The two moral codes discussed in Crime and Punishment Part III, Chapter V and the Nietzschean notion of the Superman
The crime portion of Crime and Punishment is wrapped up by the end of Part I, just in case you ever needed that piece of trivia. The rest of the novel is a combination reverse whodunit where the audience knows and the police suspect but are narrowing in and a psychological case study about a man who committed a double murder just to see, mostly, if he could and the mental breakdown that occurs afterwards. Add in a bit about a tragic prostitute and her decaying family in contrast with Raskolnikov's own sister trying to marry to stop being a burden; and lots of of character interaction looking at the heart of morality, and you have a meaty novel that is largely about being about a crime and not doing one.
After the double murder is committed, Raskolnikov, known affectionately as Rodya to his friend Razumihin, is off to see Razumihin's cousin: the detective Porfiry Petrovitch. Rodya had not only killed the old pawnbroker, but had actually pawned items off with her. Under the dual purpose of seeing about getting his father's watch and his sister's ring back from the police, now items held as evidence, and of convincing the detective that he is not that bad of a guy; Rakolnikov enters into what might be called the lion's lair. Here, after a quick and friendly chat, they start talking about a party that happened the night before where a drunken group of Russians got into a debate about crime and morality. Here, too, Raskolnikov is surprised because Porfiry mentions an essay that Rodya had written and gotten published, one he did not realize was published, that described a man who might commit crimes not as a bad thing, but as a good thing. Too bad he just committed one of those crimes described in his own work, right?
This is not me harping on and on about the significance of each morality type, but basically sharing with you the piece of the book, itself, where it takes place. Thank God for Public Domain works, right? However, I am going to break down the two modes of thought here so you can go in prepared:
First, you have the "socialist" mode: there is no crime, just circumstances. In this mode, the goal of society is to find an equilibrium that will disperse circumstances in a way that will lead to no more crime. As Razumihin points out, one of the drawbacks is that it treats all of society as an equation, a solution, and separates them out of a "living soul".
The second, and more discussed, mode is the "Superman" mode: while the majority of people should and do follow the law, there are some who have the moral capacity to break beyond it. It is not so much that they "ought" to break beyond it, but that they will by their nature. In most cases, society (composed larger of the former, ordinary people) will rally against them and generally drive them to death or punish them. Sometimes, though, the extraordinary latter will rise up in their own time. The goal of the ordinary is to provide the primordial soup, as it were, for the extraordinary to rise up out of.
As Porfiry's question at the end of the part quoted below asks, doesn't Raskolnikov consider himself one of these extraordinary men? This something of dramatic irony. We, the audience, know both answers to this question. While he might have assumed that he could break free of the moral compass of his day, that he was extraordinary, we have seen that Rakolnikov is actually quite ordinary, and has been in a delirium ever since the crime. More than once has thought about giving himself up, but has yet to do so.
The first mode and the second mode both reexamine the every day sense of morality in non-religious teleological lights. Since every man is not fulfilling some distinct and equitable destiny, crime occurs. In the latter, the whole destiny of mankind is for certain men to take steps beyond the normal veil. In both, the idea of a mathematical equation is applied to society: the first to solve the inequality and the second to know how many great men arise. Both, of course, have a huge problem of trying to solve crime as not necessarily the fault of society or even just an inherent aspect of society; but merely the wrongful labeling of an act by a society that has not began to understand itself. My suspicion is that Dostoevsky was mocking this sort of society-level solipsism, but maybe I am wrong.
There is, as hinted at by the title of this post, a strong similarity between the moral "Superman" code and what Nietzsche would later take most of the credit for. Dostoevsky wrote this nearly 20 years before the primary works of Nietzsche, though. Later, Nietzsche admitted to being a fan of Dostoevsky's, at least the one book (i.e., Crime and Punishment) but there is little record of him reading the book until after some of his initial forays into the concepts of the Superman. Also, Nietzsche's Superman is not quite the same. Still, it is amazingly close. Even if Dostoevsky did not mean it, it seems like he saw it coming.
This is a long one, if you wish to read the original (or well, the translated original). I'd recommend a cup of tea or some such. It's interesting, though. Does not really resolve anything, it is just a philosophical break to catch us up to speed on on how certain players are proceeding. I recommend the book in full.
