Béla Hamvas: Preface to Crime and Punishment

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is not a symbolic piece. It is probably nothing more than the story of a student. The student who wishes to study but hasn’t got the means, and who therefore murders an old pawnbroker. He tries to motivate his murder by contrasting his poverty to the moneybags of the old hag, and representing this as unjust. Which does ring somewhat true. That a young man wishing to study should lead a life of destitude, while the avaricious old witch is hoarding her roubles, seems inappropriate. But for Rodion Raskolnikov to strike the woman down and take her roubles for himself is even more inappropriate. The student knows it; everybody knows it. True; such an uneven distribution of wealth in unfair. But the fact is, when the old usurer is murdered and her bags are taken, injustice does not suddenly become justice. Quite the contrary: it becomes felony. Murder and robbery cannot be represented as acts that restore justice. Dostoevsky himself is of the same opinion; as well as any sane individual who has ever read his novel.

Crime and Punishment is not a symbolic work, and it makes not the slightest reference to any meaning beyond what the story relates. It is the thought itself; nothing more. This is characteristic of mid-19th century attempts to come to terms with the French revolution and the Napoleon-phenomenon. Under the influence of Stendhal and Balzac, one might add. These were the times when greatness and career became confused. For we must remember that Napoleon was a careerist; and an even more talented careerist than Julius Caesar; and the difficulty in understanding him stems from the inability to distinguish greatness from careerism within him. Careerism might be defined as an ambition that willingly makes use of all available resources to achieve one's ends, and which is therefore unclean. This must be sharply contrasted with an exigent will to greatness. Greatness has style, while career is merely successful. Greatness is a question of play; career is a question of showmanship. But the key difference between the two is that greatness is without mirror (it does not preen itself), whilst career depends on the application of success-techniques, regardless of the presence or absence of talent. Thus, it is wrong to say that career is a form of low-grade greatness; one can only say that career is humbug.

In all likelihood, this is what Stendhal and Balzac had failed to realize. People in their books are heroes of their times, apparently hungry for greatness, but they are just careerists. Style-less. In Stendhal’s interpretation, the genius – if he can subsequently justify it, perhaps by virtue of his accomplishment – may, á la Napoléon, commit any atrocity. In Dostoevsky’s tongue: the talented student may, in the interest of his career, strike down the old hag. Preceding the murder, Rodion Raskolnikov would have been such a Stendhalesque character, who genuinely believed that in the name of getting ahead, rich old hags may be hit over the head without any further ado. This marked the beginning of an era that was characterized by two traits in mankind: intellectual excellence on the one hand, and moral insanity on the other.


Theodor Dreiser, over half a century after Dostoevsky, wrote An American Tragedy. This novel poses exactly the same question: is it permissible to kill in order to get ahead? Dreiser’s conclusion is that, as a result of an unjust social structure, it is not man who is responsible for murder, but society itself. This stereotypical cliché helped to diminish the poignancy of the matter at the time, and it should sound all the more familiar to the contemporary ear because has is also become part of our school curriculum.

Before the murder, Rodion Raskolnikov was undoubtedly a Stendhalian hero in the likeness of Julien Sorel, or perhaps one of Balzac’s characters; a contemporary careerist who, in the name of his accomplishment, was ready to commit Napoleon-like misdeeds. After committing the murder though, this picture changes. Raskolnikov would now shrug his shoulders at Dreiser’s theorem and tell us that he was also going to save himself from his predicament by some similar reasoning; but that all of this remained on a theoretical level and was left behind when he actually struck the old woman down. As to what becomes of him? He is now like a dog about to attack, baring his teeth to growl the words: Dear Mr. Society, please do step closer – not to worry – and have a look at these. What are these, sir? (Shows his hands.) Do you know what these are? I will tell you sir, they are hands. They are my two hands. I killed her with this pair of hands. These hands you shall not remove from me, sir. You suggest that social structure is wrong, sir, and that consequently, I was forced to murder this usurer. That society is to blame. That the unjust distribution of wealth is… - blah-blah, we know all the rest. Look, sir, if I could only undo what I have done, I would chop these two hands right off. But I cannot. I have indeed killed her, and all I can do now is accept the responsibility and go do my time in Siberia. Twenty years? Let it be twenty years. But I forbid you to spread any rumors about me wanting to divert the blame onto the inequalities of social structure. Injustice exists independently of my affair, and although it may have a bearing, however remote and slight, on the events; this can only be theoretical. If my hands have confessed the murder, then so should my tongue; for if it did not, sir, then I would be compelled not only to cut my hands off, but also to tear my tongue out, for I would be a liar. It was not society that did it; it was I myself. That which you say, sir, is naught but a shameless and cowardly sophism. Responsibility is not for society to bear; I reserve all of it for myself, and I will surrender none of it to anyone; injustice or not. I am a murderer and I am proud of being able to admit to it, fair and square. In contrast to your views, dear Mr. Society – so please kindly take note of this, once and for all. Shame on you sir, and get out of my sight, with immediate effect, sir.

