The Solution of the Fist: Dostoevsky and the Roots of Modern Terrorism
The first novel ever written about terrorism, Dostoevsky'sThe Demons is also the most instructive, for in it he addresses—better than any writer before or since—the two persistent riddles of terrorism: why are terrorists so new to our civilization, and how is it that they can kill others so easily in the name of a political idea? As a first-generation observer of terrorism, Dostoevsky came to the conclusion that this new political movement was the product ofmodern culture, politics, and psychology. He felt that modernity created a unique shame and humiliation that fueled terrorism. The "demons" that he brings to life in this novel are not fire-breathing monsters, but gracious, subtle, cosmopolitan, rational, and scientific. They are also murderers, rapists, arsonists, and terrorists.
For Dostoevsky, these "demons were ultimately the product of cosmopolitan Paris, for it was there that individuals first deified reason and thus abandoned the ancient sources of morality—the ancient Gods. By replacing the ancient with the modern gods of atheism, science, and liberalism, modern societies have abandoned any sort of moral constraint that helped to keep violence and tyranny in check. This created the new, modern, nihilistic world of terrorism.
If modern shame and humiliation are truly at the heart of modern terrorism, twenty-first century readers can gain a clearer insight into terrorist motivations through understanding Dostoevsky's work.The Solution of the Fist: Dostoevsky and the Roots of Modern Terrorism aims to aid in this process through an in-depth analysis of his work and a careful explanation of the context in which nineteenth-century readers would understand it.
Moran, John, "The Solution of the Fist: Dostoevsky and the Roots of Modern Terrorism" (2009). Faculty Bookshelf. 2.