Si Vales, Valeo
from Crime and Punishment, Part III, Chapter V
(Note, this version of the text is taken from Project Gutenberg with all dear thanks and appreciations. I have cut some out to prevent the page from being double the length, and in the case of one long paragraph have broken it into three since it will probably work better on the computer screen in such a fashion, but I have altered no emphasis or grammar or wording.)
"Only fancy, Rodya, what we got on to yesterday. Whether there is such a thing as crime. I told you that we talked our heads off."
"What is there strange? It's an everyday social question," Raskolnikov
"The question wasn't put quite like that," observed Porfiry.
"Not quite, that's true," Razumihin agreed at once, getting warm and hurried as usual. "Listen, Rodion, and tell us your opinion, I want to hear it. I was fighting tooth and nail with them and wanted you to help me. I told them you were coming.... It began with the socialist doctrine. You know their doctrine; crime is a protest against the abnormality of the social organisation and nothing more, and nothing more; no other causes admitted!..."
"You are wrong there," cried Porfiry Petrovitch; he was noticeably animated and kept laughing as he looked at Razumihin, which made him more excited than ever.
"Nothing is admitted," Razumihin interrupted with heat.
"I am not wrong. I'll show you their pamphlets. Everything with them is 'the influence of environment,' and nothing else. Their favourite phrase! From which it follows that, if society is normally organised, all crime will cease at once, since there will be nothing to protest against and all men will become righteous in one instant. Human nature is not taken into account, it is excluded, it's not supposed to exist! They don't recognise that humanity, developing by a historical living process, will become at last a normal society, but they believe that a social system that has come out of some mathematical brain is going to organise all humanity at once and make it just and sinless in an instant, quicker than any living process! That's why they instinctively dislike history, 'nothing but ugliness and stupidity in it,' and they explain it all as stupidity! That's why they so dislike the living process of life; they don't want a living soul! The living soul demands life, the soul won't obey the rules of mechanics, the soul is an object of suspicion, the soul is retrograde! But what they want though it smells of death and can be made of India-rubber, at least is not alive, has no will, is servile and won't revolt! And it comes in the end to their reducing everything to the building of walls and the planning of rooms and passages in a phalanstery! The phalanstery is ready, indeed, but your human nature is not ready for the phalanstery—it wants life, it hasn't completed its vital process, it's too soon for the graveyard! You can't skip over nature by logic. Logic presupposes three possibilities, but there are millions! Cut away a million, and reduce it all to the question of comfort! That's the easiest solution of the problem! It's seductively clear and you musn't think about it. That's the great thing, you mustn't think! The whole secret of life in two pages of print!"
"Now he is off, beating the drum! Catch hold of him, do!" laughed Porfiry. "Can you imagine," he turned to Raskolnikov, "six people holding forth like that last night, in one room, with punch as a preliminary! No, brother, you are wrong, environment accounts for a great deal in crime; I can assure you of that."
"Oh, I know it does, but just tell me: a man of forty violates a child of ten; was it environment drove him to it?"
"Well, strictly speaking, it did," Porfiry observed with noteworthy gravity; "a crime of that nature may be very well ascribed to the influence of environment."
Razumihin was almost in a frenzy. "Oh, if you like," he roared. "I'll prove to you that your white eyelashes may very well be ascribed to the Church of Ivan the Great's being two hundred and fifty feet high, and I will prove it clearly, exactly, progressively, and even with a Liberal tendency! I undertake to! Will you bet on it?"
"All these questions about crime, environment, children, recall to my mind an article of yours which interested me at the time. 'On Crime'... or something of the sort, I forget the title, I read it with pleasure two months ago in the Periodical Review."
"How did you find out that the article was mine? It's only signed with an initial."
"I only learnt it by chance, the other day. Through the editor; I know him.... I was very much interested."
"I analysed, if I remember, the psychology of a criminal before and after the crime."
"Yes, and you maintained that the perpetration of a crime is always accompanied by illness. Very, very original, but... it was not that part of your article that interested me so much, but an idea at the end of the article which I regret to say you merely suggested without working it out clearly. There is, if you recollect, a suggestion that there are certain persons who can... that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them."
Raskolnikov smiled at the exaggerated and intentional distortion of his idea.
"What? What do you mean? A right to crime? But not because of the influence of environment?" Razumihin inquired with some alarm even.