Today of course, it would be of immense relief to have someone write the novel in which the old hag is killed and robbed, and subsequently the student enrolled in University. He would complete his studies with flying colors, dress well, having ample resources from the old woman’s purse, and attend excellent parties as well as theatre, concerts and vernissages, and finally, marry the daughter of an English millionaire. It would truly have been sinful to leave all that money to rot in the back-room of the usurer. But more importantly, it would have been an irreplaceable loss for society if such a prodigy were not allowed to flourish. Because you see, our hero became a world-famous scholar, a university professor, and a respected politician. He subsequently moved to the Riviera with his family; his capital was invested in all the right bonds; his walls were adorned by several lovely Matisses, not to mention his Cézanne. As we can readily see, this gentleman has entirely succeeded in eliminating social injustice.

Such a novel would, no doubt, encourage a multitude of tiny little careerists; and, as Psychology says, would increase their self-awareness; so that they could import themselves and shoulder themselves forward even more forcefully than, say, our journalists, poets, politicians, lawyers or medical professors, and so that they could be liberated in becoming a pack of sly, sneaky, filthy little evildoers; the smaller the better. As we have learned from the works of Balzac: in order to get ahead, we must be prepared to become unscrupulous.

Shakespeare had also thought about the ‘old woman’ dilemma; all the more so because at one point, everybody thinks about the old woman dilemma. Wouldn’t it be so very convenient to knock her down, take the money and strike a career? What would it be like to kill in the name of my career? Macbeth and Richard III tried it, and ended up pretty much like Raskolnikov. Shakespeare must have ruminated upon this subject a lot, which may be readily detected in his Coriolanus. Coriolanus is the man who, in the spirit of pure greatness, rejects the abject methods of careerism. In newer times, Napoleon decreased the standards considerably with his small-scale mischief. Shakespeare’s heroes still had style. But of late, greatness has become career; for example, the murderer became a horse-thief. Quality has become diluted, people have become less and less demanding; they no longer want to rule the land, they just want to open a bank. Napoleon was succeeded by Rastignac, the social climber.


Following in the footsteps of Stendhal and Balzac, people’s hearts suddenly began to melt. Social structure was bad, they said; and the crimes committed within such an unjust society must be judged on an entirely different scale. Out of soft-heartedness and a sense of justice, people started giving pardons to murdering thieves on the premise that these people committed crimes purely as a result of an unjust social system, and not out of their own greed for life. Soon it became common understanding that prisons were full of innocent people, and so they began to offer pardons to fraudsters and embezzlers, and to those who told lies for money, and to other rogues that committed petty misdeeds. As a result of the unjust structure of society, people suddenly came to understand and forgive crimes and ignominy. For example, at first they only accepted the coup d’état of Napoleon III, but then proceeded to accept those of Mussolini and Hitler, and of all the others. As well as the careers of the likes of some American billionaires; and the misdeeds somehow never seemed to have been committed by any specific pairs of hands.

No behavior characterizes this era better than the sympathy for prostitutes, which was born out of the sentimentalism that so naturally complemented the bourgeois avarice of this period. Ever since, the superlative of humanity has been to weep over the tragic fate of the Lady of the Camellias. Clearly, the courtesan has always occupied a central position. This we know from Dostoevsky who speaks on the subject in Crime and Punishment when Raskolnikov, in the name of human suffering, prostrates himself in front of this woman and bursts into tears. But we also know it from John the Evangelist, who relates the story of the sinful woman seeking refuge in Jesus from those who would cast their stones at her. However, the sinful woman and the prostitute of St. Petersburg are hardly comparable to the Lady of the Camellias. The sinful woman and the prostitute are clearly standing under the sign of greatness, whilst the Lady of the Camellias can only be standing in the shadow of career. In the former case, we may speak of a higher purity that transcends a life of sin, whilst the latter is all about lust for life. While in the former case, woman becomes human, and the possibility of purification remains open right up to the final moment; the latter is but a mundane issue.


