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Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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What are the theme similarities between Crime and Punishment and The Prince?

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This is a great question to consider, and you have picked two excellent texts to compare. If I were you, I would want to comment on the concept presented in both texts of the superman, or that there are some individuals in this world who are able to commit crimes that normal mortals cannot commit because of their superman status.

This is of course a key concept that leads Raskolnikov to commit the act of murder in Crime and Punishment. He develops a theory that all of humanity is divided into two groups: ordinary people and those who he classifies as supermen. It is the lot of ordinary people to obey the law, but, Raskolnikov believes, those who are supermen (numbering only very few in every generation) are free from such laws and can either break them or make their own. Raskolnikov uses Napoleon as an example of a superman, because he gained his position of power and influence by ignoring the laws that normal people are subject to. The way he made his own laws and killed plenty of people to achieve his purpose indicates that he was a superman. Because of his status as a superman, Raskolnikov concludes, he cannot be regarded as having broken laws or being a criminal.

In the same way, Machiavelli presents political leaders as very clearly having the ability to break and create laws as and when situations dictate. Because of this, he presents political leaders as being another form of the superman that Raskolnikov believes in, as princes are not subject to the laws, customs and traditions that the common people which they rule are. Just as Raskolnikov believes that supermen cannot be judged by normal laws and rules, so Machiavelli presents a picture of political leaders where the end of maintaining and building upon their power justifies whatever means are used to ensure this goal.

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