegiance to Western land of ‘holy miracles’ in these paired antipodes: Russia now and Europe, Orthodoxy (versus Western Christianities and non-Western religions), the ROC (v. Old Beleivers), Russia (v. the West), pre-Petrine Rus (v. Peter’s reforms and post-Petrine aristocratic Russia), Moscow (v. dreary decrepit ‘yellow’ Imperial St. Petersburg), and Russkaya Pravda (v. Western Krivda). Of course, normatively, Dostoevskii saw Russia, especially Orthodox Christianity, not Catholic Roman Europe, as the positive moving force in world history

Dostoevskii’s ‘historiosophy’ or philosophy of the history reflected his new worldview of Russia as holy Double. As Leonid Grossman wrote, Dostoevskii saw European history as a millennium- or two-millennium-long confrontation between the Roman and Germanic worlds. Carriers of two of Europe’s three great ideas: Catholicism’s endeavor to unify mankind by coercion; the Protestant idea of global unification under a German rebirth; and the Slavic idea on the unification of Man on the basis of the Gospel. The Catholic Christianity had become corrupt and de-divinized, according to Dostoevskii and other Slavophiles, because of the Church’s merger with, and transformation into the state. Having ‘fallen,’ the Catholic Church represented the Anti-Christ. Protestantism was seen as providing freedom from the Vatican’s diktat, and the German Empire its vessel and the instrument through which Russkaya Pravda would prevail. The Catholic German and Protestant German civilizations were seen as oriented towards the destruction of Slavdom (Grossman, Tsekh pera: Esseistika, pp. 148-52).

Dostoevskii foresaw a fatal cataclysm, even apocalyptic “final act” at the 19th century’s end similar to European conflagration Europe of the Napoleonic wars at the end of 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. In spring 1877, he warned: “this century will end with something colossal in old Europe, that is, something though perhaps not literally like what the eighteenth century ended, but all the same just as colossal—spontaneous, and terrible, and also with a change in the face of the world or at least in the West of old Europe” [F. M. Dostoevskii, Dnevnik pisatelya (Sankt Peterburg: Lenizdat, 2001), p. 502]. In autumn of the same year, he reiterated “something fatal, terrible and, most importantly, close is undoubtedly rushing over all Europe” (Dostoevskii, Dnevnik pisatelya, p. 575).

Dostoevskii’s preference for Germany led him to conclude that Russian-led Slavdom would triumph in the coming European cataclysm (Grossman, Tsekh pera: Esseistika, pp. 137-48). According to Dostoevskii, it would soon make alliance with the “proletariat” or socialists of France, Italy and other predominantly Catholic countries against Europe’s remaining monarchies in yet another perversion of Christ’s message. Catholic France and others would be opposed by Germany. Just as in the Napoleonic era, Russia was destined, in Dosteovskii’s view, to play the leading role, allying with Germany to destroy the Roman Anti-Christ. Germany would give Russia carte blanche to hegemony over Europe in a new age of brotherhood and peace. (Grossman, Tsekh pera: Esseistika, pp. 151-2].

Dostoevskii had bought into a religious myth of Orthodox Pravda that informed the geopolitical myth of his age. Both myths misled him. After the 19th century’s close, Germany did rise to great power, but nationalism and ethnicity, not religion, determined the great war’s structure of alliances. Russia found itself allied against Germany with the very French and British Dostoevskii found so repugnant. Its allies were democratic more than monarchic. To be sure, the cataclysm destroyed Old Europe, but in first order Russia, then Germany. Russia’s democratic allies, including Catholic France, emerged victorious.   

Perhaps this was because Russia was not really a Hero. She and her Orthodoxy followed rather than preceded Catholicism. Russia had sought to copy the West, not the other way round. Russia surely diverged from the model of the destructive, enemy Double, though Dostoevskii did not. Russia’s tsars never sought to destroy Catholicism, Europe, or the West. The case was usually quite the reverse (Poland’s Sigismund III, France’s Napoleon, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm’s support of the Bolsheviks, and the Western fascists of World War II). But Dostoevskii surely sought Europe’s subordination to the Gospel of Orthodoxy and Russkaya Pravda. It was not Catholicism that made an unholy alliance with the ‘proletariat’, as Dostoevskii predicted. Rather, Russian revolutionaries, who were imbued with a transcendental messianistic pursuit of utopia that many Russians had taken from Orthodoxy, adopted and made common cause with the European intelligentsia’s socialists revolutionaries and the Kaiser to overthrew what remained of Dostoevskii’s Old Russia. Oddly, Dostoevskii had foreseen this in his two great late novels The Devils and The Brothers Karamozov. The antipode of Christian Russia/nihilism-socialist Russia was another Dostoevskian antipode. His revolutionary devils comprise their own kind of Double to the Hero, traditional Russia. So ‘Russkaya Pravda’or Narodnaya Pravda (the People’s Truth) were destroyed by the Russian aristocracy’s and revolutionary intelligentsia’s Western-shaped Krivda (anti-Truth). This is symbolized in The Brothers Karamazov by the intelligent brother Ivan’s subtle hint almost subconsciously facilitating murder of his father, symbolizing Russia, by the revolutionary Smerdyakov. [An adaptation/revision of Vladimir Kantor’s in Vladimir Kantor, Lyubov’ k dvoiniku: Mif i realnost’ russkoi kul’tury (Moscow: Nauchno-politicheskaya kniga, 2013), pp. 273-4].

Unfortunately, Dostoevskii’s penetrating analysis of Russia’s internal decay (and his understandable fears regarding its implications) never informed his historiosophical analysis. Here, perhaps this great lover of the truth and Russia could not look truth fully in the eye. But not only had Dostoevskii foregone the kind of deep study of world politics that his perceptive penetration of Russian politics and its rising actors, the socialist revolutionaries, had been founded upon. His historiosophical consideration of geopolitics was distorted by his own religious and national biases—a lesson both Russian and Western decision-makers and analysts would do well to take to heart today.


About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book: The Russian Dilemma: Aspiration, Trepidation, and the West in the Making of Russia’s Security Culture (McFarland, 2021). Previously, he has authored four well-received books: Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.

1 comment

  1. You conclude:

    “But not only had Dostoevskii foregone the kind of deep study of world politics that his perceptive penetration of Russian politics and its rising actors, the socialist revolutionaries, had been founded upon. His historiosophical consideration of geopolitics was distorted by his own religious and national biases—a lesson both Russian and Western decision-makers and analysts would do well to take to heart today”

    It’s the two edged sword of cultural bias. From the inside, one’s cultural narcissism is almost impossible to overcome. From the outside, it is seldom (if ever) possible to grasp the other culture’s intuitive (instinct.)

    Alastair Crooke’s recent conclusion reminds me of your own:

    “Russia, China, Iran – they are but ‘images’ prized mainly for their potential for being loaded with ‘nudge’ emotional-charge in this western cultural war – of which these states are no part. They can only stand steadfast, and warn against trespass beyond given ‘red lines’. This, they have done. But will transgressive, mobilisation politics be able to understand that this stance is not some same-ilk counter-mobilisation, and that ‘red lines’ may be ‘red lines’ literally?”

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