Fact Check: There Is NO Evidence To Attribute Quote About Tolerance To Dostoevsky

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: There Is NO Evidence To Attribute Quote About Tolerance To Dostoevsky Misattributed

Did the 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky say or write this prediction: "Tolerance will reach such a level that intelligent people will be banned from thinking so as not to offend the imbeciles"? No, that's not true: This quote has only recently been incorrectly attributed to "Dostoievski" on social media and there are no records of Dostoevsky writing it. For several years, memes bearing a virtually identical quote in the Russian language have appeared paired with images from the1988 Russian made-for-TV film titled, "Heart of a Dog" based on the 1925 book of the same name by Mikhail Bulgakov. The quote does not appear in the writing of Bulgakov, or in the screenplay of the 1988 TV film written by Natalia Bortko.

Memes including portraits of Dostoevsky paired with this quote began appearing on Facebook in July of 2021 on anti-vaccine activists' social media accounts. One example is this post published by Great Homeschool Conventions on July 29, 2021. The text in the meme reads:

Tolerance will reach such a level that intelligent people will be banned from thinking so as not to offend the imbeciles.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Mon Aug 02 18:33:07 2021 UTC)

Years earlier, a similar set of memes began circulating on Facebook. These have Russian-language text of the quote and carry no attribution. The images paired with the text are movie stills of a character from "Heart of a Dog," Professor Filipp Filippovich Preobrazhensky, played by the actor Evgeniy Evstigneev. Although these memes resurfaced in the summer of 2021, the original appearance on social media seems to have been in October of 2019. One early instance of this meme is a December 19, 2019, request for help translating the text, which was posted on Reddit. Two Russian speakers who replied, translated it:

«Кажется, скоро толерантность дойдет до того, что умным запретят думать, потому что это оскорбляет чувства тупых»

It seems to me, that soon tolerance will soon lead to clever people being prohibited to think, because it offends the stupid.

Tolerance seems to be arriving soon at the point where the intelligent ones will be forbidden to think, as it will offend the feelings of the ignorant ones


(Source: Lead Stories Facebook screenshot collection taken on Mon Aug 02 19:28:07 2021 UTC)

Lead Stories reached out by email to the reference librarians at the Petro Jacyk Central & East European Resource Centre at the University of Toronto. We heard back from the reference specialist, Wasyl Sydorenko, after he reviewed the Natalia Bortko screenplay of the film "Heart of a Dog". He verified that the phrase, which appears to have taken on a certain idiomatic form in both the Russian and English language, does not appear within the movie and the quote cannot be attributed to either Dostoevsky or Bulgakov.


  • 2021-08-03T16:44:20Z 2021-08-03T16:44:20Z
    Updated to include the findings of the reference librarian at the University of Toronto.

Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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