“The whole point is that in his article all people are somehow divided into the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘extraordinary.’ The ordinary must live in obedience and have no right to transgress the law, because they are, after all, ordinary. While the extraordinary have the right to commit all sorts of crimes and in various ways to transgress the law, because in point of fact they are extraordinary. That is how you had it, unless I’m mistaken?”
“But what is this? It can’t possibly be so!” Razumikhin muttered in perplexity.
Raskolnikov smiled again. He realized all at once what the point was and where he was being led; he remembered his article. He decided to accept the challenge.
“That isn’t quite how I had it,” he began, simply and modestly. “I admit, however, that your summary is almost correct, even perfectly correct, if you like…” (It was as if he were pleased to agree that it was perfectly correct.) “The only difference is that I do not at all insist that extraordinary people absolutely must and are duty bound at all times to do all sorts of excesses, as you say. I even think that such an article would never be accepted for publication. I merely suggested that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right… that is, not an official right, but his own right, to allow his conscience to… step over certain obstacles, and then only in the event that the fulfillment of his ideas- sometimes perhaps salutary for the whole of mankind- calls for it. You have been pleased to say that my article is unclear; I am prepared to clarify it for you, as far as I can. I will perhaps not be mistaken in supposing that that seems to be just what you want. As you please, sir. In my opinion, if, as the result of certain combinations, Kepler’s or Newton’s discoveries could become known to people in no other way than by sacrificing the lives of one, or ten, or a hundred or more people who were hindering the discovery, or standing as an obstacle in its path, then Newton would have the right, and it would even be his duty… to remove those ten or a hundred people, in order to make his discoveries known to all mankind. It by no means follows from this, incidentally, that Newton should have the right to kill anyone he pleases, whomsoever happens along, or to steal from the market every day. Further, I recall developing in my article the idea that all… well, let’s say, the lawgivers and founders of mankind, starting from the most ancient and going on to the Lycurguses, the Solons, the Muhammads, the Napoleons, and so forth, that all of them to a man were criminals, from the fact alone that in giving a new law they thereby violated the old one, held sacred by society and passed down from their fathers, and they certainly did not stop at shedding blood either, if it happened that blood (sometimes quite innocent and shed valiantly for the ancient law) could help them. It is even remarkable that most of these benefactors and founders of mankind were especially terrible blood-shedders. In short, I deduce that all, not only great men, but even those who are a tiny bit off the beaten track- that is, who are a tiny bit capable of saying something new- by their very nature cannot fail to be criminals- more or less, to be sure. Otherwise it would be hard for them to get off the beaten track, and, of course, they cannot consent to stay on it, again by nature, and in my opinion it is even their duty not to consent. In short, you see that so far there is nothing especially new here. It has been printed and read a thousand times. As for my dividing people into ordinary and extraordinary, I agree that it is somewhat arbitrary, but I don’t really insist on exact numbers. I only believe in my main idea. It consists precisely in people being divided generally, according to the law of nature, into two categories: a lower or, so to speak, material category (the ordinary), serving solely for the reproduction of their own kind; and people proper- that is, those who have the gift or talent of speaking a new word in their environment. The subdivisions here are naturally endless, but the distinctive features of both categories are quite marked: people of the first, or material, category are by nature conservative, staid, live in obedience, and like being obedient. In my opinion they even must be obedient, because that is their purpose, and for them there is decidedly nothing humiliating in it. Those of the second category all transgress the law, are destroyers or inclined to destroy, depending on their abilities. The crimes of these people, naturally, are relative and variegated; for the most part they call, in quite diverse declarations, for the destruction of the present in the name of the better. But if such a one needs, for the sake of his idea, to step over a dead body, over blood, then within himself, in his conscience, he can, in my opinion, allow himself to step over blood- depending, however, on the idea and its scale- make note of that. It is only in this sense that I speak in my article of their right to crime. (You recall we began with the legal question.) However, there’s not much cause for alarm: the masses hardly ever acknowledge this right in them; they punish them and hang them (more or less), thereby quite rightly fulfilling their conservative purpose; yet, for all that, in subsequent generations these same masses place the punished ones on a pedestal and worship them (more or less). The first category is always master of the present; the second- master of the future. The first preserves the world and increases it numerically; the second moves the world and leads it towards a goal. Both the one and the other have a perfectly equal right to exist. In short, for me all men’s rights are equivalent- and vive la guerre éternelle– until the New Jerusalem, of course!”
