Dostoevsky?s forgotten lesson about human nature

Dostoevsky?s forgotten lesson about human nature

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist

?I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I don?t consult a doctor for it, though I respect medicine and doctors. No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. I am well aware that I cannot ?pay back? the doctors by not consulting them, and that I am only injuring myself. But still, if I don?t consult a doctor, it is from spite. My liver is bad. Well let it get worse!?

?? Fyodor Dostoevsky, ?Notes from the Underground,? 1864



I had to read that as a college freshman 45 years ago. But few college professors today teach the writings of Dostoevsky (or any European male) that fail to attack racism, sexism, colonialism, destruction of the environment or other supposed evils of America. Dostoevsky?s writings actually offend today?s ?progressives? because they ridicule the whole idea of using government to transform society.

Dostoevsky wrote that government can never transform society because society is composed of too many human beings who don?t want to be transformed. They will do things that will bring them bad consequences if that is what it takes to make their own choices and run their own lives.

Dostoevsky grew up when most educated Europeans believed in new progressive, socialist, or communist forms of government that promised to eliminate war, crime, and poverty. This new government would be run by experts who would use science and technology to assign the ?right? job to everyone and give everyone a good home and enough food, clothing, transportation, and health care. That way, everyone would have all the things they ?needed.? There would be no reason for war between nations or murder or other crime by poor people. Nobody would be rich or poor.

The symbol of this new progressive world was a huge exhibition hall of glass and steel built for the first World?s Fair in London, England in 1851. It was called the Palace of Crystal. Millions of visitors from every nation and social class in Europe dined, shopped, and were entertained there in comfort and good will, regardless of the weather.

But Dostoevsky wrote that all this was an absurd fantasy. Some people were evil and had to be attacked and punished by force. Others valued their independence and free will more than comfort and safety. They would find a ?perfect? society so boring they would smash their Palace of Crystal out of spite.

Today?s progressives dismiss the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States as the obsolete work of out-of-touch rich white men, including some slave owners, from long ago, when most people lived on farms.

Yet like Dostoevsky, those old Founding Fathers understood basic human nature far better than modern progressives. That is why they made a written constitution that gave our American government a very limited purpose ? to secure ?life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? for each individual.

The progressive ideas praised by today?s college professors brought the most brutal and destructive wars, revolutions, and mass murders to the most advanced nations of Europe ? just as Dostoevsky predicted. Meanwhile, our ?obsolete? principles of liberty kept most of those evils away from America. The only real exception was the Civil War. But Abraham Lincoln called our Civil War America?s just punishment for being too slow to recognize that the ?old-fashioned doctrine? of our Declaration of Independence applied to blacks as well as whites.

Dostoevsky?s ideas on human nature may explain certain paradoxes that puzzle progressives today. Why do so many kids smoke and use drugs when we have so many laws and school programs to stop them? Why do expensive government programs against poverty, bullying, prejudice, and violence only make those problems worse?

I have no idea why James Holmes went on his killing spree in Colorado. Is he an isolated madman who nobody (other than other armed patrons in that theater) could have stopped, or is he the logical result of raising two generations of young Americans in a progressive, brave new world without liberty ?

Where nobody is free to offend anyone, or to excel, or fail, or win or lose;

Where only a selected few with wealth or connections get permits to build a house, clear a field or start a business because of rules made by others that make no sense and can?t be changed;

Where the future offers nothing but watching videos and playing video games in that comfortable (and ?green?) Crystal Palace already built for them.

(Reprinted from August 1, 2012 Current-Gazette Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties,

Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 92.1FM 8-9 a.m. Saturday. For information see, email or call (609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.

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  • Seth Grossman

    Seth Grossman is executive director of Liberty And Prosperity, which he co-founded in 2003. It promotes American liberty and limited constitutional government through weekly radio and in-person discussions, its website, email newsletters and various events. Seth Grossman is also a general practice lawyer.

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