Saturday, August 09, 2008

Constellation No. 4

Judge, Sir, of my surprise when I found that a very great proportion
of the assembly (a majority,I believe, of the members who attended)
was composed of practitioners in the law.  It was composed, not of
distinguished magistrates, who had given pledges to their country of
their science, prudence, and integrity; not of leading advocates,
the glory of the bar; not of renowned professors in the
universities;--but for the far greater part, as it must in such a
number, of the inferior, unlearned, mechanical, merely instrumental
members of the profession.  There were distinguished exceptions, but
the general composition was of obscure provincial advocates, of
stewards of petty local jurisdictions, country attornies, notaries,
and the whole train of the ministers of municipal litigation, the
fomentors and conductors of the petty war of village vexation.


Who could flatter himself that these men, suddenly and ,as it were,
by enchantment snatched from the humblest rank of subordination,
would not be intoxicated with their unprepared greatness?  Who
could conceive that men who are habitually meddling,daring, subtle,
active, of litigious dispositions and unquiet minds would easily
fall back into their old condition of obscure contention and
laborious, low, unprofitable chicane?  Who could doubt but that, at
any expense to the state, of which they understood nothing, they
must pursue their private interests, which they understood but too
well?  It was not an event depending on chance or contingency.  It
was inevitable; it was necessary; it was planted in the nature of
things.  They must join (if their capacity did not permit them to 
lead) in any project which could procure to them a litigious
constitution; which could lay open to them those innumerable
lucrative jobs which follow in the train of all great convulsions
and revolutions in the state, and particularly in all great
and violent permutations of property.  Was it to be expected that
they would attend to the stability of property, whose existence
had always depended upon whatever rendered property questionable,
ambiguous, and insecure?  Their objects would be enlarged with
their elevation, but their disposition and habits, and mode of
accomplishing their designs, must remain the same.

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

Under the pretext of founding a benevolent association, the
slum-proletariat of Paris was organized into secret sections,
each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist
General at the head of all. Along with ruined roués of
questionable means of support and questionable
antecedents, along with the foul and adventures-seeking
dregs of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds, dismissed
soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves,
sharpers, jugglers, lazzaroni, pickpockets, sleight-of-hand
performers, gamblers, procurers, keepers of disorderly
houses, porters, literati, organ grinders, rag pickers,
scissors grinders, tinkers, beggars--in short, that whole
undefined, dissolute, kicked-about mass that the Frenchmen
style "la Bohéme." With this kindred element, Bonaparte
formed the stock of the "Society of December 10," a
"benevolent association" in so far as, like Bonaparte
himself, all its members felt the need of being benevolent to
themselves at the expense of the toiling nation. 
The Bonaparte, who here constitutes himself
Chief of the Slum-Proletariat; who only here finds again in
plenteous form the interests which he
personally pursues; who, in this refuse, offal and wreck of
all classes, recognizes the only
class upon which he can depend unconditionally;--this is
the real Bonaparte, the Bonaparte without qualification. An
old and crafty roué, he looks upon the historic life of
nations, upon their great and public acts, as comedies in
the ordinary sense, as a carnival, where the great costumes,
words and postures serve only as masks for the pettiest

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)

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