Dostoevskian superstitions

Image: Stanislav Kondratiev


Psychographics of “The Demons” in Brazil

“although we are provincials and therefore, of course, to be pitied, we know, however, that so far nothing so new has happened in the world as to make us cry” (Dostoevsky, The demons).

It is true that when Dostoevsky claimed that his age was the most literary possible, he justified his diagnosis by the realization that the internal and external division then seen in society was actually an expression of a general thirst for moral conviction and direction.[I] In other words: if his era was the most literary possible, that was also because the convictions and direction themselves were about to be created anew, which in turn implied that they were already being effectively created, at that very moment, in the streets. Which, as it couldn't be otherwise, opened the way for all kinds of crooks and swindlers.

“There are still many traces in the newspapers of the unexpected lack of firmness in convictions, which leads to the practice of the most terrible acts” – he wrote in a letter, at the time he was drafting Crime and punishment.[ii] A lack of firmness in convictions that, on the one hand, was visible in the facts reported in the newspapers. And on the other hand, in the very way in which they, the “facts”, were reported, since journalists would not always remain faithful to the cause of factual truth, either because of the lack of care in verifying the sources, or because the distortion itself was which effectively made a “good” story possible.[iii]

That the “good story” could lead to the destruction of lives and reputations, such as the most atrocious of the reported facts, well, that was precisely what guaranteed it was a good story! And the point is that it was precisely there, where the writer glimpsed the “real horror” that was announced at the time: “The possibility of considering oneself – and sometimes actually being – an honorable person while committing an obvious villainy and undeniable".[iv]

Having read this paradox through the absurd lenses of our sad year 2021, it seems quite surprising that Dostoevsky reached such conclusions without knowing Brazil today. Referring to one of the most recent cases, the media accompaniment of the search for the murderer and rapist, Lázaro Barbosa, we witness that atrocious facts molded into “good stories” are capable not only of transforming a miserable person into a kind of anti-hero worthy of Hollywood , how, precisely because of that, to make its performance spectacular – which, despite having managed to break through the siege of statistical invisibility, on the other hand, with each passing day, becomes as banal and unmemorable as a blockbuster. Revelation of such a misery Wow of moral conviction and direction, which makes one think more kindly of the grotesque declaration of the grotesque “Abe” Weintraub that only the “Death Penalty can give us back hope”;[v] benevolence, because if it were indeed the case of having to choose between a star-studded hi-tech coliseum in the middle of the children's remote classroom – at a time when it is no longer even possible to distinguish who is a beast and who is a gladiator – and the asepsis of a death painless, scheduled and private, with the right to a last meal and a priest or pastor to repent of sins if you wish... the truth is, the whole thing would be in bad shape.

But Dostoevsky goes further. Thus, it is even more surprising that this magnanimous man had, already in his time, foresaw that among the most varied specimens of swindlers and swindlers, absolute chaos and atrocity could have deliberately opened paths, when not only the reported facts were increasingly atrocious themselves, but when their reports, in the form of “good stories”, had the necessary mechanisms to spread them to the four corners in a sufficiently contradictory manner to the point of generating disbelief and disorientation so absolute that they would be transmuted into perplexity , when not in despair. although the Fake News, today present themselves to many of us as a bitter novelty, their methods are already described in The demons, exactly 150 years ago. And more than its methods, we also find its ends there: absolute chaos as preparatory to a hitherto unheard-of political regime of domination and which, as postulated in The demons, will come simply because it is “goldsmith” and “thing of the future”.[vi] Maybe Brazil really is the country of the future! Although in a very different sense than that envisaged by Stefan Zweig who, in any case, seen today, as if by prediction he committed suicide.

