Luma Simms is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; her essays, articles, and book reviews have appeared in a variety of publications including National Affairs, Law and Liberty, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, First Things, Public Discourse, the Institute for Family Studies, and others.

The Immigrant Mind: Immigration and Identity Part IV

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, Demitri has been unjustly convicted of murdering his father. His brothers plot to help him escape while en route to exile in Siberia. The plan is to escape to America with the woman he loves. But Demitri tells his brother,

I hate this America even now! And maybe every last one of them is some sort of boundless machinist or whatever – but, devil take them, they’re not my people, not of my soul! I love Russia, Alexei, I love the Russian God, though I myself am a scoundrel! But there I’ll just croak! (Emphasis mine)

Demitri goes on to inform Alexei (nickname Alyosha) about his desire to eventually return from America and die in his native land of Russia.

Dostoevsky’s fictional character Demitri is only one example of the ontological drive for personal and national identity. People flourish when they know who they are – they need to know who they are; they are dehumanized when it is taken away from them. Only in today’s culture – in which identity is constructed out of plastic so that it can be reshaped – do I have to persuade people of such a thing.

I do not use Demitri as an example out of an anti-American sentiment, but because we learn about humanity (among other things) from Dostoevsky; he teaches us that identity lies at the essence of a person and nation.

Read the rest at The Philos Project

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