“So you still believe in the New Jerusalem?”
“I believe,” Raskolnikov answered firmly; saying this, as throughout his whole tirade, he looked at the ground, having picked out a certain spot on the carpet.
“And . . . and . . . and do you also believe in God? Excuse me for being so curious?”
“I believe,” Raskolnikov repeated, looking up at Porfiry.
“And . . . and do you believe in the raising of Lazarus?”
“I be-believe. What do you need all this for?”
“You believe literally?”
“I see sir… just curious. Excuse me, sir. But, if I may say so- returning to the previous point- they aren’t always punished; some, on the contrary…”
“Triumph in their own lifetime? Oh, yes, some attain in their own lifetime, and then…”
“Start doing their own punishing?”
“If necessary, and, in fact, almost always. Your observation, generally speaking, is quite witty.”
“Thank you, sir. But tell me this: how does one manage to distinguish these extraordinary ones from the ordinary? Are they somehow marked at birth, or what? What I’m getting at is that one could do with more accuracy here, more outward certainty, so to speak: excuse the natural uneasiness of a practical and law-abiding man, but wouldn’t it be possible in this case, for example, to introduce some special clothing, the wearing of some insignia, or whatever? . . . Because, you must agree, if there is some sort of mix-up, and a person from one category imagines he belongs to the other category and starts ‘removing all obstacles,’ as you quite happily put it, well then…”
“Oh, it happens quite often! This observation is even wittier than your last one…”
“Thank you, sir…”
“Not at all, sir; but consider also that a mistake is possible only on the part of the first category, that is, the ‘ordinary’ people (as I have called them, perhaps rather unfortunately). In spite of their innate tendency to obedience, by some playfulness of nature that is not denied even to cows, quite a few of them like to imagine themselves progressive people, ‘destroyers,’ who are in on the ‘new word,’ and that in all sincerity, sir. And at the same time they quite often fail to notice the really new ones, and even despise them as backward, shabby-minded people. But in my opinion there cannot be any significant danger here, and there is really nothing for you to be alarmed about, because they never go far. Of course, they ought to receive an occasional whipping, to remind them of their place when they get carried away, but no more than that; there isn’t even any need for someone to whip them: they’ll whip themselves, because they’re so well behaved; some perform this service for each other, and some do it with their own hands… all the while imposing various public penances on themselves- the result is beautiful and edifying; in short, there’s nothing for you to be alarmed about… Such a law exists.”
“Well, at least you’ve reassured me somewhat in that regard; but then there’s this other worry: tell me, please, are there many of these people who have the right to put a knife into others- I mean, of these ‘extraordinary’ ones? I am ready to bow down, of course, but you’ll agree, sir, it’s a bit eerie if there are too many of them, eh?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that either,” Raskolnikov went on in the same tone. “Generally, there are remarkably few people born who have a new thought, who are capable, if only slightly, of saying anything new– strangely few, in fact. One thing is clear, that the ordering of people’s conception, all these categories and subdivisions, must be quite correctly and precisely determined by some law of nature. This law is as yet unknown, of course, but I believe that it exists and may one day be known. An enormous mass of people, or material, exists in the world only so that finally, through some effort, some as yet mysterious process, through some interbreeding of stocks and races, with great strain it may finally bring into the world, let’s say, at least one somewhat independent man in a thousand. Perhaps one in ten thousand is born with a broader independence (I’m speaking approximately, graphically). With a still broader independence- one in a hundred thousand. Men of genius- one in millions; and great geniuses, the fulfillers of mankind- perhaps after the elapsing of many thousands of millions of people on earth. In short, I have not looked into the retort where all this takes place. But there certainly is and must be a definite law; it can be no accident.”
Raskolnikov debates detective Porfiry Petrovich
Part III, Chapter 5