But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
- Matthew 4:4
Russia has been at the center of historical politics and revolution. Some of the great thinkers were Russian. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in particular his chapter on the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov, provides a window into man’s soul. The Grand Inquisitor's power is Freudian, based on individual and mass psychology, not on economic or political forces. His nature clashes directly with the American writer of contemporary times, Henry David Thoreau.
The Grand Inquisitor is in the tradition of Thucydides, Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes, in that people want not freedom, but security. Thoreau thought men are freed by their conscience. The Inquisitor thinks them burdened by it. In this regard he resembles Sigmund Freud. They are just sheep who want to be told what to think. In 1843 Karl Marx wrote in his introduction to Philosophy of Right by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “Religion is the opiate of the people,” which Communist revolutionaries later changed to, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” According to the Communists, the atheists, and Adolf Fitler, people want security, not freedom.
Dostoevsky was a novelist, not a political consultant. But he was a notable social thinker. He was born into a middle class Moscow family, flirted with Socialism, got into trouble with the authorities, and was sent to Siberia. The result of Dostoevsky's experience was enmity toward Roman Catholicism, as shown in the Grand Inquisitor.
The chapter starts with Christ returning to Earth during the Spanish Inquisition of the 16th Century. Heretics are being burned at the stake. All the Indians were heretics, since they had never heard of the Lord before the Spaniards showed up. Christ gracefully meanders throughout the city. His radiance and compassion are made obvious. When the people are drawn to him, the Grand Inquisitor has him seized. The Inquisitor delivers a public relations campaign swaying people away from Christ, who is led to prison. The inquisitor then has a private meeting with Christ in his cell.
He tells Christ the people want security, and in worship they only want someone to whom they can hand their freedom over to. Freedom is terrifying to them in a hostile world. The Inquisitor sounds much like Hitler later did.
The conversation then centers on Satan's three temptations of Christ. The first is economic. People want money more than freedom. Christ can bring them all to him through bribes. Christ says no.
The next temptation is psychological. The people, who demand signs of Christ's power, require visually satisfying miracles. But Christ disdains such displays because he wants people to choose him voluntarily.
The Inquisitor then offers Christ political power, couching his offer in language that describes a “universal” or “world government,” which sounds like the “one-world government” Communism later aspired to. Christ rejects this offer, and then kisses the Grand Inquisitor. Dostoevsky describes the Inquisitor has having hatred in his eyes that embodies the very highest form of evil. The encounter is telling in its contrasts of good and evil. It is a very pro-Christian message, while being anti-Catholic at the same time, which is very significant. Studies of Dostoevsky by 20th Century scholars have been used to highlight the difference between Mahatma Gandhi's and Adolf Hitler's power. It also symbolizes the widespread abuse of nationalism in pursuit of power.
Security vs. freedom
Born in 1821, Dostoevsky was a contemporary of Marx. His father was an army doctor, and had influence over his son. Dostoevsky wanted to be a writer but his father directed him to engineering. He spent five years in the Army Engineering College in St. Petersburg, but his father was murdered in a peasant uprising. In 1844 Dostoevsky resigned his commission to commit himself to writing. It was at this time that the French utopian Socialists (Henri Saint-Simon and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon) influenced Marx. Dostoevsky read their works and became “mildly Socialist,” according to Professor Dennis Dalton. He was a critic of Czar Nicholas I (1825-1855).
In a five-year span from 1844-1849, Dostoevsky published 10 novels and short stories. Poor People (1845) was an instant success. Dostoevsky is seen as a literary figure of great influence because he helped create the “social genre” that was later found in the works of Charles Dickens in Britain and John Steinbeck in the U.S.
His truthful description of the plight of the poor in Czarist Russia earned him an eight-month imprisonment in 1849. The charges stated that he was plotting criminal attacks against the government, but also cited the “insolence” of his works. He was sentenced to die and wrote that he "escaped," but the sentence was actually commuted to four years in Siberia. This resulted in a major change of heart. He became an adherent of Nicholas I and Alexander II (1855-1881), committed to his country, to the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, and his nation's culture. He completely disavowed his early Socialist ideas. Towards the end of his life, when the early stirrings of the Socialist movement were beginning to take place in Russia, he intensely opposed it.
