Human rights are controversial. They probably shouldn’t be, being instead something we should all be able to rally around as the bare minimum we can do to protect our fellow man from the harms that could be inflicted upon them by the cruel. But that is not the case. As with most other things, human rights have been co-opted by both sides of the debate to feed the war-machines of angst. The Rwanda immigration policy is the latest battleground, but it won’t be the last. This will never fully be resolved, but a new British Bill of Rights will go a long way.
Personally I have never been a fan of a codified set of rights. I am not sure we need to be told by a specific document that we have the right to life. It should transcend a piece of paper into our way of being. We have, being a civilised people here in the United Kingdom, worked it out on our own, with many of the rights we have anticipated in the European Convention on Human Rights.
But that is often forgotten due to this constitution-style system. People seem to forget that these rights are as human to us as breathing, and that they didn’t just burst into existence upon drafting. The only time this happened was at Mount Sinai, and even then, I would contend that most of them were already held within the hearts and minds of the assembled peoples who heard them. Codified sets of rights take on a mythical status, used by those of a more puritanical bent to suggest that without said list, we would all fall the next day into some purge-like hellscape, acting with horrendous disregard for all others.
However, just as nature abhors a vacuum, the cogs of the judicial system thrive on vagaries. There will always be room for interpretation (especially, somewhat ironically, with things so fundamental), so it is the lesser of the evils to have these rights written down for all to see, so our intent is clear. There will always be lacunas to fill, but you can rest easy knowing it will be by like-minded individuals, attuned to the clear direction of the people they will impact, understanding their tradition, position, and direction.
But that isn’t the case as things stand, and it is where most of the current controversy around human rights actually sits. As things stand, we have a scenario where the interpretation of these fundamental items, these things so personal to a people, is conducted supranational, by a group not attuned to how these rights are embedded within us, and how we in the UK wish them to be used. It sows division within our country to have these matters decided for us, outside of our own structures that we have built to govern and protect each other.
Of course, we did sign up, there was originally consent for this position, but we are a long way now from the post-war mindset that led to the ECHR being created. We have moved on. Not to the extent that we wish to abandon any of the rights themselves (no matter what certain commentators would have you believe), but in terms of how we wish the grey to be made black and white.
The best thing to do, therefore, is to withdraw from the ECHR, and recreate the convention as an Act of Parliament. It shouldn’t be too difficult, given how involved in the drafting we were in the first place. This glorious legislation should then be given the fanfare and patriotic name it deserves. And in doing so we will free ourselves from the shackles of the current situation, while still providing a beacon of hope for all to rally around.
Each side should be happy with the result.
As the precious document will still exist, the ‘frothers-in-chief’ will be content that the UK won’t slip into lawlessness overnight, while the rest of us can be happy that we will be in the position where any interpretation is done within our own judicial structure, using our thought processes, aligned to our own (lower order, but still important) values.
There will still be much need to call on the judiciary to interpret our fundamental rights, and there will still be cases that cause division. But we will be able to at least point to our own shared national heritage, and our wonderful common law, as the reasoning for these decisions. They will have been made by us, for us, to protect us. Just like our human rights.
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By Christopher Winter — 2 weeks ago
At the end of 2021, I challenged myself to read at least 10 pages of a book a day. I was initially shocked at how difficult I found it to just sit down quietly and read a book. However, within the first month, I found it easier and easier to sit quietly, and enjoy reading. Having been unable to read practically anything for pleasure in the past few years, I am glad that I was able to accomplish this. By the end of 2022, I was able to read 14 books, and I decided that it would be prudent to compile a list of them, and to give a brief review of each one. All of these reviews were written within a few days of finishing the book, so as to give my most accurate opinions of them. This article, therefore, has been a year in the making! I hope that I am able to persuade you to take up this challenge in 2023.
Upon reflection, it has become clear to me that my reviews at the start of the year are not as good as the ones nearer the end of the year. Please excuse me for this, I have had no experience in writing book reviews up until now; but I feel as though this exercise has given me good practice in the area.
Book 1: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Read from: 01/01/2022 to 14/01/2022
When I saw this for sale in Waterstones, I chuckled to myself because I have seen the film so many times, and am very aware of all of the references and memes it has generated. I immediately bought it and I am extremely glad that I decided to make it my first read of 2022.
The book is an extremely well-written and unique dive into the horror nightmare land of Yuppie culture in the 1980s through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, Patrick Bateman.
For anyone who has seen and enjoyed the film, you will love this book. This novel fleshes out the character of Patrick Bateman and the accompanying cast and really helps to add the context and depth which would be impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to show on film.
The book is intentionally written in a repetitive and confusing style to try and put us in the head of Bateman, who lives a life surrounded by repetitive and confusing people constantly lost in meaningless conversations over what kinds of socks match with a certain tie, or who is calling up the newest celebrity-owned restaurant to make a reservation. As a reader, you may find this jarring at some points. But I beg you to be mindful of the point Ellis is trying to make. By about a third of the way through you will begin to appreciate the pages and pages of text covering the newest album from Huey Lewis and the News, and Patrick’s running commentary on what he, his girlfriend, his friends, and his victims are wearing.
Please be aware that if you have a vivid imagination, this book can be extremely difficult to read at some points due to the levels of violence and gore it portrays in excruciating detail. (I actually found myself feeling sick at some points, but this just lends more credit to the incredibly descriptive abilities of Bret Easton Ellis).
I thoroughly recommend this book, and I hope that you read it and enjoy it as much as I did.
Book 2: The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle
Read from: 15/01/2022 to 13/02/2022
I had never been very interested in philosophy, I had always found it unnecessary for myself to learn it. However, after a few debates and arguments with some of my friends who did enjoy learning philosophy, I decided that I would finally get around to reading some.
As I am interested in politics and public speaking, one of my friends recommended to me the Art of Rhetoric. I bought this book some time ago last year and had never read it, so I thought it would be best to start off my philosophical education with this book… that was a mistake.
I soon came to realise that, if you have never read any of Aristotle’s work, he can appear to be a confusing writer. He seems to love tangents and diversions and references to his own and other people’s work. Whilst it was certainly interesting to read about all of these tangents, it did make it quite difficult and confusing at some points to really understand his point or what he was talking about. One minute he would be talking about the different reasons people debate, and then he would suddenly be discussing the benefits of slave ownership.
Another issue I had while reading the book is that it introduces some new terms and words that I had never heard of before such as ‘Enthymemes’ etc. I had to spend considerable time actually learning what all of these specific terms meant before I could even understand what a large amount of the book was talking about, otherwise, I would have completely missed the context of entire chapters. That is not the fault of the book but a fault of mine (as mentioned earlier this was the first philosophical book I have ever read, and that was my mistake).
The book is actually split into three books (all relatively short). Without spoiling anything, The first two books give a lot of context to the third book which is where the actual ‘art of rhetoric’ is discussed at length. This made the first two books feel very slow compared to the third. It is also worth noting that the first two books are where most of the tangents can be found, whereas the third book seems laser-focused on the topic at hand.
Overall, I found the book very enjoyable. It pushed me to actually learn new concepts and terms I had never heard of before, and gave me new ways of looking at debate and argument as a practice. I would definitely recommend this book to people interested in improving their debate and public speaking skills, however, I would also warn you that, if you have never studied philosophy before, don’t be surprised if you have to re-read a few pages and do some research on some of the concepts Aristotle talks about.
