“For socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism today, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth.”
This is Dostoyevsky’s own thought—which he offers in The Brothers Karamazov (Book 1, Chapter 5), while describing Alyosha, the youngest Karamazov, who has decided to enter a monastery. In the same passage, Dostoyevsky notes that Alyosha has decided that if God and immortality did not exist, then he would at once have become an atheist and socialist.
When we think of socialism, we think of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Castro’s Cuba, Chavez’s Venezuela, and even the welfare state system that is nowadays prevalent in most democracies in the world.
But Dostoyevsky is not talking about the actual imposition of socialism in any country; he is talking about the ambitions of the youthful idealists of the 19th century, the socialist devotees of Hegel and Marx, who he knew were secretly plotting to overthrow the cultural and political institutions and create a new “godless” heaven on earth.
Dostoyevsky understood that the project for creating a society based on reason and science, in which moral principles are ignored or denied, was like the attempt to build a tower of Babel. In his books, letters and journals, he repeatedly talks about the consequences of revolutionary atheistic socialism.