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Putin and Raskolnikov

#179: Oct. - Dec. 2021 (Fiction)
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Robert Tulip

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Putin and Raskolnikov

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I find myself wondering, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, how the irrationality of Vladimir Putin compares to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.

Raskolnikov finds himself under pressure in a situation of poverty, and constructs an elaborate rationalisation to justify murdering innocents to satisfy his resentment. This psychology is similar to how Putin has responded to political pressure by starting a war.

The rationalisation of the threat from NATO is only a threat to his corrupt autocracy, not to national interests of Russia. A free Ukraine as a neighbour would advance Russia’s real interests to become a more democratic and just state, exactly what Putin does not want.

After his gruesome crimes, Raskolnikov manages to conceal his guilt for a while. The extreme damage that Putin has caused to Russian standing and interests is comparable. He can use media control to manage the message in Russia, but the catastrophic damage he has inflicted on Ukraine creates major blowback in trade and culture. Putin's guilt can only be hidden in the temporary blundering way that Raskolnikov tries to hide the evidence of his murders.

When an extreme and arbitrary crime is committed by a sociopath, it creates such an unusual situation that the community cannot long tolerate failure to catch and punish the guilty. Crime and Punishment.
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Re: Putin and Raskolnikov

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Although I had high hopes for Crime and Punishment, having read it in high school and wanting to compare, I got bogged down with it mainly due to work stress. If I re-started it now that I'm retired, I might have better luck.

Putin and Raskolnikov are an interesting comparison, but I don't think they're very close. Raskolnikov is new to killing, at first excited by it, but shortly thereafter is disturbed. He almost blurts out a confession while at the police station on unrelated matters. I can't imagine Putin has any such reservations although he probably evolved to that point. His current psychopathy is being the only one smart enough to conceive and drive his plan, while losing the initial phase of the war. This is due to an iron grip through poisonings, imprisonment, wealth control, knowing the secrets of everyone he deals with, and so on to the point where Putin does not receive any information that contradicts his opinions. That probably violates most of Sun Tzu's lessons on war. Putin is a ruthless mafia boss who controls an economy, a police state, and a military.

Another huge difference is in economic circumstance. Raskolnikov is dirt poor, renting out one corner of a room and scrounging for food and clothing. Putin is possibly the wealthiest person on the planet. Although he owns many large hotel-like mansions and mega yachts, he spreads and hides much other wealth among friends who hold it for him without question. I wonder what would happen if their roles were reversed? I expect Raskolnikov would flail and fail as head of Russia, but even starting from R's position Putin would intimidate and terrorize his way back into significant power.
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Robert Tulip

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Re: Putin and Raskolnikov

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LanDroid wrote: Tue Apr 12, 2022 10:54 amAlthough I had high hopes for Crime and Punishment, having read it in high school and wanting to compare, I got bogged down with it mainly due to work stress. If I re-started it now that I'm retired, I might have better luck.
Yes, I have also been taking my time reading Crime and Punishment, and am now still only half way through. Each time I open it and read a new chapter, I find myself marvelling at the high quality of the psychological and social insight and characterisation. So I will continue to gradually add chapter comments in the forum.
LanDroid wrote: Tue Apr 12, 2022 10:54 amPutin and Raskolnikov are an interesting comparison, but I don't think they're very close.
In terms of the principles of comparative literature, specifically between fiction and its society, I think it is more important to focus on the similarities than the differences. There can be no doubt that both Raskolnikov and Putin are windows on the Russian soul, each in their own specific ways. So the comparative question is how aspects of Putin’s character and behaviour reveal enduring patterns in Russian culture that are also apparent in Raskolnikov, such as the propensity to indulge in nihilistic murder. This is a syndrome that dates back at least to the Mongol invasion eight centuries ago and continued through the Tsarist and Bolshevik dynasties. When you see such a pattern, it will naturally express itself in different ways while creating an underlying continuity.
LanDroid wrote: Tue Apr 12, 2022 10:54 am Raskolnikov is new to killing, at first excited by it, but shortly thereafter is disturbed. He almost blurts out a confession while at the police station on unrelated matters. I can't imagine Putin has any such reservations although he probably evolved to that point. His current psychopathy is being the only one smart enough to conceive and drive his plan, while losing the initial phase of the war. This is due to an iron grip through poisonings, imprisonment, wealth control, knowing the secrets of everyone he deals with, and so on to the point where Putin does not receive any information that contradicts his opinions. That probably violates most of Sun Tzu's lessons on war. Putin is a ruthless mafia boss who controls an economy, a police state, and a military.
Yes, that mostly shows the big differences, but also the similarity that Raskolnikov equally violates principles of rational conduct like those explained by Sun Tzu. This shared pattern of violation illustrates that once a shocking and extreme crime has been committed, there is something like a law of fate that demands expiation and atonement for the crime. I am still in the midst of the part of the book where Raskolnikov is determinedly concealing his crime, despite constant events that create suspicion. Putin has similarly managed to largely conceal his crime from the Russian people through the control systems you mention, as well as media control. It will be like his hero psychopath Joseph Stalin, with the subsequent partial revelation by Khrushchev and then the collapse of the Soviet Empire as inevitable punishments for the crime.
LanDroid wrote: Tue Apr 12, 2022 10:54 amAnother huge difference is in economic circumstance. Raskolnikov is dirt poor, renting out one corner of a room and scrounging for food and clothing. Putin is possibly the wealthiest person on the planet. Although he owns many large hotel-like mansions and mega yachts, he spreads and hides much other wealth among friends who hold it for him without question. I wonder what would happen if their roles were reversed? I expect Raskolnikov would flail and fail as head of Russia, but even starting from R's position Putin would intimidate and terrorize his way back into significant power.
Yes, these differences are important, but they do not negate the similarities.
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Re: Putin and Raskolnikov