Book 3: Trans-Siberian Rail Guide by Robert Strauss
Read from: 13/02/2022 to 19/02/2022
I found this book completely by accident at the ‘Barter Books’ second-hand book shop in Alnwick. I saw the cover, saw the low price, took a guess at what it might be about, and decided that I had to have it! At first, I assumed that this would be a simple guide for tourists of the Trans Siberian railway, but as soon as I started reading it, I discovered that it was so much more than that. It is a charming collection of history, anecdotes, and stories about the Trans Siberian Railway; and an assortment of (now obsolete) information about the various ways one could successfully navigate the journey across the Soviet Union to China and Japan (or vice versa) via train in the late 1980s.
This is by no means a history book, however, it is a very dated guidebook that was written for an 80’s audience, and it contains an absolute heap of useless and obsolete information about how to behave properly around Soviet border agents, the addresses of various consulates and embassies for countries which no longer exist, and tips on where best to buy camera film and cheap Hi-Fi’s when lost in Beijing. I found that this added to the charm of the book, and made it more interesting to read about the lived experiences of those bold adventurers making their way across Communist Russia, Mongolia, and China.
What makes this book even more endearing is that, when it was written, the author put out an advert for readers of the Times newspaper to submit their own stories of their travels along the Trans Siberian to him. He features these stories throughout where relevant, which really adds to the human touch of the book.
The book is broken down into 5 parts. Some of these parts are more focussed on the history of the railway and various anecdotes and stories of travelers’ experiences over the last 100 years on it. Other parts of the book are more instructional and list embassies, hotels, hostels, useful numbers for Visa applications, etc. The author, Robert Strauss, does an excellent job of weaving these two very separate kinds of information together to make for a very delightful read.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Trans Siberian Railway, anyone who wants a brief flashback to the late 1980s, and anyone who is sad enough to spend their time reading pages and pages of completely useless and obsolete information about how to purchase train tickets from the Hungarian Socialist Republic (people like me).
Book 4: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Read from: 20/02/2022 to 08/04/2022
This book was bought for me as a gift by my girlfriend after I had expressed some curiosity in it (it is her favourite book and I was interested to see why).
This book (sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divider’) is a tricky one to get through at times, it brazenly challenges you to keep reading it, despite its cruel themes and evil characters. I found some parts of the book particularly difficult to stomach due to the horrible issues which it covers, but I did soldier on through it to the end. This is why it has taken me almost double the time to get through this book as it has to get through other books of a similar length.
The book tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a handsome young European academic who comes to America after the death of his first wife. The story is told in the past tense from his perspective as he desperately tries to convince the reader, using all of his intellectual charm and cultured European graces, that his attraction to young girls is completely fine, and that the rape of his landlady turned wife’s daughter, Lolita, is justified.
It is fair to say that the book is a heavy read, and forces you to stay on your toes in order to not sympathise with him. Humbert Humbert is the king of unreliable narration, and phrases the most disgusting events in ways that can become very palatable to the reader if not considered properly in context.
This is indeed the crux of the book’s appeal, it is astonishingly beautifully written, even if it leaves you feeling sick or sad afterward. The writing style of the author, Vladimir Nabokov, in this book is absolutely impeccable and suits the theme and character of Humbert Humber almost too perfectly. It made the characters feel so alive and real.
My main complaint about the book, and what is stopping it from receiving five stars in my opinion, is that some sections (specifically the road trips) seem unnecessarily drawn out and overcomplicated, whilst other parts (specifically the ending) seem too rushed and simple – it feels as though you waited through a huge build-up over hundreds of pages for an ending that is covered in less than 30! I understand that this is because the book is framed as a retelling of a story from one person’s blinkered perspective, but I would have enjoyed it a bit more if the book spent more time fleshing out other parts of the story, and perhaps cutting back on excessive detail in others. However, this issue did not kill to book for me and I did still find it very readable almost all of the time.
In conclusion, an absolutely fantastic read that I would definitely recommend to anyone bold enough to take on Nabokov’s challenge.
Book 5: Mine Were of Trouble by Peter Kemp
Read from: 08/04/2022 to 13/05/2022
This book was completely unknown to me until I started being recommended it by various anonymous accounts on Twitter. My curiosity peaked after I had heard the general theme of it; and I must say, I am extremely glad that I took the decision to buy and read it.
This is arguably one of the most interesting, thrilling, and charming books I have ever read, and most certainly is a contender for my favourite of the year. The author, Peter Kemp, has a superb skill for structure, detail, and storytelling that makes it extremely difficult to put this book down. It gives you just enough detail to help you understand the situations he was in without being too heavy-handed and boring. At some moments, ‘Mine Were of Trouble’ reads almost like an adventure book; not because the events are so unbelievable, but because of the great lengths the author went to describe the acts of heroism and horror he saw in real life.
The book tells the true story of the experiences of Peter Kemp (the author), a 21-year-old English law student who was so moved by the stories coming to Britain of the horrors experienced by Catholic priests at the hands of the Republicans, that he decided to join the Carlists (a monarchist faction within the Nationalist army during the Spanish civil war). The book does not read like a diary, and instead is more of a lengthy account of his entire time before and during his service in the Spanish Nationalist military.
The true tales told by Kemp range from the humourous and charming to the horrendous and despicably ugly. At times during the book I was chuckling, and at other times I was almost crying. The book is not attempting to engender these emotions within you, it is simply telling you the story of Kemp’s fascinating journey through the civil war. It serves to remind us all that not all of war is horror; and not all of war is camaraderie, fun, and games.
This book has generated within me a great desire for travel and escapades. I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone interested in the history and politics of inter-war Europe and the Spanish civil war. I would also recommend this book to anyone interested in the concepts of masculinity, heroism, and the call to adventure. Whilst not saying it directly, Kemp touches on all of these topics in great detail. His time and actions in Spain reflect his values of faith, honour, courage, and compassion. This book has served as a great insight for me into all of these topics, and I am sure that it would do the same for you.
Book 6: Convenience Store Woman by Murata Sakaya
Read from: 13/05/2022 to 16/05/2022
As I was strolling around the Waterstones near Monument Metro Station in Newcastle, my girlfriend and I came across a small ‘Japanese Literature’ section. I have never read any Japanese literature of any kind ever, so I was intrigued by it. I was curious to see what was on offer and, as I was looking at the table, I was passed a copy of this book ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by my girlfriend who said to me that she had really enjoyed reading it in the past. I took her advice and, as it was only £8.99, I decided to buy it. This was a very good decision, and I am very glad that I bought this book.
The book itself is very short at just 160 pages with barely more than 200 words a page on average, so you can get through this extremely quickly. I consider myself to be quite a slow reader and I managed to complete it in just 3 days! I found the book to be very difficult to put down, the pacing was just right and kept you hooked into the story all of the time. I didn’t feel as though the story dragged at any point, and the general theme was one which I found quite relatable.
The story itself centres around Miss Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old Japanese woman who has been working the same part time job at the same convenience store for the last 18 years. Whilst never stating it explicitly, it is obvious that Keiko has autism and struggles to understand the actions of the people in the world around her, except for when she is working in the store. Keiko’s whole life revolves around her job at the store and it seems as though, to her, it is the one thing that gives her a purpose. She sees no reason to keep herself healthy, except for the benefit of the running of the store; she sees no reason to take a shower and shave, except for the benefit of the running of the store etc. This all changes when a new employee, a man name Shiraha, enters the picture.
