Friday, January 21, 2005

The Idiot

This is too good not to print in its entirety:

Burning Bush brandishes Dostoevsky

Given the Biblical language in which George Bush and his speechwriters are steeped, it is not surprising that the US president should invoke the imagery of fire, writes James Meek
James Meek
Friday January 21, 2005

Guardian
One of the models of American leadership is that of Moses, leading God's chosen people - then the Jews, now the Americans - towards a promised land, following a pillar of fire. At one point, according to the Bible, Moses was shown a sign: "Behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed."

But the key fire passage in the Burning Bush speech - "We have lit a fire as well; a fire in the minds of men" - actually has its origins in a novel by the 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky,
The Devils, about a group of terrorists' ineffectual struggle to bring down the tyrannical Tsarist regime.

One of the characters declares that it is pointless to try to put out a fire started by terrorists: "The fire is in the minds of men and not in the roofs of houses," he says.

The novel belongs to a period in Dostoevsky's life which the White House might find attractive, after he had been sent by the Tsar to a kind of Russian Guantánamo and emerged a deeply religious conservative.

Nonetheless, it is not clear whether Bush is identifying here with the terrorists - or the tyrants.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

2 comments:

Angus McIntyre said...

The irony of Bush choosing to quote Dostoevsky grows more delicious the more you savor it. After all, a turning point in Dostoevsky's life was when - arrested for attempting to exercise his freedom of speech - he was subjected to the same kind of mock execution that US forces have used to terrorize Iraqi detainees.

But still more relevant, to my mind, is the following passage from "Crime and Punishment", which Dostoevsky puts into the mouth of the character Luzhin:

"Economic truth adds that the better private affairs are organised in society ... the firmer are its foundations and the better is the common welfare organised too ... in acquiring wealth solely and exclusively for myself, I am acquiring, so to speak, for all, and helping to bring to pass my neighbour's getting a little more than a torn coat; and that not from private, personal liberality, but as a consequence of the general advance."I'm sure Mr Luzhin - whose views are clearly so close to Bush's own, as this passage indicates - would have been in favor of massive tax cuts for the rich as well. Of course, Dostoevsky portrays Luzhin as a pompous, mean-spirited and avaricious fool - quite the opposite of our own beloved president, in other words.

chattr said...

The novel belongs to a period in Dostoevsky's life which the White House might find attractive, after he had been sent by the Tsar to a kind of Russian Guantánamo and emerged a deeply religious conservative. '[A] period in Dostoevsky's life'?

Dostoevsky was released from prison in 1854.

Dostoevsky wrote The Possessed (or The Devils or The Demons) in 1872, after he wrote The Idiot.