Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dostoevsky: Self Interest

The following spiel is delivered by Pyotr Petrovich, a man accused of spouting the progressive line by rote. It seems I’ve heard something similar to this much more recently and from different corners. See what you make of it.

“If up to now, for example, I have been told to ‘love my neighbor,’ and I did love him, what came of it? […] What came of it was that I tore my caftan in two, shared it with my neighbor, and we were both left half naked, in accordance with the Russian proverb which says: If you chase several hares at once, you won’t overtake any one of them. But science says: Love yourself before all, because everything in the world is based on self-interest. If you love only yourself, you will set your affairs up properly, and your caftan will also remain in one piece. And economic truth adds that the more properly arranged personal affairs and, so to speak, whole caftans there are in society, the firmer its foundations are and the better arranged its common cause. It follows that by acquiring solely and exclusively for myself, I am thereby precisely acquiring for everyone, as it were, and working so that my neighbor will have something more than a torn caftan, not from private, isolated generosities now, but as a result of universal prosperity. A simple thought, which unfortunately has been too long in coming, overshadowed by rapturousness and dreaminess, though it sems it would not take much wit to realize…”

Crime and Punishment. Part II, Chapter V. Trans. Pevear/Volokhonsky


  1. Yes, it does sound like something someone of an ultra conservative bent would say: cut out all social programs, as you are only wasting money and resources on a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings who contribute nothing to society anyways.

    It's been too long since I've read C&P, but is Petrovich speaking to Raskolnikov here, and trying to trick him into confessing?

  2. Different Petrovich. The inspector is Porfiry Petrovich. Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin is the fiance of Raskolnikov's sister. This came with his introduction, where he was trying to recommend himself as an enlightened and progressive man.

  3. I love Crime & Punishment. First Dostoy I ever read. Raskolnikov haunts and inhabits me to this day. I've mentioned him in posts and reviews over the years as if he were a real person, which he is.


Don't be a jerk.