Both of these characters are outcasts who take a different approach to dealing with the similar situation that they find themselves in. Shiraha is a failure who cannot find a wife. He is angry at the world for forcing him to work and just wants to hide away and do nothing. Keiko, on the other hand, has no anger to the world and just cares about the running of the store. The author does an excellent job at contrasting their opinions and methods for dealing with their problems, and it proves to be an excellent commentary on the expectations that Japanese society places on men and women.
If you are looking for a light and quirky book, this is certainly one for you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I was sad to have finished it so quickly. It has been a refreshing brake from the other books I have read so far, and I will certainly make an attempt to read more Japanese literature in the future as a result of it.
Book 7: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read from: 16/05/2022 to 24/05/2022
This particular book was of great importance to me because of how I came to have it. It was given to me as a gift by my English teacher back in 2016 just before I took my GCSEs. I had never read the book and we did not study it at school, I knew absolutely nothing of the plot and I used to ask her questions about it. Instead of giving the answer away, she bought me it as a present so I could come to the answer myself. Well, after almost six years of starting it, stopping it, and starting again, I finally got myself into gear and finished it. This was a great relief to me, as it means that I wont have to read the first chapter over and over again any more.
The book is relatively short but the pacing of the story can make it quite difficult to read at times. I found the start and end of the book to be very slow and drawn out whilst particular sections were very rushed. I’m sure that Fitzgerald was doing this for dramatic purposes, however I felt as though I should have been given more information at certain important moments. Fitzgerald is clearly a master of the English language and his usage of it in the book is interesting and unique. I found that some of the speech patterns in the book are very dated (this is the original unabridged version after all) which certainly gave it a 1920s feel. Whilst I had no problem with this, you do sometimes find yourself re-reading the same lines to make sure you understood what was being conveyed in this older style of writing. If you are not used to certain aspects of 1920s speech patters and history, try and buy a copy like mine which came with context explainers at the back. This helped me in my own understanding of what was going on in certain scenes.
The story is a somewhat reliable narration by Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner come to seek his fortune in New York City in the early 1920s. There he meets his neighbour Jay Gatsby, a mysterious and extremely wealthy man who, by complete chance, happens to be madly in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy, who lives just across the water from him. Daisy is married to the equally wealthy adulterer, Tom Buchanon. The story follows Nick as he is pulled further and further into a disgusting web of deceit, lies, and deception that surrounds Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom.
I found that the 2013 film adaptation of the book is fairly true to the source material, but it does skip over a large chunk of the relationship between Nick and Jordan Baker. The book does a better job of fleshing out the relationship between the two and it also does a much better job of making the characters less fantastical and more realistic. The film portrays Nick as a clueless do-gooder who just happened to be caught up in rich peoples cruelty whereas the book assures you that he knows what he’s getting himself in to.
In conclusion, a classic book which I would highly recommend. Not too long and certainly recommended if you have seen the film and wanted a bit more from the characters.
Book 8: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Read from: 24/05/2022 to 22/06/2022
This is arguably the first book of the year that I have read that I went into with absolutely no idea of what to expect. I had never heard of Amor Towles or his works, and this book was more of an impulse purchase after a friend of mine saw it on sale for a ridiculously low price and recommended it to me. I am glad that he made such a frantic bid to get me to but it. I have also just noticed that this is the third book of the year that I have read to be based in New York City (with American Psycho and The Great Gatsby being the other two). I suppose, through the lens of these fictions, I have taken a journey of the history of New York from the 1920’s to the 1980’s.
This book follows the life of Katherine Kontent, a typist at a law firm, as she makes her way through the year of 1938 in New York City. The concept of time passing is a big factor in this novel, the book is structured heavily around the changing of the seasons and the progression of time. It is no surprise that the main story starts on New Years eve 1937 and ends on New Years eve 1938. She, along with her room-mate Eve, meet Tinker Gray, a very curious individual who they both take great interest in. Over the course of the year, this typist is pulled from the bottom of New York society to the top. She becomes close and personal friends with the wealthy and not-so-famous member of society who keep the machine of the city moving along. She seems to find herself both disgusted and fascinated by it, and keeps venturing into it for more.
This book had the ability to trigger a very strong emotional response from me. It reminds us (bluntly in some places and subtly in others) that time is indeed passing and slipping through our fingers, and that we are the total sum of all of our decisions and all the decisions of everyone around us. Fittingly, I found the ending of the book both beautiful and agonising; all of the separate story lines of the small array of characters that Katherine meats neatly come to their conclusions. It left me felt feeling so sad, and I am not entirely sure why this is. Perhaps it is because it reminds that, no matter how eccentric or interesting we try to be, we too are side characters in someone else’s story; and one day, our relationship with those people will end as well one way or another.
The book’s structure is well put together, and it is clear to me that Amor Towles has an incredible grasp on the English language. His writing style is very unique and enjoyable; however, the method he uses to represent conversations (long flows of text rather than broken up sentences with quotation marks) can be quite jarring at times and it sometimes became very difficult to tell who was talking to who. I would also argue that the pacing of the book was a bit strange. The story seemed to race at the start, then slow down toward the middle, and then jump to a breakneck pace at the end again.
In conclusion, this was definitely an enjoyable book and is one which I shall be recommending to others.
Book 9: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Read from: 23/06/2022 to 23/06/2022
Due to the nature of this book and my political biases, I think it unfair to attempt to give this book a true ‘rating’, so I have opted to give it a 3 out of 5 – truly, the most neutral of ratings you can award a book (or anything for that matter).
I read this book many years ago when I was only a child, and so I saw that it was high time to read it again. Whilst I do not agree with Marx and Engels, I found the book to be very interesting and insightful into the initial aims of Communism.
I think today in the world of debate, we get very caught up in politicking, good and bad looks, and the humdrum of boring arguments. Sometimes we forget what certain people actually sincerely believe. It was quite refreshing to read straight from the source. I appreciate the fact that there have been many different iterations and interpretations of communism over the last hundred or so years, but it was nice to actually be able to get a grip of what the original idea of it actually was. As we live in the age of gutter politics, Marx is someone who has been warped and twisted beyond disbelief by people on both sides. Rereading this book reminded me that the chap, at the end of the day, was a philosopher trying to make sense of the modern industrial world and make predictions on the upcoming class struggles between proletariat and bourgeoisie.
Has this book changed my opinions on economic and social relations? No. I am just glad to have been given a fresh perspective on what communism is, and what Marx and Engels were trying to put forward. I am curious as to what they would think of the modern world if we could reach through history and bring them to now. I wonder if they would rejoice or shudder at the state of the modern communist movements. I wonder what they would say about the history of the last 100 years. I wonder how they would view the states of China, Cuba, and the like.
In terms of the books structure, it is incredibly short. You can read this in an afternoon if you really wanted to. I found the first half and the last tenth to be the most interesting, whereas the middle of the book was very slow.
In conclusion, it’s a short read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the communist movement. I would be interested in reading more of Marx’s material after this as I personally found it very interesting.
Book 10: Silence by Shusaka Endo
Read from: 24/06/2022 to 16/07/2022
I picked up this book at the same time that I got ‘Convenience Store Woman’ from the Japanese section at Newcastle Waterstones. It is funny as I had not intended to get any books at all and wound up buying two. I have also now purchased this book again as a present for a few friends as it is relatively cheap and extremely worth a read. I loved this book and I am glad that I made the impulse purchase after admiring its cover in the Waterstones.