To confirm the old apocalyptic saying “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear”! – is the case of spying on an excerpt precisely from The demons: “— As far as I could understand, […] you yourself, at the beginning and more than once afterwards, developed […] a picture of Russia covered by an infinite network of knots. In turn, each of the groups in action, by making proselytes and spreading out into infinite lateral sections, has the task of constantly discrediting, through a systematic propaganda of denunciations, the importance of local power, generating perplexity in the villages, engendering the cynicism and scandals, the total disbelief in whatever exists, the thirst for the best and, finally, resorting to fire as a predominantly popular means, at the determined moment to plunge the country even into despair in case of need. Are these words that I tried to remember literally yours or are they not yours? Is this program of action yours or not, communicated by you as a representative of such a central committee, still absolutely unknown and almost fantastic to us today?

"That's right, you're just taking too long."[vii]

There were not few intellectuals and scholars, such as Charles Taylor and Albert Camus, who saw in the political ideal foreshadowed in The demons what later came to be called totalitarianism and in the means for such an ideal a certain systematization of what, shortly after the work was published, came to be designated terrorism. In The demons, we witness the texture of the relationship between terrorism and totalitarianism as if subsequent steps of a single dance. As if method and end. If the end is not immediately reachable, it does not mean that the method cannot cause enough damage, so as to even open the way for the future establishment of that end.

It is surprising to observe how aware Dostoevsky was that the utter breakdown of a society was preparatory to fanaticism and domination. As illustrated in the above excerpt, the terrorist tactics presented in The demons already included, in addition to the bloodshed itself, above all the psychological and social destabilization provided via “systematic propaganda” “by an infinite network of us” with the “task” of “constantly discrediting”, as if there were an outline of the primer there. of the hybrid war with its Opsis, even before its existence.[viii]

And this when the writer lived in a tsarist society and could not, according to the facts, even suspect that terrorism instead of clandestine groups of young radicals would be carried out by the State itself – aided whether deliberately or not by the so-called Big Techs – with the end of extending the power of certain swindlers to the point of making it necessary to reduce most, if not death, to the most abject condition. The insistence with which the theorist of totalitarianism in the novel, or, in his words, the theorist “of the social organization of the society of the future that will replace the present one”, assures that there is no longer any other possible solution for the “social formula” is terrible. ” – “Ne-nhu-ma!”, he spells.[ix]

Starting from the unlimited freedom that all swindlers of all time sought to achieve (and not only them, let's face it) we will arrive, guarantees us, by logical necessity, finally at unlimited despotism; and if “lowering the level of science and talent education” would be one of the first necessary actions, the real difficulty he faced was that of not having, in his time, effective means to promote mass death. After all, sums up one of its enthusiasts, if “it is impossible to heal the world no matter how much we treat it”, cutting off “one hundred million heads” would certainly make the whole thing easier.

Faced with such incurability, the theorist assures that he is not proposing any infamy, but rather “the earthly paradise”.[X] Or again, as shouts the one who said he knew how to take the first step to transform theory into plan and action: “Without science there is enough material for a thousand years, but we need to organize obedience. There is only one thing missing in the world: obedience!”[xi] Yes, from such a perspective, our former Minister of Education, despite his kafta, doesn't even know what profound thing he managed to predict.

If it were the case of not only understanding life as literature, but interpreting it in the light of literature, even a superficial reading of The demons it would be difficult, when experiencing the Bolsonaro government, not to join the ranks of those who acclaimed Dostoevsky as a prophet; an acclamation that, in any case, in our case, implies assuming that the great circus of horrors orchestrated by the president (or of which he is the representative of an almost fantastic uniformed party absolutely unknown to us) is perhaps still to come.

