Crime and Punishment - Raskolnikov's Extraordinary Man Theory
In the novel, Crime and Punishment, the principle character, Raskolnikov, has unknowingly published a collection of his thoughts on crime and punishment via an article entitled "On Crime." Porfiry, who is trying to link Raskolnikov to a murder, has uncovered this article, read it, and tells Raskolnikov
that he is very interested in learning about his ideas. Porfiry brings Raskolnikov into this conversation primarily to find out more about Raskolnikov's possible involvement in the crime
. Raskolnikov decides to take him up on the challenge of discussing his theory, and embarks into a large discussion of his philosophy of man.
Raskolnikov holds that by a law of nature men have been "somewhat arbitrarily" divided into two groups--ordinary and extraordinary. Raskolnikov believe that the duty and vocation
of the first group is to be servile, the material out of which the world and society is to be formed. The first group are the people of the present, the now. The second group, those who are extraordinary, are a step above the normal, ordinary curs. They have the ability to overstep normal bounds and transgress the rights of those who are simply ordinary. They are the prime movers--they have a right to transcend normal societal strictures to accomplish those things they have determined are valid in their conscience. Extraordinary men are the prime movers. He cites such extraordinary men as Newton, Mahomet, and Napoleon. He tells us that Newton had the right to kill hundreds of men if need be in order to bring to the world knowledge of his findings. Napoleon and other leaders created a new word. They overturned ancient laws and created new ones. They had the right to uphold their new ideal, even if it meant killing innocent men defending the ancient law. "The first class of people preserve and people the world, the second move the world and lead it to its goal." Despite these tremendous differences in his theory, and the obvious superiority that the extraordinary people are afforded, Raskolnikov maintains that both classes have an equal right to exist. This is interesting, and anyone who sees tremendous problems with this theory must realize this very important point--both classes of men and women are necessary to understand the true meaning of Raskolnikov's theory.
Without the extraordinary branch of men, without their ability and moral obligation to overstep the bounds of society at certain times, the history of the world would never have progressed to the state that we find ourselves now. The most ancient human being on the most ancient field would still be standing there, trying to discern a way to plant food and make a living. If one had not overstepped tradition and made an innovation then, the human race would still be standing there. We would not exist. Without innovation and efforts to survive, humans die.
I do not necessarily agree with the connotation that we get from Raskolnikov's exposition that these groups of humans are predetermined, but I believe they are created by the men themselves. A man determines his own fate in the world, and it could not have been preordained that when Newton was born he would eventually discover and write three laws that have come to shape physics.
The underlying fact though is that Raskolnikov's theory is predominately correct. There are different types of human beings in the world. Some make broad sweeping changes. Some just stay in their place, submit to their rut in the road.
Extraordinary men are often persecuted in and ridiculed by the society that they live in. Later generations will recognize and uphold the value and effort that those individuals have exerted. Extraordinary men are the prime movers. Without them the human race would be stuck on a ravaged plain. Without the ordinary men to support the efforts and ideas of extraordinary men we would also be nonexistent. Both divisions are important to the workings of the world. They are mutually dependent upon one another. Raskolnikov is right.
Porfiry asks Raskolnikov if he believes in God. Yes he tells him. It is assumed that Porfiry believes in God also. Most of the world believes in God. Most of the world probably disagrees with Raskolnikov's theory. Yet God, as he exists for most people, is an extraordinary person. Hundreds of centuries of history have been determined in the name of this God. What an extraordinary person, concept, abstraction, etc. If a conception of a supreme being can exist in the minds of men, can they not exist in the world around us? Most would also agree, but never admit it--Jesus Christ.