"No, not exactly because of it," answered Porfiry. "In his article all men are divided into 'ordinary' and 'extraordinary.' Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don't you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary. That was your idea, if I am not mistaken?"
(Note, the following is broken into three paragraphs where it was only in in the original)
"That wasn't quite my contention," he began simply and modestly. "Yet I admit that you have stated it almost correctly; perhaps, if you like, perfectly so." (It almost gave him pleasure to admit this.) "The only difference is that I don't contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, I doubt whether such an argument could be published. I simply hinted that an 'extraordinary' man has the right... that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep... certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity). You say that my article isn't definite; I am ready to make it as clear as I can. Perhaps I am right in thinking you want me to; very well. I maintain that if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a dozen, a hundred, or more men, Newton would have had the right, would indeed have been in duty bound... to eliminate the dozen or the hundred men for the sake of making his discoveries known to the whole of humanity. But it does not follow from that that Newton had a right to murder people right and left and to steal every day in the market.
Then, I remember, I maintain in my article that all... well, legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they did not stop short at bloodshed either, if that bloodshed—often of innocent persons fighting bravely in defence of ancient law--were of use to their cause. It's remarkable, in fact, that the majority, indeed, of these benefactors and leaders of humanity were guilty of terrible carnage. In short, I maintain that all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals—more or less, of course. Otherwise it's hard for them to get out of the common rut; and to remain in the common rut is what they can't submit to, from their very nature again, and to my mind they ought not, indeed, to submit to it. You see that there is nothing particularly new in all that. The same thing has been printed and read a thousand times before. As for my division of people into ordinary and extraordinary, I acknowledge that it's somewhat arbitrary, but I don't insist upon exact numbers. I only believe in my leading idea that men are in general divided by a law of nature into two categories, inferior (ordinary), that is, so to say, material that serves only to reproduce its kind, and men who have the gift or the talent to utter a new word. There are, of course, innumerable sub-divisions, but the distinguishing features of both categories are fairly well marked.
The first category, generally speaking, are men conservative in temperament and law-abiding; they live under control and love to be controlled. To my thinking it is their duty to be controlled, because that's their vocation, and there is nothing humiliating in it for them. The second category all transgress the law; they are destroyers or disposed to destruction according to their capacities. The crimes of these men are of course relative and varied; for the most part they seek in very varied ways the destruction of the present for the sake of the better. But if such a one is forced for the sake of his idea to step over a corpse or wade through blood, he can, I maintain, find within himself, in his conscience, a sanction for wading through blood—that depends on the idea and its dimensions, note that. It's only in that sense I speak of their right to crime in my article (you remember it began with the legal question). There's no need for such anxiety, however; the masses will scarcely ever admit this right, they punish them or hang them (more or less), and in doing so fulfil quite justly their conservative vocation. But the same masses set these criminals on a pedestal in the next generation and worship them (more or less). The first category is always the man of the present, the second the man of the future. The first preserve the world and people it, the second move the world and lead it to its goal. Each class has an equal right to exist. In fact, all have equal rights with me—and vive la
guerre éternelle—till the New Jerusalem, of course!"
"[T]hey are not always executed. Some, on the contrary..."
"Triumph in their lifetime? Oh, yes, some attain their ends in this life, and then..."
"They begin executing other people?"
"If it's necessary; indeed, for the most part they do. Your remark is very witty."
"Thank you. But tell me this: how do you distinguish those extraordinary people from the ordinary ones? Are there signs at their birth? I feel there ought to be more exactitude, more external definition. Excuse the natural anxiety of a practical law-abiding citizen, but couldn't they adopt a special uniform, for instance, couldn't they wear something, be branded in some way? For you know if confusion arises and a member of one category imagines that he belongs to the other, begins to 'eliminate obstacles' as you so happily expressed it, then..."
"No reason to; but take note that the mistake can only arise in the first category, that is among the ordinary people (as I perhaps unfortunately called them). In spite of their predisposition to obedience very many of them, through a playfulness of nature, sometimes vouchsafed even to the cow, like to imagine themselves advanced people,'destroyers,' and to push themselves into the 'new movement,' and this quite sincerely. Meanwhile the really _new_ people are very often unobserved by them, or even despised as reactionaries of grovelling tendencies. But I don't think there is any considerable danger here, and you really need not be uneasy for they never go very far. Of course, they might have a thrashing sometimes for letting their fancy run away with them and to teach them their place, but no more; in fact, even this isn't necessary as they castigate themselves, for they are very conscientious: some perform this service for one another and others chastise themselves with their own hands.... They will impose various public acts of penitence upon themselves with a beautiful and edifying effect; in fact you've nothing to be uneasy about.... It's a law of nature."