Because, if on the one hand, social destabilization (accompanied by mass death) has been carried out, on multiple fronts, with mastery by your government, recently reunited with the CIA,[xii] this same destabilization is fueled by constant threats of a coup – like the one on March 19, when the president presented ipsi literirs the path envisioned in The demons when he stated that “a fertile ground for dictatorship is exactly misery, hunger, poverty, where the man in need loses his reason”.[xiii]

And that Bolsonaro seems excessively crude or too stupid for something like a coup, perhaps a riot, in our post-pre-salt country, this is also foreseen in the novel, in the speech of what could be understood as his literary double, the character Pyotr Stepanovich Vierkhovensky: “well, I finally decided that the best thing is for us to speak, and precisely because of mediocrity, that is, too, too, too much, to rush too much to demonstrate and always end up getting tangled up in your own demonstrations , so that the listener always walks away from you, not knowing what to say, but it is better to shrug. […] Excuse me, after this who will suspect that you have mysterious intentions? Yes, any one of them would be offended by anyone saying that I have secret intentions. Besides, sometimes I make people laugh — and that's precious. […] They will harass me and I will lie again. Everyone has already left me aside; “It is capable, they say, but it fell from the moon”.[xiv]

And behold, in addition to the facts transmuted into good stories, when looking at our reality through the lens of The demons, we seem to be approaching the appointed time when this already desperate country of ours will be thrown into another quality of despair. For it is confirmed by the prognosis offered by the novel that the Bolsonaro phenomenon will not end with his long-awaited overthrow, either via impeachment or defeat in the next elections. And just in case another surrealist and more optimistic political analyst comes to shout “Lula president in 2022!”, basing himself for that, in addition to polls of voting intentions, including at the very end of the novel, given that the little town in which the terrible events narrated in the work take place, apparently returns to normality – as the narrator informs us in the last pages: “Today, three months after those events, our society is at peace, it has recovered from its illness, enjoyed its leisure" -;[xv] we, on our side, would remember what their political theorist warned: “If they miss the moment, they will be harmed, because later they will inevitably return to the same theme”.[xvi]

Thus, in the midst of this lack of conviction and direction that crushes and divides us all, the cry “Lula president in 2022!” we would counter, more aggressively (to match the times), with the cry “Dostoevsky, paradoxist!” Who foresaw the deepest meaning of Bolsonaro's highly commented statement, when he was still at ease, with Steve Bannon, in 2019, at a dinner in Washington: “Brazil is not an open land where we intend to build things for our people. We have to deconstruct a lot of things. Undo a lot. Then we can start doing. That I serve so that, at least, I can be a turning point, I am already very happy”[xvii]

*Mariana Lins Costa is a postdoctoral fellow in Philosophy at the Federal University of Sergipe.


[I] Dostoevsky apoud Moser, CA “Dostoevsky and the aesthetics of journalism”. Dostoevsky's Studies, flight. 3, 1982.

[ii] Dostoevsky apoud Frank, J. Dostoevsky: The Miracle Years, 1865-1871. São Paulo: Edusp, 2003, p. 75.

[iii] Moser, CA “Dostoevsky and the aesthetics of journalism”. Dostoevsky's Studies, flight. 3, 1982.

[iv] Dostoevsky. A writer's diary. Volume One 1873-1876. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1994, pp. 286-287.


[vi] Or as Piero Leirner would say: reboot.

[vii] Dostoevsky. The demons. Trans. Paul Bezerra. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2004, p. 532-533.

[viii] It is inevitable that we think here about how many “narratives” have rotated – and still rotate between smartphones and pharmacies – around the drug hydroxochloroquine; what, on the other hand, also makes us think that in addition to Bolsonaro, his representatives and the follow the money (now all but forgotten with the new Covaxin story), not only Dr. Nise Yamaguchi (until June of this year, a physician at Albert Einstein Hospital), as a significant part of the significant medical class, actively (or autonomously) adhered to the “kit” recommendation, as is the case of none other than the Federal Council of Medicine. A detail that brings some disturbance to the truly inspiring story of science against genocide told, until the other day, at the CPI of covid, when the two things in History itself, the one with a capital “H”, so to speak, in general, have always been together...


[ix] Dostoevsky. The demons, P. 391;392.

[X] Ditto, p. 395.

[xi] Ditto, p. 407.



[xiv] Dostoevsky. The demons, P. 222; 227.

[xv] Ditto, p. 649.

[xvi] Ditto, p. 392.


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