Inside the Revolutionary Mind
By Bryan Caplan
I just had the pleasure of reading Tolstoy’s “God’s Way and Man’s.” It’s one of the most compelling portraits of revolutionary psychology I’ve ever read. “God’s Way and Man’s” is a complex tale, but the last half focuses on imprisoned Russian revolutionary Mezhenetsky. After seven years in virtual solitary confinment, Mezhenetsky remains physically strong and ideologically determined. But transfer to milder conditions breaks him:
As he was a criminal of special importance, he [Mezhenetsky] was conveyed separately, and not allowed to communicate with others; and it was only in the prison at Krasnoyarsk that he first succeeded in having some intercourse with other political prisoners who were also sent to penal servitude… They were all young people of a new type unfamiliar to Mezhenetsky. They were Revolutionists of a newer generation – his successors – and therefore of special interest to him. Mezhenetsky expected to find them following in his footsteps, and therefore valuing very highly what had been done by their forerunners, and especially by himself, Mezhenetsky. He was prepared to treat them with kindness and condescension, but he had the unpleasant surprise of discovering that these young people not only did not regard him as a pioneer and teacher, but treated him with something like condescension, evading and excusing his superannuated opinions. According to the views of these new Revolutionists, all that Mezhenetsky and his friends had done – all their attempts to rouse the peasants, and especially their terroristic methods and their assassinations… had been a series of mistakes. They had all merely contributed to the triumph of reaction under Alexander III, which put society back almost to the days of serfdom…
For two days and the greater part of two nights the disputes between Mezhenetsky and his new acquiantances hardly ceased. Especially one of them, their leader, Roman… pained and grieved Mezhenetsky by his unwavering assurance of being right, and by a contemptuous and even sarcastic rejection of all the old methods of Mezhenetsky and his comrades.
I won’t give away the end, but Rand might have approved.