Anarchy in the 19th Century Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3259 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 11  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

When the revolution came to Dresden, Wagner was in full support of it. When it failed -- Wagner was exiled and "entirely cut off from the public musical life in which he had immersed himself since his first post in Wurzburg in 1833."

It was in exile in Zurich that he began to create his revolutionary magnum opus, the Ring cycle.

Nietzsche, a Wagner-devotee, and a kind of personification of Dostoevsky's Underground Man, lent his own voice to the Revolution. For Nietzsche, Wagner was a revolutionary whose works were modes through which the uprising could be realized: "It is this Wagner that Nietzsche, whose favorite Wagnerian hero was the revolutionary Siegfried, wanted to be heir to."

Nietzsche, of course, would become famous for his pronouncement that God had died -- and that the superman would have to fill the gap. The anarchist element saw through the ridiculousness of Nietzsche's espousal -- and it refused to consent to the old world ideology: thus, caught between two opposing doctrines and liking neither, it chose a third way out: destruction.

George Bernard Shaw, however, writing in 1898 took some amusement in the way in which the century had struggled to establish itself:

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Unfortunately, human enlightenment does not progress by nicer and nicer adjustments, but by violent corrective reactions which invariably send us clean over our saddle and would bring us to the ground on the other side if the next reaction did not send us back again with equally excessive zeal. Ecclesiasticism and Constitutionalism send us one way, Protestantism and Anarchism the other; Order rescues us from confusion and lands us in Tyranny; Liberty then saves the situation and is presently found to be as great a nuisance as Despotism.

Research Paper on Anarchy in the 19th Century Assignment

Shaw's analysis was a kind of fatalistic sigh that more or less captured the spirit of the times. Even amongst the intellectuals there appeared to be no answer and no comfort -- except perhaps in art. That, however, did not bode well for the next century; and in many ways the 19th was prelude to the two World Wars that would decimate the 20th. Dostoevsky saw it as such, and Solzhenitsyn writing from the aftermath of it all (after having spent a decade in the Gulag) affirmed Dostoevsky's prediction with tongue in cheek: atheistic socialism had led directly to Stalin and the mass murder of the kulaks.

Dostoevsky's Russia

Joseph Frank's biography of Dostoevsky literally "traces the seeds of revolt," which spread from Western Europe to Russia throughout the 19th century: "For Balzac, modern French society was nothing but the battle-ground of a ruthless struggle for power between the old aristocracy of birth and breeding and the new freebooters of high finance. In this conflict to the death, all the time-honored moral foundations of the human community were being destroyed."

Dostoevsky's artistic vision was thus shaped by such reports coming from the West: and his own experience in Russia confirmed that his own countrymen and generation were falling under the new persuasion. Arrested in his youth for being part of a revolutionary circle, Dostoevsky had himself been sentenced to death only to gain reprieve at the last moment. Following a stint in Siberia, Dostoevsky embraced the old world Christian religion that was everywhere being demolished in the West: Europe "was totally in thrall to Baal, the flesh-god of materialism, and…it could not escape the catastrophe of a bloody class struggle."

This was fatalism, of course -- of a distinctly Marxist variety. But Dostoevsky in his youth had been quite taken with the Socialism that was coming out of France and into Russia. His works were Romantic; it took the threat of death, exile, and re-acquaintance with old world spirituality to turn Dostoevsky into the literary master he would become and a chronicler of the tragedy and anarchy that would be the subject of Demons.

True to his vocation as a writer, however, Dostoevsky crafted in intricate detail the mind of modern man as it warred with itself: the Underground Man was his first full-blown success -- and the world's first full-blown anti-hero. What made the Underground Man heroic was his ability to attack and obliterate the big lies of his age: namely that man could be defined as purely material and thus "fixed" by purely mechanical means.

What made the Underground Man anti-heroic was his inability to embrace the fullness of his convictions, amend his life, and return to the virtues inherent in the old world: he remains a self-centered, unhappy man hiding in his mouse hole -- despising both the world and himself.

Dostoevsky's later work, The Idiot, would attempt to portray a truly selfless man, whose ideals had been shaped by the old world but who found himself at a loss to come to the assistance of the new. The work would be overshadowed by Dostoevsky's final and greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which would set forth the spiritual doctrine that the Russian author saw the modern world to be so badly in need of: true to the doctrine of the Romantic/Enlightenment age, the modern world failed to understand romantic love as the old world had understood it:

Dostoevsky adheres to Christian teachings on the nature of love which holds that the highest form of romantic love is a Christian charitable love, agape, which is often informed by eros…a form of love which needs to be cultivated, disciplined, and purified if it can ever lead to the higher form of self-less, sacrificing love of agape…For Dostoevsky, the tragedy of the Romantic era was the failure to accept that eros and agape must work together.

Nonetheless, and despite the fact that he became a tutor to the tsar's nephews, the lessons he had to give to the Russian public of the 19th century would be lost. The revolution had already showed itself in the actions of the Decembrists -- and governmental policy, which attempted to retain whatever it could of the old world, was already showing that its days were numbered. Dostoevsky's Christ was not what the new ideology wanted.

Paris and London

Such despising of Christianity was certainly happening in Paris, as Merriman shows: "Sacre-Coeur's very presence on Montmartre gnawed at the anarchists, along with other groups of disadvantaged people."

It is this hatred of the old world religion that drives one of Emile Zola's characters to want "to strike a blow for anarchism" by destroying Sacre-Coeur.

Here, Merriman makes plain the connection between Islamist terrorists and the circle in which Emile Henry lived: it is a shared hatred for the old world religion of the West. In Paris at the end of the 19th century it was obvious where to strike. In modern day life -- in which the Church has essentially abandoned itself -- terrorist cells strike seemingly willy-nilly. Nonetheless, it is a conflict of ideologies.

As Conrad showed in The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes, the anarchic side of the conflict held a base in London, from which it disseminated its propaganda around the world. Merriman states no less:

London played an extremely important role in the dissemination of anarchist propaganda and thus anarchism's global reach. Pamphlets, brochures, and newspapers produced there allowed anarchists to communicate across national borders and even oceans, relate inspiring news of anarchist deeds in other countries, and carry on a debate about tactics.

Yet, for all its activity, its ideology paled in comparison to that of the old, which is the only way out for Michaelis, an anarchist-turned-religionist in Conrad's Agent, who writes unceasingly of faith, hope, and charity. Still, even Conrad understood that the 20th century had learned no lessons from the 19th -- that the war between the old and the new still raged, and that the third way out (the violent way of the anarchists) showed no signs of waning. The despair with which Mrs. Verloc throws herself into the sea was coming for everyone of the 20th century. Conrad himself could only cling to the idea of Faithfulness: orthodoxy was too much of a strain.


In conclusion, Merriman shows that Paris remained a hotbed for revolutionary doctrine, following through on its promise at the end of the 18th century to spread liberty, fraternity, and equality through the destruction of both old and new ideologies: through anarchy to civilization was the creed. But as authors like Conrad and Dostoevsky understood, it was a creed that was base, crass, and held nothing beautiful in it whatsoever. It was, essentially, as Emile Henry would show, a front for the anger that many felt -- many who had been orphaned by the war between the old and the new -- many who had nothing in which to believe and no home to call their own -- many, who like the Underground Man, saw it more fit to explode.


Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground. Rockville, MD: Serenity Press, 2008.

Elliott, John. Spain, Europe and the Wider World. Yale University Press, 2009.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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