At the time when the rebellion against the unjust nature of social structure emerged, nothing was more fashionable than the sentiment over the tragic fate of the poor. The poor man was the good man; the rich man was the bad man. This is obviously why everyone attempted to make a fortune as fast as possible. A whole host of manifestos were proclaimed on how to go about eradicating poverty, of which the most important one was to take the money away from those who had it, and give it to those who did not. Let everything be shared. Why not? And if some old pawnbroker women resisted, the money could be wrested from them by force. In the name of society. If necessary, and only in the the name of social justice, the rich could be killed. In similar vein, land could be confiscated, factories, businesses, gold and silver could be 'collectivized', clothes and shoes could be stripped off, and food could be taken from other people's mouths. Let there finally be justice.

Of course, the concept of property is no simple matter. And for this reason, the celebration of those who proclaimed that finally, someone had dared to challenge the idea of property should have been slightly more subdued. As far as we are able to tell, the property concept has been discarded ages ago by highwaymen; however, to give them credit, they did so without an ideology. The fact that ownership exists at all will invariably and inevitably carry a degree of injustice. Man; plus a certain something more, whose belonging to him is uncertain, but they somehow stick together. Let us suggest that the issue of ownership can only be fundamentally resolved by consciously relinquishing the right to property. There is no other way. For if they take my hat from me, and ship it away to unknown lands, it will still remain my hat, regardless of who is wearing it. This is the nature of ownership; the hat remains my own personal property until I willingly sever my connection to it.
The sphere of property may be tightened. When the sphere of property is tighter than the sphere of one’s life needs; this we call poverty. Those whose life security is not well-founded require property to support it. For this reason, Guénon describes property as a form of divine intervention whereby man receives external support so that he may own his life. We know very well that we all depend on property. Property is the material foundation which we unequivocally need in order to establish our personal life-security. Our personal life-security, as it is widely known, is highly volatile. Property is protection, and those who strip me of my material goods are taking that protective layer away. Forging a theory is easy. The fact that material effects are unevenly distributed in society is wholly inappropriate. Yes, the distribution of property is unjust, but taking that property away does not make for justice. Quite the contrary; as apparent in the case of Raskolnikov; it makes for felony. Whoever commits the crime and based on whatever theory; be it a Jacobin, be it Napoleon, be it Julien Sorel, be it Rodion Raskolnikov, or any state-run council.


Back then of course – following the 18th century and the revolution – it was said that the fair redistribution of material goods is being carried out in the name of the community. But we now know that Raskolnikov was right. Deeds are accomplished by that thing. What thing? That pair of hands. Community is not an actor; and thus, it cannot collectivize anything in itself. We know that there is no such thing as a social act. Nothing is ever committed socially; things are always collectivized by members of a conspiracy. Do you know what this is? A pair of hands. And then, instead of tearing their own tongues out, members of the conspiracy will spread the rumor that it was all the jurisdiction of society. Community did it. In the 20th century, we have learned that communities never do anything; everything is done by pairs of hands. And after the deed is done, some brazen cowards still have the gall to appeal to Community. The entire democracy of the 20th century is dominated by the sophism of an infitesimal minority of conspirators, attempting to disguise their volition as the opinion of the majority.

