Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute's

Latest News
Ani Kokobobo on Dostoevsky’s Demons and Parallels to the Current Political Situation
January 13, 2021

Ani Kokobobo (Chair, Slavic Languages & Literatures, University of Kansas; Slavic Ph.D., ’11) writes about how Dostoevsky warned of the strain of nihilism that infects Donald Trump and his movement (The Conversation, Jan. 13):

Nihilism was notably cited during U.S. Senate deliberations after rioting Trump supporters had been cleared from the Capitol. “Don’t let nihilists become your drug dealers” exhorted Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. “There are some who want to burn it all down. … Don’t let them be your prophets.”

How else to describe the incendiary rhetoric and grievances that Donald Trump has peddled since November? What else to call the denial of the electorate’s will and his deep disdain for American institutions and traditions?

In 2016, I wrote about how Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky had, in his work, explored what happens to society when people who rise to power lack any semblance of ideological or moral convictions and view society as bereft of meaning. I saw eerie similarities with Trump’s actions and rhetoric on the campaign trail. Fast-forward four years, and I believe the warnings of Dostoevsky – particularly in his most political novel, Demons, published in 1872 – hold truer than ever.