FROM: Winter Notes on Summer Impressions by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Criterion Books, New York, 1955, forward by Saul Bellow)

Notes on the Liberal Bourgeoisie, Alienation, the Struggle for Survival:  In 1862 Dostoyevsky visited London to see the famous Crystal Palace, a capitalist and imperialist wonderland of “modernity”.  He hated it and he hated the bourgeois city.  His precocious analysis and reactions to the time and place have great relevance for today.

“Examining the great slogan of the French Revolution Dostoyevsky declared that liberty in France was in the possession of those who had a million francs.”—Saul Bellow

“I spent only a week in London, and what vast panoramas, what colorful settings, each with its individual personality, have imprinted themselves on my memory. At least that is the way London seems on the surface. Everything is so huge and garish in its individuality. And this individuality can be deceptive. Each object of garishness, each contradiction lives alongside its antithesis and obstinately walks hand in hand with it; they contradict each other and yet evidently in now way exclude each other. They all seem to defend themselves stubbornly, living in their own way and apparently not hurting each other. Yet simultaneously one finds even here the same relentless, vague, chronic struggle, the mortal struggle between the individualistic basis of the whole Western world and the necessity of finding some way to live together, of finding some way to fashion a community and set up house all in the same anthill; it may be only an anthill, but we had better get organized without devouring each other, or else we’ll become cannibals!”

“I have been told, for instance, on Saturday nights (in London) a half-million workers, male and female, together with their children, flood the city like a sea, flocking especially in certain sections and celebrate the Sabbath all night until five in the morning; that they stuff themselves and drink like animals enough to last the week. This disposes of the week’s savings, of all that was earned with sweat and malediction. Clusters of gas lamps burn in the restaurants and butcher shops, illuminating the streets. It is as if a ball were given for these white Negroes. The people congest the open taverns and streets. Then they eat and drink. The taverns are decorated like palaces. Everything is drunk, but drunk without joy, and somber and heavy and strangely silent. Only occasionally do swearing and bloody brawls trouble this suspicious, dismal, oppressive silence…Here, in fact, you do not see a people, but rather a systematic, submissive, fostered loss of consciousness.”

“The Westerner speaks of fraternity as of a great motivating force of humankind, ad does not understand that it is impossible to obtain fraternity if it does not exist in reality. What is to be done? Fraternity must be obtained at any cost. But as it happens it is impossible to create fraternity, for it creates itself, comes of itself, exists in nature. But in French nature, and in Occidental nature in general, it is not present; you find there instead a principle of individualism, a principle of isolation, of intense self-preservation, of personal gain, of self-determination of the I, of opposing this I to all nature and the rest of mankind as an independent, autonomous principle entirely equal and equivalent of all that exists outside itself…But the Western personality is not accustomed to acting in this manner; it fights for what it wants; it demands its rights; it desires to separate—well, fraternity will not flourish in such an atmosphere.”