The word ’crime’ has a very limited radius, and is therefore entirely inapt to signify the phenomenon of which we speak. For sure, Raskolnikov’s murder was a crime; but the misdeeds committed by Napoleon, or by the characters of Stendhal and Balzac; whether small-scale knavery or appalling atrocities far beyond murder; were not classified as crimes; and even though we all know they were greater in gravity, in fact they were not technically against the law. The perpetrators were never locked up. To the contrary: their conduct turned into a career. It is impossible to impeach a determined careerist for his crusade of lies and for his smear-campaign against his foes; just as one cannot charge the greedy old hag for usury, or accuse people of countless minor deeds and utterances that were committed in envy or revenge; in other words, out of greed for life. Dishonesty, falsehood, treachery and fraud cannot be brought to the courtroom. We currently lack the concept that would link grand and outright crime with the overall quality of flagrant and gross everyday foulness (of which great crimes are often born). We need a term to signify both great crimes and the acts of the low and filthy grub; one that marks, for example, the hypocritical faces of the Pharisees; and one that prevents these minor deeds from being readily disconnected from crimes that are actually against the criminal code. This term of broader radius is: existential corruption.

Whatever the circumstances may be, the term existential corruption will singularly reveal exactly what is at stake; independently of whoever the actor may be; regardless of whose detriment the deed has been committed to; and whether by words, acts, thoughts, or any behavior that violates and soils the existence that we are all part of. The term will reveal that existential corruption is at stake. In the words of the Gospels, corruption does not end with eye for an eye, do not kill, do not steal and do not desire another man’s wife; it also extends to slander and the betrayal or denial of someone; to the desire of someone’s property; to abandoning a sick man lying in the street; to not feeding the hungry; to not offering clothes to the wretched; to allowing the thirst for revenge and envy to well up in our hearts; to hiding something from someone in need; and to intentionally misleading someone; all of these things are corrupt because by doing them, we defile the very existence of another person, and that of everyone else, and ultimately, that of the whole thing. This is the existential corruption that was understood and revealed by the Gospels. Not the howling and bloody misdeeds, but all of the barely noticeable, filthy little iniquities that we commit minute by minute. Our own existential corruption extends across the entirety of existence and determines the fate of the forthcoming generations by realizing a certain level of existential purity or impurity; because we create, through every single momentum of our own being, the existence of today, which will give birth to all existence in the future.

Compared to existential corruption, sin is but a moral wrong, and crime is but a legal artifact; a social misdemeanor. Existential corruption is ontological in nature. Within it, all deeds are equivalent, even if there is perhaps a gradation between theft and murder and falsehood and treachery and giving an evil eye. Whatever the motive may be, the act is committed in corruption because it violates and soils the fabric of the existence which we share with all things living.


When he killed the old woman, Raskolnikov committed existential corruption. Clearly, the old woman herself was living a life of existential corruption with her usury; but when Raskolnikov said that the old woman was hoarding the money, and that this was unjustified, and that consequently the money should be taken from her, he committed yet another act of corruption. Everyone who suggests that social structure is unjust, and that one has the right to adjudicate in this manner, is committing corruption. When Napoleon, in the interest of his career, mislead and tricked the masses, and deceived and lied to as many people as he could; in similar vein to Julien Sorel, who, in the interest of his career, unlovingly seduced an innocent and unsuspecting girl; he was guilty of existential corruption. Likewise, all those who dare to suggest that social injustice makes their deeds the responsibility of society are also committing existential corruption. Someone who, before the rightful owner relinquishes his right to owning an object, takes possession of that object, has stepped into the realm of existential corruption, no matter what ideology he may wish to employ in order to justify his act. Should he also make reference to the unequal distribution of goods, his corruption shall be all the more profound.
Crime and punishment go together. However, existential corruption does not precipitate punishment; it requires atonement. He who is guilty of corruption is liable to seek humanity’s forgiveness, and atone for that corruption. Punishment is just another instance of corruption in the form of incarceration, penalty of death or confiscation of property. These things do not serve to restore order. Punishment is retaliation, which is yet another breach in the equilibrium. The broken balance of the world is restored only when the perpetrator redresses the original act. The idea of crime and punishment is paganism. The message of the Gospels is that there is no crime; that it is impossible to distinguish murder and robbery from lying and slandering, or from avarice and greed. Even telling someone that he is mad is a form of corruption. The corruption of Me and You, of our existence, of universal existence and of the future; and order will not be restored by punishing the corrupter; only by the atonement of the corrupter. This is the only acceptable human behavior. There is nothing extraordinary about this. Everyone of us would readily concur to what Jesus had said, if only we were pure and simple enough.


