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Decemberists and Nihilists

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Smita T

on 10 October 2013

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Transcript of Decemberists and Nihilists

Decemberists and Nihilists

Nihilism in Crime and Punishment
Women in Crime and Punishment
The Decemberists (and the Nihilists they inspired) contributed greatly to the atomoshere of soial unrest in Russia during the 1860s. Dostoevsky directly and indirectly adresses the ideas of both groups in Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov embodies many nihilistic traits: He lacks empathy, and he does not seems to be inagreement with the idea that morality is an artificial, human creation.
Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment was published in 1866, a time of social unrest in Russia. The Decembrists and the Nihiists both contributed to this disquiet, and multiple Nihilistic elements are reflected in the novel.
What is nihilism?
Nihilists and Decemberists
How does Nihilism relate to Russia?
A Timeline of Events:
Existential Nihilism
Life has no inherent meaning or intrinsic value
Moral Nihilism
Morality is an artificial, human creation. Therefore, it is not inherently meaningful.

For example, a moral nihilist might argue that killing someone is neither good nor bad.
Political Nihilism
"Here is the ultimatum of our camp. What can be smashed must be smashed; whatever will stand the blow is sound, what flies into smithereens is rubbish; at any rate, hit out right and left, no harm will or can come of it."
- Dmitry Ivanovich Pisarev (1840-1868)
A political philosophy that rejects widely-believed assertions that have not been proven. Political nihilists question the necessity of certain social structures, like Government and Law Enforcement. It is similar to Utilitarianism.
December 26, 1825
Alexander II's Rise to Power

After the Crimean War, Russia was losing its position as a major European power player
Alexander II made a peace treaty with Europe
He freed the peasants
He introduced new domestic reforms for:
The military
The judiciary branch
The local governments
This spirit of change set the stage for nihilism to grow and flourish
Land and Freedom
- A secret nihilist society - the first of many to be created
- The formations of such groups led Russia into a period called "The White Terror"
A period in which nihilists were suppressed
Liberal reforms were minimized
Educational system was reformed to crush revolutionary spirit
- The White Terror ends the foundation period of Nihilism
- Launches Russia into the Revolutionary phase
Crime and Punishment Published
Dostoyevsky's reaction to Nihilism:
Intensely disliked the philosophy, especially after becoming an Orthodox Christian
His last five novels (including Crime and Punishment) deal with the theme of nihilism
Though Dostoyevsky was in opposition to nihilism, a lot of what we know about the movement is from his writing
Alexander II's Assassination and Death of Nilhilist Movement
Alexander II's assassination marks the end of the nihilist movement
His successor, Alexander III, brutally suppressed any remaining nihilists
Decemberist Revolt
Czar Nicholas I was in power
Some believed the throne should have gone to Constantine Pavlovich (who held liberal views and was open to the idea of a free Russian State)
3,000 members of the military revolted against Nicholas I
The uprising was violently stopped
Surviving Decemberists were exiled

Popularity and Influence of Prose

Novels were a highly respected form of storytelling
The spread of ideas increased dramatically with the rise of publications and literary journals
Increased access to philosophical ideas
Noble, heroic fictional characters were widely admired
Dunya and Sonya
Dounia and Sonya are greatly different from Raskolnikov. The two women each make huge sacrifices for the well-being of their families. Political nihilists question the necessity of social structures such as families. Raskolnikov entered the University so he could secure a decent job and eventually support his mother and sister. However, he abandoned his studies. Dounia and Sonia are selfless and compassionate; they embody very anti-nihilistic traits.
Raskolnikov is, in many ways, a nihilist. Raskolnikov disregards conventional morality and convinces himself that his plot to murder the pawn broker is just. This heinous crime blatantly challenges the value of Law and Law Enforcement. Raskolnikov's lack of compassion and hostility in social situations could also be considered nihilistic.
"What do you think? Would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds? For one life thousands would be saved from corruption and decay. One death, and a hundred lives in exchange- it's simple arithmetic! Besides, what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence?" (pg. 63)

Raskolnikov overhears this at a tavern around the time he develops the exact same idea.
"She walked straight up to Katerina Ivanovna and she laid thirty rouble on the table before her in silence. She did not utter a word, she did not even look at her..." (pg. 16)

Sonya becomes a prostitute to earn money for her starving family. Raskolnikov's reason for ignoring his morals is radically different.
Fictitious Marriages
Technically women weren't allowed to travel on their own passport, they needed to be with either their husbands or male relatives
Nihilist societies allowed them to create fake marriages which allowed them to be able to travel and spread their own ideas
Additionally some nihilists believed that adultery was natural
Katerina Ivanovna marries a virtual stranger after losing her first husband
This examples demonstrates the emphasis the original social structure of Russia on marriage
One of the establishments the nihilists hoped to crush
Marriage in
Crime and Punishment
About 1/3 of secret societies were composed of women
Maintained a fairly equal relationship with men

1. Cha, Sowan. "Nihilism in Russia 1860-1881." Nihilism in Russia. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.
2. Jones, Jan. "Nihilistic Sentiments." Lethbridge Undergraduate Research Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.
3. New Zealand Herald. PapersPast. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.
4. Pistolero. "A History of Russian Nihilism." Pistols Drawn. Wordpress, n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.
5. Russkiy, Misha. "The Decemberist Uprising." Russian Culture. Wordpress, n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.
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