This book follows the journey of Father Rodrigues as he journeys to Japan in the 1640s with his friend Father Garupe to act as a missionary and to discover the fate of his former teacher, Father Ferreira who has been rumoured to have apostatized and to now be assisting the Japanese government in hunting down and persecuting Christians. The journey of Rodrigues is a sad and miserable one. He starts with, what he believes to be, complete faith in God and the Catholic church. This faith is tested repeatedly by the misery and suffering of himself and the Christians of Japan that he sees around him. He is constantly doing battle with the silence of God when he sees injustice and cruelty done upon himself and his fellow Christians.
The novel’s author, Shusaka Endo, was a Japanese Catholic, and I believe the book itself was an attempt by himself to understand his relationship with God and his Christian faith through the abstraction of historical story telling. I believe, therefore, that this book is a good way of understanding my own faith better and coming to terms with the reality of the world around me and my relationship with God. If you are a Christian as well, I would thoroughly recommend this book.
The book, at just 267 pages, is relatively short and I found it very readable. The author uses letters, diaries, and reports from different sources as a framing device for good chunks of the story which helps to break it up and adds a layer of depth to the various characters that are met along the way. The general arc of the story is good and has a sound progression. Do not go into this book looking for a happy ending, you will not find one. The story does not finish with some grand triumph for any character, it merely reflects on the situations that they find themselves in.
Overall, I would certainly recommend this book. It is a brilliant example of 20th century Japanese fiction and, more specifically, provides an excellent retrospective on the persecution of Japanese Christians in the early Edo period by a practicing Japanese Christian. It is a great shame that the film adaptation by Martin Scorsese (himself a great admirer of this book) was such a commercial flop.
I would like to take a moment, if I may, to reflect on the books I have read so far. It is now the 17th of July 2022 and so much has happened since I started this challenge. Russia invaded Ukraine, I turned twenty-two, Boris Johnson has resigned, I bought my first house, and now we are all suffering through an absurdly hot heatwave and sky-high energy and commodity prices. It has indeed been a strange year for me, Britain, and most of the world. My one constant, however, has been the reading I have been doing. As I mentioned at the start of this piece, I barely read at all in the last decade, and it has been thoroughly enjoyable to burn my way through so many of the books that have been sitting gathering dust in my room.
I did not think, when I set myself this challenge, that I would have already finished 10 books by the end of the year… let alone the middle of July. I am very proud of this achievement, and I am looking forward to carry on reading throughout the year and into the next (and so on and so forth). I have learned so much from these books, not just what they contain, but also the foundations of what makes good fictions and non-fictions so enticing. I also think that my reading comprehension and patience has increased dramatically, and my ability to review the books has improved too.
If you are still reading this behemoth of an article at this point, I hope that you have been finding it of some use or interest. I sincerely hope that it motivates you to pick up some of the books laying around at your house that you’ve been telling yourself you would actually read too.
Book 11: Patriotism by Yukio Mishima
Read from: 17/07/2022 to 17/07/2022
This book was recommended to me by a friend. I did not intend to read it so quickly but it is an incredibly short book and is an extremely compelling read. It is also the second Japanese book I have read in a row. I am glad that I bought it and I hope that I can convince you to buy it too.
The book is set over a period of three days and follows the story of a Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, Shinji Takeyama, and his beautiful young wife, Reiko. Being instructed to command troops destined to fight the forces of rebellious officers (many of whom are his close friends), Shinji is faced with the impossible choice of loyalty to his friends, or loyalty to the Imperial Army and the Emperor of Japan. Shinji, instead, chooses to commit seppuku (ritualistic suicide) with his wife as his witness.
The book describes, in graphic detail, the couple’s last few hours together on the night that they will take their own lives. It explicitly takes the reader through the couple making love multiple times before then agonizingly describing every moment of Shinji and Reiko’s suicide. Reading this part of the book was genuinely difficult at some points due to the gruesome nature of Yukio’s writing style.
Achieving a ‘glorious death’ was something that the author was very focussed on in his own personal life, so it is easy to understand why he would write about ritualistic suicide so positively. After further investigation, I discovered that the rebellion in the book was a real event that took place known as the ‘Ni Ni Roku’ Incident. This incident, along with many other events in Japanese politics, would shape Yukio’s worldview and drive him further into his beliefs surrounding right wing politics and the future of the Japanese nation and people.
In terms of structure, the book is incredibly short and can be read easily in less than an hour. I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in Yukio Mishima, this is an excellent way to ingratiate yourself with his beautiful and graphic writing style, and a good way to get a glimpse at his views and beliefs.
Book 12: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
Read from: 17/07/2022 to 13/08/2022
This is the fourth Japanese-authored book I have read this year, the third in a row of Japanese books, and the second from the esteemed author Yukio Mishima. I heard about this book from various accounts on Twitter and have seen it recommended numerous times but I had absolutely no idea what it was about. I am still not entirely sure if I have fully understood the book, but I will do my best to review it here.
The book is set in Japan a few decades after the second world war, and follows the story of the child Noboru and his wealthy widowed mother Fusako. Noboru is part of a gang of self-proclaimed genius boys led by ‘the chief’ who have become radically angered and dissatisfied with the modern world and modern rules and morality. Noboru is obsessed with the sea and ships and, when he is taken by his mother to the docks to actually see some vessels, they meet the ship’s second mate, Ryuji.
Fusako and Ryuji are smitten with each other and they have sex soon after meeting, whilst Noboru watches on from a peephole he has discovered in between his wall and his mother’s. Initially, Noboru is very pleased with Ryuji. He likes the fact that he is connected to the sea and he sees him as perfect. However, after a series of faux-pas on the part of Ryuji, and Noboru’s excessively high standards and non-standard morality, he soon finds himself disgusted by Ryuji.
This book is strange. I very much enjoyed it, but sometimes it was difficult to get into. Yukio Mishima was exploring his own philosophies and ideas on modern morality through the character of an extremely intelligent child, however, sometimes this came across as very unbelievable and annoying. The only truly sympathetic character is Ryuji.
Mishima, of course, uses his masterful command of language and metaphor to create beautiful images in the reader’s mind, especially when discussing sex and violence. This is a theme seen throughout all of Mishima’s work.
In terms of structure, I found that the pacing of this book was actually very good. The book is split into two halves, ‘summer’ and ‘winter’, each having its own distinct tone. The book is quite short at just over 100 pages and was paced in such a way that it never felt too quiet or too busy throughout.
Overall, a good book that I enjoyed. I would recommend it to you if you were especially interested in understanding Mishima’s personal philosophies and worldview.
Book 13: The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung
Read from: 14/08/2022 to 25/08/2022
As someone who has struggled with weight their entire life, this book was a real eye opener. This book was bought for me years ago by my dad, but I never once opened it. I did not know who Dr Jason Fung was, and I had no intention to read what I assumed was just another self help book. Fast forward to a few months ago when a friend of mine suggested buying this book (as it had really helped them with their weight). I realised that I already had it buried away on my book shelf, and I made it my aim to at least try and get through it. As soon as I saw the cover, I realised that this Jason Fung was the same Jason Fung whose YouTube videos I had been watching for the past few months. Given the high quality of his channel, I went in with high expectations, and I was not disappointed!
Firstly, this is not a self help book. Dr Fung uses this book to meticulously and thoroughly dismantle commonly held misconceptions about diet, exercise, and weight loss. His calm and methodical approach to explaining problems with the diet and pharmaceutical industry (especially in North America and Europe) is eye opening and fantastically interesting. I found myself unable to put this book down (hence why I was able to read it so quickly).
