Anarchy, Nihilism and Liberalism in Dostoevksy's Demons

Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Demons" (Besy, in Russian, variously translated as "The Possessed" and "Devils") is a fundamentally political and social novel. It draws directly on the true story of a murder committed in 1869 by Russian anarchist and nihilist Sergei Nechaev (Saunders 324). The peasant reforms (Dostoevsky 370), the third department (Dostoevsky 361) and the emergence of the zemstvo (Dostoevsky 211) all enjoy passing mention. However, it is the Nechaev-like anarchists and older liberals who are the primary players in the Russia of "Demons". In addition to the facts of the murder, "Demons" depicts a much wider social and political conflict in Russia. Dostoevsky depicts a Russian society divided between ideologies: The westernizing liberals of the 1840s, Slavophiles (Russian isolationists and nationalists), and nihilists. Dostoevsky's sentiments clearly do not lie with the latter, as "Demons" offers an often satirical and always unflattering portrait of the Russian radical revolutionary movement of the 1860s and 1870s.

Dostoevsky's treatment of the ideological divide between pro-Western liberals and nihilists can be more generally characterized as a...

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