Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tea Party, Occupy Movement, and what we can learn from Tolstoy

As I've mentioned in other blog posts, one of the most interesting aspects of reading literature from another era is the way it gives us a window into the thought of a time with knowledge of what eventually occurred. Anna Karenina was published in serial form from 1873 to 1877. The October revolution in Russia took place in 1917, forty-four years later. Yet in the text of Tolstoy's novel communism is mentioned a few times. It's thought of as a radical, but logical approach to the problems of economic injustice.

Konstantin Levin is the character with a conscience and a tendency toward philosophical thought that Tolstoy uses to present the impressions of what was then a new political philosophy.

Then, too, his brother's talk of communism, which he had treated so lightly at the time, now made him think. He considered a revolution in economic conditions nonsense. But he always felt the injustice of his own abundance in comparison with the poverty of the peasants, and now he determined that so as to feel quite in the right, though he had worked hard and lived by no means luxuriously before, he would now work still harder, and would allow himself even less luxury.

Later Konstantin Levin needs to defend his ideas to his brother Nikolay.

“You've simply borrowed an idea that's not your own, but you've distorted it, and are trying to apply it where it's not applicable.”

“But I tell you it's nothing to do with it. They deny the justice of property, of capital, of inheritance, while I do not deny this chief stimulus.”

I can see parallels with our own time, as our politics becomes more polarized with each election. The trickle down philosophy of the Tea Party and the justice for all philosophy of the Occupy movement both have their points. But just as the communists of Tolstoy's era eventually became the Stalinists of latter years, our right and left wing radicals could lead us down a dangerous path if we're not careful to remain rational.

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