I wouldn’t be doing the book justice by trying to fully explain Fung’s take on weight loss, but the general lesson he teaches is that insulin and cortisol are the two hormones that contribute the most to weight gain and obesity; that the post-70s western diet and lifestyle has made us prone to insulin resistance and excess cortisol; and that the standard ‘eat less, move more’ advice so often given out by doctors and government health agencies is unhelpful for people truly trying to lose weight. Dr Fung’s solution to these problems is intermittent fasting, which he claims is beneficial for reducing insulin resistance and being the most effective tool for obese people to lose weight.
The vast majority of the book is spent focussing on his main hypothesis that insulin causes weight gain. He only goes into fasting in the final section. This is why I do not consider this to be a ‘self help’ book. He spends far more time helping the reader understand what the problem is then actually giving specific solutions for this to be thought of as ‘self help’. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but personally, I liked it. The book didn’t feel preachy or like quackery.
My only complaint, and the reason I don’t think I can award 5 stars, is that Dr Fung spends a huge amount of time going over the same points again and again. I appreciate that he is attempting to drill an idea into the reader, but it can get quite monotonous after a while.
Since watching his YouTube videos last month and reading his book, I have lost roughly 12kg in weight (about 2 stone/28lbs). This is evidence enough for me that his methods work, and I am fervently carrying on with them. If you struggle with your weight or are just interested in a fresh take on why the world has an obesity problem, I would most certainly recommend this book and his YouTube channel.
Book 14: No Colours or Crest by Peter Kemp
Read from: 28/08/2022 to 31/12/2022
This book took a much longer time to finish than normal due to personal issues and should not be taken as a slight on the piece of work. This book is the second of Peter Kemp’s three books detailing his activities before and during the second world war (see review number 5 for a cover of his first book ‘Mine Were of Trouble’).
We follow him on his journey after the Spanish civil war, joining the British army as a liaison officer and being sent into Albania to act as a representative of Britain and to gather information on partisan activities in the area. Being parachuted into the country, he is forced to deal with the complex political issues that drown the region in mistrust and curtail any effort to form a united front against the Italian and German occupying forces.
This first section of the book was very interesting to me, Enver Hoxha (the post war Communist dictator of Albania) is a character which I have known about for a very long time, but never seriously investigated and researched. In this book, Peter tells of his regular dealings with Hoxha, along with his other Communist, Monarchist, Republican, and Reactionary counterparts in their desperate bid to repel the invaders and attempt to seize legitimacy in forming a new government for Albania after the war has ended. Peter’s writings about these figures and his travels through Albania showcase the chaos and unpredictability of a small nation at war not only with an outside power, but also itself.
The second, much shorter, section at the end of the book tells of Peter’s brief time in Poland in 1945, and his capture and mistreatment by the Soviet Red Army, who viewed him as less of an ally than a potential enemy once the war was over.
The book is an excellent read for any history nerds interested in the niche fringes of the second world war, featuring a very unique insight and detailed description of war stories not often talked about in Western media. Kemp’s keen memory and light-hearted nature make for, not only a detailed read, but also an enjoyable one.
The pacing of the book can be a bit slow at times. I thought it was a shame that Kemp talked for so long about his time in Albania, but very little about his time in Poland. I appreciate that he was in Albania for much longer, but it would have been nice if he could have been a bit more detailed in his discussion on his time spent in Eastern Europe.
Peter has a distinctive writing style which became more and more obvious as I read through this piece, and I would struggle to define it. He writes memoirs like no other memoirs I have read.
Overall, an excellent read which I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend. I will be reading and reviewing his third book ‘Alms for Oblivion’ later in 2023.
It is the 1st of January 2023 and I cannot believe how much my life has changed since my last writing on here on the 17th of July (just after review number 10) and over the year as a whole. I am now a settled homeowner on the other side of a breakup, I have spent time living in London to escape family drama, and I am 30kg lighter than when I started the year. The war in Ukraine still rages on, and inflation seems to have calmed down just a little bit. I have been totally blown away by the rate of change I have experienced this year, and I am reminded whilst writing this that one of the only constants I have had throughout 2022 was the challenge to myself to read more this year. I am extraordinarily proud of what I have accomplished, and I sincerely look forward to doing it again in 2023, I hope that next year I am able to read at least 20 books.
I hope that these reviews and remarks have given you some encouragement to take up reading this year, it really was one of the best decisions I made at the start of 2022, and I hope that you see fit to make it one of your own resolutions for 2023.
Post Views: 448
By The Mallard — 2 weeks ago
Whenever I scroll through the news on Twitter or listen to talk radio, I like to play a game called “Dostoevsky called it.” As one can guess, it consists of identifying events or trends that correspond with those in Feodor Dostoevsky’s novels and letters. Because Dostoevsky devoted so much ink to warning about the motives and effects of atheist-utilitarian socialism from the radical left, the game often points to his most direct attack on those ideas: The Devils.
Published between 1871 and 1872 and written in response to the Nechaev affair, where an underground group of socialist-atheist radicals, planning to ultimately overthrow the Tsarist government through propaganda, terrorism, and assassination, murdered a former comrade who had left their secret society, The Devils (Бесы; also translated as Demons or The Possessed) is Feodor Dostoevsky’s most explicit expose of and polemic against the revolutionary nihilism growing in late nineteenth-century Russia. Although, due to his own participation in a socialist plot aimed at educating and ultimately liberating the serfs, he often gave the benefit of the doubt to the moral idealism of the younger generation of radicals—assuming their hearts, if not their methods, were in the right place—in The Devils he nonetheless skewers the radical ideology and his generation and the next’s culpability for it.
While his main focus is on the characters’ psychologies and their symbolic significance, Dostoevsky nonetheless lays out many of the ideas populating late-nineteenth-century Russia, displaying a thorough understanding of them, their holders’ true motives (which, like those of that other ideological murderer Raskalnikov, are rarely the same as those consciously stated by their loudest advocates), and what would be the results if they were not checked. In several places, Dostoevsky unfortunately calls it right, and The Devils at times reads as a preview of the following fifty years in Russia, as well as of the modes and methods of radicalism in later places and times.
It would be too great a task to cite, here, all the places and times where Dostoevsky’s visions were confirmed; at best, after laying out a few of the many truths in The Devils, I can only note basic parallels with later events and trends in Russia and elsewhere—and let my readers draw their own additional parallels. Nonetheless, here are five truths from Dostoevsky’s The Devils:
1: The superfluity of the preceding liberal generation to progressive radicals.
The Devils is structured around the relationship between the older and younger generations of the mid-1800s. The book opens with an introduction of Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, father to the later introduced radical Peter Stepanovich. A Westernized liberal from the 1840s generation, Stepan Trofimovich represents the upper-class intelligentsia that first sought to enlighten the supposedly backwards Russia through atheistic socialism (a redundancy in Dostoevsky).
However, despite his previously elevated status as a liberal and lecturer, by the time of The Devils Stepan Trofimovich—and, with him, the 1840s liberals who expected to be honored for opening the door to progress—has become superfluous. This is highlighted when his son returns to the province and does not honor his father with figurative laurels (when such a symbol is later employed literally it is in satirical mock).