The view has spread lately that socialism and Christianity really only want the same one thing. What thing would this be? It would be to abolish the unjust structure of society and to distribute rights and goods in an equitable manner, so that stingy old women cannot hide their money from knowledge-thirsty young students. Quite obviously, the identification of Christianity with socialism is naught but the grand, blatant and blinding madness of this century.

Socialism first came into being in the Napoleonic era when distinguishing greatness from career was no longer possible; and when it was understood that all existential corruption was permissible in the name of career; and that society, with its inequitable structure, should not prevent a genius from prevailing; and finally, that man had a right to assert himself. Is it permissible to act corruptly in order to prevail? Around the times of the genesis of socialism, the answer to this question would have been that it is. Of course, people fail to notice that the thing which one attains in such a manner is not greatness; it is merely career. This is the secret behind the rampant atrocities of Napoleon – and of all the dictators that followed.

Appealing to the unjust structure of society, conspiracies of various sizes proceeded to seize power and proclaim socialism. We must remember this well and hold it in the foreground of our memory: wherever, of late, there is a reference made to community, it is always done by some conspiracy or criminal organization for the purpose of justifying their own existence and misrepresenting their volition as the majority opinion; even though the community they refer to usually does not exist at all. (And as if the opinion of the majority, by virtue of majority alone would be unconditionally right.) Social order in its current form is undoubtedly unjust, and constitutes existential corruption. However, socialism is not generating justice by confiscating property and withdrawing rights; it is perpetrating corruption, no matter how hard it tries to disguise this activity as the restoration of justice, or better yet, as the achievement of final Justice. It is bad enough for the old woman to have the money. But it is even worse to take her money away from her; it is an even higher form of corruption than letting her have it. There is nothing we can do to change this fact. It matters not whether the corruption is committed by the student Raskolnikov or by some kind of organization or bureaucracy; and in the name of which theory of social justice is it  being done. The consequences of existential corruption materialize tangibly in Raskolnikov’s very being. It is abhorrent to see how this likeable young man is transformed by the murder. Some say the signs of this dreadful disease do not become apparent when such acts of corruption are committed upon the community with collective approval.

Raskolnikov’s entire existence capsizes; he becomes the likeness of a rabid dog: he cowers in the corner, whines, froths at the mouth and displays an hysterical rage; he certainly does not look like someone who had just restored justice and is now on an open road to a bright new life. What is this? – you might ask. This is corrupted existence. Poor wretched student!

Communities guilty of the existential corruption of socialism all suffer from the same disease; that of morbid hatred and envy, that of the fury of voracious ambition, and that of treachery, bootlicking, gossip and strife. Society is bad enough prior to socialism, during the times of the bourgeoisie. But under socialism, society gets even worse. Arguably, there is no such thing as a collective bad conscience or a collective sense of guilt (although, apparently, there is such a thing as collective hysteria), and yet, the community feels like everybody were under constant pressure: evil, weasel-faced people squinting at one another from the dark corners of their eyes; as if everyone was somehow tainted. Clearly, this is no way to restore any sort of social of order, just as no community can thrive within a corrupted existence. The dominant individual is excellent in intellect but lousy in character. What is this? – you might ask. This is corrupted existence. Poor wretched society!


Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is not a symbolic piece. The novel relates the story of the student Raskolnikov who kills an old hag for her money and then tries to motivate his murder by saying he had a right to do so as a result of the unjust structure of society. The novel does not allude to any further meaning, and yet, it seems as if it did. After the middle of the 19th century, Dostoevsky, like other noteworthy personalities of his time, juxtaposed the idea of social injustice with the two dominant theories about how to overcome it. In the case of Russia, these two theories were slavophilism and socialism. Later on, slavophilism gave birth to Fascism, while socialism spawned communism. Slavophilism, like all the other nationalist ideas, aimed to establish social order on the basis of a nation's historical sense of mission and the unifying potential which this provided. Dostoevsky's own understanding of this historical mission was that Christianity should form the basis of social justice, and that the mission of the Russian nation was to lay down this foundation. For this reason, Dostoevsky was obliged to oppose the other idea, i.e. socialism; which he did oppose in his later work (see The Possessed).

