Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Second Empire Strikes Back

Aug 21, 2004 5:25 pm


The Second Empire Strikes Back



[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

The years 1848-1852 were particularly interesting times (in the Chinese sense) for France; I'm currently reading through accounts of this period by such contemporary witnesses as Tocqueville, Dunoyer, Proudhon, Molinari, Marx, and Hugo. (This was also of course the period in which the"problem of the best régime" was finally solved -- in theory though alas not in practice -- by Molinari in his works The Production of Security and Soirées on the Rue Saint-Lazare.) Some of these writers favoured the revolution of 1848 and some of them opposed it, but they all agreed in condemning the establishment of the Second Empire in 1852.

Most recently I've been reading Hugo's searing account (in Napoléon the Little and History of a Crime) of the December 1851 coup that brought Napoléon III to power, thus paving the way for the Second Empire. Hugo shared Acton's and Rothbard's conviction that the historian should be a hanging judge, and he levels unanswerable denunciations not only of the coup (and the mass detentions and mass murders attendant thereon), but also of the court intellectuals who whitewashed the crimes of the self-styled"Prince President" (a term I'm tempted to start using for Bush II) and glorified his oppressive and bloodthirsty modus operandi.

I was irresistibly reminded of Hugo's account of the Empire by reading Jeff Tucker's excellent critique of American conservatism on LRC today. As Tucker points out, today's apologists for sanguinary statism, like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, are still"screaming for blood, exalting the imperial state, decrying the very basis of civilization (peace), and demanding the jailing of dissidents." (Read it now.)

Hugo saw the Second Empire as an anachronism, a throwback to a less civilised era, and he felt confident that the peaceful and enlightened 20th century would see the end of such barbarism. On the contrary, of course (as Molinari among others predicted quite clearly), the 20th century mostly followed the model of the Second Empire -- and the 21st so far seems to be following suit.


Unrelated P.S. - In addition to the MP3 and PDF versions of my anarchy talk to which I previously linked, there is now an HTML version.

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