Though never the direct butt of Dostoevsky’s satire, Stepan Trofimovich cannot (or refuses) to understand that his son’s nihilism is not a distortion of his own generation’s hopes but is the logical, inevitable product of them. The older man’s refusal to admit his ideological progeny in his literal progeny’s beliefs, of course, enables Peter Stepanovich to mock him further, even while he continues to avail himself of the benefits of his father’s erstwhile status in society. This “liberal naivete enabling radical nihilism” schema can also be seen in the governor’s wife, Yulia Mikhailovna von Lembke, who believes that she can heroically redirect the passions of the youth to more socially beneficial, less radical, pursuits but only ends up enabling them to take over her literary fete to ridicule traditional society and distract the local worthies while agents set parts of the local town ablaze. Stepan Trofimovich, Yulia Mikhailovna, and others show that, despite the liberal generation’s supposed love for Russia, they were unable to brake the pendulum they sent swinging towards leftism.
The same pattern of liberals being ignored or discarded by the progressives they birthed can be seen in later years in Russia and other nations. While it would historically be two generations between Belinsky and Lenin (who was born within months of Dostoevsky’s starting to write The Devils), after the 1917 Revolution, Soviet Russia went through several cycles of executing or imprisoning previous generations who, despite supporting the Revolution, were unfortunately too close to the previous era to be trusted by new, socialistically purer generations.
In a more recent UK, Dostoevsky’s schema can also be seen in the Boomer-led Labour of the ‘90s and ‘00s UK paving the way for the radical, arguably anti-British progressivism of the 2010s and ‘20s (which, granted, sports its share of hip Boomers). In America, it can be seen in the soft divide in congressional Democrats between 20th-century liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and “the squad” comprised of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and others who have actively tried (and arguably succeeded) in pushing the nation’s discourse in a left progressive direction.
2: Ideologies as active, distorting forces rather than merely passive beliefs.
“I’ve never understood anything about your theory…” Peter Stepanovich tells the serene Aleksei Nilych Kirillov later in the book, “I also know you haven’t swallowed the idea—the idea’s swallowed you…” The idea he is referring to is Kirillov’s belief that by committing suicide not from despair or passion but by rational, egotistic intention, he can rid mankind of the fear of death (personified in the figure of God) and become the Christ of the new utilitarian atheism (really, Dostoevsky intends us to understand, not without pity for Kirillov, an antichrist thereof). The topic of suicide—rising in Russia at the time of the book’s writing and a result, Dostoevsky believed, of the weakening of social institutions and national morality by the subversive nihilism then spreading—is a motif through the book. Countering Chernyshevsky’s romanticized revolutionary Rakhmetov from What is to Be Done?, Kirillov is Dostoevsky’s depiction of the atheist rational egotism of the time taken to its fullest psychological extent. Like others he had and would later write (Raskalnikov, Ivan Karamazov), Kirillov is driven mad by an idea that “swallows” him in monomania and which he has admitted to being obsessed with—the idea of a world without God.
Though Dostoevsky considered it the central issue of his day (which still torments Western culture), my focus here is not on Kirillov’s idea, itself, but on his relation to it. Countering the Western Enlightenment conceit that ideas are mere tools to be rationally picked up and put down at will, Dostoevsky shows through Kirillov that ideas and ideology (ideas put in the place of religion) are active things that can overwhelm both conscious and unconscious mind. Indeed, the novel’s title and Epigraph—the story of Legion and the swine from Luke 8—already suggests this; for Dostoevsky, there is little difference between the demons that possessed the pigs and the ideas that drive characters like Kirillov to madness.
Of course, a realist-materialist reading of Kirillov’s end (I won’t spoil it, though it arguably undercuts his serenity throughout the book) and the later Ivan Karamazov’s encounter with a personified devil would contend that there was nothing literally demonic to the manifestations, but for Dostoevsky that matters little; for him, whose focus is always on how the individual lives and experiences life, being possessed by an ideology one cannot let go of and being in the grasp of literal demons is nearly synonymous—indeed, the former may be the modern manifestation of the latter, with the same results. In his work, such things almost always accompany a lowering of one’s humanity into the beastial.
The problem with ideology, Dostoevsky had discovered in Siberia, was in their limited conception of man. By cutting off all upper transcendent values as either religious superstition or upper class decadence, the new utilitarian atheism had removed an essential part of what it meant to be human. At best, humans were animals and could hope for no more than thus, and all higher aspirations were to be lowered to achieving present social goals of food, housing, and sex—which Dostoevsky saw, themselves, as impossible to effectively achieve without the Orthodox Church’s prescriptions for how to deal with suffering and a belief in afterlife. Of the lack of higher impressions that give life meaning, Dostoevsky saw two possible results: ever-increasingly perverse acts of the flesh, and ever-increasingly solipsistic devotion to a cause—both being grounded in and expressions not of liberation or selflessness, but of the deepest egotism (which was a frankly stated element of the times’ ideologies).
From this view, Dostoevsky would have seen today’s growing efforts to legitimate into the mainstream things like polyamory, abortion, and public displays of sexuality and increasingly aggressive advocacy by groups like Extinction Rebellion or NOW (he predicted both movements in his other writing) as both being attempts to supply the same religious impulse—which, due to their being cut off by their premises from the transcendent metaphysic required by the human creature and supplied by Christianity, &c, is a doomed attempt.
3: Seemingly virtuous revolution motivated by and covering for private vices.
By the time he wrote The Devils Dostoevsky had seen both inside and outside of the radical movement; he had also depicted in Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment characters who discover, to their angst and horror, that their actions were not motivated by humanitarianism, but by envy, cravenness, and the subsequent desire for self-aggrandizement. The Devils features the same depth of psychology beneath the main characters’ stated ideas and goals, and the book often shows how said ideas cannot work when applied to real people and real life.
As the chronicle unfolds, characters often speak of the petty vices that undermine the purity of the revolutionaries’ stated virtues and goals. “Why is it,” the narrator recounts Stepan Trofimovich once asking him, “all these desperate socialists and communists are also so incredibly miserly, acquisitive, and proprietorial? In fact, the more socialist someone is…the stronger his proprietorial instinct.” So much for those who seek to abolish property; one can guess to whom they wish to redistribute it! The revolutionary-turned-conservative Ivan Shatov later continues the motif, digging deeper into the radicals’ motives: “They’d be the first to be terribly unhappy if somehow Russia were suddenly transformed, even according to their own ideas, and if it were suddenly to become immeasurably rich and happy. Then they’d have no one to hate, no one to despise, no one to mock! It’s all an enormous, animal hatred for Russia that’s eaten into their system.”
Leftists might accuse Dostoevsky of merely wishing to make the radicals look bad with such an evaluation; however, as addressed by Joseph Frank in his chapter on the topic in Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871, the “bad for thee, fine for me” mentality of The Devils’s radicals (if their ideology doesn’t completely blind them to such inconsistency in the first place) was straight from the playbook of men like Nechaev: the Catechism of a Revolutionary. Far from trying to evade contradictory behavior, such a work, and other later analogues (Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance”; Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals) advocate being inconsistent and slippery with one’s principles for the sake of the revolution. Indeed, contradicting the rules one was trying to impose on others was and is seen not as an inconsistency but as a special privilege—of which several examples can be found, from upper party opulence in the USSR to modern champagne socialists who attend a $35,000-per-seat Met Gala while advocating taxing the rich.
4: Social chaos and purges as necessary and inevitable in achieving and maintaining utopia.
Perhaps the single most prophetic scene in The Devils occurs in the already mentioned chapter “‘Our Group’ Meets,” which depicts the various local radicals meeting under cover of a birthday party. A cacophony of competing voices and priorities, the scene’s humorous mix of inept, self-serving idealists is made grotesque by the visions they advocate. Most elaborate of the speakers is Shigalyov, whose utopian scheme for the revolution was insightful enough that Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn both referred to the Russian government’s post-October Revolution policies and methods as “Shigalevism.”