The old usurer undoubtedly lived in existential corruption. Her corruption lied in that she capitalized on the inequalities of society by engaging in usury. But by robbing the old woman of her money, the student must surely be guilty of even greater corruption; plus he will also have failed to have corrected the injustices of society; even if he were to subsequently go on to complete his studies brilliantly, strike a career, become a well-respected and admired medical professor and buy a villa on the French Riviera. Socialism owes much of its power to permitting existential corruption; in other words, to acknowledging the confiscation of property as an act of justice. This sort of thing was very appealing to everyone at the time. People have been rebelling against the Gospels for two thousand years precisely because it refused to permit such a convenient solution; it even restricted people from calling each oother mad. It prohibited parasitism and exploitation and negated any justification to commit such deeds on the basis of an unjust structure; and prohibited taking anything from anyone, even a single matchstick; even if an impoverished and talented student just wanted to pursue his studies with the money; and even if all he  wanted to do was to put an end to social injustice.

It is impossible to commit injustice in the name of justice. This is a shameless and cowardly sophism. Also, to use the words sin or crime to describe such an act is to use an obsolete religious artifact that is entirely void because it implies pertinence only to the aggrieved and offending parties. However, what is at stake here pertains to every single one of us because when somebody is robbed, stolen or confiscated from, or when his property is collectivized, it offends and wounds and corrupts all of us; and on top of everything, someone dares to call this the provision of social justice. This is why socialism constitutes existential corruption. The forceful confiscation of property cannot be posited as an act of justice. If we accept it as such, then we must also stay silent when Hitler and Stalin later describe deportations, mass executions and genocide as acts of charity.


Everybody has always suspected that there is something vaguely wrong with socialism. But not just in terms of some minor faults that could be rectified. No: the entire principle of socialism is perfectly wrong, because as a matter of theory, it systematically wants to strike a career out of the old hag’s moneybags. Such an idea fits well with the novels of Stendhal and Balzac by supposing that existential corruption may be committed in the name of career. But seriously believing in such an idea is also indicative of a deranged mind. And insanity becomes total when one comes to accept that such acts serve to restore justice, and accepts the theory that these acts are committed by the community, in the name of the community itself. Collectivization? Taking the moneybag from the hag? Who? The community? Society? The hands. The tongue. Always the tongue, which one should summarily tear out, instead of allowing it to make excuses.

In all probability, socialism did not come to pass in order to provide us with social justice, but rather to establish a new and more refined (more organized and more bureaucratic) power system of yet another small conspiracy; a system in which injustice was to become vastly greater then ever before. See Dostoevsky’s The Possessed. Socialism is a power system which, by stripping people of their personal property, makes them vulnerable. Man without property is forced to live in subjugation; and he cannot even find solid ground in his mind because this theoretically organized villany (see The Possessed) deprives him of all his counter-arguments, even in theory. Socialism has shown us only one thing: that however miserable it may be to do so, poverty and starvation are still preferable to becoming a villain; or joining the conspiracy of villains, and, on a higher level, to fleecing any innocent passer-by based on the theoretical justification of social inequality. Rather than smoothing out injustices, socialism, by challenging the concept of property, only served to exacerbate them.


Sin – a concept of Hebrew tradition which was also adopted by Christianity in the middle ages – is a residue that is inapt to signify that which is currently going on. If one adhered to the concept of sin, then hundreds of cases like that of Raskolnikov would arise. Witness the murdering robber who is in fact a man of unique integrity; or witness the triumphant emperor who is an exceptionally vile scoundrel and a careerist; and look at the respected citizen who is an avaricious and greedy skunk, or see the famous poet who is a resolute traitor as well as a fraudster; and finally, see the piously religious pontiff who is a prison inmate. All of this because, in order for it to make any sense at all, sin/crime must be linked with punishment. Sin only exists inasmuch as its consequence is punishment. Without punishment, sin loses its validity. However, in such a form, this is not true.

As of now, a person may be immersed in existential corruption up to his eyeballs and may lead a life of total corruption, and yet go through life unscathed – provided  that he commits nothing that is classified as a 'crime'. This is what the Gospels consider intolerable. Not the sins, but the corrupted lives of these individuals. The Gospels judge not by the crimes, but by whether one is living a life of corruption or not. They search not for individual sins that may or may not be committed, but (like in the case of the sinful woman) for the effort to gain atonement amidst all the existential corruption. Sin will remain sin and corruption, and this fact cannot and should not be masked. However, most wounds inflicted upon the body of existence may be healed through atonement. There is one exception, which the Gospels call a sin against the Holy Spirit, and one which could also be classified as treason against existence, in other words, the representation of bad as good, or that of repulsive as attractive, or of injustice as justice – in our case, the fact that two hands have committed murder and robbery, and that the tongue has lied, but that the responsibility for these deeds has been falsely relegated to the unjust setup of social order.

