Dostoyevsky on Politics and Personal Vanity

David McDuff observes Fyodor Dostoyevsky's writing on the vanity of group politics
Ilya Repin. The Revolutionary Meeting. 1883. Oil on canvas. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.
Image: Ilya Repin, 'The Revolutionary Meeting' (1883)

Introducing Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead (1860), a partly autobiographical account of experiences in a Siberian prison, David McDuff explores the Russian novelist's youthful political leanings toward revolution and Petrashevism. McDuff quotes Dostoyevsky's observations on activists attending secret political meetings, and the personal vanity that structured their speeches:
... personal vanity, too, comes to the aid of the speaker and eggs him on, as does his desire to please each and all; sometimes, for the sake of show, it makes the orator agree with an idea he does not share at all - he agrees with it in the hope that in return some sincerely cherished idea of his own will not be assailed. Finally, there is the self-regard that excites a man and makes him demand the floor repeatedly, so that he awaits impatiently the next such evening, when he will be able to refute his antagonists. In other words, for many (for very many, in my sincere opinion), these evenings, these speeches, these debates are about as serious an occupation as are cards, chess, and so forth, which also undeniably divert a man and which play in the same manner on the same whims and passions. I think that very many deceived and confused themselves at this game in Peyrashevsky's house, mistaking the game for something that was serious.
Source: David McDuff, 'Introduction' to The House of the Dead (Penguin).

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