Crime and Punishment at 150 (2016)

Dostoevskying the Law School Curriculum Ronner, Amy


Dostoevsky wrote Demons, A Writer’s Diary, The Brothers Karamazov, and Crime and Punishment in the wake of Russia’s legal reforms, which had a profound effect on his thinking. For example, Dostoevsky based Demons on the public trial of Bakunin’s notorious protégé, Nechaev, who was convicted of ordering the murder of the student Ivanov. In A Writer’s Diary, a mélange of fiction, journalism, and autobiography, Dostoevsky engrossed himself in jury trials and sporadically carped at legal outcomes, new defense strategies, and the then-fashionable treatment of hostile socioeconomic forces as the guilty culprits. Dostoevsky also denounced courtroom histrionics and the exploitation of rhetoric whereby deft lawyers could, by waxing poetic, effectively recast victims into perpetrators (or vice versa). Similarly, in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky evokes humbling incertitude about crime, guilt, and a justice system comprised of players driven primarily by self-interest. Such critiques remain relevant today.

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