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Robert Tulip wrote: Fri Apr 01, 2022 3:44 pm I find myself wondering, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, how the irrationality of Vladimir Putin compares to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.

Raskolnikov finds himself under pressure in a situation of poverty, and constructs an elaborate rationalisation to justify murdering innocents to satisfy his resentment. This psychology is similar to how Putin has responded to political pressure by starting a war.

The rationalisation of the threat from NATO is only a threat to his corrupt autocracy, not to national interests of Russia. A free Ukraine as a neighbour would advance Russia’s real interests to become a more democratic and just state, exactly what Putin does not want.
Interesting question. I do see some overlap. In particular, Raskolnikov's inflated sense of self-importance seems to be fed to a large degree by his sense of receiving less than his due from society. His sister, as well, is not given her due and is threatened with a serious fall in her status as a way of saving the family's finances (which R is a disaster for). The more Raskolnikov is stung by society's faulty evaluation of himself and his family, the more he turns to artificially inflating his own standing with drama queen philosophizing.

Seems to me Putin is in a similar position. He knows his success in dominating his country is hollow, and the disgust with which the West views him gives too little weight (in his view) to strength and successful navigation of life's challenges while posturing (in his view) for the pretense of moral virtue. The more frustrated he is by the scorn of the West, the more he turns to bizarre theories of the just deserts of the Russian people.

Frustration leading to aggression is, in the view of the psychologists who study it, the basic equation at the heart of social conflict.
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Re: Putin and Raskolnikov

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Raskolnikov could be similar in miniature to Putin. Raskolnikov's need for self-aggrandizement stems from personal grievance, so he makes of himself a special case, worthy to be held above moral norms. Putin's deal is self-aggrandizement, too, but the fuel for it comes from his country's imagined deprivation of the status due to it. Vladimir the Great would restore Russia to its rightful place--no Soviet Union this time--and whatever means the restoration takes are justified by the glory of the mission. It's a religious mission for Putin, too, an element that has been brought out recently.

I see no essential difference between Adolf Hitler and Putin, and I suspect "de-Nazification " could be Putin's attempt to lead thinking away from the clear parallel.
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Re: Putin and Raskolnikov

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DWill wrote: Sat Apr 23, 2022 7:30 am Raskolnikov could be similar in miniature to Putin. Raskolnikov's need for self-aggrandizement stems from personal grievance, so he makes of himself a special case, worthy to be held above moral norms. Putin's deal is self-aggrandizement, too, but the fuel for it comes from his country's imagined deprivation of the status due to it. Vladimir the Great would restore Russia to its rightful place--no Soviet Union this time--and whatever means the restoration takes are justified by the glory of the mission. It's a religious mission for Putin, too, an element that has been brought out recently.
My comment yesterday on Part 3 of Crime and Punishment is worth noting here, that Raskolnikov is a metaphor for the soul of Russia. His mother describes him and his sister Dounia in the following terms: “in soul, you are both melancholy, morose, hot-tempered, haughty and generous”. This stereotype of the Russian character, including imaginary generosity, points to the cultural sulk that has inspired Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, over his bitter reaction to the prospect of a free liberal society on his border subverting the autocratic tradition.
DWill wrote: Sat Apr 23, 2022 7:30 am I see no essential difference between Adolf Hitler and Putin, and I suspect "de-Nazification " could be Putin's attempt to lead thinking away from the clear parallel.
Many Ukrainians did support the Nazis in the Second World War, as a reaction against the genocide of the Holodomor forced famine imposed by Stalin in the 1930s. As a result, this idea of Ukrainian ties to the West as equivalent to Nazism has entered Russian mythology, even though Ukraine has a Jewish President and the far right only received 2% of votes. Such convenient myths are impossible to shake except by regime change in Russia, with a shift to a liberal democratic rules based model of governance.
The differences between Hitler and Putin are quite complicated to assess. Both are insane, but Putin is motivated much more by a sense of external threat, a siege mentality. His invasion of Ukraine is designed to teach NATO a lesson, as Meersheimer argues, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgiZXgYzI84 that the extension of liberal freedom to Russia’s borders is intolerable for his corrupt imperial autocracy and he is willing to destroy Ukraine, using the tyrannical principle tremble and obey, rather than allow such a subversive threat to continue.
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