The term 'existential corruption' provides an opportunity, tentatively, for man to settle all internal and external discord globally. The union of all nations on earth has but one duty: to stand guard over the purity of its nations' lives. Wherever, or for whatever reason, whatever corruption is committed, the union must enforce atonement rather than enact retaliation or retribution (i.e. further acts of corruption). And enforce atonement it must, not just within the mutual relations of nations, but also and especially in the internal affairs of each nation, all of whom must stand up before the rest of the world. There can be no place to hide. The purity of internal affairs is an affair of humanity as a whole. The impurity of a nation poses a threat to each and every nation. The prohibition to interfere with internal affairs is one of the shameless and cowardly sophisms of which we have already spoken. Such conduct permits existential corruption and protects the serpent's nest. Existentially corrupt states may, in the interests of the intact existence of humanity, be dismantled by the union of nations. Such states, above all, are fascist and communist states. The existence of a terroristic and totalitarian and corrupt and avaricious and money-mongering regime prevents the intact existence of all the other nations.
It is impossible that a whole nation should choose terror, dictatorship, exploitation and falsification when there is an option for life under humanistic law. It is impossible that anyone should have a dissenting opinion about normal human existence, and for anyone to choose to surrender human existence for the sake of some phantasm. Those who err should not be punished: instead, they should be made to atone.

Introducing the concept of existential corruption will annul the difference between individual and collective existence, because individuals and collectives become inseparable. What can and must be distinguished from one another are intact and corrupted existence. Existential corruption is never committed by common agreement of any group of individuals, it is always done by a single pair of hands. Responsibility is personal. No society can be made responsible for any deed. That any society is capable of any sort of action is a mindless nothing. This thought is a social coup. Always the pair of hands. To dilute responsibility into broader society is strictly prohibited. Society never forces anyone to commit evil, not even Raskolnikov, not even Napoleon, not even the dictators, not even the old usurer. There is no injustice that can only be set right through further corruption. That the student lacks the money for his studies is not a reason for him to kill the old hag. That property is unevenly distributed in society is not a reason to take it all away. We now know that the concept of redistributing property was not suggested by sober reason, but by the sentiment that the poor man is the good man and the rich man is the bad man. Establishing economic justice can never be the function of such sentimental smear. Sentimentalism is widely regarded as a dangerous phenomenon, the flip-side of which is bestiality. All bloody dictators were sentimental people. But the fact that a state is in disarray is no reason to massacre people. All of the above are not crimes; they are cases of continuous existential corruption which will not relent to mere punishment. It is corruption that must be repaired, and not on a social level because society is never responsible. Society is not a conscious entity: it lacks an intellect and it lacks a conscience.

Crime and Punishment is not a symbolic work of art because it apparently does not allude to anything beyond itself; it is merely the story of the student Raskolnikov. And yet, it would appear that Dostoevsky may have had something more general in mind; something along the lines of how are we to contend with social injustice; and in conjunction to that, what to make of personal responsibility and of the diverting of that responsibility to society; and about what is crime and what is punishment; and whether the concept of 'crime' is sufficient or not; and whether this delicate matter of crime and punishment should not be assigned a more appropriate and definitive terminology; and once one has found this new terminology, what would happen if one applied it to individual lives as well as to social and historical structures; and what would happen if one should attempt to weigh up this so-called socialism with the help of this term, and attempt to pry it open and peek inside; not just because one is so insatiably curious and wishes to know what bold proclamations sound like in reality, but also to perhaps make some more sense of this unprecedented confusion.

Translated by Bors Hulesch

Translator’s notes:

1. The Hungarian language does not use gender-specific pronouns. The text of Hamvas is entirely gender-neutral. For simplicity, I have used the masculine form throughout the translation.

2. In Hungarian, ’sin’ and ’crime’ are denoted by the same one word: ’bűn’

Népszerű bejegyzések

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