While Shigalyov’s whole speech (and Peter Stepanovich’s commentary) is worth reading as a prophecy of what would happen less than fifty years after the book, here are some notable excerpts:
“Beginning with the idea of unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism…One-tenth will receive personal freedom and unlimited power over the other nine-tenths. The latter must forfeit their individuality and become as it were a herd [through re-education of entire generations]; through boundless obedience, they will attain, by a series of rebirths, a state of primeval innocence, although they’ll still have to work…What I’m proposing is not disgusting; it’s paradise, paradise on earth—there can be none other on earth.”
A direct goal of the purges in Soviet Russia, and of the alienation of children from their parents, was to create a new, purely socialist generation unburdened by the prejudices of previous or outside systems.
“[We’ve] been urged to close ranks and even form groups for the sole purposed of bringing about total destruction, on the pretext that however much you try to cure the world, you won’t be able to do so entirely, but if you take radical steps and cut off one hundred million heads, thus easing the burden, it’ll be much easier to leap over the ditch. It’s a splendid idea…”
While hundred million murders may seem like hyperbole in the scene’s darkly comic context, in the end it was an accurate prediction of what communism would accomplish if put into systemic practice; however, we should also not miss the stated method of destabilizing society via conspiratorial groups aimed not at aid but at acceleration—a method used in early 20th-century Russia and employed by modern radical groups like Antifa.
“It would take at least fifty years, well, thirty, to complete such a slaughter—inasmuch as people aren’t sheep, you know, and they won’t submit willingly.”
Besides the time element, the identifying of the individual human’s desire for life and autonomy as a lamentable but surmountable impediment to revolution—rather than a damning judgment of the radicals’ inability to make any humanitarian claims—is chilling.
“[Shigalyov] has a system for spying. Every member of the society spies on every other one and is obliged to inform. Everyone belongs to all the others and the others belong to each one. They’re all slaves and equal in their slavery.”
A corrollary to the section above on freedom-through-slavery, this part accurately identifies the system of paranoid watchfulness in the first half of the USSR, as well as the system currently in place in the DPRK, among other places.
“The one thing the world needs is obedience. The desire for education is an aristocratic idea. As soon as a man experiences love or has a family, he wants private property. We’ll destroy that want: we’ll unleash drunkenness, slander, denunciantion; we’ll unleash unheard-of corruption… [Crime] is no longer insanity, but some kind of common sense, almost an obligation, at least a noble protest.”
Anti-traditional-family advocacy and the flipping of the criminal-innocent dichotomy as a means of destabilizing the status quo all took place in the early years of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, they are all too familiar today in the West, whether we’re talking about the current argument in the US that children’s education belongs to the community (i.e. teachers, public unions, and the government) to the exclusion of parents, or the argument heard at several points in the 2020 that crimes and rioting committed during protests were an excusable, even “noble,” form of making one’s voice heard (while nicking a TV in the process!).
More recently and ongoing here in California (often uncannily parallel to the UK in certain policy impulses), our current District Attorney George Gascon, in an attempt to redefine the criminal-victim mentality in the state, has implemented policies that benefit criminals over victims by relaxing the definitions and sentences of certain crimes and refusing to try teenagers who commit felonies as adults (among other things); as many expected would happen, crime has risen in the state, with the Los Angeles PD recently advising residents to avoid wearing jewelry in public—which, to this resident, sounds oddly close to blaming the victim for wearing a short skirt by another name, and is certainly a symptom and example of anarcho-tyranny.
To nineteenth-century readers not as versed as Dostoevsky in the literature and ideas behind the Nechaev affair (which was publicly seen as merely a murder among friends, without the ideological significance Dostoevsky gave it), this section of The Devils would have seemed a comic exaggeration. However, to post-20th-century readers it stands, like a clarion pointing forward to the events later confirmed by Solzhenitsyn, as a dire warning not to forget the truth in the satire and not to dismiss the foolishly hyperbolic as impotent. Even in isolated forms, the ideas promoted by Shigalyev are real, and when applied they have been, as Dostoevsky predicted, disastrous.
5: Socialism not as humanitarian reason, but as religious poetry; revolution as primarily aesthetic, not economic.
An amalgam of, among other members of the 1840s generation, the father of Russian socialism Alexander Herzen, Stepan Trofimovich is, by the time of the 1860s setting of The Devils, an inveterate poet. This reflects Dostoevsky’s evaluation of his old theorist friend, whom he nonetheless cites as the enabler of men like the nihilist terrorist Nechaev, despite Herzen’s claims that the terrorist had bastardized his ideas (see truth number 1, above).
The brilliantly mixed critique of and homage to Dostoevsky’s own generation that is Stepan Trofimovich presents one of the book’s main motifs about the nihilist generation: that they are not pursuing a philosophically rational system of humanitarian goals, but a romantically poetic pseudo-religion. “They’re all bewitched,” cries Stepan Trofimovich about his son, “not by realism, but by the emotional and idealistic aspects of socialism, so to speak, by its religious overtones, its poetry.” Later, at the aforementioned pivotal meeting scene, Peter Stepanovich shows he is completely conscious of this fact—and willing to use it to his advantage. “What’s happening here is the replacement of the old religion by a new one; that’s why so many soldiers are needed—it’s a large undertaking.” In the next scene, Peter Stepanovich reveals to Stavrogin his desire to use the enchanting nobleman as a figurehead for revolution among the peasantry, intending to call him Ivan the Tsarevich to play off of the Russian folk legend of a messianic Tsar in hiding who will rise to take the throne from the “false” reigning Tsar and right all the world’s wrongs with his combined religious and political power.
Peter Stepanovich, himself, is too frank a nihilist to believe in such narratives; focused as he is on first destroying everything rather than wasting time pontificating about what to do afterwards, he even treats Shigalyov’s utopian visions with contempt. However, the rest of the radicals in the book are not so clear-sighted about the nature of their beliefs. Multiple times in the book, susceptibility to radical socialism is said to inhere not in reason but in sentimentality; showing Dostoevsky’s moderation even on a topic of which he was so passionately against, this critique often focuses on younger men and women’s genuine desire to good—which ironically makes them, like the naive and forthright Ensign Erkel, susceptible to committing the worst crimes with a straight, morally self-confident face.
It is this susceptibility to the art of revolution that causes Peter Stepanovich to be so sanguine about others’ romanticism, despite its falling short of his own nihilism. His intention to use others’ art for his own advantage can be seen most clearly in his hijacking of Yulia Mikhailovna’s literary fete to use it, through his cronies, as a screed against the social order and to mock artistic tradition. His doing so is just a follow-through of an earlier statement to Stavrogin that “Those with higher abilities…have always done more harm than good; they’ll either be banished or executed. Cicero’s tongue will be cut out, Copernicus’s eyes will be gouged out, Shakespeare will be stoned…it’s a fine idea to level mountains—there’s nothing ridiculous in that…we’ll suffocate every genius in its infancy.”