From 1864 to 1860, he wrote Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. His chapter on the Grand Inquisitor in Brothers is set in 16th Century Spain, during the “worst period of the Spanish Inquisition.” Started by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1481 to expose Muslims and Jews, Isabella's confessor Tomas de Torquemada (1420-1498) was the first Grand Inquisitor. He had 2,000 people burned at the stake in a public autos da fe, or “acts of faith.” It is Torquemada who Dostoevsky models the old Cardinal of his book.
At the beginning of the story, Christ enters and is recognized by the people. This immediately threatens the Inquisitor's power. Dostoevsky obviously thinks history would repeat itself, and is pessimistic about man's ability to learn its lessons. Or, as the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The Inquisitor echoes Pontius Pilate and has Christ seized by his soldiers. The rest of the story is Dostoevsky's philosophy of good vs. evil, showing the people as accepting Christ's imprisonment because they choose to be cowed into submission and obedience. The Inquisitor goes on a diatribe intended to justify his blasphemy. In it he announces that has accepted Satan over Christ because Satan understands human nature.
The overriding theme of the story is freedom. Christ sees freedom as being spiritual and says the “truth shall make you free.”
“Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone to whom he can hand it over quickly that gift of freedom with which that unhappy creature is born . . .” countered the Inquisitor. “Did you forget that man prefers peace and even death to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but at the same time nothing is a greater torture.”
Dostoevsky's concepts of freedom are incredibly instructive of our knowledge of European history. In his moody pessimisms about the rejection of freedom, Dostoevsky echoed the sad tide of political history. We see his words resonating out of the French Revolution, when freedom gave way to retribution and left the bewildered, morally corrupt French masses begging for somebody - anybody - to be their master. Thus rose little Napoleon.
Dostoevsky's influence in Russia is tremendous and tragic. The future leaders of Communism used his words, and the people believed them. Europeans were not prepared for an alternative to despotism. Dostoevsky indicated that it is natural. The only exception was Great Britain, which slowly rose above and beyond themselves to become a Democracy.
Dostoevsky must have known the American success story. Perhaps the geographical and metaphysical distance that separates the U.S. from Europe and in particular, Russia, must have made the stories of the American Revolution something exotic and impossible to truly comprehend. Dostoevsky's vision is one of great gloom. He could not comprehend people of freedom and rugged individuality. However, the great influx of immigrants from Russia, Germany, Italy, Ireland and other European countries to America had begun during his life. What motivation did Dostoevsky attribute to all these people?
Instead, through the Inquisitor, Dostoevsky wrote that people need to be freed from themselves, because they are afraid and therefore look to authority “and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and will be awe stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever.”
It is important to note that Dostoevsky was quoting a character he is not sympathetic to. Dostoevsky was sympathetic to Christ and does attribute to Christ a spiritual love of the truth, which might be viewed as “freedom.” This gives man some kind of desire to avoid the authority of the Inquisitor. But he seems to indicate that the Inquisitor has found the pulse of what makes man tick.
In Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm, the Grand Inquisitor's view of freedom vs. authority is related to politics, especially Hitler's Germany. Fromm felt that there are different kinds of freedom. John Stuart Mill described a kind of freedom that is more Western in nature, and helps to promote the vision of individualism that makes up the American psyche. Fromm said that in contemporary society, people are afraid of this kind of full freedom.
They are afraid because, as Dostoevsky said, they are “alone with his self and confronting an alienated, hostile world.” “The frightened individual seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again,” wrote Fromm, in his explanation of why men “voluntarily” eliminate free choice. Fromm pointed to Hitler's Mein Kampf, and his understanding of how to mobilize the masses.
