The latest spectacle of disgusting posthuman monsters in expensive suits squandering other people’s billions—while displaying nothing but studied contempt for hoi polloi whose blood is their sustenance—is sickening and infuriating. Déjà vu all over again. Never mind the regulators and government officials with whom they are in existential cahoots; the bastards will continue doing their thing as surely as the Muslims will go on murdering Christians, and lung cancer cells will go on multiplying. It is their vocation.
So should they be killed? The thought is tempting and rather appealing, the imagination runs pleasingly wild. On reflection it has to be rejected. Provided we accept the morally necessary assumption that for all their sulphurically scented traits, the Bankers are “humans,” we cannot escape the Raskolnikov dilemma.
The Russians are the last civilized nation to take literature as seriously as life, and they will be the last to subject that heritage to the deconstructivist butchery of effeminate idiots with minor-college PhDs. This is to their credit because Raskolnikov should be seen as a living person living a real life in New York, or London, or the Midwest today. This real-life person—a teacher, a corporate bureaucrat, a construction engineer, a retired policeman, or a housewife…—should be forgiven for wishing Bankers dead. But their all too understandable sentiment is essentially the same as that of the Red Commissars of 1917 and their heirs everywhere As Dostoyevsky understood decades before Lenin, it is dangerous; understandable; but not justified.
The Bankers should be discredited, tarred, and feathered, stripped of every last cent of their ill-gotten gains, and put to work on a Californian orange farm—absolutely!—but they should not be killed.
A bit of history. I was 15 when I visited St. Petersburg—then still “Leningrad”—with a Belgrade high school tour. My purpose was to go in quest of Dostoevsky, my favorite writer, whom I had just started discovering at that time. He wrote Crime and Punishment on the banks of the Neva—one of the best structured, intricately multi-layered novels of all time. (I even named my son Theodore in Fyodor Mikhailovich’s honor.)
It was early July and the White Nights of the North were at their whitest, and the days were sunny. Yet the essential gloomy essence of the place—thickly felt in the courtyard of the building the author inhabited when writing his masterpiece, and in which his tortured hero Raskolnikov lived—could not be concealed. Behind the layers of Soviet decrepitude, one could sense the splendor of Peter the Great’s design. Such splendor makes up not for joyful livability. The city was essentially unchanged since the 1860s (minus some 1941-44 German-inflicted damage, not too visible) and its misty distances looked flat and indistinct against the pale backdrop of the Northern sky behind and the rising mist of its many waterways and canals in front. St. Petersburg is the most European city in Russia and the most inherently perverted for being so. Dostoevsky’s novel embodies the worst aspects of both cultures that offer two poles of one civilization.
That essential gloom of the place (which I have not visited since but I don’t believe has changed) provided a perfect setting for the novel which is the essential key to understanding the dilemma of our postmodern times. Raskolnikov rails against the social injustice without being a Marxist (not even knowing that the author of Das Kapital exists), adores Napoleon as the 19th century model of superhuman greatness but does not seek l’Empereur’s glory for himself. His obsessive quest for “justice” becomes tangibly personified in the old usurer whom he finally kills—premeditatedly murders her—as an act of ontological retribution.
“I wanted to kill without casuistry, to kill for my own sake,” Dostoevsky has him say reflecting obviously his own passions, “it was not money I needed but something else…I wanted to know, and to know quickly, whether I was a worm like everyone else, or a man. Shall I be able to transgress or shall I not? Shall I dare to stoop down and take, or not? Am I a trembling creature, or have I the right?”
But Raskolnikov soon discovers he is not a superman capable of enacting his own moral laws, and the lesson has been re-learnt at a great cost by Dostoyevsky’s heirs in the horrible century that followed his death. On the other hand, Raskolnikov is not satisfied with the lower-category claim that because the victim was a horrible, laecherous hag (the usurer was ugly, unlike many of her well-groomed Wall Street heirs), her death was for the good of all. The key issue is that Raskolnikov is utterly unable to live with what he has done; he is going neurotic verging on insane; and in the fullness of time, he willingly makes a full confession to a police inspector who knows his soul. Porfiry Petrovich is not playing games—but merely leading him along the way to inner release that comes with confession.
This dilemma—can we be Gods?—is at the novel’s heart, and at the heart of the crisis of our civilization. And that is why we should let the bankers live, which is not to say we should try to destroy them and all they stand for.
Unlike the Communist mass murderers of the past century, Raskolnikov sees clearly his tragic predicament through the prism of a distinctly Christian hate of cunning commerce and ruthless profitmaking. Being prepared to use violence against those who destroy the meek and the pure of spirit for Mammon’s sake, but NOT being a secular revolutionary—he IS what the Rulers of the World fear the most.
But in the end, with a Russian twist that is essentially pan-Christian, he repents and realizes that “Thou shalt not kill!” takes precedence. And the end of the story is the new beginning, as he serves his sentence in Siberia, accompanied by his long-suffering Sonia: “Here begins a new story, the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his rebirth, of his gradual transition from one world to another, and of the revelation to him of a new, hitherto quite unknown reality.”
This is a blueprint for our own rebirth and renewal in the dark times ahead. And screw the bankers.