Dostoevsky’s original intention was to produce a “pamphlet novel,” that is, a disguised re-telling of what had become known as the Nechaev Affair; but, being Dostoevsky, the novel that he finally wrote was much, much more: a picture, one that he drew so well, of the infection of society by a godless ideology, a destructive revolutionary catechism, through the agency of a band of mostly young socialists and nihilists. The result is the unnamed city where they choose to work their mischief is social chaos, arson, and murder—the breakdown of all familiar order.
Chief among these demonic souls is Nikolai Stavrogin, a man without belief in anything but the exercise of his own great strength, who leads no one but inspires everyone through his magnetic, somewhat ghoulish beauty. Next in importance to Stavrogin is Pyotr Stepanovich Verkhovensky, a callous individual, part crook, as he himself says, part revolutionary, a handsome enough figure who is nonetheless repellant. Additional characters are Kirillov, a mad engineer developing a religion of the Man-God, the chief commandment of which is suicide; Ivan Shatov, a budding Slavophil, who wishes to break with the revolutionary cell; Liza Tushin, a beautiful Russian, who loves Stavrogin the way one might love an irresistible vampire; and, the character to ties them all (save Kirillov) together from their childhood forward, Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, a fifty-something Russian liberal who happens to be Pyotr’s father, as well as Stavrogin’s, Liza’s, and Shatov’s former tutor.
The chemistry between them is both fascinating and horrifying.
I bring up Demons’ cast of characters mainly because Dostoevsky’s insight is so applicable to our own chaotic situation in 2016 America. Barrack Obama, our Stavrogin, proves a compelling lodestone of a man to millions, for reasons that evaporate almost the moment they’re offered. Does he believe in freedom or the all-powerful state? Is he the salvation of his race or their curse? Is he an affably social soul or a mean-spirited introvert? A patriot or a destroyer of all things patriotic? It’s hard to be sure, yet his sometimes smiling, sometimes petulant demeanor continues to dominate the political culture the way Elvis continues to loom over the world of rock’n’roll. Perhaps he cares about his office but only insofar as being the first “black” president confers the power, shining aura, and consequent adulation that allows him to do, as he once crowed, whatever he wants. Like Stavrogin, he lives to exercise, as he sees it, his limitless power.
Who is Hillary in Dostoevsky’s grand scheme? Not Liza who, after all, is infatuated with someone other than herself, a quality Mrs.-Senator-Secretary Clinton wholly lacks. No, Hillary is Pyotr, a creepy conman-ideologue hybrid. The description of his speaking voice alone would establish the justice of the comparison:
“He speaks rapidly . . . but at the same time self-confidently, and is never at a loss for words. His enunciation is remarkably clear; his words spill out like big, uniform grains, always choice, always . . . at your service. You like it at first, but later it will become repulsive . . . You somehow imagine that the tongue in his mouth must be of some special form, somehow unusually long and thin, terribly red, and with an extremely sharp, constantly and involuntarily wriggling tip.” (180, Pevear and Volokhonsky translation)
Something deep down inside of Pyotr is really political, really the stuff of the dedicated socialist, but somehow or other the dedication has gotten smothered by egoism. Not surprisingly, he proves the cruelest, most thoroughly heartless of beings.
And isn’t that Hillary?
Liza might well find her modern counterpart in Michelle, but really one finds the similarity of the First Lady in another character whom I haven’t mentioned, Marya Lebyadkin. She is what Russian Orthodoxy knows as a holy fool, somewhat insane but also spiritually prescient. In love with Stavrogin, she comes to see him for what he is.
Does Michelle Obama—a complete leftist to the core—know her husband’s true nature? One suspects she does. That telling photo of Michelle glowering at grinning Barrack as he took a selfie of himself at Nelson Mandela’s funeral tells it all. Ah, yes, she knows him. Will she ever cry out “anathema!” to him in hysterical condemnation as Marya does to Stavrogin? Only time will tell although one suspects she’ll need him to advance her own fortunes in the post-Barrack years.
I pass over Kirillov and Shatov—intriguing characters, to be sure—to close with Stepan Trofimovich. Stepan’s journey leads him from liberal folly (and foppishness) to a realization that he, however much the revolutionaries’ creed has clashed with his Western liberalism, truly made Stavrogin, Pytor, and the rest what they eventually became.
Confessing his sin, he pronounces sentence on himself through a reading of Luke 8:32 – 36, the Gospel’s report of the Gadarene swine. Like the demons Christ cast out of the possessed man, all of them deserve the vessel they finally inhabit—and the same just end. And, Stepan says, “good riddance” to all of them, including himself.
To whom does this remarkable character correspond? The sad fact is to no one. As Fred Barnes recently noted in The Weekly Standard, we know all about #NeverTrumper Republicans, but where are the #NeverHillary Democrats? The question answers itself. Across the land Democrats admit openly enough—well, if polls mean anything—to Hillary’s unsavory character, he utter mendacity, her swinish (yes, swinish) love of wealth, her arrogant manner.
Like swine they hurtle toward the precipice to vote, to vote for Hillary, to get their first woman president, to sing a litany of her accomplishments that don’t exist, to celebrate a third “Obama” term. If only their insane stampede toward the sea would take only themselves, but it’s no secret that if they succeed, we’re going with them. And you can’t get much more demonic than that.