Security lies at the heart of the Hitlerian view of what people want. It is the word that drives explanations for the two massive, totalitarian movements of the 20th Century. While this is one of the most imponderable questions ever asked, there are some explanations. First of all, there is the sheer weight of history in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and in the Orient: centuries of monarchs, despots, wars, torturers, tyrants, plagues, disasters, genocides, racial hatreds, religious hatreds, tribal hatreds, divisions, broken promises, abandonments, and a million other horrible sides of the human condition. All of these conditions met up with the Industrial Revolution, when people went to work in factories. Huge numbers moved from rural farms where they owned the land, to dirty cities where they found themselves to be numbers. New technology and machinery created weapons of killing that were impersonal and efficient.
Fortunately, these conditions are not as much a part of the landscape of America as the rest of world. America is a young country, and it has been forged out of success. They learned valuable lessons about how not to govern, what the dark side of the human condition is, and how to improve upon it. We gained a big boost of confidence when we won our revolution. We saw the French try to copy us. We saw ourselves become an influential country in the world. Our enemies, the English, came around to becoming more like us, led by Lincoln's contemporary, Benjamin Disraeli. We fought a terrible Civil War, but out of that we confronted our worst problems and began the long process of fixing them.
Perhaps most important, we were never occupied. The South was occupied during Reconstruction, but this was a much different set of circumstances than the French being occupied by the English, the Sicilians by the Moors, the Germans by the Romans, the Greeks by the Persians, and all the other results of war.
Let us imagine this scenario. The Civil War started, and around 1862 or so, the French traveled to our shores and joined forces with the Union. Then French forces took the fight to the South. Eventually splits with the Union occurred, especially regarding the lands of Louisiana, in and around New Orleans. The French decided to “re-claim” their lands. The French push the Confederates to defeat, then occupy the South and force the Confederates to free their slaves. Then the English, the long-time enemies of the French, come to the aid of the Confederacy. A major new front is created in which the French and the English fight each other on our soil.
Eventually, the war ends. Various political compromises, treaties and land grabs dot the American landscape. Our states are divvied up between various confederated groups of Franco-Union and Confederate-English military occupations. For years after, we live as an occupied nation. The slave trade ended at the hands of foreign invaders, not of our own will. Our laws and freedoms are dictated in part by these alien people. Various fights and rebellions occur, with different splinter groups trying to fight guerilla wars in an attempt to create little fiefdoms. Had this been our history, then the kind of citizenry Dostoevsky said the Inquisitor was satisfying might have developed. The kind that Fromm describes in Germany, and which makes up the landscape of humanity in China, the Middle East, Latin America and throughout the Old World. Then America might have been open to the kind of dictators and dividers who came to power in the rest of world.
Americans are not more intelligent, but are lucky to have had so much history occur before becoming a country, and to learn from past mistakes. But our values could have been rent asunder, discarded like old campaign slogans (see France in the 1790s). Instead, they were immortalized.
God and man
Man, according to the Grand Inquisitor, is “weak, sinful, worthless, and rebellious.” Man is worthless! Take everything out of the equation, and if men in power think man is worthless, all other explanations for history come into focus.
“You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,” Joseph Stalin said.
Contrast this with Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image . . .” If indeed man did render himself “worthless” by falling to sinful temptation, consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life . . .”
The worthlessness of man gives men of “vision” the excuse they need to send them into wars, to kill entire races, to wipe out religions, to abort children by the millions, and to torture the imprisoned. At its core is a rejection of religion, because if man is worthless, then God is irrelevant. The battle is between the concept of man being created in the image of God, nurtured by His love, and protected by his guiding hand, vs. the image of teething masses of human animals.
Humans are “vile and weak,” says the Inquisitor. “Man is weaker and baser by nature than You believed him to be.” Human nature yearns for “miracle, mystery, and authority” to soothe his anxieties.
Dostoevsky poses “three questions,” the temptations of Christ found in the New Testament, Matthew 4:1-11, which can be called “plenty, pride and power.” They are based on the temptations that Satan offered Christ while he wandered in the wilderness.
“Man cannot live by bread alone,” Christ said when the devil offered him a deal whereby he would be a hero by feeding the masses bread.
“In the end, they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, `Make us your slaves, but feed us,' ” the Inquisitor screams at the Christ of The Brothers Karamazov. The question is whether people want earthly or Heavenly bread. The pessimists say that to pursue God is a contradiction of human nature. This fails to address a trend throughout much of the world whereby poor people are more religious than rich. If one were to buy the Inquisitor's argument, then the wealthy, who have their “bread” needs taken care of, would turn to God more readily than the poor. The poor would be too busy trying to feed themselves to pray. The dirt-poor peasants of Latin America worship Christ with a love and fervor almost beyond imagination. The notions of man described by these dark artists just do not jive with this reality.
The next temptation that the Inquisitor puts before Christ is an offer to demonstrate himself in a vain display of power. The Inquisitor is infuriated by Christ's calm refusal to do so, saying he wishes man to follow him freely, not because of demonstrations of immortality. Dostoevsky's interpretation is a bit obscure in light of the fact that Christ did display His powers in His life, by walking on water among other miracles. What Dostoevsky does, however, is aimed at showing the Inquisitor, and therefore the Catholic Church, as being guilty of intellectual arrogance, of “playing God,” and of being demonic. In its avowal of infallibility, studies of Dostoevsky's work indicate that he is also showing science to be guilty of the sin of pride. While science is supposed to be open-minded, it is elitist and impersonal.
This seeming side reference to science, which is not the main point of the chapter, nevertheless brings up some very important points about the nature of man in society. It has been pointed out that some dark thinkers believe man to be worthless. This is the heart of the anti-religious concept. Christians believe that God loves Man, and therefore each man is of great value.
But science is a tricky question, and one that gets mixed up with questions of evil as it applies to mammon. Science is prideful, and it displays itself in vulgar demonstrations of its “greatness.” Christ chose not to do. The Internet is an example of science, technology and information potentially running amok. It is the natural tool of the hated “one-world government.” It has already been shown to be a valuable tool of terrorists and pedophiles, and it is only about 20 years old. The important constraint of science must be in the idea that it serves man, not the other way around.
Science also tends to assert itself as infallible, or true. Dostoevsky saw this as the way of the Catholic Church. Both science and the Catholics view the masses with contempt, and it is for this reason that Dostoevsky views pride as the harbinger of Western downfall.
Dostoevsky viewed the “West” as being the outside world. Russian was not part of it. He said the West had convinced itself that it is endowed by God's grace, and uses this to justify its exploitations of native people's and lands. Marx saw this and thought it the fatal flaw of capitalism.
Pride is a word that has been stretched around. As it applies to the Inquisitor and Biblical sins, it is a detrimental human trait. But just as Freud's “ego” is different from the ego we use in everyday usage, pride has come to be seen as something of value. Humility and humbleness are valuable human traits, but pride in one's work, family, country, religion, accomplishments - pride in Western culture, in America's place in the world - these are things to be proud of. What must be kept in mind are not the simple concepts of sinful pride, but rather the temperance of pride as being something that each man must measure against something larger than himself.
Power is the third temptation of Christ, in the wilderness and in the jail of Dostoevsky's novel. In the Bible, Satan offers Christ all the land of the world. In it is the implicit parallel of one-world government. This was the goal of international Communism.
Perhaps the greatest, most unlearned lesson in history is that real power is in ceding this power. It is in not utilizing full military might. It is in allowing freedom to reign. This creates greater control, stability and influence than by any other method, yet requires the most God-like lack of vanity. The dark visions of Marx, Dostoevsky and Freud are exposed as frauds, miscalculations, lies, and falsehoods. The freedom of man is not ours to "allow." It is the unalienable, natural right of all men. We cannot "grant" freedom, only help those who are not free gain access to it.
The wicked live, the messy reign, and the corrupt thrive. To get rid of them by overwhelming force and fiat makes us no better than they are. We do this because we believe some have the capability of redemption. We do not believe all the innocent should die so evil may be eliminated. If we did this evil would just take a different form.
The parable of the 20th Century comes at the end of the exchange between Christ and the Inquisitor. The Inquisitor seems to have hit the nail on the head, his descriptions to Christ describing the worst excesses of our age. But in the end, Christ closes the encounter with a kiss. This “gesture of inclusiveness” is one of incredible symbolism. It represents the Hitler/Gandhi spectrum, and the East/West divide.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism