….But it may happen that the Westernists, upon reflection, will say—mark well that I am not writing of those who pressed my hand, but of the Westernists in general—’ Ah,’ they will perhaps say (you hear; no more ‘ perhaps ‘)—’ Ah, you ‘ve agreed at last, after so much dispute and discussion, that our aspiration after Europe was justified and normal, you have acknowledged that there was truth on our side as well, and you have lowered your flag. Well, we accept your acknowledgment good-heartedly, and hasten to assure you that it is not at all bad on your part. At least it shows a certain intelligence in you, which indeed we never denied, with the exception perhaps of our stupidest members, for whom we have neither the will nor the power to be responsible, but . . .’ Here you see another ‘ but’ appears, and it must be explained immediately. ‘ The point is that your thesis and conclusion that in our enthusiasms we, as it were, coincided with the national spirit and were mysteriously guided by it —that proposition is still more than doubtful to us, and so an agreement between us once more becomes impossible.
Please understand that we were guided by Europe , by her science, and by Peter’s reforms, but not by the spirit of the people at all, for we neither met nor scented this spirit on our way; on the contrary, we left it behind and ran away from it as soon as we could. From the very outset we went our way independently, and did not in the least follow some instinct or other which is leading the Russian people to universal sympathy and the unification of mankind—to all that you have just talked so much about. In the Russian people, for the time has come to speak perfectly frankly, we see, as before, only an inert mass, from which we have nothing to learn, which, on the contrary, hinders Russia ‘s development towards something better, and must be wholly recreated and remade—if it is impossible organically, then mechanically at least—by simply making them obey us once for all. And to obtain this obedience we must adopt the social order just as it is in European countries, which we were discussing just now.
Strictly speaking, our nation is poor and untidy, as it always has been, and can have neither individuality nor ideal. The whole history of our people is absurd, from which you have deduced the devil knows what, while we alone have looked at it soberty. It is necessary that a people like ours should have no history, and that what it has in the shape of a history should be utterly forgotten by it in disgust. Only an intellectual society must have a history, and this society the people must serve, and only serve, with its labour and powers.
‘ Don’t worry and don’t shout! We don’t want to enslave our people when we talk of making it obey, of course not. Please don’t rush to such conclusions. We are humane, we are Europeans, you know that as well as we. On the contrary, we intend to develop our people gradually, in due order, and to crown our edifice by raising up the people to ourselves and by remaking its nationality into something different which will appear when its development is complete. We will lay the foundations of education and begin whence we ourselves started, with the renunciation of all the past, and with the damnation’to which the people must itself deliver up its past. The moment we have taught one of the people to read and write, we shall immediately make him scent the delights of Europe, we will seduce him with Europe , by the refinement of European life, of European , , customs, clothes, drinks,.dances—in a word, we will make him ashamed of his bast shoes and his kvass, ashamed of his old songs, and though there are many excellent, musical songs among them, we will make him sing vaudeville, no matter how furious you may be. In brief, for the good purpose, by any and every means, we will first work on the weak springs of his character, just as it has been in our case, and then the people will be ours. He will be ashamed of his past and will curse it. He who curses his past—is ours ! ! —that is our formula. We will apply it to the full when we begin to raise up the people to ourselves. And if the people prove itself incapable of enlightenment, then ” remove the people.” For then it will be clearly shown that our people is only a worthless and barbarous horde, only to be made to obey. For what else is there to be done ? ? Truth exists in the intellectuals and in Europe alone, and therefore though you have eighty million people—you seem to boast of it—all these millions must first serve this European truth, since there is not and cannot be another truth. You won’t frighten us with your millions. That is our permanent conclusion, though you have it now in its nakedness. We abide by it. We cannot accept your conclusions and talk together…..We hope at least that you will not expect it of us, above all at a time when the last word of Europe and European Science is an enlightened and humane atheism, and we can but follow Europe .
_Excerpt from “Pushkin” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky_