During my junior year in college, I took two semesters of Russian history. The second semester focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, and one of the books we read was a really, really bad 1863 novel called What Is to be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. It was a political novel, written by a member of the Russian intelligentsia (he was a literary critic, among other things), and it sought to explain why intellectuals needed to take the lead in the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Surprisingly for the time, its lead character, a woman, advocated free love, an end to marriage, an end to private property, and creation of socialist industrial communes.
In response, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote Notes from the Underground, which ridiculed Chernyshevsky’s book. Later, Leo Tolstoy wrote a response as well. Intellectuals, however loved the book, not least for how it cast them as social and political heroes. One person completely impressed by the book was Vladimir Lenin, who went on to implement much of what What Is to be Done?advocated. And we know how well that worked out.
Two years ago, Northwestern University professor Gary Morson gave a lecture at the Heritage Foundation, speaking on this 19thcentury “great authors versus intellectuals” battle. He likens it to contemporary American society, but he points out that we have no great authors – no Dostoevsky, no Tolstoy, no Anton Chekhov – to engage the battle today. What the lecture does tell us is that all this stuff flying around about socialism, green new deals, soaking the rich, and ending capitalism is nothing new. We’ve seen it before, and we know exactly where it will lead.
More Good Reads
Writing and Literature
Twelve Rules for the Bookish Life – Doug Sikkema at Comment Magazine.
Write to Discover New Skills and Techniques – Ann Kroeker.
We Write by Faith – Jennifer Oshman.
Why Charles Dickens Makes Me Cry – Christine Norvell at The Imaginative Conservative.
Info-siloes and urban bubbles: What’s wrecking public discourse on religion and culture? – Terry Mattingly at Get Religion.
What the Washington Post Debacle Can Teach Christians – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.
What the Fall of the Newseum Says about News, and Museums – Kriston Capps at City Lab.
Life and Culture
The Equality Act Accelerates Anti-Christian Bias – Andrew Walker at The Gospel Coalition.
The Scandalous Academy: Social Science in the Service of Identity Politics – Scott Yenor at Public Discourse.
Bribe College Admissions Officers? My Parents Wouldn’t Pay for Driver’s Ed – John Zmirak at The Stream.
Three Sonnets on the Temptations of Christ – Malcolm Guite at The Imaginative Conservative.
Why are we so worried about “Instapoetry”? – Anna Leszkiewicz at New Statesman.
James Tate’s Last, Last Poems – Matthew Zapruder at The Paris Review.
Leaf blowing – David Solway at New Criterion.
The Surprising Humanity of the Westminster Confession – Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.
Farewell Francis – Jordan Standridge at The Cripplegate.
England and France: Sibling Rivalry – Erica Laine at English Historical Fiction Authors.
It is Well with My Soul – Audrey Assad
Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas by David Park (1911-1960).
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