Atheism In Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’

Demon Immorality: A Quick Look At Nikolay Stavrogin


Brandy Anderson

Fyodor Dostoevsky suggests that human arrogance is the main cause for immorality and most, if not all, of human evils. Nikolay Stavrogin embodies some of the flawed necessities of a revolutionary according to Dostoevsky: pride and over estimation. Nikolay rationalizes his horrible deeds by asserting that he was in charge of his actions and, therefore, he was not working on impulses, but rather he was deliberately fulfilling his own wishes and desires. It could be argued that he may not have committed such heinous crimes had he been faced with the religious fear of retribution from an unhappy God. This is a commentary by Dostoevsky on the evils of not atheism in itself, but rather of humanity shouldering too much of its own destiny, and the crippling consequences of believing such ideology.

Nikolay repeatedly talks of his ability to govern his actions. He says his will is strong enough to overpower any passionate urge which may supersede a weaker will. Misplaced arrogance in his own recognizance is a key factor to his crimes. Nikolay’s conversation with Tikhon about religion shows this arrogance as being essential to crime and the behaviours which may follow depending on the individual’s religious viewpoint. Upon goading by Nikolay, Tikhon claims “Complete atheism is more respectable than secular indifference” (758). Nikolay questions whether it is possible to believe in demons without believing in God because the struggle to make sense of religion plagues him.

This questioning of morality is an issue which always goes along with revolution. Revolution cannot be obtained without the bending, or sometimes breaking, of morality. The question is whether the ends justify the means. Dostoevsky seems to be saying that the evil, or dark side, of humanity rears its ugly head in these situations, and there is no stopping this vile negativity once it is unleashed. Dostoevsky is not condoning this insidious behaviour, he is spotlighting the problem.

The world is full of seducers who capitalize on their power over others in order to gain what they want. Stavrogin embodies these “skills”, yet he is not unequivocally happy about his endowments. His self-loathing is seen at its peak when he goes to Tikhon bearing his confession of his horrendous deeds. Pride, apprehension, and a certain sort of regret (possibly) are combined in his self-reproach as he waits for Tikhon to finish reading his chronicle of crime.

Dostoevsky balances Nikolay’s evil deeds with the character’s love of the “thrill of the crime” and then the subsequent self-loathing which follows. This chapter is essential to Dostoevsky’s view of these atheist revolutionaries because it not only details the scope of these terrible crimes, but it also shows that these beastly men, as seen in Stavrogin, suffer for committing such atrocities. This downfall of humanity will lead to an increasingly crumbling society.

The main problem behind most revolutions lies within the execution of the sought after change. Dostoevsky suggests humans rely too much on their own intellects and perceived power to effectively bring about a more Utopian society. One of humanity’s principle problems is arrogance and the inherent “power-trip” which accompanies such exaggerated assurance.

Work Cited:

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Demons. Trans. Robert Maguire. Ed. Ronald Meyer. Penguin. Toronto: 2008. Print.

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One thought on “Atheism In Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’

  1. Pingback: Dostoevsky the Doodler: Elaborate Drawings Discovered in His Manuscripts | pundit from another planet

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