Dostoevskii and the Birth of the Conscientious Terrorist: From the Underground Man to Underground Russia
The aim of this article is to develop an against-the-grain reading of Dostoevskii's relationship to the rise of revolutionary terrorism in nineteenth-century Russia. I start by interpreting the Underground Man's forlorn state of ‘inertia’ and inwardly directed violence in terms of the Hegelian problematic of conscience (Gewissen) and the ‘beautiful soul’, as elaborated in the Phenomenology of Spirit. I then argue that, as Dostoevskii struggled to affirm a moral ideal that could overcome his protagonist's underground condition (which resembles a warped version of Hegel's beautiful soul), he gave lucid articulation to the moral-aesthetic values that would later become a staple for Russian revolutionaries, particularly the ‘conscientious’ terrorist. Within this context, I examine the case of Vera Zasulich as an unanticipated realization of Dostoevskii's moral ideal.