"People with new ideas, people with the faintest capacity for saying something new, are extremely few in number, extraordinarily so in fact. One thing only is clear, that the appearance of all these grades and sub-divisions of men must follow with unfailing regularity some law of nature. That law, of course, is unknown at present, but I am convinced that it exists, and one day may become known. The vast mass of mankind is mere material, and only exists in order by some great effort, by some mysterious process, by means of some crossing of races and stocks, to bring into the world at last perhaps one man out of a thousand with a spark of independence. One in ten thousand perhaps—I speak roughly, approximately—is born with some independence, and with still greater independence one in a hundred thousand. The man of genius is one of millions, and the great geniuses, the crown of humanity, appear on earth perhaps one in many thousand millions. In fact I have not peeped into the retort in which all this takes place. But there certainly is and must be a definite law, it cannot be a matter of chance."
"Why, are you both joking?" Razumihin cried at last. "There you sit, making fun of one another. Are you serious, Rodya?"
Raskolnikov raised his pale and almost mournful face and made no reply. And the unconcealed, persistent, nervous, and discourteous sarcasm of Porfiry seemed strange to Razumihin beside that quiet and mournful face.
"Well, brother, if you are really serious... You are right, of course, in saying that it's not new, that it's like what we've read and heard a thousand times already; but what is really original in all this, and is exclusively your own, to my horror, is that you sanction bloodshed in the name of conscience, and, excuse my saying so, with such fanaticism.... That, I take it, is the point of your article. But that sanction of bloodshed _by conscience is to my mind... more terrible than the official, legal sanction of bloodshed...."
"Yes, yes." Porfiry couldn't sit still. "Your attitude to crime is pretty clear to me now, but... excuse me for my impertinence (I am really ashamed to be worrying you like this), you see, you've removed my anxiety as to the two grades getting mixed, but... there are various practical possibilities that make me uneasy! What if some man or youth imagines that he is a Lycurgus or Mahomet—a future one of course—and suppose he begins to remove all obstacles.... He has some great enterprise before him and needs money for it... and tries to get it...do you see?"
Zametov gave a sudden guffaw in his corner. Raskolnikov did not even raise his eyes to him.
"I must admit," he went on calmly, "that such cases certainly must arise. The vain and foolish are particularly apt to fall into that snare; young people especially."
"Yes, you see. Well then?"
"What then?" Raskolnikov smiled in reply; "that's not my fault. So it is and so it always will be. He said just now (he nodded at Razumihin) that I sanction bloodshed. Society is too well protected by prisons, banishment, criminal investigators, penal servitude. There's no need to be uneasy. You have but to catch the thief."
"And what if we do catch him?"
"Then he gets what he deserves."
"You are certainly logical. But what of his conscience?"
"Why do you care about that?"
"Simply from humanity."
"If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be his punishment—as well as the prison."
"But the real geniuses," asked Razumihin frowning, "those who have the right to murder? Oughtn't they to suffer at all even for the blood they've shed?"
"Why the word ought? It's not a matter of permission or prohibition. He will suffer if he is sorry for his victim. Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth," he added dreamily, not in the tone of the conversation.
He raised his eyes, looked earnestly at them all, smiled, and took his cap. He was too quiet by comparison with his manner at his entrance, and he felt this. Everyone got up.
"Well, you may abuse me, be angry with me if you like," Porfiry Petrovitch began again, "but I can't resist. Allow me one little question (I know I am troubling you). There is just one little notion I want to express, simply that I may not forget it."
"Very good, tell me your little notion," Raskolnikov stood waiting, pale and grave before him.
"Well, you see... I really don't know how to express it properly....It's a playful, psychological idea.... When you were writing your article, surely you couldn't have helped, he-he! fancying yourself...just a little, an 'extraordinary' man, uttering a new word in your sense.... That's so, isn't it?"
file under (...on Life, Law, & Society)
and (...on Authors Various)
and (...on Things in the Public Domain)