Tolstoy’s Prescient Critique of Postmodern Sexual Ethics

Oct. 28 2020

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy tells the story of the adulterous romance between the title character and the dashing Alexei Vronsky. Experiencing true love for the first time, Karenina leaves her stifling marriage to a religious, conservative, and cruel husband, while Vronsky leaves behind his life of womanizing. Yet not all is happy in the relationship between these two consenting adults. Joshua Pauling sees in the novel a powerful corrective to Western morality in the era after the sexual revolution:

Several of the book’s main characters reject marital and familial commitments, and their choices leave themselves and their families deeply broken. Vronsky and Anna’s affair, with its unrestrained and disordered desire, ultimately consumes them both, as Vronsky confesses: “As a man, I’m a wreck, [stuck in] a wholly useless remorse never to be effaced.”

The book also explores how sexual liberation affects children. To Vronsky, “a man is in duty bound to live for himself, as every man of culture should live,” and children are inconveniences that should not “prevent their parents from enjoying life.”

As Anna and Vronsky begin their affair, Anna’s son Seryozha haunts them. Vronsky often notices the child’s “bewildered glance fixed upon him, . . . as though the child felt that between this man and his mother there existed some important bond, the significance of which he could not understand.” Despite being pricked in their consciences by Seryozha, they refuse to reorder their desires; instead they flee to Italy. Seryozha becomes a casualty of their self-serving love.

Alongside Vronsky and Anna’s libertine relationship, Tolstoy portrays a contrasting experience of marriage and family through the character of Konstantin Levin. Levin’s thoughts on marriage are quite different from those of his aristocratic friends. Levin was “so far from conceiving of love for woman apart from marriage that he positively pictured to himself first the family, and only secondarily the woman who would give him a family.” While the [members of Vronsky’s urbane and aristocratic circle] saw marriage as a life accessory, “for Levin it was the chief affair of life, on which its whole happiness turned.”

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Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Leo Tolstoy, Literature, Sexual ethics, Sexual revolution

 

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy