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No personal responsibility

No personal responsibility

Required reading

Who: Wim Groot, professor of Health Economics and Evidence Based Education

Book: Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov

Target group: Economics students

“The story takes place in the Soviet Union in the nineteen-twenties. A stray dog spends a day with a professor who has a clinic that provides rejuvenation cures. The professor thinks that if someone were to place his testicles and pituitary gland (located in the middle of the head, at the base of the brain, which secretes a lot of hormones) in a dog, this would make him younger. The experiment fails, the animal turns human, but with the behaviour of a stray dog: he is rude, swears, drinks and flirts with women. He becomes assistant manager to the municipal cat control service, because he really dislikes cats. It gets so out of hand that the professor wants to undo the experiment.”

The satirical book is anti-communist and was never published in the Soviet Union. “It was written during the idealistic years of the revolution and was published in 1925, but Bulgakov surmised where things were heading, that this was a corrupt regime.”

According to Groot, the book is interesting for Economics students because it shows the influence of a communist system on society. “It leads to vulgarisation and harshening of manners and morals. The unkempt stray dog suits the communists.  Economists have to think hard about the degree in which governments should interfere with the private lives of people. If you invade people’s freedom, their personal responsibility also lessens.”

Groot thinks that Bulgakov showed great personal courage by writing this book. “At a certain stage, the professor throws a book by Friedrich Engels (together with Karl Marx one of the founders of Marxism, ed.) into the fire. To write that in those days... Stalin asked him to leave the country, but he refused. He felt that a Russian writer should live in Russia. Eventually they left him alone, he was too well known to have him disappear just like that. I go to Kiev regularly and on my way to the university I often walk past the house in which he was born.”

In this column lecturers recommend a novel that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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