Against his son’s leveling of mountains, Stepan Trofimovich, to his infinite credit and speaking with his author’s mouth, declares, with the lone voice of tradition amidst the climactic fete, that “Shakespeare and Raphael are more important than the emancipation of the serfs…than nationalism…than socialism…than the younger generation…than chemistry, almost more important than humanity, because they are the fruit, the genuine fruit of humanity, and perhaps the most important fruit there is!” In this contrast between the Verkhovenskys, it is not different views on economics but on art—on Shakespeare, among others—that that lie at the heart of revolution, with the revolutionaries opposing the English Poet more viscerally than any other figure. This reflects Dostoevsky’s understanding that the monumental cultural shift of the 1800s was not primarily scientific but aesthetic (a topic too large to address here). Suffice it to say, the central conflict of The Devils is not between capitalists and socialists (the book rarely touches on economic issues, apart from their being used as propaganda—that is, aesthetically), nor between Orthodox and atheists (though Dostoevsky certainly saw that as the fundamental alternative at play), but between the 1840s late Romantics and the new Naturalist-Realists.
The prophetic nature of this aesthetic aspect of The Devils has many later confirmations, such as the 20th century’s growth of state propaganda, especially in socialistic states like Nazi Germany or the USSR, though also in the West (Western postmodernism would eventually make all art as interpretable as propaganda). Furthermore, the Stalinist cult of personality seems a direct carry over of Peter Stepanovich’s intended desire to form just such a pseudo-religious cult out of Nikolai Vsevolodovich.
Having written a novel on the threat posed to Shakespeare by the newest generation of the radical left (before reading of Verkhovensky’s desire to stone Shakespeare—imagine my surprise to find that Dostoevsky had called even the events in my own novel!), I hold this particular topic close to my heart. Indeed, I believe we are still in the Romantic-Realist crossroads, and in dire need of backtracking to take the other path that would prefer, to paraphrase Stepan Trofimovich, the beautiful and ennobling Shakespeare and Raphael over the socially useful pair of boots and petroleum. Like Stepan Trofimovich, I believe comforts and technical advancements like the latter could not have come about were it not for the culture of the former—and that they would lose their value were their relative importance confused to the detriment of that which is higher.
There are, of course, many other truths in The Devils that have borne out (the infighting of radical advocacy groups competing for prominence, radicalism as a result of upper-class boredom and idleness, revolution’s being affected not by a majority but a loud minority willing to transgress, self-important administrators and bureaucrats as enablers and legitimators of radicals…). While the increasingly chaotic narrative (meant to mimic the setting’s growing unrest) is not Dostoevsky’s most approachable work, The Devils is certainly one of his best, and it fulfills his intended purpose of showing, like Tolstoy had done a few years before in War and Peace, a full picture of Russian society.
However, while Tolstoy’s work looked backward to a Russia that, from Dostoevsky’s view, had been played out, The Devils was written to look forward, and, more often for ill than good, it has been right in its predictions. Not for nothing did Albert Camus, who would later adapt The Devils for the stage, say on hearing about the Stalinist purges in Soviet Russia that “The real 19th-century prophet was Dostoevsky, not Karl Marx.”
Post Views: 57
By Jess Gill — 2 weeks ago
While boomers indulge themselves in the same 2016 talking points on GB News for the 68th time this week, it seems like young conservatives are tired of it. The right wing of Generation Z have been raised on “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Liberal Student” compilations. Meanwhile, while the conservative young people have moved on, the “triggered leftist” has moved on from university and into our civil service or primary schools, increasing their influence in society. And as much as we’d like to move on from cringe culture war issues, it seems like they’re not going anywhere. If we don’t confront them effectively then the left will continue to infect our institutions.
The left call the right “racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted!” Each adjective enough to make the average wet Tory squeal apologetically and disregard the history of the party that has been told through a left wing narrative. Instead of giving the conservative argument for why an actual Conservative politician has done something, they say “yes, I know that was bad but what about this…” and then proceed to state a left wing policy pushed by a so called “right winger”.
And what do the right call the left to match their accusations of bigotry?
It doesn’t quite have the same effect, does it?
The problem with the right is that they’re missing their own vocabulary. We don’t have the same words that appeal to the general public’s emotion as the left do. They say that we hate the poor and minorities. They say we want poor kids to starve. They say that we’re selfish. Of course, we know that’s not true. We want to see our country and community thrive.
However, unlike the left, we haven’t had mainstream institutions providing us with arguments to make. The right of Gen Z can’t have their social media pages flooded with aesthetic infographics simplifying radical Marxist rhetoric into simple slogans like the left do because there aren’t many conservative equivalents. Go onto #BorisJohnson and you’ll just see posts on how corrupt the Tories are and how Boris is a blubbering fool. Browse #KeirStarmer and you’ll see posts on Labour victories and how they’re crushing the Tories.
The Conservative Party doesn’t help with the government wasting their majority by not pushing any actual conservative policies and instead needlessly pander towards the left while they butcher the name of actual conservatives like Thatcher and Churchill to justify it. Even within the general party, a concerning number of Young Conservatives are pro-BLM and believe that a biological man in a dress is a woman. These people either have no backbone or are careerists who won’t join the Liberal Democrats because they’re irrelevant. Either way, kick them out.
Then you have the Young Conservatives who like a few Thatcher quotes and believe in general conservative principles like “free enterprise” and “equal opportunity” (which, let’s be honest, are more liberal principles). However, you can’t blame them too harshly considering that it’s much harder to discover right wing philosophy and history in comparison to that of the left. Ask an A Level Politics teacher for book recommendations and they’ll probably recommend Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto or Owen Jones’ Chavs. Similarly, go into Waterstones and the politics section catering ranges from septum piercing Sociology students to Keynesian #FBPE Britpoppers. Maybe you’ll find Douglas Murray’s Madness of the crowd between all the prison abolitionist and Europhile literature if you’re lucky.
However, since this generation of Young Conservatives have to go out their way to find the charm of Peter Hitchens or Roger Scruton, is it any wonder they resort to cheap arguments that the reason the left is so bad is that they’re too “progressive”?
The problem with Black Lives Matter isn’t that the activists are too sensitive. It’s that they’re promoting divisive, radical racial politics and harming people and property as a means of doing so. We shouldn’t have to say “but if the right did that then we would never hear the end of it”, we need to control the narrative. After months of destroying cities, causing damage and ruining lives, it’s ridiculous that January 6th is the focus of political extremism in the US.
After the death of George Floyd, the mainstream narrative needed a problem and a solution. They decided the problem was racism and police brutality and that the solution was police abolition and divisive critical race theory. They used it as an opportunity to sneak in other themes such as Marxism and collectivism while silencing anyone who disagreed with their dogma as “racist”. The average person who didn’t care too much about politics will just carelessly accept this narrative in order to fit in when their friends and co-workers discuss it at work.
The right could’ve offered their own solutions to the problems. A law and order argument could be called for more community policing and police accountability. Instead the right had to go on the defence, leading to the phrase “All Lives Matter” which was just received by the public of being covering up racism. We need to be proactive instead of reactive.
Similarly with transgender ideology, the right shouldn’t be focused on pronoun badges. If I was the average apolitical person and I saw that the biggest issue the right is concerned about is pronoun badges, then I’d call them “snowflakes”. They should be focused on the fact that there are perverted men trying to get their way into women’s spaces (oftentimes spaces where they are most vulnerable like domestic violence shelters) and silence any woman who speaks out about it. They should be focused on the fact that there are actors in our institutions who are trying to have conversations with children about sexuality and confuse them into later seeking out unnecessary surgery which mutilates their bodies.
If the right wants to succeed then they need to equip themselves with the right words and slogans. This is why Ron DeSantis is successful in Florida: by switching the narrative he has turned the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” into the “Anti Groomer Bill”. British Conservatives need to learn from this. It’s understandable to be fed up with the over usage of the current culture war vocabulary. However, you need to find an alternative to replace it because these issues aren’t going away.
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